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June 19th, 2007


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12:35 am
So bdar hit me with a challenge today.

This question came up on an acquaintance's blog, and it would be right up your alley: A hundred years from now, say you're teaching a class on music of the twentieth century. Name the top eight BANDS (he excluded solo artists at this time) that make your course syllabus.

OK.

Arranged in (roughly) chronological order:The Carter Family

Recorded most of the great American folk songs and laid the foundation for country music. If I'm teaching this course, I also use their by-marriage connection to take a couple of weeks to talk about Johnny Cash. Additionally, the popularity of the Carters helped to spread the concept of recorded music into the home. (Possible alternates to fill a similar role: Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys, Bob Willis and The Texas Playboys, The Tennessee Three)

Duke Ellington & his Orchestra

Jazz, jazz, jazz. Can't talk about the 20th Century without it, and Ellington was the longest-reigning, most important bandleader of the time. Recorded with nearly everyone. (Possible alternate: Count Basie Orchestra)

The NBC Symphony Orchestra

Under the baton of Arturo Toscanini (the greatest conductor who ever lived, bar none), brought classical music into homes for over fifteen years. Toscanini assembled the best of the best of the best, and it was evident in the music. Somewhere around here Ihave a CD of the NBC Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony; if their rendition of the fourth movement doesn't bring you to at least goosebumps, if not tears, you are most likely dead. (Possible alternates: none--no one else ever connected quite as well.)

The Beatles

The easiest name to come up with and the first I thought of when compiling this list (PE was the second). Chuck Klosterman, when putting together a list of bands that were neither overrated nor underrated, said EDITED TO CORRECT THIS QUOTE
4. The Beatles: The Beatles are generally seen as the single most important rock band of all time, allegedly because they wrote all the best songs. Since both of these suppositions are true, the Beatles are rated properly by everyone.
And that seems about right. As a fun experiment if you want to see how discerning your friends are, ask them which they think is better: "Revolver" or "Sgt. Pepper's". Newer conventional wisdom holds that "Revolver" is actually the more accomplished work. (Speaking for myself, I'm more of a White Album guy.) (Possible alternates: None. See Klosterman above. Trying to teach 20th Century music without mentioning the Beatles would be like trying to teach 20th Century history without mentioning the United States.)

The Wailers

Arguably the most obscure choice on this list, the Wailers serve as our entree into the rising force that world music became in the second half of the 20th Century. The Wailers featured both Bob Marley and Peter Tosh and helped develop reggae into a viable commercial and artistic force. I once heard Marley referred to as the first real celebrity from the Third World, and it fits. (Possible alternate: not actually a band, but Fela Kuti was less a man than a force of nature.)

The Velvet Underground

A potentially controversial choice, as they were never terribly popular, but they were unspeakably influential. Iggy Pop happens because of the VU. The New York Dolls happen because of the VU. The Ramones happen because of the VU. David Bowie happens because of the VU, and so on, and so on. Even a band like Nirvana can be traced back to the Velvet Underground through several layers of filters. Read Please Kill Me if you don't believe me. (Possible alternates: The Ramones, The Stooges, Nirvana)

Black Sabbath

Led Zeppelin can go fuck themselves. The rise of heavy metal begins with Sabbath. (Sorry, I stepped away for three minutes to listen to "Paranoid" again.) Arguably the first band to really want to sound scary, Sabbath paved the way for everyone from Metallica to System of a Down to Mastodon. (Possible alternates: Led Zeppelin, Metallica)

Public Enemy

Not the first, perhaps, but the best. Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X and the rest were the inital group to seize on what hip-hop could be and were at the vanguard of a revolution in music which continues to reverberate to this day. Maybe, just maybe, 100 years from now when I'm teaching this class, the biggest argument won't be "Revolver" vs. "Pet Sounds" vs. "Sgt. Pepper's", but "Revolver" vs. "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" vs. "Nevermind". (Possible alternates: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-D.M.C., N.W.A.)

Argue away.

(11 points | Discuss)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:911939
Date:June 19th, 2007 02:12 pm (UTC)
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I won't pretend to be any kind of expert on pop music, but I like your take on this. I like how the bands that you choose are the bands that popularized their particular brand of music. The obscure, influential bands are important, but the bands that popularize are the bands that are remembered. Of course, quite a few of your choices were innovators and influences as well. Even the more obscure choices, The Wailers and the Velvet Underground, did their work to popularize their genre. I can't imagine anyone who popularized "World" music more than Marley, and that music found its way into rock music via bands like The Clash. And I think everyone has at least heard of the Velvet Underground, and the acts they spawned certainly changed music. I'm also with you on the choice of Sabbath over Zeppelin, especially after I've discovered how much of Zeppelin's music is converted old blues tunes. Not that that's bad or anything, it's just not exactly "metal".
[User Picture]
From:loosestrudel
Date:June 19th, 2007 04:06 pm (UTC)
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Led Zeppelin can go fuck themselves.

Now be nice...

But seriously, good selections given the limit of choosing bands and the limit of 20th century music. Considering the latter restriction, I'm not sure where The NBC Orchestra fits in. That is, I'm not sure where classical music fits in to the 20th century story. If you really want an orchestra, might I suggest The Boston Pops or the London Symphony Orchestra for their dual contributions to film scores--a highly appropriate 20th century orchestral music form?

More thoughts when I think 'em...here's some loose ones:

  • The Beatles, if not overrated, are certainly overplayed. And fine, yeah, I admit to thinking they're overrated too. But they're appropriate curriculum as probably the most popular band of all time.

  • Thinking about it more, I'd drop the orchestra and teach the Stones. It's pretty much unforgivable not to teach the Stones. Talk about influence.

  • I might step back from Zeppelin and Sabbath to The Who. Tough to pick 8. Tough to not talk about Pete Townshend. I consider him more influential than Ozzie, Plant or Page.

  • I like the Velvet Underground, PE, Carter family, and Duke picks a lot.

  • I feel like we're missing someone early in Rock 'n Roll. Like the Comets or something. Probably would have to expand the list though...

  • Not enough jazz. Again, needs more than 8. Plus, jazz is mostly solo acts with "their trio".

  • Not enough Hip-Hop? I'm sort of asking. But I feel like PE covers some of the tougher rap that evolved afterwards. But there's all that other danceable Hip Hop out there--with very few "bands" though.

  • I think in 100 years, history will look back on the late-20th century as the dawn of electronica and mash-ups and house music and trance and the like. That's gonna need representation. And the more I think of it, that's the biggest hole I can drive through your excellent list. Unless the Chemical Brothers and the Crystal Method will prove to be the Comets and Herman's Hermits to the Beatles of electronica that will emerge this century.

    Fun stuff. Thanks.
  • [User Picture]
    From:arettber
    Date:June 19th, 2007 07:05 pm (UTC)
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    "Thinking about it more, I'd drop the orchestra and teach the Stones. It's pretty much unforgivable not to teach the Stones. Talk about influence."

    Plus, they have the advantage of still going strong after nearly a century.
    [User Picture]
    From:hannibalv
    Date:June 20th, 2007 05:44 am (UTC)
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    And hell, I could bring in the immortal/undead Keith Richards as a guest lecturer.
    [User Picture]
    From:loosestrudel
    Date:June 20th, 2007 04:16 pm (UTC)
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    "Class, please welcome Professor Emeritus and Posthumous Richards."

    : )
    [User Picture]
    From:hannibalv
    Date:June 20th, 2007 05:43 am (UTC)
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    But seriously, good selections given the limit of choosing bands and the limit of 20th century music. Considering the latter restriction, I'm not sure where The NBC Orchestra fits in. That is, I'm not sure where classical music fits in to the 20th century story.

    Consider that before the 20th Century, the concept of recorded music--in fact, music in any kind of public space performed for reasons other than "we're going to see and hear music" was unheard of. Erik Satie had a lot to do with changing that. The NBC Symphony sort of turned that around by instead of having people come in to hear the music, the music was sent out into people's homes so they could experience it there. That said, you're right, they are the most tenuously-perched group on this list, but the fact remains that there has never been a higher concentration of the best musicians in the world ever assembled.

    Thinking about it more, I'd drop the orchestra and teach the Stones. It's pretty much unforgivable not to teach the Stones. Talk about influence.

    Hmmm...nope. They fill the same niche as the Beatles, but fall significantly short of the Beatles' achievements.

    I might step back from Zeppelin and Sabbath to The Who. Tough to pick 8. Tough to not talk about Pete Townshend. I consider him more influential than Ozzie, Plant or Page.

    See above in re: Stones--again, the Who fill the same niche. Mind you, I like the Who better than the Stones, and the Stones better than the Beatles, but especially with so few slots, there can be only one.

    I feel like we're missing someone early in Rock 'n Roll. Like the Comets or something. Probably would have to expand the list though...

    I thought about this, too, but came up empty. Another possibility: The Temptations.

    Not enough jazz. Again, needs more than 8. Plus, jazz is mostly solo acts with "their trio".

    More jazz than Duke Ellington?

    I think in 100 years, history will look back on the late-20th century as the dawn of electronica and mash-ups and house music and trance and the like. That's gonna need representation. And the more I think of it, that's the biggest hole I can drive through your excellent list. Unless the Chemical Brothers and the Crystal Method will prove to be the Comets and Herman's Hermits to the Beatles of electronica that will emerge this century.

    In that case, we do know who the eighth band should be: Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk established the backbone for the house and techno scenes of the early '80s, which, in turn, led to rave culture and the electronic music boom of the '90s. (Another offshoot: disco.)
    [User Picture]
    From:loosestrudel
    Date:June 20th, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC)
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    It's a subjective salad of course, but I don't think the Beatles, Stones and Who fall into the same niche. But as a rock music fan, I see lots of shades to the genre. I see the Beatles leading two strains, that of high-revenue pop music and early psychedellic experimentation. I see the Stones paving the way for blues music to become rock music and every band who belts a bluesy tune through a really loud amp owes them tribute. For the Who--who better and earlier screamed epic muscial statements through a rock genre? For me, they're the three biggest, earliest branches on the tree that still have growing buds today.

    And given how rock music basically shaped the model for all popular recorded music that followed, I just can't see leaving these three enormous contemporaries out of the curriculum. The arbitrary limit is just too low.

    Aside, how do the Rolling Stones fall significantly short of the Beatles' achievements? In terms of longevity, the Stones have surpassed the Beatles by far. In terms of influence, the Stones are at least equal. In terms of sales, perhaps they fall short, I'll have to check. And what sticks in my craw the most--the Stones are more than a studio band. They toured and showcased their talents live and created experiences for their fans beyond the vinyl. Live music matters less in the 20th century, but live music still matters.

    Finally, yes, more Jazz than Duke. Coltrane, Monk, Davis and other 50s and 60s giants reinvented that music enough to warrant another mention--they just never did it as a "band" in the way we think of them.

    Where did Seamus come up with 8 anyway?

    Again, fun topic. Thanks.
    [User Picture]
    From:serendipidy
    Date:June 21st, 2007 01:26 am (UTC)
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    If we're talking about touring and creating experiences in the live show, I'll go ahead and throw out The Grateful Dead.

    Not that I'm even remotely a fan. I just want to see what the reaction is.

    And, side note, just because The Stones have longevity doesn't mean they're producing anything worth listening to.
    [User Picture]
    From:loosestrudel
    Date:June 21st, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC)
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    And, side note, just because The Stones have longevity doesn't mean they're producing anything worth listening to.

    It doesn't mean they are. But they are.

    Also, good call on The Dead. They've got a niche, and no doubt John would think it too small to mention in his course, but I'm a fan. Probably too much of a fan to be subjective.
    [User Picture]
    From:hannibalv
    Date:June 21st, 2007 06:20 am (UTC)
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    Aside, how do the Rolling Stones fall significantly short of the Beatles' achievements? In terms of longevity, the Stones have surpassed the Beatles by far. In terms of influence, the Stones are at least equal. In terms of sales, perhaps they fall short, I'll have to check. And what sticks in my craw the most--the Stones are more than a studio band. They toured and showcased their talents live and created experiences for their fans beyond the vinyl. Live music matters less in the 20th century, but live music still matters.

    Not for the classroom circumstances given as a part of the original question, it doesn't. Though it occurs to me that the Stones should have done the opposite of what the Beatles did--the Beatles stopped touring to concentrate on studio work and making records, while the Stones should have stopped making records and concentrated on touring for the rest of their lives.

    Finally, yes, more Jazz than Duke. Coltrane, Monk, Davis and other 50s and 60s giants reinvented that music enough to warrant another mention--they just never did it as a "band" in the way we think of them.

    Ellington played with Davis and Coltrane--or perhaps I should say Davis and Coltrane played with Ellington--and Monk made a prominent record, Thelonius Monk plays Duke Ellington.

    More perhaps on the other side of sleep.
    [User Picture]
    From:loosestrudel
    Date:June 21st, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC)
    (Link)
    Live music matters less in the 20th century, but live music still matters.

    Not for the classroom circumstances given as a part of the original question, it doesn't.


    Why? Live music is still 20th century music. Hell, concert promotion is an industry by itself--such is the demand for live 20th century music.

    the Stones should have stopped making records and concentrated on touring for the rest of their lives

    Bang was a fine record. Probably the best ever relased by senior citizens. : )

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