I have a definite top 3 rock artists: Rush, Pink Floyd and Neil Young. They're all very different from each other and cover a wide spectrum of styles, flavors and sounds. Since I didn't have the privilege of noodling deeply through Young's cannon until the last couple of years, he's the most recent addition. Before him it was a solid top 2, but "Shakey" (Young's nickname) absolutely blows my mind.
Despite their differences in sound texture, general mood, and band makeup (not talking about the KISS kind), there are definitely some common threads that draw me to these three artists.
What do my top three bands all have in common:
- They all stem from the 1960s. Neil Young started out with Buffalo Springfield around 1965, then went on to form a collaborative rotation between Crosby, Stills & Nash, then Crazy Horse, and as a solo artist with multiple lineups over the years... Pink Floyd incubated about the same time as Young; with Syd Barrett (guitar, vocals), Roger Waters (bass, vocals), Richard Wright (keys, vocals), and Nick Mason (drums). David Gilmour (electric/acoustic guitars) joined in 1968 and Barrett soon left thereafter (see photo below, a shot during the band's brief period as a quintet)... In terms of Rush; at the age of 15, Alex Lifeson (electric/acoustic guitar, top photo on the rt.) formed the first incarnation of the band in 1968 with Jeff Jones (bass, vocals) and John Rutsey (drums). The lineup went through several changes -- including as a quartet for some time with someone on keys -- before settling on the classic trio lineup in 1974 with Geddy Lee (bass, vocals, keys, to lft.) and Neil Peart (drums & percussion [lyrics too], center), and it shall remain that way as long as there is Rush, God willing... Hopefully I'm accurate in all that info...
- They uphold high standards of quality and musicianship. They're passionate about their art, and it's about very little else...and that passion is definitely contagious, as it spills over into the fan camp.
- A high majority of their core members are multi-instrumentalists. I won't bore you by listing all the instruments each band member can play, but I can assure you it's an unbelievably long list.
- They present incredible lyrical quality and depth...the kind that resonates with you to the point where you borrow quips from songs years later --- to the effect that the artist serves as some kind of guidance counselor, helping to make sense of a sometimes very complicated world... probably helping to form part of one's life creed. Hey, at least that's how it has worked for me.
- They're their own harshest critics. Despite some harsh critics out there (many times unfair) --- and despite some definite bashing and pot shots thrown in the direction of these artists (from fans, critics, and giants in the rock industry alike [ahem, can anyone say Rolling Stone?]) --- in the end THE ARTISTS are their own hardest critics.
- They're survivors and have shown longevity of at least 30 years (roughly) as active recording and live performing acts. To be totally precise, Pink Floyd made it to 28 years, but we'll fudge the numbers a bit and give them the benefit of the doubt---especially considering they reunited in 2005 for the Live 8 performances.
- They each have attained their own distinctive sound; to the effect that any rock listener would immediately recognize them.
- They've inspired a generation of musicians, with more to come.
- They each have great diversity in their catalog, which in the case of each band spans the course of at least 4 decades.
- They've built their careers on touring and the quality of live performance. Touring, touring, touring... and more touring... Between 1974 and 2007, Rush alone have released 19 studio albums in its career, and toured off every single release. With that many albums under one's belt, that's COMPLETELY unheard of... but it shows how much the artist values the live presentation of their material.
- They have all had the pleasure of performing live for ME. It seems like a foregone conclusion that I should see all of my top three bands live, but that didn't happen until last fall, when I saw Neil Young for the first time. Since I've seen Roger Waters live as a solo artist, and a "Rogerless" Floyd, I'll count that as seeing the classic Floyd lineup---although it's not the same thing---but I have the excuse of age working for me there (I was in 5th grade when The Wall came out, and my folks wouldn't let me attend my first rock concert until 9th grade... interestingly enough, my first concert was Rush, my favorite band, on May 18, 1984).
- They're constantly reinventing themselves and aren't afraid to take risks... and they've taken plenty of them.
- They're warriors. They've failed, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and powered ahead. That was more tolerated in the 60s, 70s, and even the 80s... however the recording industry doesn't have tolerance for that anymore these days, which is really unfortunate. Artists sometimes learn and develop through mistakes they make, and classic albums can be born out of what's perceived as "erroneous experimentation."
- Their early catalogs are typically filled with a plethora of rawness and experimentation (and even some of their later material too). This tails off the prior two points a bit... these bands entered the music scene when they were still young, developing as musicians, and trying to "find their sound." So as a fan, to have the ability to track this sort of progress in an artist and hear the development not only presents a treasure trove of material and variety, but is unheard of anymore in the recording industry.
- They have lots of diversified material out there. To the effect of the last point, the works of these bands is VERY well documented.
- They've survived unthinkable tragedies... seismic shifts, to say the least, that would destroy most bands... ironically however, the tragedies survived by these artists have presented resonating long-term effects on these bands; with some good and some bad results.
- All these bands bring endearing, quirky elements to the forefront... qualities that turn most people away, but are preciously unique characteristics for their fan following... whether it's Geddy Lee's high-pitched vocals and Rush's 70s proggy period, Floyd's deep noodling into the avant-garde in the late 60s, or Neil Young "taking it into the ditch" in the early 70s (scrapping his polished sound for an out-of-tune, gravelly one)... only to name a few.
- They found success on their own terms... to the effect that all of them are rich beyond their wildest dreams... I call that out simply to make a point; any of these artists would humbly submit that the quality of the music is all that matters, that they are normal people who say they don't really matter (to the point of being self-depreciating), and you would hear them credit their success to their fans and others besides themselves.
- They each have enigmatic qualities and appeal... I'm not really sure why, they just do. That probably has to do with their determination to the quality of their craft, the lyrical subject matter that's tackled, perseverance, and a combination of all the other elements I've pointed out today.
- They show continued appreciation to their fans and don't exploit them. Perhaps this gives some insight as to why they've held on to their followings as long as they have, and why fans keep coming back for more... they WANT to support the artist... because the fans know the artist is dedicated to the quality of the product they put out and its live presentation... which trumps the element of making money (which is also nice)... the money was to come eventually, but that wasn't the focus... which is why Rush does things like paying $40K in use royalties to the Brazilian gov't to play 20 seconds of "The Girl from Ipanema" at a 2002 show in Rio de Janiero, during the filming of Rush in Rio.
- Oh, and of course they know how to rock and also have mellower acoustic abilities. Diversity is always a good thing.
One rule I gave myself before publishing this post was that I had to own, and have deep familiarity, with AT LEAST 95% of the original material from these bands...
That was easier said than done with Neil Young's recordings, as there are projects out there that are out of print and very difficult to find... such as the CD EP Eldorado from 1989, Trans from 1983, and a couple other albums from the 80s only available on LP... oh, and even one classic album from his "ditch trilogy" that he hasn't released on CD, 1973's Time Fades Away...and that doesn't include the recordings he finished and shelved, never releasing at all. Then you're left having to either seek out pirated recordings or go search through online jukebox sites, the latter of which I prefer to do...
So, that being said, I tried to be as comprehensive as I could be... this was a tough post that involved several sittings. S