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Who are the current music geniuses?

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I’ve got a solid six geniuses from my gen.

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1979 was a good year to be an entering freshman and music lover.*  I thought as much at the time and now I think it can be said so objectively.  The Police, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, U2, Squeeze, B-52s, Joe Jackson, REM, Pretenders, English Beat were all breaking new.  Petty, Thorogood, Stones, Aerosmith had gas left in the tank for the old guard.  Springsteen in his prime.  Michael Jackson’s best album came out that year.  Prince’s first.  I soaked it in.

Aerosmith-Rocks-Interior_Frontal

Aerosmith, late 70s. Not shown: way too many pharmaceuticals. Not heard: the worst concert band I’ve witnessed. (Saw them in 2006 when they were dry… they’re quite good live now.)

So when I see music tweets in my timeline referencing artists I don’t know or, worse, don’t understand, there may not be a better way to recognize my elderly-ness.

Especially since I always thought of myself as a guy who wouldn’t stay locked into a music time warp.  I mean I moved on from my favorite bands in high school (Aerosmith, Todd Rundgren, Yes) to new wave, got into blues when I moved to Chicago.  (Literally threw money at Son Seals around two or three AM at Kingston Mines and followed it up with rib tips from Leons on Clark around 4…  but I digress.)  Like, “Hey I’m listening to English Beat and my high school buddies are still on Nugent.”

I thought I was with it.

Flash forward to the 90s and I’m still trying to stay current but finding it harder.  Sublime, Beck, Nirvana, I got.  Beyond that, I didn’t get it and also slowly stopped trying.  “Just tee up the Natalie Merchant, wifey, k, thx.”  Pearl Jam was a major divide.  Didn’t (and still don’t) get it… although Eddie Vedder’s music from Into the Wild was much appreciated.  Black Keys is pretty much the only current band I get unless you count OCMS.

So I posed a question to my younger friends on twitter yesterday:

q to the musical: my gen had two geniuses, lennon and marley. plus maybe prince. who are the geniuses of this generation?

Naturally, since then I’ve had a chance to think about it and the list is now longer.  And so, in the words of one of our geniuses:  How did I get here?

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Define genius.

I’m not sure you could raise a more subjective topic with a more subjective metric.  Not for the last time, I’ll state the obvious:  this is just one man’s take using gut feel measure.

For me, genius means quasi-God-like.  Other-worldly.  Hmm.. I’m not defining this very well; let’s go with examples.  There were many great artists in the Renaissance, only one Da Vinci.  Many great Baroque Classical Era composers, but Mozart and Beethoven stand apart.  Max Planck was a gifted physicist; Einstein was Einstein.

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Of course the inventor of three-finger banjo is a genius. Only debate is if he’s my generation.

It’s probably the worst way to think of it, but to me, the genius gets applied where there’s universal consensus.  Thus Lennon and Marley.  And since it’s my post, there’s going to be a bias based on whether I loved their music (e.g., no Jimi Hendrix.) and also whether or not I know their music (e.g., no Miles Davis).

Circling back to the subject.  Here’s one guy’s relative genius rating of the music from his generation.  (Original list in black font; additions in blue.)

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Einstein level.

John Lennon, Bob Marley, Prince, David Byrne, Earl Scruggs**, Brian Wilson, Neil Young.  Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, James Taylor.

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Planck level.

Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Al Green, Elton John, Jimmy Page, Van Morrison, Sting, Freddie Mercury (moved up), James Taylor (moved up), Bono, Mark Mothersbaugh.  Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, David Bowie (grudging, see below), David Gilmour, Lowell George, Cat Stevens, Mick Jones, Pete Townshend.

Question:  who in this group is best candidate to move into top tier? 

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Oppenheimer level.

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Real easy to forget his pre-80s works.

Jim Morrison, Christine McVie, Jerry Garcia, Billy Joel (moved down), Angus Young, Ronnie Van Zant, Bruce Springsteen, Carly Simon, Donald Fagan, Rod Stewart, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Townshend (moved up), Paul Rodgers, Ted Nugent (moved down), George Clinton.  Mark Knopfler, Marvin Gaye, Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty, Joe Strummer, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding.

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Post-doctoral work.

Joe Perry, Chryssie Hynde, Madonna, Ted Nugent, Ray Davies, (fine Bup, and because consensus matters) Billy Joel, Phil Collins, Joe Jackson, Bob Seger, Robert Palmer, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne.

Chop that up any way you want.  It’s opinion; it’s for fun.  And it’s guaranteed to require editing.  I’m actually curious to see who I’m forgotting or who gets moved.  So I’ll keep this original set in black, any edits will be in some other color.

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What about now?

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Had no idea Thom Yorke was held in such esteem. So… yeah. That’s where I’m at.

But getting back to my original question:  who are this generation’s geniuses?  When I say ‘this generation’ let’s use 1990 as a break point.  E.g., Kurt Cobain would be easy to fit into one of the categories above, but he’s not really my generation.

And the real, broader question is:  is music now less rich, or am I just getting old?  (Or both?)

I’m prepared for the answer and I can only tell you youngsters that you never think age is going to tell on you or get you or change you… but eventually it gets you.  So this is, I guess,  a cry for help… the alternative is that your music sucks.  History tells us that that’s not true; it’s more probably the listener who’s just not tuned in.

I should like to be tuned in.

That being said, my off-the-top-of-the-head ‘new geniuses’ registered only Cobain and Nowell.  Nowell was panned by my twitter.  I was reminded of Beck and agree.  Thom Yorke and Dave Grohl seemed to have a consensuses building.  A case was made for Jeff Tweedy.

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I mean seriously:  I wouldn’t even know Black Keys if it weren’t for you all.  Never heard of OCMS until Art Brosef linked to Wagon Wheel in the context of the Kent-Akron game.  D.U., Tupac, Kanye, JayZ… please.  I know nothing there.

So help a brother out.  What am I missing?

And corollary:  who’s in your top six?

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The Bowie question.

Probably the most conflicted call for me is David Bowie.  I know many of the gents on the list sold-out for money or popularity or fashion.  (Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Springsteen.  Then there’s the whole Traveling Wilburys question.)  But the first YouTube below really really is as egregious a rip-off as there is and I will guess that Martha Reeves didn’t get anything from it.

Yet the second YouTube below shows that his works translates to any form or language beautifully.  (Seu Jorge, Life on Mars; I would nominate Seu Jorge for consideration in the ‘new’ group on the strength of his Bowie covers alone.)  So I’ll throw him in there… but just know he needs to account for himself.

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* One example of what was going on, early October 1980 album releases:

  • Zenyatta Mondatta, Police
  • Dirty Mind, Prince
  • Remain in Light, Talking Heads
  • The River, Springsteen
  • Making Movies, Dire Straits

That’s a pretty strong two weeks.

** Scruggs isn’t really my generation but he was active throughout… so I’ll throw him in.


80 Comments

  1. Motts says:

    You have James Taylor on your list….but not Carol King …..so you may want to edit that one.

    You have no metrics so this makes it tough…in the entire pantheon of rock greats Pete Townsend is clearly and most easily the entire embodiment of the word genius. Musically, instrumentally, creatively and from use of groundbreaking technology…I admit he sort of acts like a douche….and we can deduct points for that….but he wrote all the music, all the lyrics, everything. Tommy is considered hugely groundbreaking and genius….everyone reading this knows virtually every song on Who’s Next. Go to iTunes and download Quadraphenia…..trust me, you will know like 3 songs by heart…but the rest you have never heard before and they are unbelievable. The two instrumentals…The Rock and Quadraphenia will blow you away….and they are throw aways as he transitioned the story of the album. Can I get a like on this or what?

    • jimkanicki says:

      i had tickets for the 79 concert in cincy. (actually sold them because i have a chem exam the next day, can you imagine?) i know the who… agreed he’s too low, youre probably right that he’s in top tier.

      re carole king.. i wonder if james taylor is too low.

      • Motts says:

        JT is a tough one…kind of like Van the Man Morrison….we like our genius rockers to be musically edgy and misunderstood….but if I was stranded on a deserted island with nothing but J Ts greatest hits……A little piece of me would be ok staying stranded. Since carol king either wrote or partnered with a lot of his stuff….you could move them both up..the rock hall should hire us!
        Thank God for college chemistry!

  2. […] Yesterday I posed the question of who are today’s music geniuses and the discussion, the stellar discussion, yielded a lot of names.  Rather than update yesterday’s post, I’m going to take a stab at cataloging them as I did my gen’s geniuses.  (Remember, we’re working with individuals, not groups.)  Here’s what I got from the comments. […]

    • GetDownMoses says:

      With all my pontifiblahblah in praise of Bob Marley, I neglected to nominate some artists who I feel may qualify, having pushed the envelope in one way or another…

      THEN
      Ray Davies (when people ask “Stones or Beatles?”, I say “Kinks”)
      Richard Thompson
      Leonard Cohen
      Laurie Anderson
      Bruce Cockburn
      Todd Rundgren
      Kate Bush
      John Cale
      Ryuichi Sakamoto
      Adrian Belew
      Robert Fripp
      Joni Mitchell
      Colin Newman (Wire)
      Robyn Hitchcock
      Andy Partridge (XTC)
      Bjork

      NOW (last 20 years)
      Eugene Hutz (Gogol Bordello)
      Thom York
      Esperanza Spalding
      PJ Harvey

  3. spencer096 says:

    list needs some otis redding.

    • jimkanicki says:

      yeah. sam cooke too.

      • spencer096 says:

        good call…james brown and sly and the fam stone too.

        im kinda conflicted over bands like phish, dream theater and other musically ambitious bands. on one hand, dream theater’s musicians are obviously as talented as it gets from a musical gymnastics sense, but their music is far from transcendent or groundbreaking. phish did some adventurous stuff, but no…not geniuses.

        it’s hard to speak about modern jazz artists in that referential state as it’s still kind of mired in this post-bop cryogenically frozen period that’s little more than exercises in real-time music theory because it’s still stuck in the traditional style or so out there that it’s hard to separate from the academics.

        well, i think you accomplished what you set out to with this post and got everyone thinking haha.

  4. J. Lo says:

    I’d place Beck in there somewhere for sure. The album “Sea Change” is a piece of art and clearly displays a range of his talent of which most are unaware. Just to reaffirm others here, the guy’s from Radiohead deserve mention as a whole, not even just Thom Yorke. I’m particularly fond of Iron and Wine (Sam Beam). He continues to expand his sound, never satisfied to put out the same record. Elliott Smith belongs in this list for sure. The Shins (James Mercer) are an interesting listen. Another I think would need to be added is Tom Waits. He’s not young as he was inducted to the Rock Hall last year, but his music career continues. His latest “Bad as Me” is great as well as his 1999 Grammy winner “Mule Variations”.

    • jimkanicki says:

      lol, my brother’s been after to me to like tom waits for decades. but we had a leon redbone thing happening in our house growing up and you’d think that’d make more open to waits but it didn’t.

      • NeedsFoodBadly says:

        Waits is too abrasive even for me – another case of “I get and respect what he’s doing, it just ain’t for me.” That said, I LOOOVE “Goin’ Out West” by Waits, possibly because it might be his most conventional song in terms of structure/style (+ that bass).

      • J. Lo says:

        Haha.Yeah, Waits isn’t for everyone. That’s for sure. I’m always skeptical to make a recommendation for his music. All the more reason he may be a genius…… well, that or he really is just insane.

  5. Holdenbeach1 says:

    Excellent discussion starter with passionate responses from knowledgeable people.

    Before providing current artists that may be on track to becoming geniuses, I would like to offer Joni Mitchell for consideration to the list. She is not one of my favorite artists, but even though she is not my cup of tea, she composed and performed some powerful songs. Listen to “A Case of You” with your significant other and see where you end up.

    I just noticed that Bob Dylan is missing from the list. “Don’t Think Twice” is so excellently written that it can be taken a few ways. Love the Mike Ness snarling rendition of it.

    I have two lesser genius level people to consider and I will gladly admit that I am very biased towards their inclusion. The Replacements were and still remain my favorite band that is no longer together. Paul Westerberg gets to be on the list. If Bob Marley makes the list (and in my opinion he should) then there should be a place for Peter Tosh. Bob was all peace and love except for a few tracks while Peter Tosh was a self described “Stepping Razor”. “Equal Rights” is one of the best protest songs recorded.

    Amy Winehouse also deserves consideration for the list. Give a listen to “Valerie (’68 Version)” from the Lioness:Hidden Treasures collection. A genius level vocal talent gone too soon.

    Genius level people listed previously that I agree with: Jeff Tweedy, Gary Louris, Ryan Adams, Joe Strummer and many others.

    On to new music that deserves attention.

    The National puts out strong albums every couple of years. Trouble Will Find Me is strong from top to bottom. “Demons” could be the theme song for Cleveland sports fans.

    Kurt Vile is a tremendous guitarist and composer. “Walking on a Pretty Day” is over nine minutes of stoner ear candy.

    Chan Marshal AKA Cat Power is a singular talent. Listen to “The Greatest” as an entree.

    Patterson Hood of Drive By Truckers can really write some lyrics. You want to know how the racing tradition is passed down through the generations? Listen to “Daddy’s Cup”.

    Laura Marling is someone to keep an eye on.

    In my opinion, the best TV show for finding musicians playing live is “Later…With Jools Holland”. In a circular soundstage with a live audience and the camera in the middle, five bands watch one perform live and then onto the next band. Jools Holland is the host and was/is the keyboard player from Squeeze. The show can be seen on BBC America or Paladium. My favorite moment of his show was seeing Cat Power rocking out in a long shot while Mary J Blidge was killing it.

    Billy Joel needs to be forcibly removed from this list and never spoke of again. The classic songs of New York are “New York” by Frank Sinatra and “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z featuring Alicia Keys.

    • NeedsFoodBadly says:

      I’ve been mulling over The National for a bit. They’ve had such a great run of albums, and on the “Recommend to Kanicki new music” side of things, I think they might be a good fit for him. CHECK ‘EM OUT! And they’re from Ohio (albeit Cinci). Start with the albums Boxer or Alligator, I think.

      Replacements is a good pick too. Peter Tosh is great.

    • jimkanicki says:

      Dylan’s in there. A late add, but there. Dont Think Twice is a fave here too; I’m partial to the Susan Tedeschi version. (Is she in the mix for the ‘current influencers’ discussion?)

      Poor Billy Joel. Lol. I dropped him into a newly manufactured ‘commercially can’t be ignored’ category. I liked my ‘Irving Berlin : Billy Joel’ comparison below. I.e., write 1500 songs and you’ll get a ‘White Christmas’ (or ‘Vienna’) eventually, no? Still… Billy Joel in concert was delightful and highly recommended for those in my age range.

      Yes on Empire State of Mind, but I still like NY State of Mind best of the three.

      • Holdenbeach1 says:

        I am 49 years old and cannot stand Billy Joel. I understand that people enjoy his music and he had the reputation as a showman. You are the curator, so you get final say. “When I wore a younger man’s clothes…” yikes.

        If you are gauging by showmanship, then please consider Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

        Looking through my iTunes I would also like to offer up Stevie Wonder. I believe that Eddie Murphy stated that “Stevie Wonder is a musical genius”. I see no flaw in this statement.

        I just noticed Earl Scruggs on the list and would like to offer Chet Atkins for consideration.

        Other new bands that make music to take note of with a sample:
        Broken Social Scene – Canadian collective of great talent – “7/4 (Shoreline)”
        Tame Impala – current psychedelic music – “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” or “Elephant”
        TV Girl – Most of their stuff is free. Catchy pop music with sampling – “If You Want It”
        Camera Obscura – pure pop music – “French Navy”
        Raveonettes – Distortion fuzz rock – “‘Aly, Walk With Me”. (They also have a song “Christmas in Cleveland”)
        Jens Lekman – This is a guy that may qualify for the genius list – “An Argument With Myself”

        Megachurch is a current band that I really enjoy although I only know about them since my nephew works at the Beachland Ballroom. I will readily admit that they may not be for everyone. From Wikipedia – They are an Ohio heavy rock band that employ two bass players and eschew vocals in favor of televangelist samples. “The Second Coming” is jaw dropping goodness.

        • jimkanicki says:

          There was a time when I actively disliked Billy Joel. And Elton John and Fleetwood Mac and ELO. Part of it, for me, is mellowing out with age. The other part in all these cases was exploring the earlier, pre-pop stuff. It’s not like they started out like, say Foreigner, totally built to sell albums.

          “Ohio heavy rock band that employ two bass players and eschew vocals in favor of televangelist samples.”

          If ever I want to troll for clicks, that is the phrase I would use. /removes RickRoll link.

          • Holdenbeach1 says:

            I have absolutely no problem with Elton John and Fleetwood Mac from a musical standpoint. They wrote some great songs for many years. Never was a big fan of ELO but do not actively wish them ill.

            Really enjoyed this discussion of musical geniuses with many different viewpoints stated without acrimony or recriminations.

            A companion article could be “bands that make you cringe and damage your ears and soul”. My top three of dreck would be 1) Loverboy, 2) Journey 3) REO Speedwagon (late period). Styx just misses cut.

            I will close with a compliment – this is the most enjoyable blog on the internet. Thank you for continuing to post.

            • spencer096 says:

              if loving styx is wrong, i dont wanna be right.

              the jig is up, the feds caught up, they finally found me!
              the renegade, owned flying j, had to pay back his bounty!
              mistake by the lake!
              our owner is a flake…jim-my has-laaammmmmmmmm!!!

    • spencer096 says:

      great call on joni mitchell. anyone who’s had jaco pastorius, pat metheny and robben ford in their band is a high-level musical mind.

  6. spencer096 says:

    “and doesnt the comet-talent (genius) open the door the practitioner? without a Scott Joplin you don’t get to, i suppose, dozens of others who were influenced? are there gershwins, porters, carmichaels without joplin?”

    absolutely…but in terms of long-lasting impact, the practitioner obsesses over HOW they got there while the prodigy just shrugs their shoulders and says they got there. hogan’s genius is equal parts his performance and his legacy on golf swing theory. einstein’s is in both the atomic developments and theory of relativity. bach in his pieces and his harmonic functions. etc.

    a normal person, hell even a genius, can’t comprehend what mozart or lebron or rory mcilroy can do…and while mozart and lebron figured out how to get in touch with that innate ability, rory hasnt yet. how many prodigies have we seen streak thru the sky only to fade?

    but a normal person can relate to ben hogan digging his swing out of the dirt and einstein failing math or jordan being so pissed off about being cut from his varisty team he had an eternal chip on his shoulder. of course, this thinking leads one to ignore those guys’ considerable, CONSIDERABLE natural gifts, but without that conscious effort to analyze and develop their skillsets their genius would be a mere footnote.

    freddie mercury is my fav singer of all time…youre spot on. duane’s just a personal favorite and even tho ive been waxing rhapsodic about music theory, i’ll always stump for the guys that i get nothing but pure joy listening to.

    OOOO!!! modern genius = derek trucks.

  7. spencer096 says:

    “Many great Baroque Era composers, but Mozart and Beethoven stand apart.”

    hmm…mozart and beethoven weren’t baroque era. might seem nitpicky, but it’s a fairly big distinction.

    i studied jazz and classical guitar at cleveland state and the university of north texas and, because i was an idiot and signed up for a bunch of masters level counterpoint and theory courses that i didnt need and couldnt afford, i feel like a distinction has to be made here regarding what a genius really is.

    the beatles were not geniuses in a pure musical sense. sorry. culturally, DEFINITELY were. lyrically? dont care about that argument, but sure. but musically? to put them on the level of bach, who is pretty much the trunk of the western music tree doesn’t sit right. or to put them on the level of miles davis or charlie parker or chopin or rachmaninoff or beethoven…it’s like comparing great caterers to 3-star michelin chefs.

    im not saying this to be insulting or snobbish, because music is supposed to be enjoyed, regardless of its arbitrary “quality” but there are elements to music that are ignored simply because they’re not widely understood, and it’s pretty hard to compare music like jazz and classical to rock.

    as for the post in general…i really enjoyed it. aside from the above, i can’t really quibble with any of it aside from my obvious anti-beatles bias.

    ps…i know we beefed on twitter regarding zappa, but for a lot of the reasons i illustrated above, i consider him to be the greatest composer post-WWII. his music is so adventerous, so demanding but with such an air of snark and sarcasm that i can see how you might not dig it, but there is an incredible depth of musical substance there to be appreciated.

    • spencer096 says:

      and yea, i know you kinda said the same thing about a distinction.

      kinda feel like that came off dick-ish…hardly my intent. love this type of stuff and really enjoyed it.

      • jimkanicki says:

        lol, not at all. here’s a stretch of a parallel,, see if it fits. my dad loved brubeck. and sure Take 5 and Blue Rondo are great music. but .. ok, so Take 5 is 5/4 and Blue Rondo is 9/8. now what. i mean.. it’s fine i guess to show that it can be done but should that be the creative driver? and i think i felt some of that with zappa… like ok, you can be unorthodox, but why? zappa made you work for it so frankly i just didnt take the time.

        anyways.. i’m a little piqued at myself at the moment for overlooking cat stevens and lowell george.

        ps, had no idea about the baroque era.. is bach the cut-off there? i know mozart and beethoven were like a 100 years after him, right? (not even checking wiki on this.)

        • bupalos says:

          Well baroque is baroque. Hear a harpsichord? Then it’s probably baroque. Straight laced and locked down. Then came Piano forte and shiznit gets a lot more expressive.

          • spencer096 says:

            well the pipe organ was pretty damn expressive.

            youre right in terms of baroque being straight laced and locked down tho…good description. the classical era had much more dynamic melodies and emotional impacts compared to the baroque era…it had to, bach perfected it so well that there was seriously nowhere else to go.

        • spencer096 says:

          “but .. ok, so Take 5 is 5/4 and Blue Rondo is 9/8. now what. i mean.. it’s fine i guess to show that it can be done but should that be the creative driver?”

          no different than a chef using the sous vide method or an artist using watercolor or oil as the creative foundation and going from there. that’s kind of the point i was getting at and something that parallels the sports fan universe quite well…look at the stats vs. eye-test arguments that are pervasive across the interwebs. it’s the EXACT same thing.

          you can’t be a pure spreadsheet guy because you lose the human element and you can’t just spout out cliche’s without substance behind it…gotta have that balance unless youre an exceptionally charismatic performer/artist/whatever. if the composer or artist can come up with a brilliant work like take 5 simply using a time signature as his inspiration, well…damn, that dude’s brilliant.

          regarding zappa, you look at him from a rock point of view, which i think is why youre not into him. if you look at zappa from a classical/jazz/composer’s point of view, the more you listen to his catalog, it’s like an onion of genius…so many ridiculous layers. but it’s hard to appreciate that without knowing the x’s and o’s, ya know?

          lowell george was the MAN. i remember my dad playing all sorts of little feat taking me to sports games when i was a kid. loved his slide…him and duane, sheeeeeeeeeit.

          a lot of people get hung up on classifying eras but i find that argument to be particularly boring. however, there is a pretty big distinction between baroque and classical. i wouldnt say bach’s the cut-off for baroque…that’d be around the early/mid 1700’s, depending who you ask…but he’s easily the most important figure in classical music as a whole.

          and one last thing…you put TWO members of the beatles on there and no jimi? i dont care if you didnt like him or not, look at the electric guitar pre-jimi and post-jimi. he COMPLETELY changed the game.

          • jimkanicki says:

            the problem with hendrix is that if he’s going on the list, he should be in einstein class. screw it.. even though i’m not a fan, yes i can see how different and impactful and iconic he was. too much peer respect to ignore. he’s in.

            bach always seemed more extremely diligent practitioner rather sublimely gifted as i think beethoven and mozart were. chopin should be in this discussion too probably. lol.

            • spencer096 says:

              ah, but the dilligent practitioner is always preferable to the comet-like talent! as great as mozart and beethoven were, you dont hear mathematicians and scientists and architects freaking out over their absolute precision. i think gladwell mentioned this somewhere…picasso was great, but his most famous stuff was all early on in his career while cezanne’s finest examples were pure distillations of everything he had learned over his 50 years painting, working, developing.

              the talented often dont have to work as hard and really delve into their work because it comes naturally. however, the practitioner? the cezanne? the ben hogan? the einstein? the bill walsh? now we’re getting somewhere.

              also, you asked who gets moved up from the planck tier…freddie mercury and duane allman.

              • jimkanicki says:

                you’re right about mercury. i once thought to try to learn one of his ‘easier’ songs on piano. downloaded the sheet music. ahem. it’s fair to say his inspirations resulted in compositions that were a bit more complex than his peers.

                not sure on allman. he had dickie betts (who probably belongs on the list somewhere) and the wisdom to hang-out at muscle shoals. did define a genre tho…

                [feel free to continue thread up top, sorry for the weak discussion software.]

                and doesnt the comet-talent (genius) open the door the practitioner? without a Scott Joplin you don’t get to, i suppose, dozens of others who were influenced? are there gershwins, porters, carmichaels without joplin?

                [linda richman voice] for bupalos: irving berlin was the billy joel of his era. discuss.

  8. clay says:

    I don’t know where on these lists they fit, but the Beastie Boys…

  9. I have to say my list would include Colin Meloy (The Decemberists), Ryan Adams, Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Josh Homme (QOTSA) Jack White, Maynard James Keenan (Tool), and Todd Snider. Also love Mark Olson and Gary Louis (The Jayhawks), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Thom Yorke (Radiohead). I think all of them would fit into your top 3 tiers somewhere.

    • jimkanicki says:

      This is a good list.
      The Decemberists are totally new to me. I see they’re from Portland OR. I’m busily pinging my friends at FishDuck to get more data. The clip I saw is interesting.

  10. Loving the discussion here Kanicki

    I could make a giant tree on my vote for how Jeff Tweedy(Uncle Tupelo) should be included in the genius list of my generation and spawned a new genre. However, I don’t think I have the time to go there, nor do I think many people around here know enough about alt-country to truly care.

    This clip of UT might be the most 90’s thing, like ever. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy3WkIfgkSQ

    I am fairly surprised to see that there has been no mentions of Rage Against the Machine on here yet. They are by far the best political band of all time. They do this without your casual “bird-brain” listener even noticing the true agendas behind their music. Is that a good or bad thing??? I’m not sure. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iljJo0cPFY) The combination of Zack de la Rocha’s vocal styling and punch you in the dick lyrics, with Tom Morello’s shredder guitar and innovative use of effects and technique is truly GENIUS.

    I guess I probably should have made separate replies for each of these thoughts but………

    “FUCK YOU…. I WONT DO WHAT YOU TELL ME”.

    • Holdenbeach1 says:

      Big fan of Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and early Son Volt.

      Totally agree with you on Rage. My favorite is their cover of “How Could I Just Kill a Man”.

      I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  11. bupalos says:

    I’d reiterate NFB that probably most of what you maybe find missing in popular music today is due to the way music distribution is fractured. Bands seem more specialized today, just like everything else. More skilled, more studied, maybe a little less effort at audience universality. Even the radio has 500 different options now. It represents such a dilution on the audience side of things that your definition of “genius” as someone universally acclaimed becomes next to impossible. I think that’s why they don’t leap to mind. But the musicality of guys like Jack White and musicians they put together today blows bands like The Police (or sting with his later efforts) out of the water.

    But just by way of filling in some gaps, in the “creating a sound of the decade” genius category I’d like to nominate Public Enemy. And in “influence” I’d think Professor Longhair and Led Zeppelin deserve mention. I’d also like to nominate Billy Joel off any list anywhere altogether. Not only does his voice frequently sound like an older Katherine Hepburn, “Now paul is a real estate novelist, that never had time for a wife,” is among the worst lyrics of all time. But he’s got 20 or 30 lines just as bad.

    • jimkanicki says:

      lol.. re Joel: point taken on that particular lyric and he’s got a couple stinker albums there too. “Big Shot” is his nadir. but Vienna is a mitigating factor and NY State of Mind is truly the anthem for NYC. i think he’s one who gets marginalized by his mass popularity.

      i’ve got Jimmy Page in there. NFB made the point that some artists shouldn’t probably be considered outside their bands. likewise some bands achieve ‘group genius’ for want of a better label. Led Zep would be in my top tier for sure and maybe ahead of The Beatles.

      disagree on Sting. i think he’s shown a graceful evolution post Police. he’s got depth.

      in my pre-amble about 1979, i originally included a point that while so many bands were breaking at that time, the studio machine was also at it’s worst milking every last cent from bands like Foghat and J.Geils through greatest hits releases and deadline album releases. i mean joe jackson churned out two LPs in 79; the police were under the gun to get zenyatta modatta out the door.. safe to assume the quality was traded out in favor of sales. you were also getting a steady dose of Journey and REO Speedwagon jammed down your throat too. it wasnt all great.

      ♫ ♩♪ And he’s talking with Davy, who’s still in the Navy
      And probably will be for life.
      ♫ ♩♪

      • NeedsFoodBadly says:

        whut is a real estate novelist

        Also, if you think “Dancing In The Streets” was bad for Bowie, listen to Billy Joel’s early band Attila, a heavy metal duo consisting of a drummer and Joel on an organ. It’s awesomely terribad and more embarassing than most anything – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScIWg0iOxUw

        read this about 1979 – a truly watershed year for music: http://www.avclub.com/articles/1979,56187/

        Unknown Pleasures? Bela Lugosi’s Dead? Singles Going Steady?

        Above ground and underground, 1979 was a YEAR for music. And for indie-music types at the turn of the millenia, most of their stuff was rooted in music that began in 1979.

      • bupalos says:

        That lyric is one of many many many. When Billy Joel isn’t being a condescending douche, or striking a incomprehensibly unconvincing blue-collar pose, he’s just constructing word salad with a thin dressing of sentimentality. Fine at melodies and achy little piano chords, beyond that he’s total garbage. I think I’d take Bieber over him. I think those two are kind of similar actually.

        NY State of Mind could be his best effort. Let’s see how he profiles America’s City in this hauntingly poetic love balad of place:

        It comes down to reality
        And it’s fine with me ’cause I’ve let it slide (??!!!))
        Don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside
        I don’t have any reasons
        I’ve left them all behind
        I’m in a New York state of mind

        It was so easy living day by day
        Out of touch with the rhythm and blues
        But now I need a little give and take
        The New York Times, The Daily News

        That’s it. There’s no more to the song, it just repeats. It has a china town and two papers. And there is a bus line outside the city earlier. That’s all he mentions about NY. The rest is just half-thought vaguely sentimental filler that could be thrown into any song at any point. No sir. Get Katherine Hepburn’s ugly, drunk, pube-haired step-sister out of here.

        Sting’s fine, I didn’t mean to run him down, just his later more “musical” period was mostly him pairing up with objectively better musicians that he could buy with his Police money and popularity. I like a lot of it, and I like his singing pretty well. I just think the stuff that goes on in this vein nowadays is often more inventive.

  12. NeedsFoodBadly says:

    Kanick, as for your tiers above, my consideration for movement into the topmost tier would be Bowie or Michael Jackson. I would demote Marley, Gilmour (I hate Floyd) and Ted Nugent off their respective tiers.

    I would also be interested in hearing why you think Bradley Nowell is a genius or belongs in that discussion.

    (Also, Travelling Wilburys are great and the concept of selling out no longer has currency)

    • jimkanicki says:

      interesting. i’ve long considered marley the pre-eminent savant, even above lennon.

      w.r.t. gilmour,,, i cant rule out that it’s roger waters i mean to support. I thought Gilmour was behind Wish You Were Here (great) and Waters was The Wall (didnt like). so,,, if i meant waters, that’s embarrassing.

      nugent. yeah. i’m not so sure about george clinton either.. but again he’s one i don’t know whole lot about.

      Bradley Nowell. For me, Sublime was the first and only group that successfully crossed over between three cultures. You talked earlier about accessibility being relevant in the discussion, I found the accomplishment of being accepted by blacks, hispanics, and whites to be a plus; their commercial success incidental. If it’s derivative, [well most music is (of course)], then why hasnt anyone else filled that crossover demo? plus i just thought it sounded great with great guitar and great lyrics. i’m not overthinking it here, lol.

      • NeedsFoodBadly says:

        I don’t think Marley is even the best reggae artist of his era, but I’m far from an expert on reggae. Why do you think he should be considered above Lennon?

        I don’t think John Lennon was the best Beatle.

        (Gilmour or Waters, I think Floyd is terribly over-rated but I will fully admit a lot of this is personal prejudice against Pink Floyd and I don’t expect or need anyone to back me on this)

        George Clinton ABSOLUTELY deserves to be in consideration, and I’d rate him Planck-level at lowest. Maybe I’m not that impressed by Marley since most of what I get out of him is “we jammin’, I shot the sheriff” happy-feel good neutered hippy garbage which probably isn’t a fair representation of his oeuvre. Similarly, George Clinton is much much more than “Atomic Dog” and/or “Flashlight.” “Maggot Brain” alone elevates Clinton and his associates to Genius-level.

        Sublime isn’t the first group to experience that level of cross-over (Chuck Berry? Michael Jackson…? Plenty more), but having a cross-cultural appeal of that sort is a big deal, I’d agree. I think Sublime’s music is pretty bland/bone-headed personally, but it seems like you have more of a liking for reggae-stylings than perhaps I do? If that’s the case, I’d suggest trying to listen to some more of The Clash if you haven’t heard their reggae-cross-pollinated stuff like “Rudy Can’t Fail” or “Armagideon Time.”

        • GetDownMoses says:

          “Maybe I’m not that impressed by Marley since most of what I get out of him is “we jammin’, I shot the sheriff” happy-feel good neutered hippy garbage which probably isn’t a fair representation of his oeuvre.”

          A decidedly unfair representation of his oeuvre. Take a listen to the songs Small Axe, Redemption Song, Zimbabwe, Revolution, Burnin’ and Lootin’, Them Belly Full (But We Hungry), Real Situation, Get Up Stand Up, Concrete Jungle, War (not the Edwin Starr tune), just to name a few. Marley was a leader in his time of bringing to “the West” not just reggae, but the voice of Africans seeking basic human rights under political oppression throughout the world. Sure, he’s got his peace and love songs, but it was probably just the spleef telling you it was ALL happy feel good!

          A markedly non-hippy Bob Marley quote:
          “Until the philosophy which hold one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned…
          Everything is war. Me say war.
          That until there are no longer 1st class and 2nd class citizens of any nation…
          Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes, me say war.
          Until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race me say war!”

          Bob Marley was one of the most important musical figures of the 20th century, in my opinion.
          Dig a little deeper and give him another try.

          • NeedsFoodBadly says:

            Will do. I’m familiar with “Redemption Song” and “Get Up Stand Up” which don’t do much for me, but I will definitely listen to the other ones.

            And I clumsily phrased what I was trying to say Marley-wise, in that I’m aware of his political/religious/cultural significance – it’s that in becoming an icon, his edges got softened as he was shaped into a figure safe to put on a poster fit for a trustafarian’s wall. (which isn’t his fault) but is how I think he’s received and played on the radio, etc.

            What I’m curious about is his musical genius. I’m not hearing it, but that’s my personal response, so I want to know what others are hearing – is it his song composition? Is he a good guitarist, the lyrics? What marks him out as a genius/savant? This isn’t meant to be me challenging the idea – I’m curious as to what I might be missing.

            • GetDownMoses says:

              I don’t have the knowledge to proclaim anyone a musical or lyrical genius, but I do believe Marley’s simple phrasings in both are cause for one who can make the claim, do so. In other words I pass the buck to those with the musical intellect to judge.

              For me:
              His lyrics are direct criticisms/rationalizations/explanations of contemporary political, religious, and philosophical concepts and/or observations that betray an earnestness that fluidly connects this listener to the message.

              Much like the blues, reggae music doesn’t stray far from it’s base. Musically, while Marley’s back beat doesn’t resonate as loudly or move as sprightly as many of his reggae contemporaries, the subtle underpinnings of soul/R&B, gospel and the blues incorporated into the Wailer’s songs is really, really cool.

              Genius? I don’t know. Important? Hell yes! There was an assassination attempt in 1976, so he at least ruffled some island feathers.

              Below is a quote from here: http://old.religiouseducation.net/member/05_rea_papers/wasmith_2005.pdf

              “One striking element of Marley’s music is that virtually all of his songs have an upbeat, happy,
              bouncy feel to them. When listening to his reggae one gets the feeling that God is in heaven and
              all is right with the world. The phrase, “No problems, mon” comes immediately to mind. It is
              easy to smile and nod when listening to the musical statements of his songs and to be caught up
              in the sheer “listenability” of the music. But when one pays attention to the lyrics of
              those same bouncy, happy songs, one is struck by the militancy, the calls to action, and the consistent call
              for justice one finds in those same seemingly benign songs. This is not happy-go-lucky, pot
              induced, “safe” music; it is transformative pedagogy, intended to engage the people to take
              action against all forms of oppression and injustice. The primary audience for reggae was
              originally the residents of Jamaica’s most desperate communities, and Marley’s music became a
              clarion call to stand up and fight for their freedom and for their rights.”

              A rather long but excellent read.

              The defense rests, AKA I don’t want to clutter these pages with Marley Marley Marley.

            • Holdenbeach1 says:

              GetDownMoses has written a thoughtful response. To follow on with it I would recommend a deeper listen of the Marley catalog beyond “Legend”. “Babylon by Bus” is one of the best live recordings other than “Waiting For Columbus” by Little Feat in my opinion. “Satisfy My Soul” is a beautiful love song.

              “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)” is an excellent commentary on living on the fringe and getting angry. “Get Up, Stand Up” co written with Peter Tosh is a finger in the chest call to action.

              If you like your music with a heaping side order of anger then you may be better suited to listening to Peter Tosh. Peter is not about peace and love, here are a few nuggets.

              Peace Treaty – Those who signed the peace treaty, are lying in peace in the cemetery.
              Equal Rights – I don’t want no peace, I need equal rights and justice.
              Stepping Razor – I’m like a stepping razor, don’t you watch my size, I’m dangerous.

              • jimkanicki says:

                that there is a list worth doing: top 5 live albums. you and i are in accord on two of them already.

              • spencer096 says:

                if allman bros “live at fillmore east” isnt on that list, there’s gonna be problems.

              • NeedsFoodBadly says:

                Based on my short delvings into reggae, I do prefer Tosh to Marley. But many thanks to you and GetDownMoses ’cause I’ll definitely be checking out what ya’ll wrote, keeping in mind what you guys said.

              • Holdenbeach1 says:

                In response to the Kanicki challenge of best live recordings, culling through my iTunes, here is my list:

                1) Little Feat – Waiting for Columbus
                2) Bob Marley – Babylon by Bus

                There is a steep drop off in my book after #2

                3A) The Original Cast Recording of The Book of Mormon *
                3) Old And In The Way – Old And In The Way
                4) Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
                5) Wilco – Kicking Television
                6) J. Mascis – Martin & Me
                7) Peter Tosh – Captured Live
                8) Jayhawks – Live From The Womens Club
                9) Neko Case – Live from Austin
                10) Nirvana – Unplugged
                11) Leonard Cohen – Leonard Cohen Live In Concert

                * I can understand that The Book Of Mormon can be disqualified on a technicality, but it is no less stunning of an achievement.

                For a live recording of one song, I recommend The Replacements cover of “Another Girl, Another Planet” from All for Nothing and Nothing for All. They were playing like they were on fire. This recording sends shivers up my spine every single time I hear it.

              • Holdenbeach1 says:

                To Needs Food Badly – If you like soul music more than reggae, I would recommend the album Toots In Memphis. Toots Hibbert interprets 60’s and 70’s soul songs through a reggae lens with a crack lineup of Memphis studio musicians. Great album for a party on a hot summer day.

  13. I love this conversation! I have strong opinions and very specific tastes in music but this is a fun thing to think about because many of the folks I’d consider geniuses aren’t making music that I particularly want to listen to, and the people that make music that does fit my taste even I wouldn’t consider to be geniuses. And furthermore “generation” is a tough thing to wrap your head around and this site obviously has readers of different ages, although I’m guessing a lot of us in this discussion are, like me, mid-30s.

    (Ok, late 30s.)

    But so even though I don’t really enjoy the music of Radiohead I definitely would put Yorke and Greenwood up there with any previous generation of rock musicians. Les Claypool and Damon Albarn as well. I am quite partial to Beck and think he’s a highly underrated and extraordinarily versatile musician and songwriter so I think he should be on the “the list” as well.

    One other name that should be under consideration: Aphex Twin. Practically invents a new genre of music every time he makes a record.

    • NeedsFoodBadly says:

      Aphex Twin is an interesting one. I do think he’s an actual genius in the mental sense. I don’t listen to him that often because some of his stuff is just too difficult for me to get into – but he’s one who had a lot of impact, innovated a lot, and did some nigh-perfect stuff. “Flim” and “Avril 14th” being straight up nuggets of pure beauty. Even when he’s just doing a parody of other people/genres (“Come To Daddy”), he’s still making something better than folks who are actually… trying.

      But while I respect all that. I just don’t find myself going to the Aphex Twin well as much as other musicians, ultimately.

  14. mattborcas says:

    Kanye West, Thom Yorke, Jeff Mangum, Connor Oberst, Andre 3000, two dudes from Daft Punk.

    Also, not my generation, but SERGE GAINSBOURG.

  15. texinottawa says:

    Interesting read.Tend to agree with a lot of this. I am most likely in your age category and at this point lean almost exclusively to Alternative Country. My six would include Steve Earle, Jeff Tweedy(Wilco), Richard Thompson, Win Butler(Arcade Fire), Colin Meloy(Decemberists), Jim James(My Morning Jacket).

    • jimkanicki says:

      you and dizzle are on the same track. (i’d reply to him but that’s what he wants me to do so fuck him.)

      well done to be my age and on top of this. are you a musician? hand out with youngers? is concert-going a hobby? i just find when i do listen to radio, it’s talk. when i do go out, it’s not a dance club. and when i do go to a concert, it’s someone i already know. ya know? so how to stay on top of this is a challenge (for me).

      • NeedsFoodBadly says:

        Finding new music can be tough, but here are a few ways:

        Streaming services, like Pandora, Spotify or Rdio – free. I prefer Spotify because they have a big library and you can either choose what songs you can listen to, or create a Pandora-type radio station that might introduce you to new stuff.

        Unless you have a decent college radio station nearby, radio is worse than ever for hearing vital, new stuff. You’ve mentioned something about “selling out,” but these days, that notion hold little currency because the model for making money as a musician/band has changed SO drastically. Records sell so little now that bands are a lot more willing to license a song out to a commercial to pay the bills, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

        So I actually find a decent amount of music by listening to movies, watching new TV shows, or hearing it on commercials. Black Keys, for example, were all over the NBA playoffs… last year, the year before? I remember there used to be a Band of Horse’s commercial with “Funeral” played ad nauseum. But anyways, that’s a better avenue than radio. There’s also a lot of websites devoted to figuring out what songs are in what commercial or movie trailer or what have you, or apps like Shazam that can tell you what song it is by listening with your phone.

      • etc says:

        Try WRUW, Case Western Reserve U’s radio station at http://www.wruw.org Stream a week of shows, playlists going forever.

        This is not a plug, I’m an alum but not a dj. The shows are pretty great and the music director pushes new albums hard. All the programmers are knowledgable and do their research. Browse around, read some playlists, try a couple shows and see if they catch your attention.

        Finding new music is hard, but the ability to download a show and read the playlist at the same time have helped me.

  16. NeedsFoodBadly says:

    So, this is right in my wheelhouse and I can be really long-winded about this stuff, so I’ll try to keep it short as I can ’cause I’m throwing a bunch of names into the ring. For me, popularity is a consideration, but so is impact. For example, lots of people may not know Siouxsie & the Banshees, but Siouxsie Sioux inspired about a billion bands and singers. Or Paul Weller, who was huge in the UK but never really got going here. And with my own personal preferences thrown in as well. I’ve also omitted persons from bands I find work best as a unit – U2, The Ramones, New Order, etc.

    As for current trends, music hasn’t gotten worse – it’s just gotten more fractured. So while there’s tremendous ease of access in finding new stuff, there’s so much out there (and so little getting a decent push) that it’s hard to cut through the chaff. And your cross-over megastars like Prince just aren’t going to exist anymore. The landscape is too different.

    Anyhow, here’s a big list and I can expand on/defend any of these as legends and/or geniuses. This is not comprehensive.

    Current “elder statesmen” (i.e. still releasing vital albums with an established track record) – Trent Reznor, Thom Yorke (and Johnny Greenwood, c’mon), J. Mascis, Jay Z, Nas, NICK CAVE, Daft Punk, Steve Albini, Damon Albarn, Jack White (for sure), Dr. Dre, Frank Black, Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Craig Finn, Morrissey, The RZA, Beck, Stephen Malkmus, Josh Homme, El-P, Aesop Rock,(Cleveland’s own) David Thomas, Les Claypool, David Sitek, Big Boi

    Older folks not on above lists – Joe Strummer, Siouxsie Sioux, Kate Bush, Howlin’ Wolf, Paul Weller, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, DAVID BOWIE (how is he not up there???), Iggy Pop, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Ernie & Ron Isley (stupid under-rated – Ernie wrote Brown Eyed Girl, for God’s sake and charted singles in 5 different decades), Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash, Ian Curtis, Ray Davies, Captain Beefheart, LEMMY, Peter Gabriel, Shane McGowan (not actually a genius but a great singer), Chuck D, Smoky Robinson, Lou Reed, Warren Zevon,

    Jim, you might want to check out Queens of the Stone Age. It’s pretty straightforward, monster riff rock stuff, with tons of interesting stuff going on in the margins. Josh Homme sorta runs that band, and he’s got a bunch of other stuff – Kyuss, Them Crooked Vultures, and the ridiculous Desert Sessions – so if you like what he does, you can go pretty deep down a rewarding rabbit hole. QOTSA also just released an album so it’s still happening stuff.

    If you want some softer/acousticstuff with a NEO connection, check out Mark Kozelek. He used to record with a band called the Red House Painters (which is very mopey, but pretty great) and now does stuff under the name Sun Kil Moon. I think you’d like “Carry Me Ohio” which is gorgeous, or check out the epic “Duk Koo Kim” (about the Korean boxer Boom Boom Mancini killed in the ring – 14 minutes long, one minute for every round of that fight – it’s also a good example of Kozelek’s style, very slow, dreamy, pretty, melancholic).

    I geek out on music pretty hard.

    • NeedsFoodBadly says:

      ignore my brown-eyed girl comment re: Ernie Isley – different song altogether than the popular Van Morrison one. OOPS

    • Great stuff. I just want to note that a lot of the folks you list above had occurred to me as well as being *influential* (and yes, Siouxsie Sioux was the one I thought longest and hardest about) but I don’t think influential is what Kanick is getting at with the question. Rather it’s, who’s a stone cold genius making music that other musicians simply wouldn’t be able to fathom making? Much as I love Siouxsie and the Banshees (and Paul Weller!) they fail this simple test in that, musically, what they do isn’t particularly complex. They just do a great job of coming up with a unique style and altogether novel arrangements (Siouxsie) or aping and perfecting other folks’ styles (Weller, and again I don’t mean to knock him, I’ve been listening to his music since the 7th grade).

      Also I assumed the question was intended to elicit responses containing newer, younger artists, which disqualifies most of the folks you list.

      So from your list above, Yorke and Greenwood are obviously “in” in that regard, and I’d forgotten Les Claypool, he should be included as well.

      • jimkanicki says:

        i’m about to show a rare case of cleveland arrogance, but i think opening up a ‘music genius’ dialogue with clevelanders creates a uniquely rich dialogue.

      • NeedsFoodBadly says:

        Kanick made the year 1990 the split – I would argue that all the artist in my first grouping have made vital contributions to musical culture post-1990 (and are thus relatively new, compared to say, John Lennon), whereas the latter group did their best stuff (or died or what have you) pre-1990. I could do a whole list of great bands/artists post-2000 that are chock full of young lads and lasses, but I think to call someone a genius you need to judge a relatively large body of work, for the most part.

        And what’s above is my list, so I had my own, altered criteria, as I said. If I were to make a metric (which I wouldn’t), factors such as popularity, longevity, impact and innovation MUST be considered. So going back to Siouxsie – not a ton of popularity, but a huge amount of impact and innovation. Paul Weller – again, not popular in the States, but unless we think a USA-centric view of pop culture is of prime importance, his popularity in Britain must be considered. And both Siouxsie and Weller created music that defined genres, created other genres, and inspired artists well beyond what one would expect – that’s a mark of genius, to me. Imagine Britpop without Weller, for example. These are the proverbial giants that Isaac Newton spoke of, in a musical context.

        What do you mean by complexity? Coming up with a unique style and novel arrangements seems complex to me. Or do you mean musically complex, like shifting time signatures or something? That would discount most punk rock, which would be an error.

    • jimkanicki says:

      thank you on warren zevon, an oversight. ive got al green. i dont have hank williams because i’m looking at my gen. if i wasnt, he’d be there (along with maybelle carter and bill monroe and doc watson and robert johnson and jimmy rodgers and leadbelly). the ramones are interesting. joe strummer seemed more of an ideologue than a musician… never get into the clash. i was waiting for a ‘second’ on ray davies, done. good call on peter gabriel.

      see addendum on the bowie question… i have to add him but, man, that jagger video is almost unforgivable. seu jorge saves him.

      • NeedsFoodBadly says:

        David Bowie – in any career that spans 50 years, you’ll have a few embarrassments. Guy is a titan.

        Joe Strummer was no more an ideologue than John Lennon or Bob Marley. You might enjoy his work with the Mescaleros, it’s a bit more laid back than The Clash. Check out “Johnny Appleseed” or “Minstrel Boy” (the version from the Black Hawk Down soundtrack).

    • Woods says:

      A friend of mine stated that he would love it if Paul Weller produced Adele’s next record. I think he is 100% correct that that would be awesome.

  17. I’m certainly one of the people who puts Thom Yorke way way up there. The other names in consideration for discussion with me include Chris Cornell, Maynard James Keenan of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer. To a lesser degree Billy Corgan, although he’d be in a tiered conversation, Someday I think we might be talking about Jonsi from Sigur Ros (http://vimeo.com/11680163) , but it’s too early. Also, I’m not in the camp, but many would probably want to talk about Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo as a musical genius.

    I’m a giant Pearl Jam fan. Always have been and always (probably) will be. I wouldn’t put them in the genius category for some reason. It just doesn’t feel right to me. They’re exceptional and phenomenal and I love them, but they’re not geniuses for me. Kind of like despite all the success and ability, I don’t consider Springsteen a genius either. Is that weird?

    It’s just so hard though. Who can say what we’d be saying about Kurt Cobain and his career after In Utero if he hadn’t killed himself?

    • jimkanicki says:

      it’s hard not to dock these guys for their popularity isnt it? they’re somehow less of an artiste playing to a less discerning audience and grabbing the dough.

      but while springsteen might be guilty there — *cough* Born in the USA *cough* — the early stuff is very legit.

      there’s probably a bunch up there that fall into that category.

      HEY! good call on Weezer! i know several of their songs! this makes me happy.

      • GetDownMoses says:

        JK, love your blog.

        I’m not a big Springsteen fan, but to give the man his due, “Born in the USA” was a stinging indictment of America’s attitudes towards it’s returning veterans. A bold statement during Reagan’s “morning in america” reign. Melodically though? Dreck.

  18. Music is just as rich today as it has been since recording music became a thing. Changes in the industry have made the richness harder to access through traditional media (radio, tv) but the internet and home recording has lowered the cost of entry into spreading music to the masses. As far as geniuses go, without writing my own column on the subject, i’ll put in people that i think are talented songwriters, talented performers, and talented composers that can bring together a lot of musicians and make something wonderful. My list includes Damon Albarn of Blur/Gorillaz/other projects. Thom Yorke of Radiohead etc. Sufjan Stevens based on his many albums/projects. Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel/Postal Service, and Imogen Heap based on her albums, and her composing/conducting prowess, and Colin Stetson who falls into your “inventor” category who has found an entire new way of playing a saxophone, creating sounds you’ve never heard before.

    I was born in 1980, so i’m not sure who qualifies as being in “my” generation, but these are artists that have been very important in my life…and new stuff comes out all the time that i just don’t understand…i dont like a lot of it probably because i’m getting old. That also doesn’t stop me from declaring that it sucks.

    • jimkanicki says:

      this is actually comforting. (let me explain.) back in my day, there was a whole underground radio thing and you had to be on the lookout for it and if you were, you were rewarded with great stuff. if such a thing is out there now, i’m ignorant of it. you’re pretty much telling me it’s there and i just don’t know about it. prob because i’m 50+. as is right. this makes me feel good.

      • Petefranklin says:

        Underground WCSB and WJCU turned me and many others on to Metallica, Motorhead, and many other ground breaking metal bands. Great, refreshingly non disco or pop rock music on the airwaves in Cleveland at one time in the mid 80’s. We used to drive downtown with a couple joints to listen to WCSB and JCU because the signal was much stronger and louder at Captain Frank’s.

    • jimkanicki says:

      ps, if you DID want to do your own column on the subject, i’d be pleased to run it.

    • spencer096 says:

      “Music is just as rich today as it has been since recording music became a thing. Changes in the industry have made the richness harder to access through traditional media (radio, tv) but the internet and home recording has lowered the cost of entry into spreading music to the masses.”

      i disagree…music is not as rich simply because of analog/acoustic vs. digital.

      yes, more people can listen to music now, but more people can eat mcdonalds than before too. a 2-dimensional, compressed mp3 file doesnt sound anywhere near as rich as vinyl and a keyboard, as advanced as they are these days, can’t replicate the sound of a horn, saxophone or violin and dont have the dynamics a real piano or harpsichord or organ does.

      and that’s not touching on to how watered down the actual musical content has become.

      i agree on the easier distribution being a good thing though, snark aside…this will allow talented musicians to reach a larger audience and make it a more purely democratic environment. the highest quality and motivated artists will rise to the top and this hivemind drech the music industry was peddling for decades will be a thing of the past we look back on and laugh.

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