Ten fine white guys
And now I will post the ten musicians of European descent who’ve had the biggest impact on my life. I exclude Bob Dylan and the Beatles because they’re a bit obvious.
10.Robert Smith of The Cure
Probably the best pop songwriter to come out of the British punk movement. He started out writing brittle new wave (“Killing an Arab”), moved on to moody goth pop (“One Hundred Years,” “Primary”), and by 1985 had stumbled onto a simplistic, bass-heavy songwriting style responsible for some of the best music of the decade (“In Between Days,” “Just Like Heaven,” “Pictures of You”). Got spottier into the 1990s.
Quintessential album: The Head on the Door
Quintessential song: “Just Like Heaven”
9.Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo
You don’t become a sought-after orchestral composer without an outstanding command of melody. Danny Elfman always had a great sense for hooks, from the early singles (“On the Outside,” “Little Girls”) on. The early Boingo new wave-with-horns style was whittled down into the 1980s, as the band got commissioned to theme major movies (“Weird Science,” “Dead Man’s Party”), and eventually mellowed into adult listening (“Out of Control”). I’m a bit disappointed Elfman hasn’t sung anything since he soundtracked Tim Burton’s “Nightmare before Christmas.”
Quintessential album: Good for Your Soul
Quintessential song: “We Close Our Eyes”
8.Lloyd Cole of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
I’d say Lloyd Cole has influenced more artists than he’s sold records. He basically gave Matthew Sweet a career, letting him play bass on his 1990 comeback record Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe. And the early Commotions songs (“Rattlesnakes,” “Perfect Skin”) are copied by all kinds of unsuccessful bands, like the Go-Betweens and Teenage Fanclub. But I like his most recent songs (“Past Imperfect,” “No More Love Songs”) best. It’s like he’s internalized the moody pretentious that other artists work at.
Quintessential album: Lloyd Cole
Quintessential song: “No Blue Skies”
7.Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys
The modern Cole Porter. A brilliant lyricist who couldn’t be more cynical if he got a degree in it, Tennant is also the best songwriter in the broadly defined genre of “dance music.” The early hits (“West End Girls,” “It’s A Sin”) absolutely shamed bands like Erasure as well as the shitty British invasion popsters like Duran Duran. The long remixes and melancholy hits (“Being Boring,” “Left to My Own Devices”) were slower and more thoughtful. My favorite era came in the early 90s, when they churned out single after brilliant single (“Go West,” “Se a Vida E”) and became a nostalgia act. Never understood why.
Quintessential album: Very
Quintessential song: “Go West”
6.John Linnell of They Might Be Giants
Probably did more to expand the lexicon of pop than anyone on this list. Started out writing about Shriners (“She’s An Angel”), had a hit about a nightlight (“Birdhouse in Your Soul”), stumbled with a song about palindromes (“I Palindrome I”), and sailed into middle age singing childrens’ music (“Bed Bed Bed”).
Quintessential album: Lincoln
Quintessential song: “The End of the Tour”
5.Peter Gabriel of Genesis
I was born in 1981, so of course my first exposure to him was “In Your Eyes.” But that’s an excellent song. None of Gabriel’s goofy transglobalism would work if he didn’t write wonderful songs with weird, beguiling melodies. His later period is dominated by bassist/deity Tony Levin (“Red Rain,” “Come Talk to Me”), but his early, prog rock songs (“Solsbury Hill,” “Games Without Frontiers”) display what he can do without a crutch.
Quintessential album: So
Quintessential song: “San Jacinto”
4.Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo
I got into an argument at Dr. Wax about this. The clerk swore that the early, punk Devo records (“Mongoloid,” “Jocko Homo”) were best, and the rest was pop crap. I disagreed. Not only do the hits rule (“Whip It,” “Girl U Want”), but the later MTV songs (“Shout,” “Through Being Cool”) rule beyond their reputation. No one could cut up the typical pop song and make it work like Mothersbaugh.
Quintessential album: Freedom of Choice
Quintessential song: “Snowball”
3.Alice Cooper of Alice Cooper
Do not believe the Pravda line on this guy. He did NOT stop being worthwhile after the Alice Cooper Band (“School’s Out,” “Under My Wheels”) broke up and he stole their name. His early solo records are brilliant, filthy, sleazy rock (“Cold Ethyl,” “Go to Hell”), and his strangely affecting ballads (“Only Women Bleed,” “How You Gonna See Me Now?”) are as good as anything else from that decade. OK, he lost it in the 1980s. Arguably.
Quintessential album: From the Inside
Quintessential song: “(We’re All) Clones”
2.Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground
As a fellow moody bastard who doesn’t take much seriously, I think his songs mean more to me than anyone else’s. This is unhealthy, but I already knew that.
Quintessential album: New York
Quintessential song: “Coney Island Baby”
1.Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices
I have no idea what he’s singing about, except for “Gold Star for Robot Boy,” because I asked him about that. I just know he writes more classic songs in a month than the Strokes have in a career.
Quintessential album: Bee Thousand
Quintessential song: “Tractor Rape Chain”