Adam and The Ants
Adam and the Ants were a theatrical band of post-punk pirates led by the Dandy Highwayman himself, Adam Ant (Stuart Goddard). A delicious grafting of punk rock and glam, fashion and frenzy, the band were a refreshing blast of camp, rebellion and some of the most spirited sonic stomp of the time. Adam prevailed even after his band was pillaged by Malcolm McLaren–who stole them away to use them as the core of Bow Wow Wow–and Adam and the Ants 2.0 emerged with a fevered blend of Burundi drums and lusty New Wave. So influential were the ‘Ants that later acts ranging from Fatboy Slim to Robbie Williams to The Charlatans cited them as a major influence.
It’s safe to say that American indie rock wouldn’t exist without Black Flag and their relentless energy and integrity. Their hardcore sound was a calling card for any band that wanted to do things are their own terms and without compromise: Sonic Youth, Pantera, Nirvana, Bad Brains, Fucked Up, Rage Against the Machine, M.I.A….
Kate Bush’s distinct vocal style, literary lyrics, almost classical piano playing, and artistic musical approach make her one of the most original musicians of our time. For good or for ill, Lilith Fair would never have existed without her. Sinéad O’Connor, Fiona Apple, Björk, Tori Amis, and Sarah McLachlan wouldn’t have their own unique vocal styles without her example.
Camper Van Beethoven
Falling somewhere between The Grateful Dead and Captain Beefheart, Camper Van Beethoven threw it all in the mix: ska, punk, blues, hardcore, surf, country and folk. The result? Absolute brilliance. Featuring tangential lyrics about cowboys on acid, bowling skinheads, good guys and bad guys, existential ambiguity and getting high while the radio is on, this Santa Cruz collective remain one of the most influential bands of the last forty years. Jonathan Segel’s fiddle, David Lowrey’s dazzling deadpan and Victor Krummenacher’s prowling, inventive bass-lines are just a handful of reasons why Camper Van were such a rich and captivating outfit. More slacker than Slacker and more punk than Black Flag, they reminded us that rock and roll should have spirt and smarts.
Culture Club may have been visually arresting, thanks to singer Boy George’s gender ambiguity–was he a girl or was she a boy, many wondered–but equally arresting was the band’s sound. A smooth blend of calypso, reggae and New Wave, Culture Club wrote some of the catchiest songs of the decade. “Karma Chameleon” and “Time (Clock of the Heart)” are mere sonic snapshots of a winning career that’s responsible for the sales of over fifty million albums worldwide. George’s voice was a crooning wonder and his rhythm section swayed behind him in percussive, plangent time. Pop bands have been trying to replicate Culture Club’s massive choruses for years, but they’ve never been able to capture the finesse and wonder of this band.
Robin Guthrie’s guitar and Elizabeth Fraser’s vocals invented dream pop – and Cocteau Twins are one of the most influential bands of the 1980s because of them. My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Sigur Rós, Jeff Buckley, and Lush all learned how to dream in music from them.
Robert Smith’s despondent vocals and even more despondent lyrics, moody chord progressions, and occasional forays into pop set the tone for a generation of bands. Interpol, Deftones, Low, Mogwai, Smashing Pumpkins, and countless other bands wouldn’t exist without his example.
Martin Gore’s songwriting, Alan Wilder’s arrangements, and Dave Gahan’s vocals made Depeche Mode one of the most compelling and commercially successful synth-pop bands of their generation. Never was darkness so danceable – and The Knife, The Killers, Nine Inch Nails, and Moby know this only too well.
J Mascis made the guitar solo cool again for the indie rock kids of the 1980s. Without him and Dinosaur Jr, the guys in Built to Spill and Pavement may never have found their chops.
The Dream Syndicate
Sounding like The Velvet Underground by way of Raymond Chandler, The Dream Syndicate could grind with grace or jangle with charm. Guitars wailed and screeched, drums pounded out of the alleys of nowhere and feedback bled through the amps. There were moody ballads (“When You Smile”), wistful meditations (“Can’t Forget”) and straight up pop songs (“The Side I’ll Never Show”), all serving as reminders that this L.A. outfit were one of the best bands of the decade and Steve Wynn was one of the most literate, engaging and altogether appealing singer/songwriters around.
Duran Duran started off as New Romantics, but they transformed into one of the most diverse musical acts of the ’80s. Elements of funk, glam, synth pop, post-punk, dance and hip-hop can be found throughout the contents of their extensive discography. The band pioneered the video age with glamor and guts, and in the process wrote unforgettable pop songs. Simon Le Bon remains one of the most charismatic frontmen of all-time, and bassist John Taylor continues to be the band’s secret weapon, firing off grooves that not only hold the songs together, they give each number a dose of muscle and nerve.
Echo & The Bunnymen
Echo & The Bunnymen’s indelible pop hooks, poetic lyrics, dramatic vocals, and utterly unique guitar work made them into what singer Ian McCulloch always wanted them to be: a great rock and roll band. You can hear The Bunnymen whenever you spin Arcade Fire, Blur, and Doves.
Ian MacKaye probably doesn’t give a tinker’s curse about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But Fugazi definitely belongs there for their commitment to their fans, progressive politics, dub reggae rhythms, and overall musicianship. Rage Against the Machine, Sleater-Kinney, The Mars Volta, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Constantines, and Jawbox took aspects of their sound and made them their own.
Robyn Hitchchock’s music lives somewhere between The Beatles, Captain Beefheart and an underwater kingdom of weirdness. Hitchcock’s got pop smarts on tap but he’s also got a lyrical penchant for murder, death and amphibians. It’s quite a pairing. His career has been long, consistent and always deeply satisfying.
In their short history, Hüsker Dü traversed a lot of musical terrain, moving through some of the most intense hardcore ever, the first-ever punk concept album, and simply terrific melodic pop songs. Pixies, Nirvana, Superchunk, Fugazi, The Afghan Whigs, and hundreds of other bands are unimaginable without them.
Michael Hutchence was one of the greatest frontmen in rock and roll history. INXS transformed from a durable pub band into stadium giants and Hutchence was the captain of their ship, slithering like Jagger and posing like Jim Morrison. Handsome, electric and altogether thrilling, Hutchence and INXS played a synthy blend of R&B, New Wave, funk and rock and roll and their sonic swagger and massive choruses still sound as resonant today as they did thirty years ago.
A powerhouse of melodic and harmonic guitar riffs, ambitious songwriting, and operatic lead vocals, Iron Maiden are the most influential (and probably best read) group to come out of the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Steve Harris, Bruce Dickinson, and the rest of the boys inspired the likes of Metallica, Dream Theater, In Flames, Lamb of God, and Slayer to get epic and/or heavy.
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Looking back at 1985, we’re surprised that no one thought to combine pop melodies and guitar distortion before Jim and William Reid thought to do so on Psychocandy. But the Reid brothers got there first, transforming their double love for Brian Wilson and The Velvet Underground into a fresh sound that they continued to innovate. Their influence is overwhelming: The Raveonettes, Spiritualized, The Verve, Mazzy Star, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dum Dum Girls, A Place to Bury Strangers, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ride, Swervedriver, Teenage Fanclub…
Joe Jackson knew how to get to a chorus. But he knew more than that. Jackson studied musical composition atLondon’s Royal Academy Of Music, so he was no slouch. Adept at several instruments (violin and piano), Jackson was the thinking man’s angry young man. He sang about social awkwardness with a knowing sneer and his albums were rife with some of the biggest hooks around. He effortlessly shifted from punk to New Wave to jazz and finally, to classical music, making him one of the most musically diverse artists around.
Ian Curtis’ baritone voice and deeply introspective lyrics, Peter Hook’s melodic basslines, Bernard Sumner’s monumental guitar riffs, and Stephen Morris’ precise drumming – this is the basis of Joy Division’s sound. Interpol, Radiohead, The National, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, and American Music Club have internalized their mood and commitment to musicianship and poetry.
Buzz Osbourne’s commitment to slow, sludgy riffs has never altered. His guitar playing has made Melvins into the institution that at least partially inspired Nirvana, Boris, Kylesa, High on Fire, Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, and Mastodon to pick up guitars.
There’s no one quite like your Uncle Al Jourgensen. Not only did he invent industrial-metal, but he did so with a sense of humor, political commitment, and intensity like no other. The likes of Nine Inch Nails, The Jesus Lizard, and Front 242 follow in his wake.
Guitarist-singer D. Boon, bassist-singer Mike Watt, and drummer George Hurley were San Pedro boys committed to hardcore and funk. They breathed life into Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fugazi, Jane’s Addiction, and Bikini Kill, among many others.
My Bloody Valentine
Without Kevin Shields and his unprecedented ability to transform noise into beauty, Sigur Rós, Mogwai, Spiritualized, M83, Boris, The Verve, Swervedriver, Explosions in the Sky, Ride, and Lush never would have existed.
New Order pretty much invented dance-rock for the 1980s and beyond. Peter Hook’s basslines carried the melody, Bernard Sumner played groovy guitar and wrote unforgettable synth lines, and Stephen Morris experimented with drum machines and live playing. They deeply influenced The Charlatans, Happy Mondays, The Rapture, and The Chemical Brothers.
Nine Inch Nails
With Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor brought industrial music to the masses without sacrificing his singular artistic vision. He excelled at making thematically-linked albums, which he filled with catchy songs that emphasized his humanity. His dark and brooding persona also made him a Jim Morrison-esque sex symbol. Reznor profoundly influenced “bands” in which a single member plays all the instruments himself, The Soft Moon and LCD Soundsystem among them.
Scotland’s Orange Juice had a triple threat in their frontman Edwyn Collins–a dextrous guitar player, a brilliant lyricist and a distinctive singer, Collins is considered by many to be the sonic architect of the Postcard Records sound. Everyone from Aztec Camera to Franz Ferdinand have been influenced by Collins’ work and for good reason–a bubbling cauldron of post-punk and twitchy New Wave, Orange Juice are easy to imitate but impossible to replicate.
At a time when hair metal was at its height of popularity and Metallica had gone commercial with their self-titled album, Pantera changed their sound and made sure that things could still be good and heavy. Vocalist Phil Anselmo, guitarist Dimebag Darrell, bassist Rex Brown, and drummer Vinnie Paul were all virtuosos on their instruments, and they knew how to groove. The Cowboys from Hell inspired the likes of Deftones, Eyehategod, Machine Head, and Slipknot.
Graham Parker & The Rumour
Graham Parker was lumped in with folks like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson from the start, and that Holy Trinity of angry young men was a tough one to beat. But Parker not only arrived earlier than Jackson and Costello, he was probably the angriest of the three. His lippy snarl and ability to spit a phrase with such forked brilliance (“The world is full of little people like you/You have to read a book to learn what to do…”) while at the same time making it catchy as hell, was no easy task. A blue collar everyman with a penchant for ska and soul, Parker influenced everyone from Billy Bragg to Paul Weller.
It’s been said before, but Pixies’ use of the quiet-loud, verse-chorus dynamic changed music. So did Black Francis’ oddball lyrics, off-kilter vocals, and melodies – not to mention Kim Deal’s sweet backing vocals and Joey Santiago’s surf rock-ridden guitar leads. Without them, no Nirvana, Radiohead, Blur, Arcade Fire, PJ Harvey…
Ramshackle American post-punk played with recklessness and wit, The Replacements remain one of the greatest American bands of all time. Confrontational, combustible and impossible to resist, their subversive charm, endearing on-stage sloppiness and winning albums made them the pre-eminent chroniclers of suburban frustration. Everyone from Nirvana to Green Day have namechecked the ‘Mats as an enormous influence and their recent reunion has proven their songbook to be as durable as they come.
Richman should already be in for his work with the Modern Lovers, but his winning solo career should also open up a seat for him in the Hall of Fame. While his contemporaries roared on, Richman pulled back and instead of embracing rebellion, he decided to write songs about U.F.O.s and monsters and Vincent Van Gogh. Richman’s childlike delight and lyrical simplicity were refreshing and his guitar work remains criminally overlooked–he’s one of the most underrated players of the last four decades.
Slayer’s unprecedented combination of heavy metal and punk rock was instrumental in the creation of thrash metal. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s dual guitar attack was musical insanity, Dave Lombardo was one of the fastest and best drummers on the planet, and bassist Tom Araya could snarl with the best of them. Their lyrics explored evil in its many forms and exposed the dangers of organized religion and attacked government-sanctioned violence. Testament, Death, At the Gates, Pantera, and Sepultura all owe a lot to them.
Morrissey’s lyrics were just as erudite and poetic as Johnny Marr’s guitar playing. Together, the two wrote some of the 1980s’ most memorable songs. It’s impossible to imagine Blur, Belle and Sebastian, Jeff Buckley, The National, Suede, Magnetic Fields, and Radiohead without them.
How many bands that lasted for 30 years can say that they never made a bad record? Sonic Youth can. Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo are two of the most inventive guitarists of all-time, and bassist Kim Gordon exudes charisma. It goes without question that Sleater-Kinney, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Pavement, Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, Nirvana, PJ Harvey, and Slint all learned a thing of two about the art of noise from them.