This list of artists and artworks (and this Website as a whole) is intended primarily for the benefit of angry young men, the most murderous of all genders and age groups. I know first hand what it is to be an angry young man because I used to be one myself. When an angry young man finds a woman who understands him he ceases to be angry, as the interaction with the female develops the man’s sense of the beautiful, which stops him from seeing things in austere terms and more in beautiful terms. This list represents a snapshot of my knowledge of art at the present time and will most likely change as I discover and analyse more art. See the not so hot list for items not worthy of inclusion in the following list.
Art mirrors the wiring of the human brain. The extent to which decisions of the merit of a piece of art are objective is the extent to which the wiring of the human brain is the same in different individuals. The extent to which decisions of the merit of a piece of art are subjective is the extent to which the wiring of the human brain is different in different individuals. For example: In approximately 99.9% of individuals it is natural to prefer the taste of fine wine to the taste of urine. Therefore it is 99.9% objectively true that wine is better ‘‘art’’ then urine.
Leonardo da Vinci was an artist whose studies of natural philosophy anticipated modern science. His paintings include such features as classically beautiful model subjects beautified still further by exquisitely soft shadows and river-like flowing hair. The landscapes in the background of his paintings also feature a dreamy quality. Here are some of his definitive work (in order of decreasing merit):
In terms of the realistic depiction of classically beautiful human forms da Vinci is rivalled by Michelangelo whose definitive works include (in order of decreasing merit):
Michelangelo was primarily a sculptor. Although he also painted, his paintings have a sculptural quality to them, as if he had created the sculpture in his mind and then painted that.
Ludwig Van Beethoven for writing what is probably the greatest musical work of all time, his epic Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (Opus 125, 1822-1824), written while he was deaf. This symphony consists of a thunderstorm-like dissonant first movement, a dance-like second movement, a lyrical meandering third movement and a fourth movement that reprises the first three and adds singers to the mix, which was a first for a symphony. Like Jimi Hendrix’s best work (see later) this artwork preaches the doctrine of Universal Emancipation. His Symphonies No.s 3 and 5 also approach Symphony No.9 in terms of greatness. Beethoven’s music expanded vastly on the classical style of the time established by Mozart (see the next entry) and Haydn (see later) to create a new genre known as Romanticism, which anticipated further developments by such visionaries as (in order of increasing year of birth): Wagner (see later), Tchaikovsky (see later), Schoenberg (see later) and Webern (see later).
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for his late symphonies and other works, listed below roughly in order of decreasing merit:
Mozart’s chief gifts were for melody and a deep appreciation and understanding of the classical style of the time. Mozart was like a rock star before rock stars were invented. It would be interesting to find out if female concert-goers would throw their panties at Mozart as he presented a concert much like the twentieth century crooner Tom Jones!
Richard Wagner for writing the four epic operas that comprise The Ring Cycle (1848-1874). An ideal introduction to Wagner for novices is the single opera Tannhäuser (1845). If you liked Star Wars (see later) or The Lord of the Rings (see later) then Wagner’s Ring Cycle is like these on steroids. Wagner’s differentiation between the Gods and the Men in his operas mirrors the differentiation of workers and their employers in real life: The Gods all have different motives and thoughts whereas the men always talk in unison and therefore all have the same motives and thoughts. His music especially Das Rheingold (the first opera of the Ring Cycle) opens up a new sound world of dissonance, which takes some getting used to. As a play-writer I prefer Wagner over William Shakespeare because my brain prefers words and music to merely spoken text and because the language of Shakespeare’s plays is written in a kind of old English that makes it hard for modern ears to interpret what is being said. In the same vein Wagner’s operas benefit from translation from his native old German tongue into modern English (although to perform them in English would lose all the German rhyme and alliteration). I have talked to a German person and apparently the same is true for Wagner and the Germans that is true for Shakespeare and the English. About Shakespeare, I must say that I gain some enjoyment from the modern takes on the bard such as Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) Although I do not like Shakespeare that much, I realize that to omit him from a list of the greatest artists of all time would be something of a travesty so I include him here as an equal to Wagner. In particular Wagner’s concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (or ‘‘total artwork’’) anticipated modern cinema.
Johann Sebastian Bach for writing The Mass in B Minor (BWV 232, 1724-1749). If this piece can’t convert you from being a rock / pop aficionado to a broader appreciator of beautiful voices integrated with beautiful music (such as bel canto opera and Lieder) then nothing will! Some of the best examples of beautiful voices that are available as recordings include (in alphabetical order of last name): Dame Julie Andrews (see later), Agnes Baltsa (see later) Maria Callas (see later), Plácido Domingo (see later), Dame Emma Kirkby (see later), Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (see later), Cheryl Studer (see later), Bryn Terfel (see later), Dawn Upshaw (see later) and New Zealand’s own (in order of decreasing merit): Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Dame Malvina Major.
‘‘Of course one can enjoy the novel without knowing the precise definition of a gentleman, or what it signifies if a character drives a coach rather than a hack chaise, or the rules governing social interaction at a ball, but readers of Pride and Prejudice will find that these kinds of details add immeasurably to understanding and enjoying the intricate psychological interplay of Austen’s immortal characters.’’
The gossipy nature of Austen’s portrayal of the interplay between the sisters of the Bennett family makes it easy to tell that this book was written by a woman! I recommend Austen with the following caveat: Austen’s writing is often too clever for my tastes. Most of the jokes go over my head and the sentence structures are often unnecessarily complex. Here is what Sheppard wrote of the book:
‘‘... it is hard to imagine that the type of people who populate this novel would ever be so quick with so many ingenious and pithily phrased rejoinders to one another.’’
The same is true of Shakespeare and Wagner. In particular, there are an excessive number of double negations, for example: and it shall not be my fault if we are not always good friends. Austen’s writing stretches the limits of what would be believably spoken by characters of that era or any other era. Again, excessive ‘‘cleverness’’ makes its presence known to the reader. Her other books, Emma (1815) and Sense and Sensibility (1811) are great too.
Joseph Haydn, born as Franz Joseph Haydn, who was a major influence on Mozart (see earlier) and Beethoven (see earlier). He is also known as ‘‘The Father of the Symphony’’ and ‘‘The Father of the String Quartet’’.
Charles Dickens for writing a novella: A Christmas Carol (1843) which tells a tale of a person who learns that a life devoted to selfishness is ultimately unfulfilling. Luckily this person changes their ways before the end of the story so that they are able to enjoy the rewards of loving thy neighbour. His other book Great Expectations (1860-1861), about the growth and personal development of an orphan named Pip, is great too.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, short for Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, for writing The Great Gatsby (1925) which is a story of life in America during the 1920’s. His other book Tender is the Night (1934) which is a tale about life in the French Riviera during the 1920’s is worth a read too.
James Joyce for writing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). This book is heavy reading but deserves its place as one of the greatest books of the twentieth century. And this is not because this book contains a character called (like my own first name) Davin!
Mark Twain, born as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, for writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). As he famously said: ‘‘The reports of my death have been grossly exaggerated!’’ William Faulkner (see later) called Twain ‘‘The Father of American Literature’’.
The Beatles whose music is like the sun: hating The Beatles is akin to hating the sun, no person in their right mind can do this. They sung and played like Schubert (see earlier). They also pioneered the use of studio trickery to create new musical sounds that never existed before technology made them possible. Their best three works are all from the same time period (the mid sixties) and were released in succession to one another. Here they are (in order of decreasing merit):
The output of the group exceeded the sum of its parts, the truth of which can be seen by the comparing the high standard of recordings they made as a group with the lower standard of recordings they made as solo artists. The legacy of The Beatles stretches long (in time) and wide (in influence) including such bands as New Zealand’s own Split Enz and Crowded House.
Bob Dylan, born as Robert Allen Zimmerman, who brought intelligent lyrics into popular music and although nobody would say he had a beautiful voice his genius like Billie Holiday (see later) lay in the many different artful ways that he deployed it. The reason he gets such a high ranking in this list (apart for his ground breaking lyrics) is because his albums have showed us that he has a deep understanding of many different musical styles, including folk, blues, rock and country. At his best his style could be characterized as stream of consciousness language plus absurdest humour. Whatever the musical style, he promises to never let you fall asleep while listening to him. The following Dylan lyric is relevant:
‘‘The country music station plays soft but there’s nothing really nothing to turn off.’’
Like The Beatles, his best three works are all from the mid sixties and were released in succession to one another. For this reason the canon of The Beatles and Bob Dylan in the mid sixties is considered by many of us to be the pinnacle of all art in the twentieth century. Here they are (in order of decreasing merit):
Like Shakespeare versus Wagner, I prefer Dylan’s work to Shakespeare because my brain prefers music and voice to mere text alone and because Dylan’s language is closer to the language of today, making it more relevant. Dylan’s voice harks back to a earlier singers (in order of decreasing year of birth): Elvis Presley (see later), Johnny Cash (see later), Chuck Berry (see later), John Lee Hooker (see later), Frank Sinatra (see later), Muddy Waters (see later), Woody Guthrie (folk) and Robert Johnson (see later). Dylan's recent album Modern Times (2006) is a classic too. Dylan’s legacy extended to practically all singers that followed him including (in order of increasing year of birth): Paul Simon (see later) Lou Reed (The Velvet Underground (see later)), Neil Young (see later), Dolly Parton (see later), Patti Smith (see later), Bruce Springsteen (see later), Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits (see later)), Micheal Stipe (R.E.M. (see later)), Tracy Chapman (see later), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana (see later)), P.J. Harvey (see later) and New Zealand’s own (in order of decreasing merit): Bic Runga and Emma Paki and others.
Anne Frank for writing The Diary of a Young Girl (1947) which is the true story of the life of the Frank family and a collection of other Jews in hiding during the NAZI occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War.
Aldous Huxley for writing (in order of decreasing merit): Brave New World (1932), Point Counter Point (1928) and The Doors of Perception (1954) is not too bad either, about Huxley’s experimentation with the drug Mescaline and which served as the inspiration for Jim Morrison’s band name The Doors.
Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and others comprise the Second Viennese School of music. The First Viennese School was (in order of increasing year of birth) Haydn (see earlier), Mozart (see earlier) and Beethoven (see earlier). Their music can be accurately described as being atonal which means that their music lacked a home key. In particular, melody is replaced with dissonance. Webern’s definitive output can be found in Sony Classical’s 1978 recital of Webern’s work conducted by Pierre Boulez with his usual attention to rhythmic detail. Boulez also conducts Schoenberg well too.
Louis Armstrong as part of the Hot Fives (1925-1927,1928) and Hot Sevens (1927) transformed jazz into a modern art form from something much less than that. Like Bessie Smith (see later) and Robert Johnson (see later), a student of Armstrong needs to have a strong constitution to listen to his music because of the antique studio technology (that predates microphones) used to produce it. Listen my child and you will be rewarded!
The following jazz artists are all roughly equal to each other (in order of increasing year of birth):
Louis Armstrong and the above three artists anticipated today’s multi-talented rock musician Prince (see later).
Jimi Hendrix whose album Axis: Bold as Love (1967) laid the foundations for all rock / punk / metal / grunge bands that followed him such as (in alphabetical order): Def Leppard (see later), Guns N’ Roses (see later), Hüsker Dü (see later), Led Zeppelin (see later), Metallica (see later), Nirvana (see later), The Sex Pistols (see later) and New Zealand’s own Shihad. Here is what Laura Connelly of The Wire had to say about Axis:
‘‘... it has the most focused and compositionally mature material ... It’s rock’s most complete statement - it has tenderness, aggression, beauty and dirt. No-one before or since has touched that plane.’’
Jack Kerouac, born as Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac, for writing On the Road (1957) which is based on the spontaneous cross-country adventures of Kerouac and his friends during the middle of the Twentieth Century.
Jules Verne is The Father Of Science Fiction who wrote: From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Around the Moon (1870), and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and Around the World in Eighty Days (1872). Curiously enough his book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea the phrase ‘‘twenty thousand leagues’’ measures in horizontal distance travelled rather than vertical distance that you might naturally assume.
‘‘Shoot all the blue-jays you want if you can hit ’em but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch gives this piece of advice to his children as a defends the real Mockingbird of this classic novel --- a black man charged with attacking a white girl. Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Lee explores the issues or race and class in the Deep South of the 1930’s with compassion and humour. She also creates one of the great heroes of literature in their father, whose lone struggle for justice pricks the conscience of a town steeped in prejudice and hypocrisy.’’
John Coltrane who did some exquisite work with Miles Davis in Kind of Blue (1959) (see earlier) and spent the rest of his career elaborating on this style. His best albums include (in order of decreasing merit): A Love Supreme (1965), Giant Steps. 1960 and Ascension (1965). Here is what Philip Watson of The Wire had to say about his greatest album, A Love Supreme:
‘‘Flawed, even considered by some to be the most over-estimated record in jazz, A Love Supreme remains one of the music’s most personal experiences. It is Coltrane opening his soul and laying it bare. It is the hymnic expression of a musician’s profound devotion - both to his craft and his God. It is the great sound of an anguished, soaring legato. It is a quartet at the height of its considerable individual and collective power. Beguiling and transporting, A Love Supreme reaffirms music’s ability to embrace the spiritual.’’
George Orwell for writing Nineteen Eighty-Four (1945), a dystopian novel about life under an all powerful authority figure known as Big Brother and Animal Farm (1949) an allegorical novella where the pigs stand for the political figures of the Russian revolution.
Ernest Hemingway (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) for writing For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) which is a story about an American Robert Jordan who is assigned the task of blowing up a bridge in World War I Spain. His other books The Sun Also Rises (1926) and The Old Man and the Sea (1954) are great too.
Theodore Dreiser for writing An American Tragedy (1925) which is about a murder that takes place in America in 1906. He was a major influence on William Faulkner (see later), F. Scott Fitzgerald (see earlier), Saul Bellow (see later) and Joyce Carol Oates. His other book Sister Carrie (1900) is worth a read too.
Richard Wright, short for Richard Nathaniel Wright, for writing Native Son (1940) which is among the first American works of fiction to portray an existential hero in the process of self-transcendence and is one of the last novels of the politically conscious, post-Depression years. Here is what the New York Times said about it: ‘‘Native Son declares Richard Wright’s importance, not merely as the best Negro writer, but as an American author as distinctive as any ...’’
John O’Hara for writing Appointment in Samarra (1934) which is about the self destruction of a man named Julian English, once a member of the social elite of Gibbsville, a fictionalised version of Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
‘‘The only storyteller of a generation who left his mark on the style and vision of the generation that followed ... Hemingway, Faulkner, Wolfe, Steinbeck, Caldwell, Saroyan, Henry Miller ... each of these owes an unmistakable debt to Anderson.’’
E. M. Forster, short for Edward Morgan Forster, for writing A Passage to India (1924). which is inspired by the true story of events taking place at the height of the Indian independence movement in 1924.
Joseph Conrad, born as Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, for writing Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard (1904) which is set in the fictitious South American republic of ‘‘Costaguana’’. His other book Heart of Darkness (1902) is good too.
‘‘Scobie, a senior police officer serving in the war-time West African state, is distrusted, being scrupulously honest and immune to bribery. But then he falls in love, and in doing so he is forced to betray everything he believes in and stands for, with drastic and tragic consequences for both himself and for those around him.’’
Orson Scott Card for writing Ender’s Game (1985) and its subsequent sequels: Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind and Ender in Exile. Card’s writing has an ease of reading that makes you want to turn the pages without a rest. The dialogue is realistic including the use of humorous exchanges between characters but without too much of the excessive ‘‘cleverness’’ of Jane Austen (see earlier).
Bessie Smith is also known as ‘‘The Empress of the Blues’’. Preserved for posterity in 160 scratchy 3-minute recordings (1923-1933), her voice was a Force of Nature: strong, draggy and rough and even the antique studio technology of her time cannot hide her raw talent. Some of her singing (the songs marked *) grabs you by the private parts until it hurts which takes some getting used to, but when you do it is like Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited (see earlier) and Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle (see earlier) in how it opens up a whole new sound world. Bessie also possessed other talents such as a jazz singer’s ability reshape notes and lyrics to stamp her own interpretations on the songs she sung. Here are her ten best works (in order of decreasing merit):
Because of her talents, she was hugely influential on later women singers such as Billie Holiday (see the next entry), Janis Joplin, Edith Piaf and Aretha Franklin (see later). Read this true story about Bessie’s antics:
Bessie survived this attack but died later in a car accident.
Billie Holiday whose achievement as a jazz singer in its way rivals that of Bessie Smith. Her greatest period was the 1930’s, repackaged as the Quintessential Billie Holiday series on Columbia Records. As microphones had only been invented recently after Bessie stopped recording and recently before Billie started recording, the quality of sound is one notch higher than what was available during Bessie’s era, accommodating a wider range of musical frequencies and making a band of players for the first time in a recording sound somewhat realistic. While Bessie anticipated jazz singers in her sometimes jazz-like style of singing, it was Billie who first took these ideas minus the Force of Nature voice of Bessie and plus more jazz idioms to define jazz singing for all artists who would follow in the genre including Ella Fitzgerald (see later) and others.
Robert Johnson was a famous Delta blues singer whose 41 scratchy 3-minute recordings (1935-1936) all sound as faint as the traces of steam on a window. He also excelled in making a single musician (himself with guitar and vocals) sound like a whole band of players. Read this lyric of Johnson which reads like this:
but is sung like this:
Philip Glass for his works like Music in Twelve Parts (1971-1974) which show how repetition can be the basis for a great work of art. Most people I know consider this repetition to be boring and even maddeningly annoying but inside the repetition lies patterns which can be interesting to listen to. For example of the transitions from one track to the next, Andrew Porter wrote in 1978 for The New Yorker:
Repetition in music is not new. Consider for example the repetition in George Frideric Handel’s Messiah (1741). Glass’ opera Einstein on the Beach (1976) is great too. Music in Twelve Parts is rivalled only by Steve Reich’s monumental treatise on rhythm, Drumming (1970).
James Brown, also known as ‘‘The Godfather of Soul’’, was very innovative in creating a sound that would come to define pop, soul, rap and hip-hop music for succeeding generations. Here is what The Rolling Stone Album Guide had to say about him:
Like blues singer Bessie Smith (see earlier) James’ singing has a crotch grabbing property but when you get used to it, like (see earlier) Richard Wagner, Bob Dylan and Bessie Smith, it opens up a new sound world. His definitive output can be found in Star Time (Recorded 1956-1984, Released 1991) a compilation of four C.D.’s.
Elvis Presley is also known as ‘‘The King of Rock ’n’ Roll’’ or simply ‘‘The King’’. He captured the zeitgeist for teenagers of the 1950’s just like The Beatles (see earlier) did in the 1960’s and Nirvana (see later) did in the 1990’s. He also started a tradition of white men singing black music that would later include such artists as The Rolling Stones (see later) and Eminem. He is also one of rock music’s strongest, deepest sources, influencing such luminaries as The Beatles (see earlier) and Bob Dylan (see earlier).
‘‘Sinatra’s albums for Capitol introduced the singer’s album, the concept album and the grown-up album all at once. In the Wee Small Hours (1955) was the first lonely LP, and Sinatra made arguably greater albums in the later [in order of decreasing year of composition] No One Cares (1959) and Where Are You? (1957), but Swinging Lovers is the best-remembered, and the most sheerly enjoyable. The voice has matured into a lustrous tenor-baritone, every word carefully sung, and meaning and resonance was imparted with urbane, wordly wisdom. Capitol’s engineers did the occasion proud.’’
‘‘Berry could rock with the best of them, but his singing was never frantic: the cool, detached and humorous observer, he let his songs (like ‘Maybelline’ and ‘School Day’) speak for themselves. That they had the musical and lyrical strength to do so it proven by the myriad of artists who have since recorded the songs which he spawned in the golden decade 1955-65.’’
Marilyn Monroe, born as Norma Jeane Mortenson, who acted with perfection the role of the dumb blonde and whose frank sexuality set the stage for female artists to explore female sexuality like Patti Smith (see later), Madonna (see later), The Spice Girls and today’s Pink.
Samuel Butler for writing The Way of All Flesh (1903). This book is about ‘‘the awkward but likeable son of a tyrannical clergyman and a priggish mother, destined to follow his father into the church,... [he] gleefully rejects has parents’ respectability and chooses instead to find his own way in the world.’’
William Faulkner, short for William Cuthbert Faulkner, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature, for writing (in order of increasing year of publication): The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), Intruder in the Dust (1948), A Fable (1955), winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959) and The Reivers (1962), winner of the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Jung Chang for writing Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China (1991) which is a story about the lives of three generations of Chinese women living under the despotic rule of Chairman Mao Zedong. Not surprisingly, this book was banned in China but it also won the NCR Book Award.
Anthony Powell, born as Anthony Dymoke Powell, for writing A Dance to the Music of Time which is a series of 12 novels published in four ‘‘movements’’, Movement 1 in 1951, Movement 2 in 1957 and Movement 3 in 1964. The Canterbury Public Library does not have Movement 4 so I am unable to read it.
Evelyn Waugh, born as Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh, for writing Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder (1945). His other book A Handful of Dust (1934) is not bad either.
E.L. Doctorow short for Edgar Lawrence Doctorow, for writing Ragtime (1975). The New York Times said of it: ‘‘Excellent ... One devours it in a single sitting’’, although I devoured it in two sittings.
Arnold Bennett for writing The Old Wive’s Tale (1908). Here is a quote from the back of the book: ‘‘An immediate success on its publication in 1908, The Old Wive’s Tale is a fascinating, beautifully created exploration of the impact of environment on the lives and emotions of two women.’’
Dashiel Hammett, short for Samuel Dashiell Hammett, for writing The Maltese Falcon (1930). Here is a quote from the book: ‘‘André Gide once said: ‘Dashiel Hammett's dialogue, in which every character is trying to deceive all the others and in which the truth slowly becomes visibile through the haze of deception, can be compared only with the best in Hemingway.’’’
Edith Wharton, born as Edith Newbold Jones, for writing The Age of Innocence (1920), winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, which the The New York Times said: ‘‘Eidth Wharton is a writer who brings glory on the name of America, and this is her best book. It is one of the best novels of the twentieth century ... a permanent addition to literature.’’
Willa Cather, born as Willa Sibert Cather, for writing Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927). The Sunday Times said about it: ‘‘A powerful piece of writing, rich with the essence of a poor but beautiful country with a simple yet dignified people.’’
J.D. Salinger, short for Jerome David Salinger, for writing A Catcher in the Rye (1951) which is the story of about a certain Holden Caulfield. It deals with complex issues of identity, belonging, connection and alienation.
Anthony Burgess, born as John Anthony Burgess Wilson, for writing A Clockwork Orange (1962) a story of a punk who enjoys ultra-violence and Beethoven. Burgess invented a new street language borrowed from Cockney rhyming slang: in out in out means sex and cigarettes are called cancers!
‘‘... this classic and bestselling tale did away with sentimental Victorian visions of childhood and paved the way for later works such as Golding’s Lord of the flies [see earlier].’’
Sly Stone, born as Sylvester Stewart, for founding the group Sly and the Family Stone and producing his Greatest Hits album (1970). Although Sly Stone is great in himself he still owes a considerable debt to James Brown (see earlier).
Aretha Franklin is also known as ‘‘The Queen of Soul’’. Her music is like a rock and roll version (and therefore more accessible to today’s audience) of blues singer Bessie Smith (see earlier). As well as having a voice that is less rough than Bessie’s, her music is sweetened with a chorus of smoother backing singers. The net result of this is that it wins her additional converts for those many people who only listen to ‘‘pleasant’’ music and therefore only use music as a background to something more important, instead of what I use music for: to soothe my (teenage) angst (which is why so many of us like Nirvana’s (see later) ‘‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’’). It would be interesting to speculate how much of an influence Bessie was to Franklin given that their styles of singing share so much in common. The superiority of Franklin over Otis Redding (see the next entry) can be witnessed by the song Respect, which was first written and sung by Redding but reshaped and taken over so completely by Franklin that most people today identify the song with Franklin rather than Redding. Her definitive output can be sound in the Queen of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings (Recorded 1967-1976, Released 1992), a compilation of four C.D.’s.
Otis Redding, born as Otis Ray Redding, Jr, Marvin Gaye, born as Marvin Pentz Gay Jr., and Stevie Wonder, born as Stevland Hardaway Judkins. This entry is like a battle between rival record companies Tamla-Motown and Stax-Volt-Atlantic, Redding (along with Aretha Franklin, see the previous entry) heralding from the rawer sounding Stax/Volt/Atlantic label and the other two from the more commercial Motown label. All of these singers anticipated black singers like Michael Jackson (see later) and revolutionary rappers Public Enemy (see later) and today white rappers like Eminem. Marvin Gaye’s best albums include (in order of decreasing merit): Let’s Get It On (1973) and What’s Going On (1971). Here is what Nick Coleman of The Wire had to say about Let’s Get It On:
‘‘You’re not supposed to like this one best, but then neither are you supposed to think sex is more interesting than politics. Gaye had already kick-started the concept of the black concept album with What’s Going On two years previously. Yet that album, magnificent rhetorical statement that it is, is only a statement; it is emblematic of a state of mind. Let’s Get It On is the thing itself, a musical fucking session that dares to include all the worry stuff - from seduction doubtle-talk to post-coital ash-raking, via the existential value of cuddling and the certainty of death, Gloomy? You got it. Not to mention dark, lush, tremulous, churchy and too short. Soul has never been so concentrated. Gaye packs all its big themes (plus several of the smaller ones) into barely half an hour’s-worth of densely figured narratives, in which the central protagonist writhes like the moral lover of medieval Romance and the ensemble lifts up his voice like a chalice. The title-track, incidentally, includes the best-sited hand-claps in recorded history.’’
Stevie Wonder’s best classic albums include (in order of decreasing merit): Innervisions (1973) Songs in the Key of Life (1976) and Talking Book (1972). Here is what Laura Connelly of The Wire had to say about Innervisions:
‘‘Despite Wonder’s plethora of deeply funky soul recordings there’s no dispute that Innervisions is his classic. Inherently tuneful tracks not only groove like crazy but are steeped with not-quite-naive social statements - ‘Living In The City’ the prime example - that make it all the more moving. Introspective, melancholy, sassy and uplifting, it transcends all notions of soul as schmaltz. It may have come out of the fashions of the 70s but it still sounds fresh and relevant in the 90s. Timeless music (the imitations are too numerous to count).’’
Otis Redding’s best albums are (in order of decreasing merit): Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965) and Otis Redding: The Soul Album (1966). The superiority of Redding over The Rolling Stones (see the next entry) can be witnessed by Redding’s song Satisfaction (1965-1966), which was first written and sung by The Stones under the longer name ‘‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’’ (1965) but was renamed and so completely reshaped by Redding that it blows even The Stones’ version out of the water!
The Rolling Stones who are probably the world’s most successful rock band due to their longevity. The Stones are successful at emulating the success of black singers such as Muddy Waters (see later) whose song ‘‘Rollin’ Stone’’ forms the name of the group. Their best albums are, in order of decreasing merit:
Ford Madox Ford, born as Ford Hermann Hueffer, for writing The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (1915) which tells the tale of two wealthy couples, one English, one American, as they travel, socialize and take the waters in the spa towns of Europe. His other book Parade’s End (1924-8) is not too bad either. According to Wikipedia, ‘‘Mary Gordon labelled it as ‘quite simply’,the best fictional treatment of war in the history of the novel’’
Public Enemy borrows heavily from James Brown (see earlier) but they are good enough to deserve a place on this list. Their three best albums are all classics of the genre (rap), here they are in order of decreasing merit:
This decade 1985-1995 marks the golden age of hip-hop. Other groups that made groundbreaking perfomances in this decade include (in order of increasing year of composition): N.W.A. (short for Niggers With Attitude)’s Straight Outta Compton (1988), Run D.M.C.’s Raising Hell (1986). Arrested Development’s 3 Years, 5 months & 2 days in the Life of ... (1992) According to The Rolling Stone Album Guide, Run D.M.C were the:
‘‘... first hip-hop act to break M.T.V’s forgiven but never forgotten colour barrier; the first hardcore hip-hop act to make canonical heavy metal; first and last hip hop act to collaborate with Aerosmith; first hip hop act to pull a major corporate endorsement and be on the cover of Rolling Stone’’
‘‘The Velvet Underground was an American rock band, active between 1964 and 1973, formed in New York City by Lou Reed and John Cale. Although experiencing little commerical success while together, the band is often cited by critics as one of the most important and influential groups of all time. In a 1982 interview Brian Eno made the oft-repeated statement that while the first Velvet Underground album may have sold only 30,000 copies in its early years, ‘everyone who brought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.’’’
Ursula K. Le Guin short for as Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, for writing The Left Hand of Darkness (1965) which is a science fiction story set in the fictional Hainish universe which she inaugurated in 1966.
Michael Jackson is also known as ‘‘The King of Pop’’ and created the best-selling album of all time, Thriller (1982). What’s more impressive is that his album is still pleasurable to listen to, despite having been thrashed to death on popular music radio stations and the M.T.V. channel. The album had a budget of $750,000 and according to various sources, Thriller had sold over 65 million copies. His earlier album Off the Wall (1979) is great too.
Madonna, short for Madonna Louise Ciccone, for creating her Greatest Hits Compilation The Immaculate Collection (1990), a pun on the term: The Immaculate Conception. Here is what Hopey Glass of The Wire had to say about her:
‘‘Trailing baffled jealousy and rage, the Material Girl - a narcissist so pure she manifests as a holy little blasphemer - has transcended all previously possible woman-as-star roles in the entertainment industry. Not humble giver, but proud taker; not a prize but a threat. Within the plump plastic disco-throb of her hits (the chart 12" her mastered medium), mocking dance music’s supposed artistic passivity, she expertly deploys the producers who mould her "voice": apparently the manipulated object of the technology, she’s made herself - as CEO of her own huge operation - the ultimate speaking subject. Here, in her first number one, a blatant dance-sex double entendre shifts focus from her as loveslave-trader too you as perfect consumer. She has absolute control.’’
‘‘The album that saved rock, spawned punk and declaimed a pure, pearly white defiance of a subversion unseen (or heard) since Elvis first sang black. It took another three years before Smith, the waif-like poetess, named herself a ‘rock ’n’ roll nigger’, but the intention was always there, her dream-beat poetics articulate far beyond the shouts of anarchy! soon to echo through the otherwise empty UK. Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’ opened Horses, transformed into a thing both blasphemous and instinctual; the title track itself was an eight minute stream-of-consciousness ending in sonic orgasm. Interviewed, Smith said she prepared for shows by masturbating before going on stage - and no-one was surprised. Sexual freedom, the motor behind 60s rock, had never been like this before. Robert Mapplethorpe took the sleeve photo, which showed Smith a creature beyond gender, the music’s perfect pictorial analogue.’’
Led Zeppelin, a heavy metal band, for producing their fourth untitled studio album Led Zeppelin IV (1971) containing their famous masterwork Stairway to Heaven. Here is what Simon Reynolds of The Wire had to say about it:
‘‘Contrary to received wisdom, Led Zep didn’t bastardize the blues: they aggrandised them, inflated them from porch-side intimacy to awe-inspiring monumentalism. Detached from their contemporary context (in which they could only seem a fascistic, brutalised perversion of rock) we can now only gasp and gape at the sheer scale and mass of Zep’s sound, never more momentous than on this LP - the megalithic priapism of ‘Black Dog’, the slow-mo boogie avalanche of ‘When The Levee Breaks’. But Zep were more than just heavy: both ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ (slanted and enchanted acid-metal) and ‘Four Sticks’ (a locked groove of voodoo-boogie) sound unlike anything recorded before or since.’’
‘‘Psychedelic London hatched just two bands of note: Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd [see later] and the Soft Machine, and only the Soft Machine had any musical intelligence. To lock into their world was to receive an education: following them diligently led a young listener directly to Terry Riley, Messaien, Cecil Taylor [see earlier], Coltrane [see earlier], electronic music, and British jazz (at one point Keith Tippett’s entire front line was in the group). By turns austere, charming and hot, hot, hot, Third, recorded 1970 and featuring an augmented Ratledge-Hopper-Wyatt-Dean line-up, was their finest hour. Wyatt’s conversationally intimate ‘Moon In June’ balanced the labyrinthine complexities of Ratledge’s writing and the jazzier thrust of Hopper’s ‘Facelift’. Saxophonist Elton Dean and Ratledge, a one-of-a-kind organist, delivered the knockout solos.’’
‘‘The most deeply wounding of Zappa’s satirical thrusts, right down to the cover art (with its barbed parody of the Sgt. Pepper [see earlier] sleeve). All the same, while the lyrical jokes never fall short of their intended targets (both 60s hippy culture and the needling confrontation of the Generation Gap), it’s the musical comedy which gives the album worth; the affectionate parodies of fledgling 50s pop styles, and the curiosity of displacement, throwing Varese-style peculiars and other avantist classical asides into what was supposedly only a rock album. Zappa’s best works crammed in his many musical passions and preoccupations; this one combined them with unique precision.’’
Zen Arcade is the second studio album by the American punk rock band Hüsker Dü released in July 1984 on SST Records. Originally released as a double album on two vinyl L.P.’s Zen Arcade tells the story of a young boy who runs away from an unfulfilling home life only to find the world outside evern worse. The album incorporates elements of jazz, psychedelia acoustic folk pop and piano interludes, concepts rarely found in the world of hardcore punk. Zen Arcade and subsequent albums were instrumental in the creation of the alternative rock genre. The band would later abandon the hardcore punk style of melodic guitar-driven alternative rock. While not commercially successful, the influence of Zen Arcade has stretched beyond the underground music sphere. It is frequently listed on lists of the all time best rock and roll albums and it continues to have a cult following.
Maria Callas, for bringing Bessie Smith’s (see earlier) style of singing into opera.
Prince, short for Prince Roger Nelson, who sings and plays all his instruments himself including guitar, keyboards, and saxophone. His greatest work can be found in order of decreasing merit: Sign o’ the Times (1987) and Purple Rain (1984). Prince owes a considerable debt to James Brown (see earlier) and Prince was fundamental in introducing the Minneapolis Sound.
‘‘Ella Jane Fitzgerald ... was an American jazz vocalist with a vocal range spanning three octaves ... Often referred to as the ‘First Lady of Song’, the ‘Queen of Jazz’ and ‘Lady Ella’, she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing’’.
Her definitive work can be found in volumes 1 and 2 of The Rodgers & Hart Songbook. Her total worldwide album sales exceeds 40 million copies.
The Sex Pistols for producing their most famous classic debut album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977) an album which kick started the genre now known as punk rock.
Metallica for creating their classic self titled album Metallica (1991) also known as The Black Album owing to its colour being almost all black. On its release, the album received widespead critical acclaim and became the band’s best selling album. It contains their best known songs: ‘‘Enter Sandman’’, ‘‘The Unforgiven’’, ‘‘Nothing Else Matters’’ and ‘‘Wherever I May Roam’’. As of November 2014 the album has spent 328 weeks on the Billboard album charts, making it one of the top ten longest running discs of all time. Metallica is one of the ‘‘big four’’ bands of thrash metal, alongside Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer.
Kurt Cobain for forming the group Nirvana for releasing their famous album Nevermind (1991) containing their best known song ‘‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’’ (1991). Their next studio album In Utero (1993) is a classic. Here is a famous lyric from this album:
‘‘Teenage angst has paid up well, now I’m bored and old.’’
This lyric encapsulates the appeal of their most famous song to angry young men, like what I used to be myself. Although The Sex Pistols (see earlier) were the inventors of punk rock, Nirvana was the first group to bring punk rock to a wide mainsteam U.S. audience and to create a new genre known as grunge also known as the ‘‘Seattle Sound’’ owing to Nirvana heralding from Seattle.
‘‘Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen ... is an American singer and songwriter. He is best known for his work with the E-Street Band. Springsteen is widely known for his brand of poetic lyrics, Americana working class sometimes politically centered on his native New Jersey and his lengthy and energetic stage performances, with concerts from the 1970s to the present decade running over three hours in length.’’
His greatest albums include (In order of decreasing merit): Born in the U.S.A. (1984) and Born to Run (1975), and Nebraska (1982). He has sold more than 120 million albums worldwide making him one of the best selling artists of all time.
Dawn Upshaw who sings with a beautifully pure tone and for producing her best classic albums in order of decreasing merit: I Wish it So, Ayre, Sings Rogers and Hart, Sings Vernon Duke and The Girl With Orange Lips. Most people including myself were introduced to Dawn Upshaw when she beautifully sung the lead role in Henryk Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (1992) which sold over a million copies worldwide.
Dame Julie Andrews who sings with impeccable diction, for producing the classic albums in order of decreasing merit: My Fair Lady (1956), The Mary Poppins soundtrack (1964) The Sound of Music soundtrack (1965) and The King and I (1992).
Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf a singer who's tone is unmistakable and for producing her greatest hits collection Diva.
Dame Emma Kirkby, who sings with a beautiful tone. Her best work can be found in the album The Pure Voice of Emma Kirkby.
Guiseppi Sanopoli conducted the definitive version of Wagner's Tannhäuser in 1989 for Deutsche Grammophon. Featured singers include Plácido Domingo as Tannhäuser, Agnes Baltsa as Venus and Cheryl Studer as Elisabeth.
‘‘Neil Percival Young ... is a Canadian singer-songwriter and musician. He began performing in a group covering The Shadows instrumentals in Canada in 1960 before moving to California in 1966, where he co-founded the band Buffalo Springfield along with Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, later joining Crosby, Stills & Nash as a fourth member in 1969. He forged a successful and acclaimed solo career, releasing his first album in 1968; his career has since spanned over 45 years and 35 studio albums with a continual and uncompromising exploration of musical styles. ... Young’s work is characterised by his distinctive guitar work, deeply personal lyrics and signature alto or high tenor. Although he accompanies himself on serveral different instruments, including piano and harmonica has idiosyncratic clawhammer acoustic guitar playing are the defining characteristics of a varyingly ragged and melodic sound.’’
Muddy Waters, born as McKinley Morganfield, who was one of the first artists to electrify the blues, that is to say used electric guitars instead of the traditional acoustic guitars. His definitive output can be found in The Chess Box, a compilation of three C.D.’s.
P.J. Harvey, short for Polly Jean Harvey, for producing her classic debut album Dry (1992). This album contains themes of sexual liberation. The song ‘‘Sheela-Na-Gig’’ rhymes ‘‘Gonna wash that man right outta my hair’’, with ‘‘Gonna take my hips to a man who cares!’’. Here is another lyric from the same song: ‘‘He said ‘Wash your breasts, I don't want be unclean’. He said ‘please take your dirty pillows away from me!’’’ Here is what the Rolling Stone Album Guide said about her:
‘‘A guitar-toting succubus with a remarkably elastic voice, Harvey found common ground in the blues and opera and made sexpot melodrama and metaphysical yearning sound kind of fun. If you look for sunnyness in your pop music, she may actually frighten you.’’
Her more recent classic album Stories from the city , Stories from the Sea (2000) is aimed at a wider audience than Dry is.
John Lee Hooker whose achievement as an electric guitarist rivals that of Muddy Waters (see earlier). His definitive output can be found in The Ultimate Collection (Recorded 1948 - 1990, Released 1991), a compilation of two C.D.’s.
Bryn Terfel for producing the classic albums in order of decreasing merit: Bad Boys and Simple Gifts.
Def Leppard for producing their classic album Vault: Greatest Hits (1980-1995) an album with not a gram of filler or fat. This album compares favourably to Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits Album (see earlier) and Madonna’s Greatest Hits album (see earlier).
Michael Stipe for forming the alternative rock group R.E.M.. Their best albums are all classics. Here they are (in order of decreasing merit): Murmur, Life’s Rich Pageant and Automatic for the People, widely considered to be one of the best albums of the 1990's.
Yann Martel for writing the Man Booker prize winning novel The life of Pi, which tells the story of the adventures of a boy named Pi, short for Piscine Patel. Most of the story is spent with Pi stranded on a life boat with a Bengalese Tiger who goes by the name of Richard Parker.
Carl Orff for writing Carmina Burana (1937) which is a piece of cantata music that merges choral, symphonic and piano effects to create a unique and instantly recognizable work of art. Here is what Wikipedia said of it:
John Williams who famously composed and conducted the theme music to the Star Wars movies. His thematic approach borrows from the notion of Leitmotifs which were a major feature in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle (see earlier). Leitmotifs also feature heavily in The Lord of the Rings movies, composed and conducted by Howard Shore.
Johnny Cash for producing his best album At Folsom Prison (1968). According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the album has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. Here is what Wikipedia had to say about him:
‘‘John R. ‘Johnny’ Cash ... was a singer songwriter, actor, and author, widely considered as one of the most influential American musicians of the twentieth century. Although primarily remembered as a country music icon, his genre-spanning songs and sound embrached rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk and gospel. ... Cash was known for his deep bass-baritone the distinctive sound of his Tennessee Three backing band, a rebelliousness coupled with an increasingly somber and humble demeanor, free prison concerts and trademark look, which earned him the nickname ‘The Man in Black’. He traditionally began his concerts with the simple ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’ followed by his signature ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.’’
Dolly Parton, for producing her Greatest Hits album: I Will Always Love You : The Essential Dolly Parton (1995), certified as platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Here is what Wikipedia said about her:
‘‘Dolly Rebecca Parton ... is an American singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, author and philanthropist known primarily for her work in country music. ... She has composed over 3,000 songs, the best-known of which include ‘I will always love you’, two-time U.S. country chart topper for Parton as well as an international pop hit for Whitney Houston, ‘Jolene’, ‘Coat of many colours’, ‘9 to 5’ and ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’.’’
Pink Floyd, a musically influential and commerically successful franchise: by 2013 the band had sold more than 250 million records worldwide. The franchise has had three different owner/operators: 1960’s Floyd, 1970’s Floyd and 1980’s Floyd. 1960’s Floyd, headed by Syd Barrett produced the classic album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967). 1970’s Floyd, after the departure of Syd Barrett and headed by Roger Waters produced the classic albums The Dark Side of the Moon (1972-1973) (an album which remained in the best seller charts for nearly 15 years) and Wish You Were Here (1975). 1980’s Floyd (after the departure of Roger Waters in the mid 1980’s) and headed by David Gilmour produced nothing worth mentioning. Pink Floyd are often criticised for the prosaic and facile nature of their lyrics. Here is what Wikipedia had to say about them:
‘‘Pink Floyd were an English rock band formed in London. They achieved international acclaim with their progressive and psychedelic music. Distinguished by their use of philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation, extended compositions and elaborate live shows, they are one of the most commercially successful and musically influential groups in the history of popular music.’’
Eloisa James born as Mary Bly for writing An Affair Before Christmas (2007) which is part of the Desperate Duchess Series.
Henry Green is the pen-name of Henry Vincent Yorke who wrote the novels, in order of increasing year of composition: Blindness (1926), Nothing (1950) and Doting (1952).
George R. R. Martin short for George Raymond Richard Martin, for writing The Song of Ice and Fire Pentalogy (1988). According to Wikipedia, ‘‘in 2005, Lev Grossman of Time called Martin ‘the American Tolkien’’’.
Cory Doctorow for writing Little Brother (2008) which tells the story of a bunch of computer hackers who attempt to bring down the U.S. Department of Home Security following the D.H.S.’s bugging of everyone under the pretext of searching for a few terrorists.
Ben Elton, short for Benjamin Charles Elton, for writing Gridlock (1991), an amusing story from the writer of award-winning TV programs Blackadder and The Young Ones. Here is an amusing quote from the book:
Joe Klein for writing Primary Colors (1996) which is a story about the candidacy of a certain Jack Stanton for the Presidency of the United States. The novel was originally published under the name Anonymous.
Dan Brown for writing The Da Vinci Code (2003) which is page turner of a novel about a Harvard University Professor who stumbles upon the location of the Holy Grail. His other books (in order of increasing year of publishing): Angels & Demons (2000), Deception Point (2001), Digital Fortress (2004) and The Lost Symbol (2009) are not too bad either.
Stephen King is arguably the most popular novelist in the history of American fiction. He wrote The Stand (1978) which is about a super-flu that annihilates most of the world’s population and about a evil dark man who appears in people’s dreams. His other book The Bachman Books (1985) in which King writes under the pseudonym Richard Bachman is not too bad either. Here is what The Sunday Telegraph said about it: ‘‘You can’t help admiring King’s narrative skills and his versatility as a storyteller’’.
Bill Bryson is a humorous travel writer who wrote (among other books) Notes from a Small Island (1993) which is the true story of Bryson’s visit to England and Down Under (2000) about Bryson’s visit to Australia.
Gary Larson, a surrealist cartoonist for writing The Far Side Gallery 2 (1980) a humorous book about nerd animals that can talk and nerd people and what they talk about. Stephen King (see earlier) said of it: ‘‘You could die laughing’’. According to Wikipedia, ‘‘his twenty-three books of collected cartoons have combined sales of more than forty-five million copies’’
I found the following useful to compose the above list:
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