Saturday, April 19, 2008

Who are your musical heroes?


Outside of politics and religion, nothing gets some people more riled up than suggesting that their favorite singers or musical groups are bums. The missus and I have a long-running "discussion" about the relative merits of her favorite artist, Sting, and mine, Elvis Costello. We'll be seeing them together in the same Star Lake show in late July. Call it a mini Battle of the Bands. We might even be speaking at the end of the evening. Everyone has artists who they think are unfairly overlooked, and others who have gotten way too much attention in proportion to their talents. I'll offer a list of my most underrated and overrated performers, and I'd like to hear yours.
Overrated: Norah Jones (nice voice, but a cure for insomnia after a while), Jennifer Lopez (Do I need to elaborate?), Britney (one great song and a long, slow trip to Hell), Phil Collins (Su-Su-Sudio?), the Grateful Dead (Yeah, Mike, I just don't get it), Billy Joel (One iconic song, "Piano Man," one killer album, "The Stranger," and a 30-year descent into irrelevancy) and, finally, my No. 1 most overrated "artist" of all time, Madonna. Never before has anyone, through shameless self-promotion, gained such fame for so little talent. For God's sake, there have been people with 10 times more talent than her playing at May'rz Inn on South Main. The wife likes her, too.
Underrated: Jonatha Brooke (the antithesis of Madonna), Joshua Radin, Anna Nalick (based on only one album, but very promising), Pernice Brothers, Cary Brothers, Dr. Joyce Brothers (kidding), Kathleen Edwards, Amos Lee (two great CDs), Iron and Wine, Fountains of Wayne (the indisputable kings of power pop; you should get all their CDs), James Hunter (a white guy from England who plays a bad-ass guitar and has a voice that sounds as if he's Sam Cooke and Ray Charles' love child) and, finally, my vote for most underrated artist in America today: Matt Nathanson, shown above. If you like moderately mellow singer-songwriter-type stuff, download or otherwise purchase his albums "Some Mad Hope" and "Beneath These Fireworks." They are stellar.
These are just my opinions, and as we all know, opinions are like ... um, opinions. Everybody's got one. Please share your views with the rest of us. Help us find more good music for our collections, and steer us away from the crap. Thanks.

36 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your opinions are irrelevant. Music is completely subjective. Beethoven isn't everyone's cup of tea, but that doesn't make him good or bad. Grow up.

April 19, 2008 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger Scott Beveridge said...

Ouch.
Overrated: Celine Dion
Underrated: Chubby Carrier

April 19, 2008 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Gee, somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed today. Sorry for peeing in your Cheerios. Not everything has to have some grand purpose or be scientifically valid. It's just supposed to be a fun exercise in sharing opinions and maybe arguing the merits of various artists. Nobody's right. Nobody's wrong. Just fun. You remember fun, right, anonymous? Back before you starting gargling with battery acid and dining on broken glass.

April 19, 2008 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Scott, what can you tell me about Chubby Carrier? I'm not familiar.

April 19, 2008 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Amanda Gillooly said...

Overrated: The Doors, Prince
Underrated: Ben Folds (and the former Ben Folds Five), Ben Harper,
Confession: Phil Collins and Genesis are both guilty pleasures. I don't remember which one it was, but the first cassette I ever bought was of his variety. And if nothing else, didn't the band help spawn Peter Gabriel's solo career? But who knows, he might be a guilty pleasure, too :)

April 19, 2008 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Scott Beveridge said...

Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band. www.chubbycarier.com

April 19, 2008 at 3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

+1 on Jonatha Brooke. Also good:
Subdudes; Paul Cebar; Jellyfish (defunct); Angelique Kidjoe; Van Morrison; Decemberists; No More Kings; Motion City Soundtrack. Not good: Most of what they play on commercial radio.
Overrated: Iron Houserockers; Rusted Root; The Dead; Stevie Nicks; Jimmy Buffet. Subjective? Yes. What isn't?

April 19, 2008 at 4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point is that music is a sensual stimulus - like love or food. 'Good' or "bad' does not apply to something that you respond to as a personal passion. For example - your description of Billy Joel's post-stranger career as a "30-year descent into irrelevancy" is not an empirical statement . Others might opine that his later material was superior .If you are going to be a journalist, don't mistake your own likes or dislikes for fact. Having a strong OPINION doesn't prove anything except your own sense of self-importance. And this IS my idea of fun. - Battery Acid Man

April 20, 2008 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Re Billy Joel: That's exactly the kind of opinions I'm seeking. If someone thinks Joel is still ascending as an artist (even though he hasn't put out an album in years), they can make that argument. I'm not making empirical statements here, or even trying to be a serious journalist in this instance. Just trying to get a discussion started, and I'm looking for a variety of opinions, with the knowledge that we're just talking about people's personal likes and dislikes. If it helps somebody find one new artist that they can add to their CD collection or Ipod, I'd consider it a success. And I do appreciate your participation. BTW, your favorite artist would be?
- He who also sometimes sips the acid

April 20, 2008 at 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite artist would be whoever whoever rings my emotional bell at that particular moment in time. Right now it's Chopin. Last night it was Led Zeppelin. And later it might be .......later Billy Joel?

April 20, 2008 at 9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee, I guess if you're a reporter you're not allowed to have an opinion, right?

April 20, 2008 at 1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chopin was a hack who sold out.

April 20, 2008 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger Harry Funk said...

I respect your opinion, Brant. But like Mike, I have to stick up for the Grateful Dead and all (or at least, most) Grateful Dead-related musical endeavors.

My two cents otherwise:

Underrated -- early Steve Miller Band (first five albums; check 'em out!)
Overrated -- later Steve Miller Band ("The Joker" and beyond)

April 21, 2008 at 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Overrated: Colbie Calliat

Underrated: Meiko, AM (can't google him but he has a duet with Meiko that will knock you out called New Road), Pete Yorn, Jeff Tweedy, Paulo Nutini.

April 21, 2008 at 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Underrated: Robyn Hitchcock -- he's been around for 30 years, first as leader of the Soft Boys, then a solo artist. Great melodic, psychedelic rock and folk that should sell like gangbusters, but never has. He's a critic's fave, though, and has a cult that worships him like a deity.

Overrated: I'm with Amanda on the Doors. I think much of their mystique is based on Jim Morrison's early flame-out.

--Brad Hundt

April 21, 2008 at 3:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought of a few more last night -- I feel like I'm supposed to like Radiohead, but, with the exception of a few songs, they leave me cold. You can appreciate what they do on a technical level, but I feel no emotional connection with their music. I also saw them live in Detroit in '97, at the height of the mania surrounding "OK Computer," and I thought they were pretty dull.

Also, Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" is almost certainly the most overrated album of this decade.

Underrated: British singer Nic Armstrong. He put out a great bluesy, Dylanesque disc in '05, but it received little or no attention on this side of the Atlantic.

--Brad Hundt

April 22, 2008 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Brad, I'm with you on Radiohead. I know it's supposed to be "hip" to like them, much as it was with the Grateful Dead, and they're a favorite of critics and the "people in the know," but their "music" isn't getting through to me.

April 22, 2008 at 9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone told me today that New Kids on the Block have reunited. There is no God.

April 22, 2008 at 1:03 PM  
Blogger Dale Lolley said...

The Bends is an outstanding Radiohead album. Great the whole way through. But with OK Computer, I went, OK, I'm not listening anymore.
Celine Dion makes me want to puke. I hate anything Michael McDonald has ever done.
The White Stripes and Jack White's various other projects are the best thing going now.
Prince overrated! Surely you jest.

April 22, 2008 at 8:55 PM  
OpenID bessmeredith said...

After badgering from my bossman, I'm contributing:

Amanda: Prince? Overrated? No no. The short, fashionista that he is, the man is, in my opinion, a pop-funk god, an icon who has created album after album of goodness. Whether it was "Purple Rain" in 1984 or "Musicology" in 2004, the man continues to create and recreate his terrific sound and overtly sexual nature/lyrics/fashion/facial hair. For me personally, there is something to be said for an artist I was into as an elementary/middle schooler, and still adore today. Now, I admit I'm not crazy about every song he's produced (When is WYEP going to take "Guitar" out of the rotation?), but I respect and love Prince for his ongoing stellar production and music quality, his wit and his choices in blouses. It also doesn't hurt that he produced one of my all-time fave female bands, The Bangles. But that's another post...

Brad: Coming from the biggest Dylan fan I know, it doesn't suprise me that one of your recent favorite artists is considered "Dylanesque." But crap on Wilco all you like, thank God for fellows still producing good, solid rock 'n roll, who don't have a show/contract with Disney.

Brant: Okay okay. Please tell me who it is you're hanging out with who, in 2008, consider Radiohead fans "hipsters." I agree that those who were oogling over Radiohead in the nineties still are oogling (I'm one of them), but hipsters they are not. They're all thirty-somethings who have since traded in their dirty Air Walk skate sneakers for day jobs at NTB and evenings at whatever local hole serves cheap PBRs. Hip? Nah. They're just appreciators of a band who (sorry Brad) continue to produce quality albums with great lyrics ("He used to do surgery, for girls in the eighties, but gravity always wins...")
"Ok computer" still is in my top 5 albums of all time. Songs like "Paranoid Android" had sounds in it I'd never heard in song form before Radiohead created it. The album was released my senior year of high school and remains a staple in my in-home rotation (hope this doesn't mean you guys won't come over now...), although the disc is now sadly mangled and skips quite a bit.
"Creep" from their first album, "Pablo Honey," was one of those cass-singles that rarely, if ever, left my tape deck in high school (thank you 120 minutes). Thom York's voice is something very special. Like them or hate them, I think Radiohead continues to make great music and challenge the recording industry. I love these guys, but I'll remember not to include them on the next mix CD I make for yinz punks.

My picks are forever changing, but here are a few that haven't changed in quite some time:

I LOVE: anything by The Smiths, The Pixies, Paul Simon, The Clean, The Replacements and also The Microphones "The Glow, Pt. 2"; The Magnetic Fields "69 Love Songs"; Neutral Milk Hotel "In the Aeroplane over the Sea"; Belle and Sebastian "If You're feeling Sinister" and/or "Tigermilk"; anything older by De La Soul and most/all of Tribe Called Quests' discography; Low "Secret Name"; The Notwist; Prince; The Shins; Rainer Maria; Iron and Wine; Death Cab for Cutie; a lot of old Sarah Records recordings; Cursive; and most other mamby-pamby college music from the early-to-late nineties.

Ok...bring the heat.

*Bess*

April 22, 2008 at 11:19 PM  
Blogger Harry Funk said...

Underrated: Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green era)

Overrated: Fleetwood Mac (Buckingham-Nicks era)

Some good "21st-century" bands: The Shins, The Mooney Suzuki, The Greenhornes, Suishou No Fune, Howlin Rain, The Black Keys

They played something new by Justin Timberlake in Best Buy the other day, and ran out of there screaming.

April 23, 2008 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Geez, Harry, we just got Bess back in her cage, and now you've dissed Justin Timberlake. Run for cover. Bess, I don't think you can suggest that Radiohead is some kind of niche band for ex- (or current) slackers. They are a favorite of the critics and the "opinion-makers" of the music industry. As evidence, let me point you to the big photo of Thom Yorke on the cover of a recent Rolling Stone with the headline: "The Future Belongs to Radiohead." And you're right about them producing records with sounds never before heard. My cat was accidentally subjected to a Radiohead "song" and has been cowering under the couch for two years. And if it's good lyrics you're looking for, invest in the Elvis Costello catalogue (or Fountains of Wayne). I loved "Creep," however. And transitioning to someone I find kind of creepy, I think Prince might be appropriately rated. I've enjoyed some of what he's done, but not enough to stock up on his CDs. And is there really a band called Neutral Milk Hotel, or are you just messing with us? I do agree with Amanda that Ben Harper isn't getting his due, and I have to tell Harry that I enjoyed all eras of both Steve Miller and Fleetwood Mac. And I'm with you, Dale, on the Raconteurs. Great stuff.

April 23, 2008 at 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin Timberlake is not as bad as I thought he was when whe was in Newkidsinsyncontheblock or whatever boy band it was. Some more recommendations: Joe Ely, Jason Falkner, P.T Walkley, Panic at the Disco, Bullet For My Valentine, Mike Doughty, Gomez, Cute Is What We Aim For.

April 23, 2008 at 11:29 AM  
Blogger Harry Funk said...

I've heard good things about the Raconteurs, but have yet to hear their music. Maybe you can help me out, Brad or Dale.

Overrated: post-DMC collaboration Aerosmith

Underrated: "Get Your Wings"

April 23, 2008 at 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harry, Stevie Nicks singing sounds like Granny in the Tweety Bird cartoons. Saw her with Tom Petty and there's nothing quite so depressing as an almost-60-year-old still dressing the witch from Disney's "Snow White." At least Neil Young isn't wearing spandex.

April 23, 2008 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger Harry Funk said...

I'm sorry. That should read "post-Run DMC." I'm showing my lack of "hip-hop" knowledge!

April 23, 2008 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger Harry Funk said...

There was a funny "South Park" episode in which a goat was constantly mistaken for Stevie Nicks. ("Funny 'South Park' episode" is redundant ...)

I was in a band that played "Rhinannon," and it actually turned out to be a good tune without the composer's caterwauling.

April 23, 2008 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Harry Funk said...

Does Bullet for My Valentine sound anything like My Bloody Valentine. That was a good band!

I tend to dismiss anything from the '80s, cut I've been listening to Galaxie 500, a band fronted by Dean Wareham. Interesting stuff.

April 23, 2008 at 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brant: Don't take that comment about Radiohead in Rolling Stone too seriously. John Landau once said. "I saw rock and roll's future and it's name is Bruce Springsteen." The Boss's career went south for about five years immediately due to contract problems. Of course he came back, so maybe Landau was correct.

Meanwhile, a Decca Records exec turned down The Beatles saying, "Groups of four are on the way out."

Critics are the political pollsters of music.

April 23, 2008 at 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steveie Nicks' vibrato has been known to set of seismometers. Re-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ly

April 23, 2008 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Amanda Gillooly said...

Bess,
I knew someone was gonna call me out on the Prince thing. I can't help it. I just can't dig him. Never did. But then again, maybe I was just listening to too much Phil Collins. But I will say that he can pull off purple form-fitting suits better than any man I know. Oh, btw, my boyfreind bought me some Rainer Maria. I likey!
Harry -- I agree. The Shins rock.

April 23, 2008 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger Amanda Gillooly said...

Oh, and while we're at it, why does Hootie and the Blowfish still get so much damn airtime???

April 23, 2008 at 5:55 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I have to admit, I thought the first Hootie album featured some good tunes, but like a lot of groups, they had absolutely nothing to follow it up with. The history of popular music is littered with acts who, after one album, appeared to either be the "next big thing" or at least have solid careers, but they just disappeared. It's all about the songs, and if you can't keep writing good songs, your chance of staying in the spotlight is severely diminished. Of course, some artists, such as Madonna, seem to be immune to this general rule.

April 23, 2008 at 11:48 PM  
Blogger Harry Funk said...

Thanks for the CDs, Brant! If you ever want some old '60s hippie music, let me know!

April 24, 2008 at 11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're one year too late for the Summer of Love re-hashish, Harry.

April 24, 2008 at 12:49 PM  
OpenID bessmeredith said...

Brant, you know I have a love for Elvis Costello and Fountains of Wayne, although not as fervent as your own. I agree both are good, fun bands/musicians. But how can you say that Radiohead's music forces animals to run for cover? It is both lyrical and composed. Hey, try listening to "A chance to cut is a chance to cure" by Matmos. It came out in 2001 and is a CD created by the experimental electronic/bizzaro artist who made real sound clips from surgeries into "songs." Then tell me Radiohead isn't listenable.
Yes, Neutral Milk Hotel was a band headed by indie folk singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum. They were short-lived, but I LOVED what they did. However, some may say (though not me) it isn't as palatable as say Ryan Adams or Rufus Wainwright or other alt-folk singers. Their sound was a bit dissonant and their lyrics a bit on the dark, sometimes eerie side, but in a beautiful way, in my opinion. I'm thinking though, if you don't like the oddity in Yorke's voice, you won't like these guys either...just a guess.

Amanda: I LOVE the Shins! I saw them at CMU a few years ago and they're as good live as they are recorded. I also love Built to Spill - a band I see every time they're in Pittsburgh. One of my all time favorites.

April 28, 2008 at 9:46 PM  

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