Saturday, February 16, 2008

Top Ten Rock Acts of All Time By: Shane Christensen

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I think it’s only fitting to continue my top 10 lists with my choices for the top ten rock acts of all time. This list will again be populated with groups or individuals that meet certain criteria that separates greatness from everything else that follows.

And in my opinion, the trailblazers who had the massive initial influence on this genre, should be both respected and noted for that. Because of this, the list includes acts from the '50s, '60s, and '70s, that in some cases tend to be forgotten for exactly how much weight they actually possessed when they were still “relevant”. I say that with tongue planted firmly in cheek as I believe they are and will remain relevant forever because of their accomplishments, influences, and immense talents.

So what makes an artist truly extraordinary so that they should be considered the best of all time?

1.) Their talent initiated or changed the musical direction of the day.

2.) Their popularity was truly phenomenal

3.) They are still looked upon with reverence by today’s fans/critics

4.) Their success had staying power and could not be characterized as the flavour of the month

My choices for the top ten rock acts of all time are as follows:

1.) The Beatles

No surprise here, and if there is then I would question your age and if you have ever sincerely listened to rock music. The Beatles' success was extraordinary to the extent that they influenced generations, even after they were long gone. Many books and even movies exist that tell the amazing Beatles story, so I won’t try to do it here. But I will suggest that if you want to read the real story, start with the Beatles Anthology, as it’s written by the surviving three together, so you’re guaranteed to get substance over sensationalism. Also, the movie Backbeat is my favourite rock movie of all time, and is worth viewing if you’re interested in this band’s humble beginnings.

2.) Elvis

This was a tough one, but I have to go with influence here, and no single artist was as influential to rock music as this man. Sure, it can be argued that Chuck Berry WAS rock ‘n’ roll, and definitely more talented as a songwriter and musician. But the truth is that his success was not comparable to Presley’s, and that only the Beatles themselves would reach and surpass that level of total domination of the rock genre of the day. There is a very real reason that he is still referred to as the King of Rock, even many decades after his unfortunate passing.

3.) Led Zeppelin

This band was never loved by the rock critics as they borrowed (stole?) heavily from the old blues cats, and committed the unforgivable sin of being prickish enough not to give them their due credit and cash. But Zeppelin was undeniably the most successful and influential hard rock act of all time. They are the only band that I would dare to even put on the same level as the Beatles, and all you have to do is look at their success from ’69 to ’71 when they released four classic albums that even crossed musical genres in many cases. And instead of losing a fan base, they just kept getting bigger and bigger until they too reached that level of success that separated them from the rest of the crop. I’ve always maintained that Jimmy Page is the most underrated and under-appreciated individual in the history of rock, as he excelled at every facet of performing, including his extraordinary songwriting and production skills, to playing guitar as well as any of his peers. About the only thing he couldn’t do was sing, but we’ll forgive him for that as he’d done enough already. And besides, who needs to sing when you’ve got a guy named Robert Plant in your band.

4.) Chuck Berry

All you have to do is watch the film Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll to truly appreciate the influence of this gentleman on the rock genre. Berry influenced absolutely everybody including the Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, AC/DC, George Thorogood, and I’m sure I could easily write another dozen names if I gave it a second or two of thought. And the reality is that this guy got screwed by the system because of his skin colour, and both his career and personal life suffered terribly because of it.

And it’s sad because he was a consummate artist as he wrote and sang his own songs, played guitar like no one else, and even did that cool little duckwalk that he’s still known for. In a perfect world, he would have been known as the King of Rock instead of Presley, but the reality is that he was a victim of both the times he lived and his own anti-establishment anger and rebelliousness that ensured career suicide and even incarceration for doing what all the other rock stars of the day were doing. Yes friends, life is not fair, and Berry is living proof of that.

5.) The Rolling Stones

This is another one of those acts that require no introduction or explanation, and are one of the rare bands that gave the Beatles a bit of competition in any real sense. They would come into their own during their glory years in the late sixties and early seventies after the other “lads” had self-destructed, producing a few all-time classic albums that propelled them to mythic proportions. Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile On Main Street were recorded during a period of great personal instability but exceptional creative drive as the band was facing financial ruin, exile from England, and possible incarceration for Keith. I’ve always said that the Stones were a great singles band, and they’re written some of the greatest songs of all-time, ranging from Satisfaction to Midnight Rambler, and many quality tracks in between. They are also one of the most influential acts in the rock genre for both their musical and personal exploits that include everything Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Guns N Roses did or ever thought about doing while on tour, but that the Stones did first. They were the true originals, with help from the Who in many respects, for mayhem on the road.

6.) Neil Young

The man I consider our country’s greatest natural resource still maintains his relevance today and has undeniably joined the legions of rock royalty, usually reserved for those acts that have long passed. His staying power and diversity is amazing, and he possesses the exceptional talent of being able to write both incredible music AND lyrics that rival Dylan’s. A good friend of mine recently attended one of Neil’s Massey Hall shows in Toronto and said that Young is still one of the greatest artists he has ever had the pleasure to watch, and my bud Murray has seen EVERYBODY including Zeppelin, U2, and the Stones. As I’ve said many times before, Neil has made all Canadians proud, and continues to do so.

7.) Pink Floyd

In my mind, Floyd was probably neck and neck with Zeppelin for different stretches in the ‘70s, and that’s saying a lot. The album Dark Side of the Moon was as big an accomplishment as any band has ever achieved, and it was followed by Wish You Were Here which is an amazing album itself. While Animals never garnered the commercial or critical success of the other two, it remains a perennial favourite of hard-core Floyd fans and was followed by The Wall, which still remains one of the biggest double albums in rock history. Another act that still possesses a huge following that transcends age and nationality, as the Floyd has always been big in many non-English speaking countries such as Italy, Greece, and Germany.

8.) Eric Clapton

This amazing talent has had the pleasure of playing with more music royalty than probably anyone else in existence, in no part because of his name as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. The list looks something like this: Beatles, Stones, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, the Band, Roger Waters, Phil Collins, Robbie Robertson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King. I could go on a bit longer, but you get the idea. When you get to hang with this crowd, your reputation definitely precedes you, and Mr. Clapton deserves any reputation he’s achieved as one of the true greats. He has the distinction of being inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame three times in all, for his work with Cream, the Yardbirds, and his solo output.

9.) Bob Dylan

I would not have a complete list if I did not include Robert Zimmerman. Although his commercial success doesn’t rival a lot of the others on this list, he would influence nearly all of them, especially the lads from Liverpool who changed their musical direction in ’65 because they were so blown away by Bob. The fact that he turned them onto smoking pot also had massive repercussions as that would also influence the albums Revolver and Sgt. Peppers... enormously.

And let’s not lose sight of his work, as he was very successful in his own right in the early to mid-sixties, and has maintained an impressive worldwide following that is reserved for rock royalty of his stature. He is one of the finest lyricists who brought intelligence and introspection into the rock world, especially with the classics Blowin’ In The Wind and Like A Rolling Stone. Without Dylan, we might not have had a Hendrix, Springsteen, or U2, along with a whack of others that first decided to create ‘something’ because of his magic. He is as diverse a performer as one can possibly imagine, and has played with just about everybody you can think of in the world of music.

10.) U2

This is the only post-sixties act that I would include in this exceptional list, but U2 is very much a product of that musical era as their musical influences included all of the preceding acts. This band out of Dublin accomplished something that normally we don’t see anymore, and that is to reach a level of success that has lasted decades instead of years, or months sometimes. They themselves would go on to influence “newer” bands such as Oasis or Coldplay, and have produced a catalogue that would be the envy of any rock act. The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby specifically rate as two great works, and the band is still going strong as their tours and albums continue to sell impressively. Bono has reached a personal level of non-musical achievement with his humanitarian effort to combat global suffering in the third world, and that is something he can be justifiably proud of in this age of “bling”.

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