Neil Young (and Crazy Horse)

Dirty rock’n’roller-hippie narcissist. Rockabilly hepcat-techno troubadour. Folkie romantic-bluesy bad boy. Harmony supergroup sore thumb-beloved bandleader. Cultural analyst-grandfather of grunge. Neil Young has been all of these things and more in the course of an insanely prolific solo career. Though his output during the ’80s was particularly erratic, he has never stopped placing personal expression before…

Young Marble Giants

Cardiff’s Young Marble Giants — singer Alison Statton and the Moxham brothers, Philip (bass) and Stuart (guitar, organ) — managed to stay together long enough to produce one oddball album before apathy got the upper hand. Using few overdubs, Colossal Youth re-creates the mythical ambience of a beatnik coffeehouse. Statton’s gentleness and the soft accompaniment…

Ian Hunter

Like several other acts who arrived from somewhere else but thrived in the fabulous exaggerations of England’s glam era, Mott the Hoople had a strong impact on the new wave scene a few years later. These streetwise blokes voiced a sense of disillusionment and failure instead of indulging in the fantasy and self-aggrandizement typical of…

Elvis Costello

A remarkable performer with a cutting voice and a hugely original songwriting mind, Elvis Costello has charted a consistently fascinating course in an intensely productive career and shows no sign of fatigue. He’s arguably the most significant individual creative voice to emerge in rock’n’roll since Bob Dylan, and definitely one of pop music’s most unforgettable…

Aztec Camera

Glaswegian guitarist-singer-songwriter Roddy Frame was the leader of Aztec Camera, whose delicate pop conveyed his poetic sensibility and rampant originality. He trafficks in the corniest romantic clichés, yet somehow makes them seem original. His wistful crooning, lush melodies and endless obsession with love’s ups and downs make his flavorful light pop the attitudinal descendant of…

Madness

The world needs more bands like Madness. One of the original London perpetrators of the ska revival, they grew from a silly novelty group into full-scale international superstars, beloved by seemingly everyone in Europe, from tot to pensioner. Though diversity in contemporary music is generally laudable, the factionalism it sometimes engenders isn’t; Madness’ ability to…

Adrian Belew

The guitarist aging art-rockers turn to for a sublime and stirring mixture of solid chops and wild-eyed invention, Adrian Belew (born in Kentucky, raised in Ohio) has played a crucial long-term role in the careers of David Bowie and King Crimson, while also making important contributions to Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, the Tom Tom Club…

Graham Parker (and the Rumour)

A crabby pug whose bark is every bit as ferocious as his talent, Graham Parker comes on like an arrogant bantam with the world’s bone up his butt — and then delivers the musical goods that justify his conceit and erase the ill-will he so enthusiastically spreads. Remote and defensive in one song, Parker can…

Tom Verlaine

Television was the satisfying result of a clash between two disparate styles. Leader Tom Verlaine was the dreamer, playing sinuous guitar and singing in the strangled, intense voice of a young poet. Guitarist Richard Lloyd and the rhythm section of Billy Ficca and Fred Smith tended more to classic, bash-it-out rock’n’roll. When Verlaine went solo,…

Orange Juice

Glasgow’s coy Orange Juice, de facto leaders of the Scottish neo-pop revolution, typified a UK trend towards clean, innocent looks that unfortunately spilled over into the music. Emphasizing their “unspoiled” raggedness, the band began with clumsy tunes about insecurity and romantic rejection; singer Edwyn Collins mumbles and croons like a slowed-down Ray Davies. You Can’t…

Jason and the Nashville Scorchers

Hillbilly cats with a serious punk streak, Jason and the Scorchers were — in their early days — about as un-Nashville as a Nashville-based band could be. The group set out to blend incompatible elements and succeeded well beyond their expectations, mixing dirty roots rock, nihilistic, energy-crazed hardcore and traditional cornball country, spiked with dashes…

Dave Edmunds

Can traditional rock’n’roll survive in the modern world? As long as Dave Edmunds is around, the answer will be yes. A rousing singer, superlative guitarist and wizard producer, the Welsh native has preserved the simplicity and directness of ’50s rock without ever sounding like a slavish revivalist. Along the way, he’s also performed tricks with…

Adverts

When the four Adverts (including female bassist Gaye Advert) debuted on a 1977 Stiff 45 with “One Chord Wonders,” the young Londoners could barely play their instruments, but that didn’t keep vocalist Tim (T.V.) Smith’s song from offering a witty commentary on earnest incompetence. By the time they re-recorded the tune for their first LP,…

Flesh Eaters

Young poets on the East Coast were originally attracted to punk by its simplicity, directness and malleability. Most prominently, Patti Smith and Richard Hell found that crudely executed rock’n’roll provided the perfect backdrop for their verbal barrages. Though less celebrated, California’s Chris Desjardins made equally ambitious records with a constantly changing set of Flesh Eaters…

Feelies

These New Jerseyites are the stuff of legend and cults. Led by guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million (originally featuring future avant-star drummer Andy Fisher, aka Anton Fier), the Feelies dressed like nerdy preppies and paid only passing attention to the conventional demands of rock and roll. Even during the original band’s period of highest…

Saints

Every decade’s snotty kids are the same, as Australia’s Saints handily proved. These Brisbane punks emerged in ’77 with a raw, driving sound recalling the Pretty Things of more than a decade earlier. On (I’m) Stranded, Chris Bailey sings with the same irritable snarl that band’s Phil May had back when he was considered competition…

Swingers

Leading the three-man Swingers up from Down Under, ex-Split Enz guitarist/composer Phil Judd rejected his earlier, convoluted melodicism for a still-quirky but more compact, abrasive approach, with phenomenal results. Judd’s eccentric mental mixmaster spews out the clichés of mid-’60s Anglo-rock (Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks) wackily updated, unreal and askew. His Dave Davies-as-young-schizo vocals (often abetted…

Distractions

Decades from now, rock historians will scratch their heads in bewilderment that the Distractions’ fine body of work didn’t ensure the Manchester quintet a longer initial lifespan. (A return to activity in 2010 has resulted in an official website as well as the release of a few new and old recordings.) The 1979 EP (which…

Human Switchboard

Transplant the early Velvet Underground to the late ’70s, trade that band’s kinkier concerns for conventional male-female issues, and you’ve got Kent, Ohio’s Human Switchboard in a nutshell. Repeated disclaimers aside, leader Bob Pfeifer sings in a dry, ironic style suggestive of young Lou Reed, and Myrna Marcarian’s wobbly organ-playing adds an amateurish tint that…

Squeeze

Old-fashioned pop craftsmen saved from a workingman’s death in English pubs by the new wave, singer/guitarists Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook — the core of Squeeze — found their forte/niche in setting small dramas of British life to music that can be ebullient, reflective, gay or morose. Aided along the way by tasteful rhythm sections…