The Only Bands that Matter…………..


I was given my first album at age 5, a disc by the band The Four Seasons. They were a cheesy vocal pop band that competed with the Beach Boys at the top of the charts in the early sixties. (you’ll notice that they don’t appear on the list later in this blog) From that moment I was hooked. I have been collecting and, more importantly, listening to music compulsively. I don’t watch TV. I don’t follow sports (I do enjoy baseball as a live spectator sport)  Now why, you may ask, do you give a damn about this little personal biography?

50,000,000 fans can't be wrong

50,000,000 fans can’t be wrong

Oops!  Forgot one or two

Oops! Forgot one or two

It’s simple really. For the past 48 years I have been listening to music, mainly rock, and learning what counts, what is related to whom and what is truly worth listening to. If you are in a band then listening to other bands is the most important thing you can do. It’s research. It’s what influences your thinking and what shapes your music.

If you are a young musician then most likely you are obsessed with one or two bands or at best obsessed with a particular rock movement like Nordic speed death metal with superhero themed concept albums. This is natural when you are young. You are developing your sense of aesthetics. (feel free to look that word up, I did) You may also be convinced that French guitar pop or Early 80’s straight edge hardcore or Electronica or Zydeco or Polka blues is the most important music in the universe. You are wrong.  It is very important to you and it has its place in the great pastiche of rock but it is not the only form of rock that is important.

The most common mistake bands make (other than not firing the drummer)is they are too focused on the one or two bands that they love. As a result they end up sounding just like the bands that they admire (or worship) and end up making music that is a pale imitation of another band.

I have listened to thousands of demos in the past thirty years. Really great bands are rare. Really bad bands are equally rare and often can be highly entertaining because they are so awesomely bad (The Shags for example) the vast majority are OK, mediocre, uneventful and they are always derivative.  This is the mistake that almost every band makes; they sound like another, successful band.  They fail to do anything new, to do anything risky, and to do anything that makes them truly special. Why listen to a band that sounds like the Black Keys? Why not just listen to the Black Keys?

No one bought our record and now we're the theme song to that 70's show

No one bought our record and now we’re the theme song to that 70’s show

That brings us to the subject of this blog and likely a few more to follow – What bands really count? What bands are great?  And I mean undeniably great. I intend to list a shitload of bands in an effort to outline a good basic knowledge of rock and roll. As you read through the list you will likely say to yourself, ‘hell, I know all these guys. There is nothing new here’. That may be so. I doubt it but assuming you do know all of these bands are there any on the list that you haven’t heard? If it’s on the list and you haven’t heard it then you should check it out then wonder ‘what other cool bands are out there?’.

I am also posting this list to spur people to comment. Please suggest additions to the list. Feel free to criticize my choices and to justify your suggestions. I know that I have ignored large sections of rock history. This is a result of putting together a quick list. Feel free to post bands the comments section.

I will be posting some lists from other people soon. I am certain that the following lists will highlight some of the holes in my first list.

Finally I’ll close with a rock anecdote. When Columbia records acquired The Clash for the American reissue of the first Clash record and for all the follow up records someone at the label’s PR department came up with the slogan “The Only Band that Matters!” In one of those truly rare moments in history the record label had it right. In many ways The Clash were the most important Punk band and Punk was the most important change to come along in a decade.  Over the intervening years it became apparent that The Clash summed up and perfected all of the elements that made Punk important.  You may disagree with this opinion or you may agree.  If you never had bothered to listen to the Clash’s five main albums could you really claim to have an understanding of Punk and be certain that your Punk band is really something fresh and new, something great with a capital G?

This is Rock

This is Rock

[for the sake of brevity I have only included bands and artists from the first 4 decades of rock, that is to say 1950 to 1990]

Classification(s)  B-blues, J-Jazz, P-Punk, PR-Prog Rock, CR – Classic Rock, F-Jazz/Rock Fusion, H- Hardcore, I-Influential, S- Soul, A- Alternative Rock, N- New Wave, O – Folk, SY-Psychedelic Rock, C-Country, Reggae –R, Metal – M, Glam Rock -G


The only bands that matter Part 1

The Clash – P, The Sex Pistols – P, The Buzzcocks – P, The Damned – P, The Germs -H, The Dead Kennedys – H, Mission of Burma – A, The Modern Lovers – I & A, Velvet Underground –I & A, The Beatles – CR, John Lennon – CR, Paul McCartney -CR, George Harrison – CR,  Big Star I &  CR & S, The Small Faces -CR, The Faces -CR, David Bowie -G, Robert Johnson – B, The Kinks CR, Jimi Hendrix –CR, Creedence Clearwater Revival –CR, Velvet Underground-I, The Soft Boys- I, The Pogues – P, The Band – CR, XTC- N, Nick Drake – O, Tim Buckley – O, Fairport Convention – O, Sandy Denny –O, Richard Thompson –O, Traffic –CR, The Byrds –CR, The Ramones –P, The New York Dolls – I, Yes – PR, King Crimson – PR, Frank Zappa –PR, Captain Beefheart  – I, The Talking Heads – N The Creation – SY, Love-SY,  Scott Walker –SY, The Pixies –I & A, Genesis –PR,  Leon Russell -CR, Cream –CR, Derek and The Dominoes – CR, Hank Williams –C, Johnny Cash – C, The Dictators – P Tommy Roe –CR, Jimmy Webb –CR, Joni Mitchell –CR, Janis Joplin CR-, Lou Reed –I, Jethro Tull –CR, Echo and the Bunnymen –N, Bebop Deluxe – N, War – S, Sam and Dave –S, Otis Redding – S,  James Brown –S, Gang of Four –N, The Smiths –N, Curtis Mayfield – S, Booker T and MGs – S, Ray Charles –S, Blind Lemon Jefferson – B, Bob Marley and the Wailers –R, Peter Tosh – R, Jimmy Cliff –R ,  Bob Dylan –CR, Led Zeppelin –CR & B,  Van Morrison – CR & S, Temptations –S, Ike and Tina Turner –S, Peter Gabriel –N, The Who –CR,  The Rolling Stones – CR, The Dead Boys – P, REM – A, Flamin’ Groovies – I, Thelonius Monk – J, John Coltrane – J, Charlie Parker –J. Count Basie – J, Chet Baker – J, Santana –CR, The Feelies – A, John Cale – I & A,  The Replacements – I & A, Deep Purple – I & CR, Little Feat – CR, Grateful Dead –CR, Metallica – M, T Rex – G, U2 – N, Elvis PResley – CR, Buddy Holly – CR, Beach Boys – CR

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

New Format and things I like…………..


Any old readers, returning to this blog, will notice that I have dumped the old format of Black and Red. It worked well for awhile but as the number of posts grew it became unmanageable. So I have trotted out a new format.

I haven’t posted in a dogs age. Instead I have been compiling everything I have written and expanding the material for a book. This, unfortunately is not as fun or easy as tossing a blog up onto the web.  Feel free to send comments on the idea of a book and what should be included.

Well that’s enough blather, on to today’s subject – listening to cool bands.

So far all of my postings have dealt with the mechanics of being in a band and promoting yourself up the food chain. I haven’t spent much time writing about music. Music, is, of course, central to the whole damn experience of being in a band. In some of my early blogs I posted what I was listening to as I was writing. I did that to, hopefully, turn people on to cool bands that they hadn”t heard.

A large part of being in a successful band is writing undeniably cool music. Even if you are gunning to be the next Madonna you need to understand cool music and have a good grounding of all the rock gods that have come before.  The more you listen to music the greater the spread of your tastes should become. For me this is certainly the truth. I have been steadily listening to music since 1966 and I am still finding cool things that are new to me.  If you only listen to your favorite band and the half dozen other bands that sound like them you are doomed to writing music that is derivative and likely boring. Your influences are like a color pallet is to a painter. You need many colors and influences in order to have depth and art to your music. You can argue that Picasso painted cubist masterpieces with one basic color scheme. You would be correct.  If you are the equivalent of Picasso in his blue period then you don’t need my advice on influences. Of course Picasso traveled through the history of painting and explored color and light and perspective masterfully before he decided to reinvent art by becoming a cubist.  If you ever had the great fortune to meet Picasso and ask him how to be a great painter, and he answered your question (he was notorious for being cryptic). He would likely tell you to teach yourself the history of art.  It’s the same in music. You need to know the past in order to forge ahead.

So my advice in today’s blog is to learn to listen to new things. Be aggressive about it. Dig into the info on bands you love and find out what their influences were. Then listen to those bands/artists. This will take you down new paths that will provide inspiration.

In my next blog I will post a list of some great bands that you may or may not know. It’s impossible to be comprehensive but the list may introduce you to a few names that you have never heard. I also encourage every reader to post band names in the comment section. DO NOT POST YOUR OWN BAND! That’s a cheap trick and we reserve cheap tricks for me.

© 2012 Brad Morrison/ Billiken Media

Pussy Riot, music as the voice of dissent………………


Those of you that have read my blog know that my main topics of discussion always relate to succeeding with your band. (or music) I write about the practical end of becoming a rock star and getting your music out into the world, or, failing that, the mechanics of making the music or firing your drunken bass player. I have never addressed a deeper, underlying question, why is music so damn important? This, in many ways, has been my motivation to be involved in music and to spend my life listening to or producing music.  Today’s blog will address that core idea and, because they have earned everyone’s support, discuss how Pussy Riot are important.

Courage under fire

Those of you that haven’t now heard of the Pussy Riot trial, yes there may be a few of you living inside an asteroid, orbiting Neptune, with only old MTV to watch on your steam powered wrist watch communicator, Pussy Riot are a Moscow based band. They sound like the Ramones but with Russian lyrics. They love to do outrageous things like fuck in public or, in the story that is taking the world by storm, jump up on the alter of the Orthodox church and shoot a video of them miming one of their songs. The song in question calls the President of Russia a tyrant. I have to assume that is what the lyrics say since I speak Russian a little bit better than I speak Elvish.  They uploaded the video and the shit hit the fan. They were arrested and have spent months in jail while the Russian government and Church fume over the fact that this band pointed out the tyrannical rule of the psycho Vladimir Putin. I am guessing that they picked the Orthodox Church since the Church, historically, has gleefully helped the Russian Rulers oppress and bleed the Russian Population.

The band has now been tried, convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for Hooliganism. For this act of oppression I hope, quite earnestly, that the feral dogs of Moscow get to feast on Vladimir Putin’s entrails. I hope that they get fed this megalomaniac’s liver real soon.  I have stated in another blog that this act of protest by Pussy Riot was a PR stunt. This is certainly true. The band does things like copulate publicly or stage a video on the altar of a church to get in the press, to get people’s attention, to succeed at Rock. There is nothing wrong with the young ladies in question being whores for attention. I expect it of them and their fans  certainly love it anytime they do something outrageous.  This is punk.  Punk, and I can humbly state that I am an expert on the purpose behind Punk, is an art form that at its heart is social protest. Of course the band pulls stunts to become famous, they are doing what any good rock band does to get their music listened to.  The important point here is that their message, and yes they have an intelligent, adult message, is that they are living in a country that isn’t free.  They are voicing the dissent of the young people of Russia. They have guts to do it and they deserve our support for having the courage to stand up and speak out.  They knew that they would get stomped on if they spoke out and that is exactly why they did it.

Music has often been used to voice dissent. Musicians are usually outcasts from everyday society and often see themselves as outsiders looking in on Mainstream life. They are, if they are any good, on the cutting edge of change.  They speak out using their art. They are uniquely qualified to do so. They are compelled to do so. This is the core reason why music is so damn important.  This is why Punk is the most important trend in the late twentieth century. (along with Rap)

The members of Pussy Riot could have chosen to play any style of modern music. They could have taken dance lessons and tried to be the Russian Britney Spears.  They chose to play Punk and Punk is, at its heart, social protest music.  They believe, as many young people in Russia believe, that they are living in an oppressive political system. They’re right. Hell, Vladimir Putin was the former head of the Soviet secret police.

This could be you………..

The band’s uniform, short dresses, punk boots and ski masks is pure genius.  The coming battle over rights will center in many ways around the fact that the world’s power elite are rolling out a complete surveillance system to oppresses us all.  In the years ahead masks are going to become an important part of standing up to oppression. The governments of the world are working very hard to identify, tag and track us all. We, on the other hand, have a right to be anonymous if we choose.  The members of Pussy Riot have made this an issue to fight over. We should all thank them for that courageous act.

The band has been convicted of Hooliganism. The power structure of Russia are treating the band as if what they have done is the equivalent of a drunken soccer fan setting a car on fire.  This is an artful lie. The band are destructive but they are out to destroy a system that is oppressing and controlling the culture they live in.  That is fundamentally different than random mindless destruction.

So please understand the message of this blog. Music has been and can be a powerful vehicle for dissent. It is an idiom that crosses boundaries of language and culture. It has a long history of putting pressure on the world to change for the better. When it moves in that direction I believe that we should all support its purpose.

And finally I will send a message to the scum at the top of the Russian Government. When the band Pussy Riot called attention to your tyranny you had a choice. You would have served your own interests better by ignoring them.  You took the bait and decided to make an example of the band. That was a big mistake since the band knew that you would be forcing the youth of Russia to choose sides.  Now you have a tiger in a sack.

I know that my blog is read by many people in Russia. To those readers I say -stay the course and support this band. They know what they are doing and they are acting as leaders and heroes for all of the youth of Russia……………

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2012

Pussy Riot, music as the voice of dissent………………


Those of you that have read my blog know that my main topics of discussion always relate to succeeding with your band. (or music) I write about the practical end of becoming a rock star and getting your music out into the world, or, failing that, the mechanics of making the music or firing your drunken bass player. I have never addressed a deeper, underlying question, why is music so damn important? This, in many ways, has been my motivation to be involved in music and to spend my life listening to or producing music.  Today’s blog will address that core idea and, because they have earned everyone’s support, discuss how Pussy Riot are important.

Courage under fire

Those of you that haven’t now heard of the Pussy Riot trial, yes there may be a few of you living inside an asteroid, orbiting Neptune, with only old MTV to watch on your steam powered wrist watch communicator, Pussy Riot are a Moscow based band. They sound like the Ramones but with Russian lyrics. They love to do outrageous things like fuck in public or, in the story that is taking the world by storm, jump up on the alter of the Orthodox church and shoot a video of them miming one of their songs. The song in question calls the President of Russia a tyrant. I have to assume that is what the lyrics say since I speak Russian a little bit better than I speak Elvish.  They uploaded the video and the shit hit the fan. They were arrested and have spent months in jail while the Russian government and Church fume over the fact that this band pointed out the tyrannical rule of the psycho Vladimir Putin. I am guessing that they picked the Orthodox Church since the Church, historically, has gleefully helped the Russian Rulers oppress and bleed the Russian Population.

The band has now been tried, convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for Hooliganism. For this act of oppression I hope, quite earnestly, that the feral dogs of Moscow get to feast on Vladimir Putin’s entrails. I hope that they get fed this megalomaniac’s liver real soon.  I have stated in another blog that this act of protest by Pussy Riot was a PR stunt. This is certainly true. The band does things like copulate publicly or stage a video on the altar of a church to get in the press, to get people’s attention, to succeed at Rock. There is nothing wrong with the young ladies in question being whores for attention. I expect it of them and their fans are certainly love it anytime they do something outrageous.  This is punk. Punk, and I can humbly state that I am an expert on the purpose behind Punk, is an artform that at its heart is social protest. Of course the band pulls stunts to become famous, they are doing what any good rock band does to get their music listened to.  The important point here is that their message, and yes they have an intelligent, adult message, was that they are living in a country that isn’t free.  They are voicing the dissent of the young people of Russia. They have guts to do it and they deserve our support for having the courage to stand up and speak out.  They knew that they would get stomped on if they spoke out and that is exactly why they did it.

Music has often been used to voice dissent. Musicians are usually outcasts from everyday society and often see themselves as outsiders looking in on Mainstream life. They are, if they are any good, on the cutting edge of change.  They speak out using their art. They are uniquely qualified to do so. They are compelled to do so. This is the core reason why music is so damn important.  This is why Punk is the most important trend in the late twentieth century. (along with Rap)

The members of Pussy Riot could have chosen to play any style of modern music. They could have taken dance lessons and tried to be the Russian Britney Spears.  They chose to play Punk and Punk is, at its heart social protest music.  They believe, as many young people in Russia believe, that they are living in an oppressive political system. They’re right. Hell, Vladimir Putin was the former head of the Soviet secret police.

This could be you………..

The band’s uniform, short dresses, punk boots and ski masks is pure genius.  The coming battle over rights will center in many ways around the fact that the world’s power elite are rolling out a complete surveillance system to oppresses us all.  In the years ahead masks are going to become an important part of standing up to oppression. The governments of the world are working very hard to identify, tag and track us all. We, on the other hand, have a right to be anonymous is we choose.  The members of Pussy Riot have made this an issue to fight over. We should all thank them for that courageous act.

The band has been convicted of Hooliganism. The power structure of Russia are treating the band as if what they have done is the equivalent of a drunken soccer fan setting a car on fire.  This is an artful lie. The band are destructive but they are out to destroy a system that is oppressing and controlling the culture they live in.  That is fundamentally different than random mindless destruction.

So please understand the message of this blog. Music has been and can be a powerful vehicle for dissent. It is an idiom that crosses boundaries of language and culture. It has a long history of putting pressure on the world to change for the better. When it moves in that direction I believe that we should all support its purpose.

And finally I will send a message to the scum at the top of the Russian Government. When the band Pussy Riot called attention to your tyranny you had a choice. You would have served your own interests better by ignoring them.  You took the bait and decided to make an example of the band. That was a big mistake since the band knew that you would be forcing the youth of Russia to choose sides.  Now you have a tiger in a sack.

I know that my blog is read by many people in Russia. To those readers I say -stay the course and support this band. They know what they are doing and they are acting as leaders and heroes for all of the youth of Russia……………

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2012

How it works….getting to the top………


I spent last night with a new band that I will be producing. A bottle of good whiskey a couple of marginal vintage acoustic guitars and a good meal naturally evolved into a people taking turns showcasing new songs or playing masterworks of America’s rock history.  The band had just fired their most recent drummer for being an asshole. The new drummer, an old friend, of course, fit in perfectly. This band is playing Alt Country. The drummer rose to the occasion and shaved the middle part of his beard to create truly impressive mutton-chop sideburns.  He fit right in with the bands look and attitude. To take the gig he dumped a girl, walked away from a job he hated, put down the guitar and picked up the drumsticks. Those are the actions of a real musician.

It's a brawl motherfucker! First you better pay at the door!

Later in the night, as the band got remarkably drunk, before they reached the stage of sending me nonsensical text messages, the conversation turned to how to get ahead, how to get to the top, how to put on a better show etc. I of course, being an arrogant ass, gave them plenty of advice. If you are reading this blog some of the points that came up may be news to you.

The band are amped up. They’re flat-out excited. A producer had come to see them play, loved the show and agreed to produce some music for them. This is an exciting moment in any band. We hashed out the basic plan before the Johnny Walker ran out. Was this their big break? Perhaps. Time will tell. It also could be the wrong move. No one will know until years from now. One thing I have seen repeated with every band that succeeds is the series of small breaks that lets the band climb to the top.  This is the true system to becoming a star and a working musician.

Let’s use this band as an example. They have a manager/producer, a completed album that is released locally and a full gig schedule. All of this happened before I ever heard their name. How did they get that far? Hmm… it’s easy to guess. They all spent countless hours learning to play and listening to music. They fell in love with certain bands, particular songs and the stories they heard about other bands they admired. They all played in shitty bands. This taught them the difference between good and bad from the inside looking out.

Sure, this is how everyone dresses...right?

They all played in bands that were better. This is the winnowing process that every musician lives through. Some of them switched instruments as they realized where their true talents lay. They all played some local shows. Some of these shows sucked, bad. They learned how to get the audience engaged and how to make the girls shake their asses.  They all came to the realization that their heroes didn’t dress like the audience so they cautiously start to acquire stage clothes. 

As their set became a winner they started to branch out to new towns. Soon they won fans in these towns too. Then they heard of a studio owner/producer that seemed to have something good happening. They booked time and soon he was a fan too. They talked him into being their manager. This caused the local press to start to mention them.  He produced a brilliant but spotty first record. He dropped by my house for dinner with two of the band members in tow. By the end of the dinner I could see they had talent. I hadn’t even heard the recordings but I was interested. All I had to do was talk to them and I could see that they understood how it worked. I could see their passion and their ambition. So now they have a new producer.

The point to this little history is that you get ahead with mountains of little breaks. You create these breaks by working hard to make music, by getting yourself talked about, by not fitting in, by being a little bigger than the stage you step up on.  If you work hard enough and have lots of luck you make it to the top. At that point looking back down the mountain you will see that there is never a big break. There is never one thing that gives the band the attention of the world. You hear stories of big breaks because this myth is manufactured by the big labels that need people to believe that they create stars.  They never mention how many great musicians they bury.

Summing it all up – work hard for lots of small triumphs. Pile these up and you have a story of how a band succeeded at rock………

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011