Music is way too broad of a topic to just talk about once. So let’s start it off by talking about the most influential artists out there. When you get older you start to hear the same music over and over in a way. Like when I hear songs by Vampire Weekend, I hear Weezer. When I hear Justin Timberlake, I hear Motown, soul, Michael Jackson. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it’s actually a great thing. What drives me nuts is when people hear someone like Bruno Mars and they DON’T hear The Temptations or Prince. When they hear “Born this Way” by Lady Gaga and DON’T hear Madonna’s “Express Yourself” or TLC’s “Waterfalls” (yea, listen to the verses and tell me that doesn’t take you back to 1995). The point is that it all comes from somewhere. So when you talk about today’s artists, you should be able to link them to the past.
There were people making music that influenced all your favorite artists. Rock didn’t start with Elvis, or even Chuck Berry, it goes back further. Hip-hop started way before Run-DMC laid down “It’s Tricky”. And country music has been around since the first guy with a guitar got his heartbroken.
Music is so deeply personal; that’s why of all the fans in the fan kingdom, I think music fans are the most passionate. There is a reason that people faint at concerts. I mean, you don’t see people fainting at movie theaters when they see their favorite movie. So in conversation with one of these people, it is important to get it right, not perfect, but if someone brings up Bob Dylan and you say “Wasn’t that the guy on 90210?” you will be met with outrage and ridicule. And I don’t want that for you.
Here are 8 things to talk about with a music geek that will not cause them to vigorously shake you or get up and walk out of the room. Music is subjective, so you should always stay true to your opinions. But remember facts are important to music geeks. There is so much to cover here, so I know I’m gonna leave out some greats, let me know who some of your favorite influential artists are.
1. is my favorite Beatle.
The Beatles are pretty much the original boy band. I mean, think about it for a minute; 4 attractive guys, playing amazing music that made teenage girls swoon! And just like Justin is your favorite member of N’Sync, you pick a Beatle you love. Mine is Ringo. It’s not a popular choice, but it’s mine, based on all the silly songs he sings and my personal love for drummers. I think you can tell a lot about someone based on their favorite Beatle.
2. Led Zeppelin transcends every sub-genre of rock.
Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and the late John Bonham make up the most seminal rock and roll bands of the 20th century. They were the biggest rock band of the 70’s and every one of their albums reached Billboard Top 10. They’ve influenced everyone from Kings of Leon to the White Stripes to Metallica and even Madonna. Their songs are epic in every sense of the word. Songs to check out: “Ramble On”, “Kashmir” and “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin
3. Saying Nirvana created grunge, is like saying Elvis created rock and roll.
Elvis, The King of Rock and Roll did change the game but he wasn’t the first to do what he did. He was just the most successful. He took songs of black blues singers and sang them for a wider (i.e. whiter) audience. Don’t don’t get me wrong, this in no way takes away what he did for music or culture, but even Elvis music came from somewhere. It’s the same thing with Nirvana, sort of. They weren’t the first grunge band, they weren’t even the first grunge band to get signed to a major label, that was Soundgarden, they were just the most influential and culturally relevant. Songs to check out: “Smells like Teen Spirit”, “In Bloom” and “All Apologies”
4. People shouldn’t lump soul and Motown together, they’re two different sounds.
Soul is the rawer form of Motown, with heavy gospel and blues influences and a lot of funk. Motown took soul to a poppier level and made it a little more secular. Soul had Otis Redding and Motown had The Temptations. When you listen to them back to back, you can hear the difference.
5. There wouldn’t be an R.E.M. or a lot of power pop bands without Big Star.
Wanna win the heart of a music geek? Drop the band Big Star into conversation. I’m a little biased because this band is from my hometown, Memphis (as are a lot of greats like oh, Elvis and Mr. Justin Timberlake). Anyway, these guys are one of the first power pop bands. Formed in 1971 and only lasting 3 years before reforming 20 years later, Big Star’s first three albums are considered to be some of the most influential pop albums of all time. You might recognize their song “In The Street” as the theme song to That 70’s Show. Other songs to check out: “Thirteen”, “September Girls”, and ““The Ballad of El Goodo”
6. Born in the U.S.A might have been Springsteen’s most commercially successful album, but no one can argue that Nebraska is his best.
Well, I mean, they can argue, and they will. But like Big Star, Springsteen’s Nebraska is another darling with music nerds. Springsteen released the album, originally just demos, simply recorded on a 4-track, in 1982. What puts Nebraska on lists of the best albums of all time is how different it was at the time of it’s release, oh and all the songs are hauntingly beautiful songs about death, murder and criminals. I don’t want my mentioning of Nebraska though to in take away from the importance of the classic Born To Run. It is my favorite and the favorite of millions of people with ears. It is the quintessential album about getting out of a small town with huge musical arrangements and heartbreaking songs.
Songs to check out: “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road”, and “Highway Patrolman”
7. Dr. Dre pretty much invented the West Coast rap sound.
I said it. Tu Pac and Snoop Dogg (er…Snoop Lion) might have been the face of the West Coast rap sound, but Dre created it. From N.W.A. (with Ice T and Eazy E) to Death Row Records to today, Dr. Dre has produced some of the greatest rap and hip hop albums of all time. Now…that’s the west coast. We all know that the East coast (represent!) brings a lot to the table with Notorious B.I.G., Diddy and of course, the king of Brooklyn, Jay-Z (And Queen B!)
8. Saying Bob Dylan is influential is like saying that the sky is blue or the world is round. It doesn’t need to be said, it just is.
Guys, just know who Bob Dylan is. Listen to his music. Bob Dylan is such an icon of music and cultural that he was standing on stage with Martin Luther King during the “I Have a Dream” speech. He pretty much invented folk rock and the moment that he “went electric” is one of the moments that changed music forever. The man wrote so many songs that you don’t even realize are his. People are always covering Dylan. Just trust me guys, listen to Bob Dylan okay? Songs to check out: “It Ain’t Me Babe”, “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
Here’s the thing about music, we all have different tastes. I’m not going to tell you want to like, I’m just telling you who to know.
FOR MORE INFO
Really want to be a music nerd? Listen to music that is good and not terrible. Okay, fine. Check out some of these great sites that talk about new music and acknowledge the past.
Tiny Mixtapes – BIG time nerd site, amazing
Yvynl – Great music tumblr
Rolling Stone – Features on all things music past and present