Sure, there was some kind of election or something last week”at least we think that’s what we heard coming out of the mouths of the TV pundits. Honestly, we kind of stopped paying attention after a while, at least until the news broke about a truly earth-shattering political breakthrough. While the rest of the world was focused on whichever one of those guys with the suits and ties walked away with the prize, we were captivated by a revolutionary piece of legislation that proved to be election night’s biggest surprise: the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Washington and Colorado. While this monumental move has been the dream of stoners all over America for decades, it must be assumed that the passing of what we like to call The Bong Bill will be most widely celebrated in the realm of rock ‘n’ roll. To commemorate the dawning of a new era for uncontrolled substances, let’s look back at some of rock’s most notorious stoners, who are sure to be holding their lighters aloft in honor of these epochal developments.
Just for starters, one of their earliest albums introduced the much-covered metal marijuana anthem Sweet Leaf. But beyond that musical love letter to THC, Ozzy Osbourne is one of rock’s most titanic tokers, to the point that he ultimately changed his stance on legalization in recognition of the damage drugs had done to his neurological system. Granted, we’re talking about a lot more than merely pot in Ozzy’s case, but nevertheless, Sabbath are still stoner-rock (more…)
Within the upper echelon of heartland rock, at this late date, it all boils down to a crucial question: Springsteen or Petty? The third member of the Holy Trinity, Bob Seger, more or less took himself out of the game over the last couple of decades, while John Mellencamp‘s never really been much more than a dim reflection of the others to begin with, so at this juncture”with all the aforementioned Americana rockers having reached sexagenarian status”it’s basically about Bruce and Tom.
Even the members of roots-rock royalty are only ever as good as their bands, be they E Street, Silver Bullet, or Heartbreakers, and there’s no better measure of a great band’s prowess than the mark they make in concert. So the ultimate proving ground in the recording realm becomes not the studio album but the live anthology. But we’re not talking about your standard-issue live album here”both Petty and Springsteen have released those. No, a grand-scale summary of the concert repertoire is what’s really required to take the artistic temperature of an act in this arena (pun only partially intended).
In this context, one might suggest that Springsteen made a crucial mistake by playing his hand too soon, releasing the three-disc box set Live/1975-85 in 1986, even though he couldn’t have known how many subsequent years of concert triumphs he’d be excluding from the collection. But to call a spade a spade, Bruce’s biggest blunder in our little imaginary competition was in valuing strength over subtlety. They don’t call him The Boss for nothing”Springsteen’s sound has always been about larger-than-life statements delivered with an almost Wagnerian grandeur. As he’s the master of the mode, it’s often thrilling, but it also precludes the possibilities inherent in a lower-key lean, especially live, and that’s where The Heartbreakers come into the picture.
Where the inspirations for the E Street approach come from Phil Spector‘s Wall of Sound productions and Roy Orbison‘s pathos-ridden rock operettas, the comparatively laconic Petty and his Gainesville gang were modeled more after the supple, sinuous feel of the famed Southern soul sessionmen of Muscle Shoals, AL, the minimalist R&B grooves of Booker T. & The M.G.’s, and the laid-back country funk of J.J. Cale. Those are the roots The Heartbreakers bring to bear while breathing life into Petty’s tunes, but while there’s nary an ounce of flash or bombast to be found anywhere near a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers concert, there’s no shortage of soulful fire and pure rock & roll energy either. With characteristic caginess, Tom waited another quarter-century after Bruce to bring out his big live box set, simply dubbed The Live Anthology, released at the tail end of 2009. In its deluxe version, it took five CDs, two DVDs, a Blu-Ray disc, and a wealth of graphic-oriented extras to tell its tale of a band with three decades-plus of tasteful-but-torrid road-rocking behind them.
10. The Byrds
Their career was so fragmented that it is difficult to assess as a whole, but The Byrds almost single-handedly invented both folk-rock and country-rock while also bringing international attention to young folker Bob Dylan. In melding Dylan’s compositions with the concept of a guitar-based group, The Byrds brought poetry to pop and illustrated the incredible melodicism of Dylan’s not-so-accessible songs. The Byrds got into psychedelia early on, and had a number of their own classic originals (many by Gene Clark) before catching on to the roots revival. When they hooked up with Gram Parsons, to the credit of the band and leader Roger McGuinn, they followed his vision of a unique country-based cosmic American band. His time in the group was short-lived, but produced arguably their best LP, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The Byrds influenced at least two bands on this list, as well as re-inspiring the acts that influenced them, including Dylan, The Beatles and folkers like John Phillips and John Sebastian.