OTIS REDDING. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
The first time we saw Otis Redding was in 1962, and he was driving a car for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers out of Macon, Georgia. They had a moderate hit, an instrumental called "Love Twist," and they wanted to record a follow-up in Memphis with my band, Booker T. and the MGs. I saw this big guy get out from behind the wheel and go to the back of the truck and start unloading equipment. That was Otis. And we had no idea he was also a singer. In those days, instrumental groups always carried a singer so they could play the songs on the radio that the kids wanted to dance to.
U2. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
The first U2 album I ever heard was Achtung Baby. It was 1991, and I was 14 years old. Before that, I didn't even know what albums were. From that point, I worked backward — every six months, I'd get to buy a new U2 album. The sound they pioneered — the driving bass and drums underneath and those ethereal, effects-laden guitar tracks floating out from above — was nothing that had been heard before. They may be the only good anthemic rock band ever. Certainly they're the best.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
In many ways, Bruce Springsteen is the embodiment of rock & roll. Combining strains of Appalachian music, rockabilly, blues and R&B, his work epitomizes rock's deepest values: desire, the need for freedom and the search to find yourself. All through his songs there is a generosity and a willingness to portray even the simplest aspects of our lives in a dramatic and committed way. The first time I heard him play was at a small club, the Bitter End in New York, where he did a guest set. It was just an amazing display of lyrical prowess. I asked him where he was from, and he sort of grinned and said he was from New Jersey.
JERRY LEE LEWIS. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
I'd be curious to know how many pianos Jerry Lee Lewis has gone through in his lifetime. Whoever was responsible for keeping the piano in tune and making sure it didn't fall apart at Sun Studio must have wept every time he showed up to play. I don't know what switch got flipped in his brain when he was born that compelled him to play so fast and so hard, but I'm glad it got flipped.
FAST DOMINO. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
After John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Fats Domino and his partner, Dave Bartholomew, were probably the greatest team of songwriters ever. They always had a simple melody, a hip set of chord changes and a cool groove. And their songs all had simple lyrics; that's the key. There are no deep plots in Fats Domino songs: "Yes, it's me, and I'm in love again/Had no lovin' since you know when/You know I love you, yes I do/And I'm savin' all my lovin' just for you." It don't get no simpler than that.
THE RAMONES. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Every rock & roll generation needs reminding of why it picks up a guitar in the first place, and four nonbrothers from the borough of Queens had a concept that was almost too perfect. Their look — ripped jeans, tight T-shirt, high-top sneakers, bowl haircut and black motorcycle jacket — was a cartoon version of rock's tough-guy ethos. When they first started, they played what they knew how to play, which wasn't much, and worked it to their advantage. They opted for speed rather than complexity, they aspired to be the Beach Boys, Alice Cooper and the Bay City Rollers, and their rotational three chords and headlong lunge kept them skidding through the simpleton catchphrases of their singalongs.
PRINCE. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Prince was forbidden in my closed, Christian household. He was somewhere between Richard Pryor — whom we absolutely couldn't listen to — and a stash of porn. In junior high, my parents would put $30 or $40 in an envelope, and that would buy a card that would cover a month of school lunches. It was November of 1982, and I took my $36 and purchased Prince's 1999, What Time Is It?, by the Time, and theVanity 6 album. I starved that whole month
THE CLASH. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
I can vividly remember when I first saw the Clash. It was in Dublin in October 1977. They were touring behind their first album, and they played a 1,200-capacity venue at Trinity College. Dublin had never seen anything like it. It really had a massive impact around here, and I still meet people who are in the music business today — maybe they are DJs, maybe they are in bands — because they saw that show.
THE WHO. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
The Who began as spectacle. They became spectacular. Early on, the band was in pure demolition mode; later, on albums like Tommy andQuadrophenia, it coupled that raw energy with precision and desire to complete musical experiments on a grand scale. They asked, "What were the limits of rock & roll? Could the power of music actually change the way you feel?" Pete Townshend demanded that there be spiritual value in music. They were an incredible band whose main songwriter happened to be on a quest for reason and harmony in his life. He shared that journey with the listener, becoming an inspiration for others to seek out their own path. They did all this while also being in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's loudest band.
NIRVANA. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
The first time I saw Nirvana was at the Pyramid Club, a rank, wonderful, anything-goes dive bar on Avenue A in New York. It wasn't known for having live bands; it was known more for cross-dressing and bar dancing. I had a photographer friend, and he told me, "There's a really hot band from Seattle you have to see. They're gonna play the Pyramid, of all places!"
JOHNNY CASH. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Johnny Cash was a biblical character. He was like some old preacher, one of those dangerous old wild ones. He was like a hero you'd see in a Western. He was a giant. And he never lost that stature. I don't think we'll see anyone like him again. Of course, the first thing he'll be remembered for is the power and originality of his music. The first time I heard Johnny Cash was when he released "I Walk the Line" in 1956. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard.
SMOKEY ROBINSON AND THE MIRADES. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Back then the radio played the rougher stuff, like "Do You Love Me," by the Contours, only at night. Smokey Robinson — they played him all day. Everybody loved his songs, and he had a leg up on all the other singers, with that slightly raspy, very high voice. Smokey was smoky. He could rasp in falsetto, which is hard to do and perfect for a sad ballad like "The Tears of a Clown" or "The Tracks of My Tears."