Friday, December 10, 2010
Influencing modern music 1950-1985
This is my list of the top ten people who most influenced popular music from its birth in 1950 until machines took over in around 1985. It's entirely subjective, and you're free to add your own comments
1. Les Paul.
Les Paul has to be at number 1. As well as being the link bewteen the old and the new (he jammed with Django and Charlie Christian in the early 40s, had his own radio show, became Bing Crosby's musical director before singlehandedly inventing every aspect of recording that we take for granted today.
Multi track recording- Les Paul
Vari-speed recording- Les Paul
Sound on sound recording- Les Paul
Mixing desks- Les Paul
The solid electric guitar- Les Paul
You get the idea.
2. Ahmed Ertegun
He founded Atlantic records in 1950. He was there at the beginning of Rhythm & Blues. His achievements are too great to be listed, but he signed Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Led Zepellin and was a major player throughout his long career. He died after falling at a Rolling Stones show in 2006. A giant.
3. Sam Phillips.
Owned Sun Records. Recorded Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Say no more.
4. Jac Holzman
Founded Elektra Records in 1950. Discovered Judy Collins. Elektra Records had the best roster of artists in the mid- late 60s including Love, The Doors, Tim Buckley and the Incredible String band. He went on to sign The Stooges and Harry Chapin. When I was a teenager in the late 60s, most of my record collection comprised LPs on the Elektra label.
His protege Judy Collins discovered Leonard Cohen and gave him his first gig. Judy became Steven Stills lover and was the inspiration for "Suite- Judy Blue Eyes".
5. George Martin
Not just the fifth Beatle, but a brilliant composer and arranger. He also produced Jeff Beck's album "Blow by Blow", which was the first instrumental album to sell more than a million copies.
6. Joe Boyd
Started off by inviting long forgotten blues artists like Howling Wolf and John Lee Hooker to play at his college in the early 60s. Became European tour manager for US blues and jazz musicians. Was stage manager at the 1965 Newport Folk festival when Dylan went electric and changed folk music forever. Became UK A&R man for Elektra Records and signed the Incredible String Band. Opened the first underground music venue UFO where the house band was Pink Floyd. Produced Pink Floyd's first single. Discovered Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson. Single handedly created English Folk Rock. Discovered Nick Drake and Vashti Bunyan. Went into films and produced the soundtrack to "Deliverance". "Duelling banjos" is his only number 1, but he hated it so much he refused to have his name on the credits. And on and on.
7. Andrew Loog Oldham
Created the Rolling Stones. Created the cult of the pop music manager. Created Immediate Records. Created the idea of living your life as if you were in a film, with a music soundtrack playing constantly (he wanted to be Laurence Harvey). Disowned by the Stones who have tried to erase him from their official history, but love him or hate him, you can't ignore him.
8. Joe Meek
Created the most amazing sounding records using home made equipment in a flat above a shop in North London. Openly homosexual at a time when it was still against the law, he broke every "rule" of music recording. His records still sound great today, while his distractors are long forgotten.
9. Quincy Jones
Musician, composer, arranger and record producer (and all round good guy). His first band was with high school chum Ray Charles on piano while played trumpet.
His arrangements include the swing version of "Fly me to the moon" as recorded by Frank Sinatra (the original was a waltz from the 1920s)
Film scores, hit songs, you name it- he's done it. He has been nominated for a Grammy Award no less than 79 times, winning an astonishing 29 times.
He's produced for Frank Sinatra but is best known for producing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album, which has sold 110 million copies worldwide. If anyone deserved the title of legend, it's Quincy Jones.
10. Cass Elliot
Last but not least, we have Cass Elliot. Her life was cut short just as she was entering a new phase of her life. She had a great voice and sold a lot of records both as a solo artist and as a member of the Mamas and the Papas.
She's in my list because of her gift of hospitality. She was a great hostess, and her house in Laurel Canyon was a magnet for musicians. Legend had it that David Crosby, Steven Stills and Graham Nash met at Cass Elliot's and sang together for the first time. Neil Young was always there. Joni Mitchell met Graham Nash at Cass's place. It can be argued that the whole West Coast music scene had its roots in Cass's home. It may have taken David Geffen's Asylum Records to bring the music to a worldwide audience, but it all began at Cass's.