by Yonah Paley
If you thought the first half of the Kinks’ career was underappreciated, try listening to the second half. It starts off strong with a series of concept albums, most notably the incredible Preservation (acts one and two), and then moves toward arena rock, power pop, and ultimately, hard rock. While most artists peter out after hitting a peak (and indeed, the band does see a decline in quality toward their latter days), the Kinks manage to have at least one or two (sometimes more) truly great songs per album. For a band that lasted approximately three decades, that is a huge accomplishment.
One of the greatest things about the Kinks is how their discography keeps giving and giving. Every time you think you’ve heard it all, you discover a new favorite. Some of them are from albums (“Better Things,” “Living on a Thin Line”), while others are from little known EPs (“Look Through Any Doorway”). While this article is only focused on studio albums, there is a treasure trove of back catalog tunes waiting to be discovered. So much so, in fact, that it deserves its own article. Maybe some day, fellow Kinks-philes. For now, though, we take a look at a wonderful era in music: 1973-1993!
by Yonah Paley
I have a confession to make. The Kinks are my favorite band ever, by a long-shot. They have always been able to tap into the roots of humanity: emotions, feelings, dreams, personal struggles, and class. Lead singer/songwriter Ray Davies is an astute storyteller, because he knows how to paint a perfect mental picture. The actions and motivations of his characters are not overly simplistic; they are affected by the world, and others around them. He is a consistent champion of the working class, the financially insecure, and the abandoned. In many ways, Davies is the ultimate introvert. He rarely writes about his own feelings; instead, he projects empathy and philosophy into the lives of others. I wholeheartedly agree with Pete Townshend of the Who, who said, “...Ray Davies should one day be Poet Laureate.”
Ray’s brother, Dave, is another indispensable member of the band. His writing credits may be fewer than that of Ray’s, but they are still phenomenal. Dave Davies’ guitar work is as good as it is groundbreaking. He brings an extroverted, hard edge to the Kinks, and makes them a “rock” band. Additionally, the brothers’ opposite personalities, often a point of contention between the two, helps keep their egos in check.
What is about to follow is the greatest five-album streak in contemporary musical history (six albums, if you discount Percy and skip straight to Muswell Hillbillies). In deference to the greatness of these albums, there will be no "Favorite tracks" listed. There are simply too many of them.
by Yonah Paley
To some degree, musicians (and artists in general) have proclivities for thinking outside the box. After all, good songwriting involves expressing abstract feelings and thoughts to the listener, in a compelling manner. Talking Heads is unique in its musical vision, because of how it thinks outside the box. David Byrne’s lyrics are less concerned about specific ideas, than they are about the nature of ideas. Unlike most lyricists, he writes two or three steps removed from his subject matter. Rather than taking close-up looks at the world, he views it through mental binoculars. The distance between the music and real life creates a captivating sense of alienation, that somehow manages to be rhythmic and funky at the same time.
I only begrudgingly call Byrne the band’s frontman, because he is aided by a slew of tremendous musical talent. Drummer Chris Frantz, bassist Tina Weymouth, and keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison are heavily important to Talking Heads’ overall sound. The band’s three collaborations with Brian Eno, are among the greatest joint efforts in production history. Finally, while we will only be discussing their studio albums in detail, Talking Heads is an incredible stage act. I highly recommend watching the sublime concert film Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme, and listening to the live album, The Name of This Band is Talking Heads.
by Yonah Paley
*Updated on 05/09/2017 to include Pollinator
Blondie has always been punk, but not for the reasons you would expect. While their song structures have always leaned in poppy, synthy directions, it’s the attitude of bandleader and singer Deborah Harry that truly gives Blondie the punk distinction. She gives zero fucks about what anybody else thinks, and carries the music in a charismatic, fun way. Whether bluntly saying “I like this” or “I don’t like this,” or singing about being stalked (“One Way or Another”), Harry brings a sort of charming chutzpah to the music.
Although the band’s second half of their career is pretty weak, the first half (particularly the masterpiece Parallel Lines) is enough to anoint “great artist” status to Blondie. Deborah Harry, aided by an ensemble of talented musicians and producers, is responsible for some timely, catchy hit singles. Whenever “Heart of Glass” comes on the radio, you can bet I’ll be getting off my couch to dance.
by Jared Diaw
Kanye West is probably the most polarizing figure alive right now who is not a politician. Rapper, producer, director, author, and fashion designer, chances are you've encountered his work in one way, shape, or form. Born in Atlanta, but later attending school in Chicago, West has taken the world by storm with his larger than life persona. His unwillingness to conform has led to the creation of multiple musical classics.
Though a heavily controversial figure, Kanye West's impact on music and culture is virtually undeniable to anyone paying attention. Influencing contemporary artists such as Kid Cudi, Chance the Rapper, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar, there is no telling what modern rap music would be like if not for the contributions of the self proclaimed God Yeezus.
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