Music Playlist Week #24 (The New York edition)
Without Sonic Youth, there would be no Nirvana or Dinosaur Jr. That's said without any Hyperbole at all. You simply cannot talk about the Punk revolution in the 1980s without mentioning Sonic Youth. Founded by Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, and Lee Ranaldo, they infiltrated the alternative rock scene with their jagged guitar noise and gradually transformed from experimental oddballs to bonafide rock heroes, and spawned a generation of bands.
It's not exactly a stretch to say that New York's hip-hop scene is second to none. Over the years the city has produced some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Nas and The Notorious B.I.G. No hip-hop act has been so quintessentially New York as The Wu-Tang Clan. Originally boasting no less than nine full members (RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard). The logistical nightmares of getting them all on stage at the same time and having them all play nice with each other is well documented, but when it worked it was chaotic, creative and groundbreaking.
Yeah Yeah Yeah's
Are they dance? Are they punk? Who cares. When they first hit the stage in the summer of 2000, there will have been no way for them to know what lay ahead for them. Now, 20 years later, they're still one of the best bands around. As with The Stokes, the buzz surrounding them led to a major record deal and led to their (still) phenomenal debut album, "Fever To Tell". Everything grew from there and over the last 20 years they have branched out into some wildly different and divergent territories without ever compromising their sound. In Karen O, they have one of the greatest band fronts ever. It seems apt that she comes from the same part of the world as Debbie Harry. She truly is the second coming.
The Velvet Underground
About as New York as they come. Frontman Lou Reed was born in Brooklyn and formed the band in 1964. An unmatched attitude and provocativeness made them darlings of the not only the underground rock scene but also the pop-art world (helped in no small part by Andy Warhol). The Warhol connection certainly helped raise their profile even more and secure larger gigs. Their sound has always had it's roots in poetry and art, and although they didn't achieve that much commercial success during their brief stint in the limelight, their dedicated cult following has made them one of the most recognisable and important bands ever.
Who would have thought in the 1980s that three white boys from NYC rapping about fighting for their right to party would end up one of the biggest bands of all times, selling more than 20 million records and being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? You can bet that the Beastie Boys didn't. Teaming up with renowned production genius Rick Rubin in 1984 eventually lead to the release of "Licensed to Ill" a couple of years later, which became the first Hip-Hop album to ever reach to the top of the Billboard charts and was the biggest selling rap album of that year. The Beastie Boys remain a pop-culture phenomenon and a huge influence on so many of today's musicians all these years later.
There's not a band from the last 20 years that define New York as much as The Strokes. Their 2001 masterpiece "Is This It" is still just as amazing from start to finish. It was a huge commercial success and is probably one of the most iconic albums ever made, and was the basis for the re-birth of what we now know as indie-rock. It's hard to believe a band of unknowns, with one album influenced music and fashion in such a short space of time as The Strokes did. Their albums since "Is This It" have never quite reached the same heights, but they are still incredible pieces of work.
The Ramones "Brothers" first burst on to the scene in the 1970s with their no-frills, rapid-fire rock and roll songs. They were a mainstay of the notorious CBGB music venue, and are pretty much synonymous with any conversation about that place. No one can ever call their tracks "epics", but every set they ever played consisted of super-short songs and upbeat tempos, with lyrics loaded with pent-up angst and excitement. Did Punk Rock begin with The Ramones? It's hard to argue against it. Their songs, now over 40 years old, still stand up against the more recent offerings from the likes of Green Day and Dead Kennedys.
Despite the fact that I paid quite a bit of money for a DVD of LCD Soundsystem's "last ever gig" only for them to get back together a few years later, I forgive them and still love them. The most reluctant frontman in the world, James Murphy, and his band of phenomenal musicians are quite simply one of the greatest bands still performing today. In the New York music scene, there's always an overwhelming feeling of everyone trying to be cooler than you, but James Murphy is well past that. Just listen to the lyrics from their debut single "Losing my Edge" and you'll understand what we mean. It's ironic that after everything they have done, they are probably one of the coolest bands in New York History.
Blondie, led by the phenomenal Debbie Harry, were a hugely influential part of New York's Punk and New Wave scene in the 1970s. Like The Ramones, you can't discuss CBGB without mentioning Blondie. They are probably the most commercially successful overall compared to the other bands on this list, and when you look at their back catalogue you can understand why. Their insanely catchy pop-based songs veer into Reggae, rap and even disco. Debbie Harry was, and still is, a huge style icon with her bleach blonde hair and edgy, playful dress sense influencing females all over the world.
Another band who are arguably one of the most influential of all time. Fronted by the enigmatic David Byrne, these guys were the original art school hipsters. Their extensive back catalogue combines elements of punk, funk, dance and African rock. If you listen to "Once in a lifetime", you'll hear all of these at some point. The story goes that their first gig was opening for The Ramones at CBGB, which is about as New York as you can get. They have been impossible to imitate, although many have tried. Listen to anything by the likes of Vampire Weekend, Bloc Party and Arcade Fire to see just how far their influence stretched. Quite simply, they are one of the greatest bands of all time.
New York Dolls, Television, Run DMC, Agnostic Front, Vampire Weekend
January 30, 2020