The Connells

Raleigh, North Carolina-based jangle pop outfit the Connells formed in the spring of 1984. Fronted by guitarist Mike Connell and his brother, bassist David, the first incarnation of the group also featured vocalist Doug McMillan and drummer John Schultz, who was soon replaced by former Johnny Quest percussionist Peele Wimberley. In late 1984, the quartet recorded a four-song demo. After one of the tracks, “Darker Days,” was selected to appear on the North Carolina compilation More Mondo, the Connells’ ranks expanded with the addition of singer/guitarist George Huntley, who made his debut on a March 1985 session co-produced by Don Dixon…

Suzi Quatro

Suzi Quatro was hardly the first Tough Girl in rock & roll but she codified a type of rock & roll woman who didn’t exist before she took the stage, one who looked as tough as the guys and wasn’t merely a singer but also an instrumentalist, the leader of the band who made the noise right along with the rest of the group. With her trademark leather jumpsuit and big bass guitar…

The Shirts

This US pop rock act was formed from the ashes of the Lackeys and Schemers, who played several low-key gigs in the early 70s… All members provided songs either on their own or in partnership with other personnel… Other names that were suggested for the assembly included the Pants and the Sleeves. Shirts was the eventual choice, with the proviso that it should be pronounced ‘Shoits’ in a thick New York accent. Unsurprisingly, this tradition lapsed with time…

Soft Cell

Best known for their smash 1981 cover of Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love,” which turned the pop-soul tune into a haunting electronic torch song, synth pop duo Soft Cell formed in England in the late ’70s. Also remembered as the first project of singer/songwriter Marc Almond, he and producer/multi-instrumentalist Dave Ball released four U.K. Top 20 albums together between 1981 and 1984 before pursuing separate music careers…

Cat Stevens

After making a successful run at the British charts in the late ’60s, Cat Stevens left behind the pop-oriented style of his early days and became one of the most celebrated folk-rock singer/songwriters of the era. It was all thanks to landmark albums like 1970’s Tea for the Tillerman and its 1971 follow-up, Teaser and the Firecat. His earthy voice, introspective lyrics, and themes of spirituality struck a chord with audiences around the world…

Kathleen Edwards

Canadian singer and songwriter Kathleen Edwards became a star in the Americana community in the 2000s on the basis of her emotionally incisive songs and sweetly smoky voice. Edwards’ lyrics are evocative and direct in their take on relationships and the trials of everyday lives, and her music, which varies from quietly contemplative and keenly boisterous to suit her mood, is an effective match for her material…

Chris Thile

A virtuoso mandolin player, singer, composer, bandleader, and radio personality, Chris Thile is one of the leading lights of progressive bluegrass. A founding member of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, he’s been at the forefront of bluegrass, creative folk, and roots music since debuting in the late 1980s. He has also issued an array of acclaimed solo albums…

Big Audio Dynamite

After Mick Jones was fired from the Clash in 1983, he formed Big Audio Dynamite (B.A.D.) one year later to continue the more experimental funk elements of the Clash’s Combat Rock. The group’s original incarnation included Jones, video artist and Clash associate Don Letts (effects and vocals), Greg Roberts (drums), Dan Donovan (keyboards), and Leo “E-Zee Kill” Williams (bass). Adding samplers, dance tracks, and found sounds to Jones’ concise pop songwriting, B.A.D. debuted on record with the single “The Bottom Line” in September 1985…

David Rodriguez

Born and raised in Houston, singer/songwriter David Rodriguez’s early influences included Lightnin’ Hopkins, Townes Van Zandt and Lydia Mendoza; he was later inspired by Jerry Jeff Walker. After an education in music, law and economics, he spent 20 years playing around Austin. In 1984, he chucked the music life to practice law and spend time with his family. He ran for a seat in the Texas State Legislature in 1990, but lost. Rodriguez returned to music later that year…

The Men They Couldn’t Hang

The Men They Couldn’t Hang came together in 1984 to perform at the alternative music festival in Camden Town alongside The Pogues and the Boothill Foot Tappers. Paul Simmonds, Philip ‘Swill’ Odgers and his brother Jon, veterans of the Southampton-based pop-punk band Catch 22, met Pogues roadie Stefan Cush whilst busking in Shepherds Bush in London…

Samantha Jones

A one-time key member of the Vernons Girls, Samantha Jones bidded fair for stardom in her own right in early-’60s England — some think she might even have been a potential rival to Dusty Springfield had things gone right — but somehow she never made the cut. Born Jean Owen, she’d distinguished herself among the dozens of women who passed through the ranks of the Vernons Girls and had sung on all of the group’s early-’60s hits for English Decca before exiting in 1964…

Meat Loaf

Marvin Lee Aday is a singer and occasional actor who, for reasons never definitively answered, has recorded under the name Meat Loaf. In all likelihood a childhood nickname, the tag stuck, and many puns followed as the performer — who tipped the scales at well over 300 pounds — became one of the biggest chart acts of the 1970s before enjoying a commercial renaissance two decades later…

Blue Rodeo

Canada’s most popular roots-rock band, Blue Rodeo has developed into a veritable institution in their home country. Their sound, a basic blend of country, folk, and rock, also has a definite pop appeal … Consistency has been the hallmark of Blue Rodeo’s output, both in terms of sound (which followed much the same blueprint throughout their career) and quality (thanks to the songwriting team of vocalists/guitarists Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor)…

Frankie Lee Sims

A traditionalist who was a staunch member of the Texas country blues movement of the late ’40s and early ’50s (along with the likes of his cousin Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lil’ Son Jackson, and Smokey Hogg), guitarist Frankie Lee Sims developed a twangy, ringing electric guitar style that was irresistible on fast numbers and stung hard on the downbeat stuff. Sims picked up a guitar when he was 12 years old…

Sturgill Simpson

Formerly the leader of Sunday Valley, an energetic roots outfit that made some waves in the early years of the new millennium, Sturgill Simpson gained greater renown as a solo artist, initially thanks to his muscular 2013 solo debut, High Top Mountain. An outlaw country record in form and feel — its debt to Waylon Jennings clear and unashamed — High Top Mountain became a word-of-mouth hit in 2013, thereby establishing Simpson’s country credentials and opening the door to a wider future…

Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend was the guitarist and primary songwriter for the Who from 1964 to 1982, also participating in the group’s occasional reunions after its formal breakup. Best-known for his conceptual works, he wrote Tommy and Quadrophenia for the band, as well as the bulk of its other material. He made his first tentative solo album, Who Came First, in 1972. Dedicated to his guru, Meher Baba, it continued themes pursued in Who’s Next…

Nick Heyward

Nick Heyward (vocals, guitar) left his band Haircut 100 just when they were cruising through the pop charts in the U.K. Instead of destroying his career, the move actually provided him with more artistic credibility. Heyward was born on May 20, 1961, in Beckenham, Kent, England. In 1980, Heyward formed the new wave group Haircut 100. Haircut 100 became as well-known for the preppie outfits they wore as much as MTV bubblegum like “Love Plus One” and “Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)…

Frank Turner

A former member of punk rock band Million Dead, Frank Turner turned his attention to folkier, acoustic music after the demise of his hardcore outfit. Since that time he has transformed himself into a successful, internationally charting, award-winning singer and songwriter of consequential folk-punk-pop rebel songs (that cover topics like atheism, sexism, excessive drinking, and the power of rock & roll)…

The Orchids/The Exceptions

The Orchids were a trio of 15-year-old girls from Coventry who went from winning a local talent contest to national television and an international recording career. Georgina Oliver, Pamela Jarman and Valerie Jones won their contest at Coventry’s Orchid Ballroom, thus acquiring their name, and fell right into the managerial arms of Larry Page (renowned for his later work with the Troggs), who played up their youth and innocence. They were signed to English Decca in 1963 and released the first of three British singles that year…

Th’ Faith Healers

A hard-to-classify rock band with none of the fashionable influences of the early ’90s — although their Krautrock fixation would go on to become a badge of hipness in the latter half of the decade — Th’ Faith Healers didn’t fit in the U.K. indie scene of their time, but their records hold up much better than those of many of their contemporaries. The Hampstead, England-based quartet consisted of singer Roxanne Stephen, guitarist and second vocalist Tom Cullinan, bassist Ben Hopkin, and drummer Joe Dilworth…

Steve Forbert

American singer/songwriter Steve Forbert rose to popularity in 1979 thanks to his breakout hit “Romeo’s Tune,” a tuneful slice of Americana-driven rock with a memorable piano melody and a poetic sense of introspection that became one of his hallmarks. When his next two albums failed to make as big a commercial impact, he left New York and set up shop in Nashville, mounting a comeback with 1988’s Streets of This Town, which he followed with a string of albums throughout the ’90s…

Sleater-Kinney

Like many a great band, Sleater-Kinney inhabited their time so thoroughly it took an extended hiatus to realize the extent of their legacy. In many respects, they were the defining American indie rock band of the second half of the ’90s, the group that harnessed all the upheaval of the alt-rock explosion of the first part of the decade and channeled it into a vigorous mission statement…

Depeche Mode

Originally a product of Britain’s new romantic movement, Depeche Mode went on to become the quintessential electropop band of the 1980s. One of the first acts to establish a musical identity based completely around the use of synthesizers, they began their existence as a bouncy dance-pop outfit but gradually developed a darker, more dramatic sound that ultimately positioned them as one of the most successful alternative bands of their era…

Broken Social Scene

As much a creative collective as an indie rock band, Broken Social Scene is a Toronto-based ensemble whose flexible lineup has included some of the best and best-known musicians from the city’s left-of-center music community. Emerging in 2001 with Feel Good Lost, the group, whose membership has been as small as two and as large as 15, has created an eclectic body of work that’s explored many stylistic avenues, from film music and ambient minimalism to brightly orchestrated Baroque pop…

Dale Hawkins

Louisiana guitarist Dale Hawkins’ 1957 hit “Suzy Q,” with its crackling bluesy guitar and insistent cowbell, was one of the most exciting early rockabilly singles. Recording for Chess (as one of its few white artists) between 1956 and 1961, Hawkins never quite duplicated its success, either commercially or artistically, but came close enough on a number of occasions to warrant respect as one of the better rockabilly singers…

Dean Owens

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Owens was a member of the popular Scottish country rock unit the Felsons, helping the band record three acclaimed albums in the late 90s. His 2001 solo debut resulted from sessions in a lochside cottage in the Highlands of Scotland with Felsons bass player Kevin McGuire, recorded directly onto a portable DAT machine. Released with a minimum of cleaning up and overdubbing, the album was a delightful lo-fi excursion that was high on atmosphere and low on artifice…

Foals

Foals emerged in the late 2000s with an off-balance indie rock influenced by catchy new wave, math rock, and atmospheric post-rock. It proved a successful formula; their first album, 2008’s Antidotes, reached number three in their native U.K. Over the next decade, they developed a distinctive balance between jittery dance rock and spacy atmosphere …

Tears for Fears

Tears for Fears were always more ambitious than the average synth pop group. From the beginning, the duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith were tackling big subjects — their very name derived from Arthur Janov’s primal scream therapy, and his theories were evident throughout their debut, The Hurting. Driven by catchy, infectious synth pop, The Hurting became a big hit…

Neil Finn

Neil Finn has consistently proven his knack for crafting high-quality songs that combine irresistible melodies with meticulous lyrical detail, from his beginnings as the precocious junior member of Split Enz, through his leadership of Crowded House, and, finally, in his distinguished solo career. He has also earned considerable international commercial success, respect from his peers, praise from critics, and a devoted fan base that hangs on his every release…

Liz Phair

Growing out of the American underground of the late ’80s, Liz Phair fused lo-fi indie rock production techniques with the sensibility and structure of classic singer/songwriters. Exile in Guyville, her gold-selling debut album, was enthusiastically praised upon its 1993 release, and spawned a rash of imitators during the following years, particularly American female singer/songwriters…

Jimmy Reed

There’s simply no sound in the blues as easily digestible, accessible, instantly recognizable, and as easy to play and sing as the music of Jimmy Reed. His best-known songs — “Baby, What You Want Me to Do,” “Bright Lights, Big City,” “Honest I Do,” “You Don’t Have to Go,” “Going to New York,” “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby,” and “Big Boss Man” — have become such an integral part of the standard blues repertoire, it’s almost as if they have existed forever…

Dionne Warwick

Marie Dionne Warrick was born into a gospel music family. Her father was a gospel record promoter for Chess Records and her mother managed the Drinkard Singers, a gospel group consisting of her relatives. She first raised her voice in song at age six at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, and soon after was a member of the choir. As a teenager, she formed a singing group called the Gospelaires with her sister Dee Dee and her aunt Cissy Houston (later the mother of the late Whitney Houston)…

The Charlatans

For many years, the Charlatans were perceived as the also-rans of Madchester, the group that didn’t capture the Zeitgeist like the Stone Roses, or that failed to match the mad genre-bending of Happy Mondays. Of course, they were more traditional than either of their peers. Working from a Stonesy foundation, the Charlatans added dance-oriented rhythms and layers of swirling organs straight out of ’60s psychedelia…

Rufus Thomas

Few of rock & roll’s founding figures are as likable as Rufus Thomas. From the 1940s onward, he has personified Memphis music … As a recording artist, he wasn’t a major innovator, but he could always be depended upon for some good, silly, and/or outrageous fun with his soul dance tunes. He was one of the few rock or soul stars to reach his commercial and artistic peak in middle age, and was a crucial mentor to many important Memphis blues, rock, and soul musicians…

Thompson Twins

By appealing to fans of ’80s dance-pop as well as post-punk and new wave, the Thompson Twins were one of the more popular synth pop groups of the early MTV era, scoring a handful of hits in the early to mid-’80s. Neither a duo nor related, but rather named after characters in the Tintin cartoon, the band enjoyed international success with songs like “Hold Me Now,” “Lay Your Hands on Me,” and “King for a Day” — all U.S. Top Ten hits…

Jay Farrar

As a founding member of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, songwriter Jay Farrar helped popularize the alt-country movement of the 1990s. He also launched a solo career during the following decade, making it plain that his musical ambitions stretched far beyond the retro-leaning twang of his contemporaries. Farrar was born and raised in Belleville, Illinois… He was 12 when he first began leaning to play the guitar…

Elephant 6

Elephant 6 is a loosely defined musical collective in the United States. Notable bands associated with the collective include the Apples in Stereo, Beulah, Circulatory System, Elf Power, the Minders, Neutral Milk Hotel, of Montreal, and the Olivia Tremor Control. Although there are many different genres explored by bands in the collective, there is a shared interest in psychedelic pop of the 1960s…

Jackie Wilson

Jackie Wilson was one of the most important agents of black pop’s transition from R&B into soul. In terms of vocal power (especially in the upper register), few could outdo him; he was also an electrifying on-stage showman. He was a consistent hitmaker from the mid-’50s through the early ’70s, although never a crossover superstar…

Maxïmo Park

One of the more enduring bands from the post-punk revival of the early to mid-2000s, Maxïmo Park craft smart, sharply catchy guitar pop songs. Like their friends and neighbors Field Music and the Futureheads, they took inspiration from legends like the Jam, XTC, Wire, and the Smiths. Unlike many of their peers, frontman Paul Smith’s heartfelt vocals and lyrics added an emotional pull to their music, especially on their 2005 Mercury Prize-nominated debut, A Certain Trigger…

Son Volt

Led by vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Jay Farrar, Son Volt became one of the leading bands in the alternative country community, attracting critical praise and an audience that was loyal if not always large. Dominated by Farrar’s commanding and resonant vocals, his Neil Young-influenced lead guitar work, and a lyrical and melodic palette that took a rueful look at the changing American landscape, Son Volt made a striking debut with 1995’s Trace…

Mew

The members of space pop innovators Mew first met in the seventh grade in Hellerup, Denmark. Before they could even play instruments, the ambitious youths — singer Jonas Bjerre, guitarist Bo Madsen, bassist Johan Wohlert, and drummer Silas Graae — were ready to make music together, although they initially failed as a band called Orange Dog. Madsen briefly spent time in the United States before the guys came back together in their late teens as Mew…

Patsy Cline

One of the greatest singers in the history of country music, Patsy Cline also helped blaze a trail for female singers to assert themselves as an integral part of the Nashville-dominated country music industry … Cline has the most legendary aura of any female country singer, however, perhaps due to an early death that cut her off just after she had entered her prime…

Jason Isbell

After spending six years with Southern rock outfit Drive-By Truckers, singer/guitarist Jason Isbell left the group in 2007 to pursue a solo career. Isbell had already honed his songwriting skills during his tenure with the Truckers, and he funneled those talents into Sirens of the Ditch, a bluesy, punk-infused lesson in guitar tones and Southern swagger that marked his solo debut in summer 2007…

The Associates

Formed in Edinburgh in 1979, the Associates comprised vocalist Billy Mackenzie and multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine. Built on an eclectic mix of influences and interests ranging from art rock to glam and disco, the group debuted with a manic cover of David Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging,” which earned them a contract with Fiction Records. Their 1980 debut LP, The Affectionate Punch, was a critically acclaimed work which expanded the duo’s sound…

The Apples in Stereo

Sunny pop band the Apples in Stereo were one of the leading lights of the Elephant 6 Recording Company collective, a coterie of likeminded lo-fi indie groups — including the Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Secret Square — who shared musicians, ideas, and sensibilities. They were led by singer/songwriter Robert Schneider, a native of the tiny town of Ruston, LA…

Del Amitri

Del Amitri’s easy blend of Beatlesque pop and country-rock has made them a worldwide road and radio staple since the mid-’80s. Formed in Scotland in 1982 by bassist/vocalist/songwriter Justin Currie and longtime guitarist and collaborator Ian Harvie, the duo released Sense Sickness on a small Glasgow indie label the following year…

Roy Orbison

Although he shared the same rockabilly roots as Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison went on to pioneer an entirely different brand of country/pop-based rock & roll in the early ’60s. What he lacked in charisma and photogenic looks, Orbison made up for in spades with his quavering operatic voice and melodramatic narratives of unrequited love and yearning. In the process, he established rock & roll archetypes of the underdog and the hopelessly romantic loser…

Jacques Brel

Singer/songwriter Jacques Brel created and performed a catalog of literate, thoughtful, and theatrical songs that brought him a large, devoted following in France. His audience eventually extended internationally, making him a major influence on English-speaking writers and performers including Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, while translations of his songs were recorded by a wide range of performers from the Kingston Trio to Frank Sinatra…

Sweet

In some ways, the Sweet epitomized all the tacky hubris and garish silliness of the early ’70s. Fusing bubblegum melodies with crunching, fuzzy guitars, the band looked like a heavy metal band, but were as tame as any pop group. It was a dichotomy that served them well, as they racked up a number of hits in both the U.K. and the U.S. Most of those songs were written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, a pair of British songwriters who had a way with silly, simple, and catchy hooks…

The Watersons

The Watersons were one of England’s premier singing families. Their early albums played an influential role in the revival of British folk music in the 1960s. British folklorist A.L. Lloyd recalled the group’s “hand-crafted harmonies, an immediately recognizable and uniquely distinctive group sound which is uninhibited, spontaneous seeming, and rich in texture” …

↓