Joni Mitchell is my all-time favorite, period. I can thank Pete (who is light years ahead of me musically, as well as in pretty much every way) for introducing me to her when we were in high school. While our peers were rockin’ out to REO Speedwagon, we would blast For the Roses out of the dining room windows into the backyard. And my mother was surprised when I came out?
Jonathan Richman is the ultimate cult artist. “Cult artist” means, “artist who has six fans who think [artist] is the greatest thing to happen to music since notes, while the rest of the world has never heard of [artist].” As a self-proclaimed music junkie, I can proudly say I’ve heard of “Roadrunner.” Not heard it, mind you—for all I know, it’s a cover of the cartoon theme song. Which would be awesome in its own way.
John “Johnny Cougar” Mellencamp burst onto the scene with the awesomely bombastic/vaguely misogynistic “I Need a Lover.” Then he sucked for a while. Then he remembered his last name, grew up, and was awesome for a long time. He gets knocked as “Springsteen lite,” but I’d rather listen to his good stuff than just about any of Springsteen’s stuff any day. I know, more rungs down the cred ladder …
Both as a member of the group and solo, George Harrison is my favorite Beatle, hands down. So I feel bad about not giving him a list. As much as I love his crazy mashup of spirituality and quirky humor, it’s hard to argue that he has 10 “important, influential, or interesting” songs. McCartney gets one, or my sister would never speak to me again. But, with apologies to Ringo, I think it’s clear that John Lennon had the most interesting solo career of any ex-Beatle by far. And that’s before you factor in Yoko “People of earth … how are you?” Ono.
Because a) I like to make things up, b) I don’t know anything about their music, and c) in my clearly limited worldview they are the same person, I was going to combine John Hiatt and John Prine into one list. But then I realized that they are the kinds of cult artists who have rabid fans, and then I’d be fielding “They are not a thing alike!” comments all day. Which would give me a headache. So: separate lists.
When I was in high school, it was fashionable among some teenage boys to claim that Jim Morrison was God. (This was during one of the umpteenth Doors revivals.) But as far as I know, John Coltrane is the only musician who has an actual church named after him. Which seems appropriate—for my “Welcome to heaven” song (stop laughing), I’m going to ask them to skip the harps and just play the opening movement to “A Love Supreme.”
Joe Jackson started out sounding like Elvis Costello. Then he decided to sound like Louis Jordan, then Cole Porter, then any number of vaguely Latin-influenced jazz band leaders. Then I lost track, though at some point I believe he wrote a symphony. I guess the only person left to sound like was Mozart?
Over the years, Joan Armatrading tried everything from pop-folkie to electro-pop-punky … and she still couldn’t buy a hit to save her life. So then she decided to screw it all and just sound like Sade.
Often when I run into acquaintances (my real friends know better), they think it’s funny to bust out with, “Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?” It’s not.