41. Iggy Pop – Punk Rock
Iggy Pop is either a genius or a madman. Frankly, one could make a strong argument that both are true. Born and raised in a trailer park in Ypsilanti, Michigan, James Osterberg’s first love was drumming, a pursuit that would occupy most of his attention while attending high school in nearby Ann Arbor. Osterberg moved through a series of bands before landing a seat at the kit for a local garage combo, called The Iguanas.
Though the Iguanas were short-lived, the name and persona of Iggy Pop were born out of this experience. Iggy gained admission into the University of Michigan, but ultimately dropped out in favor of an education in the blues. Regarding Ann Arbor’s music scene as somewhat inauthentic, Iggy traveled to Chicago to train with real bluesmen like Big Walter Horton and James Cotton.
Sleeping in what he describes as a crack in the ground near a sewage treatment plant, Iggy spent his time in Chicago learning showmanship from true masters of the form. This education would be revelatory, giving Iggy everything he needed to unwittingly invent punk rock.
Returning to Ann Arbor and convening with local friends Ron and Scott Asheton and bassist Dave Alexander, Iggy formed the Psychedelic Stooges. (They eventually dropped the ‘Psychedelic’ from their handle.) Though Iggy was informed by the entertaining antics of Chicago’s flashy bluesmen, the Stooges’ sound owed a far greater debt to the organic rock and roll phenomenon known as Garage Rock. Pulling in elements of psychedelia, electric blues, and surf rock, the Stooges churned their ingredients in a blender and splattered them all over audiences.
Iggy Pop proved a natural innovator in the field of performance art, taking a cue from Jim Morrison and embarking on some of the most aggressive and confrontational music ever thrust before an audience. While the Stooges bludgeoned listeners with their savage instrumental attack and deliriously loud arrangements, Iggy would shatter bottles and cut himself with the broken glass, strip down to nothing, and dive into the crowd. In fact, legend has it that Mr. Pop invented the stage dive and, consequently, the crowd surf, both eventual staples of the punk, grunge, and alternative concert experience.
More importantly, the band’s studied primitivism, musical minimalism, and show-stopping insanity verily wrote the book on punk rock roughly a decade before the term entered music’s popular lexicon. As par for the punk course, the Stooges recorded two landmark albums that nobody bought before completely imploding. But with The Stooges (1969) and Fun House (1970), Iggy and his band scribed the template for controlled chaos.
Though neither of these records reached a mainstream audience, Iggy’s legend as a terrifying and exhilarating performer was growing. So, too, was his heroin addiction, a fact which led to the group’s demise in 1971. In the same year, Iggy met David Bowie, who was just then on the path to massive success. Bowie offered to share this success with his new friend and produced an Iggy and the Stooges reunion, minus Dave Alexander. Raw Power (1973) was the result. Once again, Iggy upped the ante, producing an album of gritty, howling intensity that sold very few copies, but had a career-making influence on those who did buy it.
This was also the beginning of an incredibly valuable association with David Bowie. Iggy and the Stooges broke up a second time, again due to Pop’s heroin addiction. It was then that he sought treatment at a mental institution—a time in which Bowie was one of his few constant visitors. Once Iggy was discharged, he joined Bowie on a musical pilgrimage to Berlin, where both sought self-guided drug detoxification.
Without comment on their rehabilitation efforts, their time in Germany and their respective collaborations would produce Iggy’s finest solo work, when, in 1977, he released The Idiot and Lust for Life. Both were produced by Bowie, generated positive critical attention, and even helped the underground icon crack the Billboard album charts. Where his Stooges recordings predicted punk, the ominous electro-pop of his Bowie records prefigured the post-punk and new wave fascinations of influential groups like Public Image Ltd, the Joy Division, and New Order.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Iggy Pop’s recorded output has been spotty, a fact owed to his on-again/off-again battle with heroin addiction and period of general artistic listlessness. However, in the last two decades, his status as the Godfather of Punk and his singularity as a performer have earned him a place in the pantheon. Among elder statesmen, he is frequently tapped by musicians from subsequent generations for contribution and credibility. This includes collaborations with Guns ’n Roses, White Zombie, and—believe it or not—a stint opening for Madonna during her 2004 World Tour.
Iggy also got the chance to reunite with his old buddies from the Stooges, embarking on a triumphant reunion tour in the early and mid-2000s that allowed the band to bask in the glow of a reputation 30 years in the making, while exposing its music to a whole new generation of listeners. Though verging on 60 years of age at the time, Iggy’s performances were as artistically destructive and confrontational as ever, living proof that he is punk’s first wild child.
In 2010, Iggy Pop and the Stooges were collectively inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
42. Prince – Rhythm & Blues
Update: Prince Rogers Nelson died suddenly in April of 2016 at the age of 57. The world mourned his passing as rumors swirled that Prince had secretly struggled with an increasingly severe addiction to prescription pain killers.
Prince is among the most arresting showmen this side of James Brown. The Purple One redefined R&B in the 1980s by incorporating new wave synth pop, post-Parliament funk, and Hendrixian guitar pyrotechnics, consequently innovating the Minneapolis sound and lording over a seemingly unlikely hotbed for funk’s next step forward. An enormous force on the Billboard charts over the last 30 years, Prince’s flamboyant attire, commanding stage presence, and airy royal persona belie an inscrutably mysterious figure. His well-crafted image is as influential as his music, inviting mythology and reverence in equal measure.
Born to musical parents in Minneapolis, Prince Rogers Nelson made his compositional debut at the age of seven with the decidedly characteristic “Funk Machine.” While attending the city’s Central High School, Prince played piano in a series of party bands, including Grand Central and Champagne. He worked with a mixed-bag of funk and rock, including covers by Sly & The Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, and Earth, Wind & Fire. Prince showed an inimitable capacity for performance that earned him a record deal at 17.
On his debut, For You (1978), Prince announced the arrival of a remarkable new talent by playing no fewer than all of the album’s 20+ instrumental parts, including guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, synthesizers, and clavinet. Though the album was compositionally uneven and performed modestly on the R&B charts, his self-titled release the following year earned Prince his first glowing reviews and mainstream Billboard success.
Over the coming decade, Prince would shatter barriers for black artists in rock and roll, as well as through the rising medium of MTV. With albums like Controversy (1981) and 1999 (1982), Prince stood alongside only Michael Jackson in terms of music video exposure for a black artist. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “1999” became staples of the medium and established Prince’s provocative and alluring public image.
Then, in 1984, Prince performed and starred in a film called Purple Rain, the meta-fictional story of his rise to fame. In addition to his acclaimed acting and the quintessential importance of the film’s music sequences to the evolution of the music video form, the soundtrack became one of the biggest-selling records of all time. Thanks to omnipresent hits like “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and the title track, Purple Rain is the definitive funk record of the decade. It also owns the fun distinction—for its highly sexualized “Darling Nikki”—of having inspired the creation of the Parental Advisory sticker in popular music. If that wasn’t enough, Purple Rain also earned Prince an Academy Award.
Over the ensuing years, Prince’s impenetrable public persona has only served to build his legend. In the early ‘90s, in an effort to extricate himself from what he viewed as an exploitive record deal with Warner Brothers, he legally changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. Until 2000, Prince was “the artist formerly known as Prince.” Now, he is “the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince” or—in the shorthand—“Prince.”
His influence as a performer and as a celebrity is substantial. This Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, inducted during his first year of eligibility in 2004, has won seven Grammys and has moved more than 100 million records globally. His live performances remain, to date, a model of showmanship, instrumental virtuosity, and royal genius.
43. Prince Buster – Ska
Prince Buster’s influence on popular music is considerable. Frequently identified as a godfather of the ska and rocksteady genres, his prolific output in the 1960s helped forge the sounds that became his country’s chief global export. Kingston-born Cecil Campbell first explored his interest in popular music as a student at the St. Anne’s School. As a young teen, he participated in local after-school performances with a singing troupe specializing in Frankie Lymon songs.
Rock and Roll permeated Jamaican youth culture in the ‘50s, particularly by way of roving street parties called “sound systems.” The sound system was an important part of urban culture in Jamaica. Here, DJs would roll up with turntables, amps, and a staff of organizers to throw street parties. Typically, these parties were fueled by American rock, soul, and R&B records, and were an early forerunner of hip hop block parties in American cities a few decades on.
As a youth, Campbell learned the ropes by working with Clement Coxsone Dodd (also a future ska legend in the making) on one of the city’s most popular sound systems before founding his own “Voice of the People.”
As was common sound system practice at the time, Campbell intended to stock his with American recordings and so planned a record-buying expedition to the U.S. But when he was unable to gain entry through a farming work program, he came up with another plan. Adopting his royal title, Prince Buster gathered some local musicians together and made his first recordings in 1961. His collaboration with nearby Rastafarian drummers and his own exposure to a Jamaican-American hybrid called mento music led to a wholly original island sound.
His extensive recordings throughout the early ‘60s form the foundation for nearly all forms of popular music emergent from Jamaica thereafter, from ska and rocksteady to reggae and dancehall. As each of these styles gained international prominence, the value of Prince Buster’s musical contributions multiplied. From Bob Marley’s world-conquering proliferation of reggae to the two-toned ska revival that seems to bubble up in the U.K. every 10 years or so, to the dubstep textures of EDM, Prince Buster’s fingerprints are everywhere.
In 2001, Prince Buster was recognized by his own government for his contributions to music with an Order of Distinction.
44. A.R. Rahman – Tamil Cinema Score
Known as the “Mozart of Madras” (now known as Chennai), Indian singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and conductor A.R. Rahman is one of the most widely heard musicians in the world. To say nothing of his prodigious album sales, his music is omnipresent in the world’s second-most-populous nation and, increasingly, throughout the world. Though Rahman only began recording film scores a shade over 20 years ago, the composer’s recorded legacy could dwarf the entire musical output of several small countries. India’s film industry—particularly in fertile contexts such as Bollywood (in Mumbai, formerly Bombay) and Kollywood (in the Kodambakkam neighorhood of Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu)—is famous for the breakneck pace at which it produces movies. A.R. Rahman has proven a musician uniquely up to the task of scoring all of them. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but seriously, if you have a free month, Google his discography and try to wrap your head around that.
Born in Chennai, Rahman was reared into his future field by his father, R.K. Shekhar, himself a prolific score composer and conductor. In fact, A.R. got his start working the keyboards for some of his father’s compositions. Though his father passed away when A.R. was still young, the boy branched out by adding piano, guitar, and synthesizers to his repertoire. Joining an orchestra by the age of 11, Rahman worked under the tutelage of Tamil Nadu’s leading Hindustani orchestra conductors.
After graduating with a degree in Western Classical Music from the Trinity College of Music, Rahman initiated his career in a most brilliant way. Building a high-tech recording studio in his own backyard in 1992, Rahman gave himself the means to record prolifically. He did exactly that, beginning with a Tamil film called Roja (1992). The soundtrack was immediately hailed as a landmark achievement in Tamil film music, introducing Western orchestral elements and melodic composition to a genre that had historically employed only traditional Indian instrumentation. This was not only a breakthrough for the popular appeal of Tamil film music; it also constructed the musical schematic for all future Indian scoring and soundtracking.
It won Rahman a National Film Award for Best Music Direction, making him the very first composer to do so through his debut work. Though Roja remains among the most important achievements in Indian music, it was only the beginning of a celebrated career. The 1990s saw Rahman helm more than 100 film scores and soundtracks, frequently contributing his own instrumental and vocal work. Rahman would also become a pioneer in the incorporation of electronic elements and synthesizers into his music, which nonetheless still drew substantially (and satisfyingly) on the thundering rhythms, impassioned singing, and Hindi instrumentation that distinguish Indian music.
Over the 2000s, Rahman rose to even wider acclaim, particularly as the musical director for international crossover Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Scoring a Golden Globe and two Oscars for his work in the film, Rahman not only became the first Asian to do so but also brought the musical conventions of Kollywood and Bollywood to a wider international audience. The sounds that had been so fundamental to India’s musical identity achieved popular penetration with record-buyers in the U.S. and beyond. Following his international breakthrough, Rahman became a highly sought score composer in Hollywood and the recipient of an insane amount of recognition.
Within the context of Indian cinema, he is the winner of four National Film Awards, 15 Filmfare Awards, and 13 Filmfare Awards South. By some estimates, he has moved roughly 350 million units worldwide and his prolificacy only continues to grow.
45. Smokey Robinson – Soul
If Motown can be called a genre (and I think it can), Robinson is its defining artist. As much as producers like Quincy Jones and musicians like Stevie Wonder deserve inclusion here (and as much as their exclusion warrants complaint), Robinson was at once a face of the Motown operation and a key part of its brain trust. Smokey Robinson played a determinant role in the formation, output, and leadership of the world’s greatest hit-making factory. His sweet, sophisticated singing, his debonair image, and his authorship of some of the greatest hooks human ears have ever beheld helped make Motown into the biggest little record company of its time.
Born in a poor part of Detroit and raised by his sister, Robinson excelled as a student, athlete, and singer while attending Northern High School. It was the third of these pursuits that most compelled him, though, as he aspired to follow in the footsteps of R&B radio heroes like Billy Ward (“60 Minute Man”) and Barrett Strong (“Money [That’s What I Want]”). Teaming up with a few childhood friends, Smokey formed the Miracles in 1955 and started gigging throughout Detroit.
A chance meeting with aspiring songwriter Berry Gordy in 1957 would help Robinson secure his first few single releases and though Smokey did enroll in college in the winter of 1959, his first record dropped two months later. He left school to focus on his music, a move that paid off when Gordy formed Motown in 1960. The Miracles released “Shop Around” through the new label and quickly scored Motown its first million-seller.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles proceeded to soundtrack the coming decade, scoring a total of 26 top-40 hits, including unimpeachable pop gems like “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me,” “I Second That Emotion,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” and the “Tears of a Clown.” Smokey’s songwriting genius was not merely reserved for his own work, though. As one of Motown’s most prolific pens, he also authored mega-hits for Mary Wells (“My Guy”), The Marvelettes (“Don’t Mess With Bill”), and, most importantly, The Temptations (“Get Ready,” “My Girl,” “The Way Yo Do the Things You Do”).
In addition to sustained chart success as a solo act throughout the ‘70s, Smokey also served as Motown’s vice president for a period and maintained his association with the groundbreaking company until its sale in the early 1990s. Today, Robinson is a member of the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame, the owner of a National Medal of Arts, and a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.
46. Nile Rodgers – Disco
The conventional wisdom is that disco died somewhere between the time that Jimmy Carter left office and the first Delorean rolled off the production line. Nile Rodgers’s persistent relevance offers a strong argument to the contrary. When disco gave way to the MTV era, its synthesizers, dance loops, and (for lack of a better word) sparkle, persisted in the work of the decade’s biggest stars. Nile Rodgers is one of the prime reasons for this. As a musician, producer, and collaborator, Rodgers has been either out in front or pulling the strings from above while unleashing an endless string of hits on the world.
Born in New York City, Rodgers didn’t pick up his first guitar until he was 16. A quick study, however, he mastered the instrument sufficiently to earn admission into the prestigious Juilliard School. Nonetheless, he dropped out in 1970 when he earned his first paying music gig. If you ever wondered why the music from groundbreaking children’s television show Sesame Street was so funky, Nile Rodgers is at least one answer. The working musician successfully auditioned for a spot in the show’s house band. Here, Rodgers fell in with a group of ambitious young musicians who aspired to stardom even beyond the glamour of Muppeteering. Among the group were a pre-fame Luther Vandross, future David Bowie sideman Carlos Alomar, and, most importantly, Rodgers’s lifelong musical partner Bernard Edwards.
Rodgers moved off of Sesame Street and into a stint in the legendary Apollo Theater’s house band before formally teaming with Edwards. After moving through a number of mildly successful incarnations, Rodgers and Edwards tapped into New York’s burgeoning dance-club scene and took on the name Chic in 1977. They strutted instantly into the disco zeitgeist. Their late ‘70s hits, including “Le Freak,” “Dance, Dance, Dance,” and “Good Times,” captured the frivolous and promiscuous spirit of the time, powering the disco genre to ever-higher heights of popularity and excess.
Even as 1979’s “Disco Sucks” cultural movement took hold, Chic occupied the top spot on the Billboard charts, not just scoring a #1 with their own band, but penning, performing, and producing an R&B #1 in Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” Indeed, it was Rodgers’s work in support of other artists that would ultimately help him to reach his greatest achievements. As disco’s popularity waned in the 1970s, Rodgers appropriated its slick production values and danceable impulses to rattle off one of the most incredible streaks of collaborative success in music history.
Over the course of the 1980s, his production, writing, or guitar work shaped countless era-defining records, including David Bowie’s Let’s Dance (1983), Madonna’s Like a Virgin (1984), Duran Duran’s Arena, and the B-52’s Cosmic Thing (1989). He continued to release his own solo albums during this time, but, increasingly, his greatest impact was in support of—honestly—far too many projects to name.
Well before 2013, Nile Rodgers had compiled enough performance, composition, and production credits to fill a phonebook. And the funky licks that he laid down as a guitarist for Chic and in his session work have been sampled so often that they course through the lifeblood of old school hip hop.
Remarkably, this key sonic navigator of the disco and MTV eras was also partially responsible for the song that dominated radio playlists and dance floors in the summer of 2013. His collaboration with Daft Punk and Pharrell on “Get Lucky” earned Rodgers three Grammys and reminded a whole new generation of fans that Nile Rodgers is a figure of towering importance in the history of popular music.
47. Bruce Springsteen – Rock
Perhaps no other rock and roll musician has captured with the level of empathy, clarity, and conviction the American working class experience as has Bruce Springsteen. From his stadium-rattling rockers to his acoustic Dust Bowl balladry, Springsteen has dedicated his gifts as a songwriter to rhapsodizing the hard luck losers and blue collar heroes, living the American Dream while constantly shining a spotlight on those whose dreams have gone sour. At the core of his marathon performances and studio output is his unrivaled passion, the generosity with which he leaves it all out there, and the unflagging hope that gives buoyancy to even his darkest work.
Born to a struggling family in Freehold, New Jersey, Bruce’s life was changed first by witnessing Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show and, a few years later, The Beatles. At his behest, his mother took out a loan to buy him a Kent guitar when he was 16. Still, home life was not always pleasant for Bruce, who clashed frequently with his out-of-work father. He often recalls that the two least popular things in his house were he and his guitar. Though Bruce graduated from Freehold Regional High School, he was cripplingly shy and seemed to care a great deal more about his music than his studies. He logged a few months at Ocean County College, but dropped out to start the first of countless pre-fame bands.
Bruce toured so extensively at this time that recordings can be readily located by bands like The Castiles, Earth, and Steel Mill, the last of which brought him into contact with many of his future E Street Band co-conspirators, most importantly Stevie Van Zandt (guitar) and the late, great Clarence Clemons (sax). By 1970, Springsteen had developed into a captivating performer, demonstrating incredible lyrical dexterity, emotional depth, and yet, an innate playfulness. A small legend was growing around this live draw, especially in the Jersey Shore, Philly, and New York markets where he gigged constantly.
His breakthrough came through a contract with Columbia Records, which released his first two records, Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey (1973) and The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle (1974). In spite of a few radio hits, favorable reviews, and modest press, both records failed to translate into the success anticipated. Yet, the buzz around Springsteen continued to grow as he worked toward the release of his first monster hit. As the epic Born To Run hit the album charts, Springsteen pulled off the markedly rare feat of gracing the covers of both Time and Newsweek in the same October week of 1975.
Once Springsteen had arrived, his stay at the top would be permanent. Classic records like Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), The River (1980), and Nebraska (1982) would follow, pairing critical and commercial success. Then, with 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., Springsteen’s anthemic riffs and subversive patriotism rendered him among the top artists in the world. No fewer than seven of its 10 tracks charted as singles, with the album ultimately moving more than 30 million copies worldwide. It remains one of the biggest-selling albums of all time and suddenly, the mighty E Street Band was selling out arenas and stadiums. Their concerts had also become, and still remain, an experience of rock and roll transcendence. Springsteen’s shows play like old church tent revivals, with his running time typically eclipsing three hours and his audiences often enduring an emotionally draining, even cathartic event with every ticket purchase.
Today, Springsteen continues to record constantly, earning his 10th #1 album with 2012’s Wrecking Ball, a mark which ties The Boss for third with Elvis in that category. Springsteen has sold more than 120 million records worldwide, owns 20 Grammys, has won an Academy Award, and is a member of the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
48. Tina Turner – Rock and Roll
Depending on your point of reference, Tina Turner is arguably the most successful female artist in rock history. Her amazing longevity, throttling performances, and sustained draw as a live act have earned Turner her title as The Queen of Rock and Roll. She has also enjoyed a much-deserved critical adulation, only magnified by her perseverance in the face of a difficult upbringing and a nightmarish road to fame. Tina Turner has emerged on the other side of life’s challenges as one of the most celebrated artists in her genre.
Turner began life as Anna Mae Bullock in the Tennessee town of Nutbush, whose present-day population is substantially below 300 people. Anna first performed as a child in her family’s Baptist church, but she harbored few expectations of ever becoming a professional musician. She was a cheerleader and a basketball player in high school, and—following a transfer to the St. Louis area—graduated from Sumner High School in 1958 with plans of becoming a nurse.
While working as a nurse’s aid, she and her sister became regulars at the city’s vibrant nightclub scene. Among this scene’s most popular acts was Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. (Turner’s band already laid claim to the unique distinction of recording, in 1951, what many historians identify as the very first Rock and Roll song, “Rocket 88,” under the name Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats.)
Anna was transfixed by Turner and introduced herself during intermission. He beckoned her to the microphone and, after a single performance, invited her to join the band. She almost immediately became its primary attraction.
Through the early ‘60s, Tina’s husky vocals, provocative dancing, and authoritative stage presence made Ike & Tina a premier touring act. Tina gave Ike’s seasoned combo a sexy, explosive, even dangerous quality that helped the act rise above its peers on the chitlin’ circuit. Ike and Tina also entered into a romantic relationship, though it was one famously marked by psychological and physical abuse.
When they partnered with Wall of Sound impresario Phil Spector in 1965, Ike and Tina began a run at the charts with iconic performances like “River Deep-Mountain High,” (1966), Creedence Clearwater Revival’s immortal “Proud Mary” (1971), and the autobiographical “Nutbush City Limits” (1973). Turner also contributed a memorable performance as The Acid Queen in the Who’s film adaptation of their rock opera, Tommy, in 1975.
The following year, Tina filed for divorce from Ike and, upon winning her freedom, began her solo career. Though chart success was scarce in the late ‘70s and the turn of the decade, she remained a live knockout. Then, in 1984, she released the record Private Dancer, launching a Top Ten hit with “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and earning her greatest success as an artist yet. The album earned her four Grammys that year and set her on a course for a fertile decade both live and in the studio. A particular highlight of this period would be her record-setting performance alongside Paul McCartney, where both landed in the Guinness Book of World Records for attracting an audience of 184,000 to a Rio de Janeiro soccer stadium.
Today, Turner is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, a winner of eight Grammys, and owner of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She is also said to have sold more concert tickets than any other solo performer in history in spite of the fact that performances have been particularly rare over the past decade.
49. Caetano Veloso – Tropicália
Brazil is the place of origin for countless musical innovations, many of them exclusively homegrown. But what might be its most widely inventive and exciting genre is deeply informed by outside influence. When you combine Brazil’s own distinct sonic flavors with the experimentation, eccentricity, and psychedelic indulgence of Western pop music, you get Caetano Veloso. The Bahia-born singer and guitarist is frequently recognized as the starting point for an eclectic genre called tropicália in Portuguese (also known as tropicalismo).
Merging the rhythms of samba and bossa nova with rock instrumentation and the boldly experimental pop craftsmanship pioneered by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Veloso helped to bring Brazil’s musical traditions into the rock and roll era. As a teenager, Veloso was drawn to literature, cinema, and music. It was the groundbreaking bossa nova of João Gilberto that ultimately called him to a life in the third of these pursuits. He even followed in the geographical footsteps of his mentor, first to Bahia’s capital city, Salvador, and thereafter to Rio de Janeiro.
Veloso saw Gilberto as a true innovator of Brazilian music, a title he would very soon earn for himself. The music scene in Rio of the late 1960s was exploding with vibrancy and creativity. Veloso fell in with a group of musicians that included Gal Costa, Tom Ze, Os Mutantes, and lifelong collaborator Gilberto Gil. Collectively, these young musicians pushed the boundaries of traditional Brazilian music, infusing its familiar rhythms and instrumentation with electric guitars, swirling organs, and surrealist themes.
These musicians stood at the forefront of a daring musical movement. So daring was tropicália, in fact, that Brazil’s military dictatorship feared for its political impact. As the leading exponents of an unfamiliar (and therefore subversive) musical movement, the left-leaning Veloso and Gil were imprisoned in 1969. After a few months in captivity, both were exiled. They spent the next several years in London. Veloso remembers this as a trying but artistically fruitful period.
By 1972, Veloso and Gil had earned the right to return to their home country. Once back in Brazil, Veloso emerged as one of Brazil’s most prolific and adventurous musicians. His incorporation of folk forms from throughout the world distinguished his prodigious output and, by the ’80s, had earned him global acclaim and recognition.
If tropicália is the consequence of liberal borrowing from Western pop, its impact has also had the reverse effect. The rhythmic idiosyncrasies and genre-smashing philosophy of Veloso’s music has burrowed its way into work by contemporary artists like the Talking Heads and Beck. He continues to extend this influence by recording and performing with relative regularity. In fact, as recently as 2012, Veloso was recognized as the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year.
He added this award to a mantle that includes nine Latin Grammys and two American Grammys, the sum total of which makes him the most decorated Brazilian musician in history.
50. Neil Young – Rock
Neil Young is one of rock music’s most tireless rebels, a famously temperamental songwriter with an almost perverse resistance to expectation. Known for his sour, quavering vocals and ragged guitar playing, Young was a voice of protest in the ‘60s, the most rewarding artist of the album-oriented ‘70s, and the godfather to a new generation with the explosion of grunge in the ‘90s. Throughout, Young has thrived in spite of his tendencies to alienate critics, defy audiences, embark on his own flights of experimental fancy, and release throwaway genre exercises regardless of their total lack of commercial viability.
The Ontario-born musician was a frail and sickly child who fell in love with rock and roll through the radio. He idolized Elvis Presley, but his first instrument was the ukulele. While at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, Young moved to guitar and formed his first band, an instrumental rock combo called The Squires.
His early days performing in Canada brought Young into direct contact with many of the leading voices of the coming era. He and Stephen Stills crossed paths as their respective bands toured Ontario. He shared the stage with fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell before both emigrated to the U.S. He even performed in the Mynah Byrds with future funkster Rick James.
These contacts would prove immediately fruitful upon Neil’s departure for California in 1966. Oddly enough, it was on the exact day of his arrival in L.A. that Stills spotted Neil’s hearse (that’s right, he drove a hearse) in traffic and flagged him down. The Buffalo Springfield was basically formed in a strip mall parking lot that afternoon.
Young would soon be a witness to the Sunset Strip Curfew Riots (chronicled in Stills’s “For What It’s Worth”) while with the Buffalo Springfield. Then, as a member of supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, he performed at Woodstock and inserted himself as a documentarian of the protest movement with 1970’s Kent State Massacre anthem, “Ohio.”
Across the coming decade, Neil Young—often accompanied by the gloriously sloppy blue-collar backers, Crazy Horse—chronicled the sputtering disappointment of the 1970s. Albums like After the Gold Rush (1970), Harvest (1972), On the Beach (1974), and Tonight’s the Night (1975) perfectly captured the insecurity, malaise, and disillusionment of the transitional period that followed Watergate and the Vietnam War.
Young capped off a decade of remarkable consistency with the groundbreaking live recording and documentary, Rust Never Sleeps. “Hey Hey My My” established Neil Young’s credentials with a new generation of punks whose raison d’être lay in rejecting all that came before them. Punk was protest in 1979. That Young so seamlessly recognized and dispatched to the next battlefront would distinguish him among his peers. His 1979 album would achieve Platinum status and its accompanying film continues to generate critical fawning to present date.
Rolling Stone and the Village Voice both named Neil Young the artist of the 1970s. Though the ‘80s is something of a lost period musically for Young, the end of the decade saw him rise again with reinvigorated purpose. In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, Young released the album Freedom, which contained de facto post–Cold War anthem, “Rockin’ In the Free World.”
In 1990, Young released the live album Ragged Glory and followed it with an all-conquering tour. Both made good on the promise of Freedom, launching Crazy Horse headlong into the thick of the emergent grunge movement. Of 1991, Neil Young recalls, “the Gulf War was raging. I figure that the guitar-playing was a soundtrack for CNN.”
Indeed, of the preceding generation, perhaps Neil Young succeeded in remaining most relevant, anchored by his relationship and frequent performance with those grunge monsters, Pearl Jam. Today, as a solo artist and a former member of Buffalo Springfield, the Godfather of Grunge is a two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.