Leaving behind the theme of the last couple of columns, I’m devoting this one to some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard. Keeping it all in one column will be next to impossible as there is so much great music. Look at this as a submission from a musician and songwriter who considers himself a failure at his chosen profession. I probably won’t create anything great or lasting, but I sure appreciate those who did. And here are some of the real artists and achievers.
Frank Sinatra and his orchestras – Producer Quincy Jones and engineer Bruce Swedien were champions of stereo in the 1950s, and thanks to them, the stereo recordings of Sinatra’s orchestras are amazing on releases like “Sinatra Reprise: The Very Good Years.” Sit in front of a good pair of speakers and prepare to be blown away by the power of a live orchestra recorded to perfection. Sinatra was a perfectionist who would never do more that two or three takes of a song, so the orchestras had to be as prepared as Frank was.
The Beatles – we don’t have enough space in this entire newspaper to list all their contributions to music and the world. As a group, they were greater than the sum of their parts. And they all had amazing post-Beatles careers; George’s included the unlikely but joyously entertaining Traveling Wilburys!
Bob Dylan – he revolutionized folk and made poetic images electric. What the Beatles did for music, he did for lyrics. And there was a lot of cross-pollination between the two. (See Wilburys in Beatles section.)
Steely Dan – it’s hard to believe, in this hip-pop influenced world of disposable music, that a song like “Deacon Blues” was once a Top 40 hit. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (along with some of the greatest musicians ever recorded) gave us more than a few solid albums with amazing jazz-influenced rock/R&B grooves. Coolest band ever.
Paul Simon – with or without Art Garfunkel, Simon has been one of our most enduring songwriters and performers. He never quit writing and performing and over the past several years, he released new albums of really good music.
Tom Petty/Heartbreakers – perhaps the best American live band ever, they didn’t quit until Petty’s untimely passing at the end of their 40th Anniversary Tour. Petty never stopped writing great songs and releasing new music, and by all accounts, he certainly wasn’t finished when his time ran out. (Also, see Wilburys in Beatles section.)
Don Henley/Eagles – no offense to the late Glenn Frey, but my favorite Eagles moments were Henley’s. “Wasted Time,” “The Last Resort,” “Waiting in the Weeds” — Henley’s lyrics and delivery had a depth none of the others could touch. And Henley’s solo material contains a number of classics that will be remembered alongside the Eagles’ greatest. “Heart of the Matter,” “Boys of Summer,” and his most recent solo album “Cass County” are works of a master singer and songwriter.
Elton John/Bernie Taupin – seriously, how many great songs can one songwriting team create? Their partnership has lasted decades, and we are the beneficiaries of their talents.
Billy Joel – this piano legend and songwriter has written so many classics throughout the decades. His compositions ran the gamut from “Captain Jack” to “Summer, Highland Falls” to “Streetlife Serenader” to “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” — and those were all 1976 or earlier.
I’m With Her – this is a new folk/Americana supergroup consisting of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan. Each one of these women is an incredibly talented writer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist, but when they get together, the results are stunning. Their arrangements, both vocal and instrumental, weave aural tapestries around their songs. When they harmonize, they sing as if with one voice, channeling each other perfectly. It’s new music, it’s something you probably need to hear, and I am blown away with how good they really are.
A friend recently told me that we lived in the Golden Age of music. I have to agree. And I have barely scraped the surface of all the great stuff that’s out there. Thanks for coming along.
John Bartus performs live Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, Fridays and alternate Sundays at the Lighthouse Grill at Hyatt Place Faro Blanco, Saturdays at the Key Colony Inn, and Mondays at the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar. www.johnbartus.com