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The Rockologist’s End Of Year, End Of Decade Wrapup Part 2: Who Were The Decade’s Most Influential Artists?

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So who exactly were the most influential musical artists of the past decade? Springsteen? Radiohead? Clay Aiken?

Well okay, two out of three ain't bad, right? But as we draw ever closer to the dawning of 2010, perhaps the more important question is why should we care? Fear not my friends, because your Rockologist has answers.

For sure, there are certain things which remain both constant and consistent when one decade bleeds into another. The doomsday nuts come out like clockwork, for one thing. In 1999, it was Y2K. This time around its the Mayan prophecies about 2012.

The other constant is the ongoing debate about whether decades begin and end with the double zeroes, or with the numerical designation of '01. For our purposes here, we're going to go with the 00's. Since both Rolling Stone and NME have already set the precedent, Blogcritics would be hard-pressed to go against the established grain by coming out with our own belated lists next year, right?

But back to the central question at hand: why should we care?

At a time when most of us in America are just waking up from the long national nightmare of the Bush years, only to find ourselves staring down at the cold, waking reality of more of the same under a President Obama who bares little resemblance to the candidate who so captivated us in '08, perhaps we shouldn't care.

But if nothing else, music represents escape from that hard, cold reality.

And for those of us who spend long, lonely nights huddled over our computers worrying and writing about it when we really should be out there trying to find real jobs (or at least trying to get laid), music represents something more.

A lot more actually. We care about where it has been because those memories represent unique snapshots in the fabric of our own lives. We care about where it is going because, in a lot of ways, it represents our hopes and dreams for an uncertain future.

Beyonce and Jay Z aren't likely to change that future anytime soon, but the fact remains — The Beatles and Dylan once did.

But enough of that sort of heaviness.

My own picks for my favorite albums (note that I said favorite, not best) of the past ten years will be coming in the third and final installment of this recap of the past decade and the past year. Those will come down to my own opinion, and nothing else.

Here on the other hand is where we go all rock critic on your ass, and bring you the people who, in our own humble estimation, were the ones who most influenced music this past decade. What I also thought might make this fun would be to imagine what these folks might do if they ever — like most of the rest of us — found themselves out of an actual real job.

These are in no particular order:

Radiohead:

I take back that part about no particular order with this one. Radiohead were in fact the most influential artists of the decade. 2007's In Rainbows alone qualifies them for this distinction, with its initial pay-what-you-like internet mode of distributing.

Nevermind that the album was a stunning piece of work. Because it was.

What makes it most significant is the way it opened up so many new possibilities for artists to distribute their work outside of the traditional music industry pipeline, and the way it turned that same industry on its ear. Artists from Trent Reznor to Billy Corgan have since followed their lead. From Kid A forward, Radiohead also made a lot of truly amazing, challenging music this decade while never once sacrificing their artistic integrity.

DAYJOB: Much as I would like to think of Thom Yorke and his merry band of music-makers as the best IT department a corporation could ever have, Radiohead would never play by those kind of corporate rules. I also always thought Thom Yorke would make a great real-life Alfred E. Neuman for MAD Magazine. Speaking of the mad scientists that they are though, Radiohead would be an incredible asset to someone like NASA in getting us back to the moon and even beyond someday.

Jay Z And Beyonce:

For better of for worse, these two are the power couple of the decade without question. But with a difference. Jay Z is not the best rapper in the world (my vote there would go to Eminem), but he has delivered consistently satisfying albums for the past ten years while walking a balance between sophisticated class and blunted street cred that is unmatched in all of hip-hop. The fact that he did so without constantly having to remind us of his genius (hello, Kanye), and landed Beyonce's ample ass for himself (my boy Sir Mix-A-Lot would be proud) only seals the deal. As for Beyonce herself, not only can the girl sing her perfect ass off — she also exudes class.

DAYJOB: Jay Z is a natural for some high-powered corporate executive position on Madison Avenue — the man's taste is impeccable, especially in women. But for the same reasons, he'd also make one hell of a waiter in a swank-ass restaurant. Something about those suits. As for Beyonce, she is definitely the bikini barista of my dreams. So excuse me my nerdish fantasies…

Simon Cowell:

…represents everything that is wrong with music. But damn it all, him and his American Idol bullshit has everything and then some to do with the sorry state we are in. Note to Simon: I'll swap you two Clay Aikens for your one Paula Abdul.

DAYJOB: Carnival Barker. Abusive Psychiatrist. Fascist dictator of a small island nation. Anything but the ego-maniacal freak who has influenced the course of music the way that he inexplicably has.

Eminem:

Eminem, more than any person I can think of, defines the great class divide in America that has defined the Bush years. The fact that he is also the best rapper in the world speaks volumes when it comes to the times we are hopefully now emerging out from. Not only did Em's brutally honest and lyrically accurate raps speak more effectively to the class divide in America under Bush than anybody else — profanity aside, he also did so with the soul of a poet. The single most important artist to bridge the gap between the ghetto and the trailer park since the Beastie Boys. Only this time around, it was no joke.

DAYJOB: Short of stealing my hub-caps, Em would make a great serial killer. But seriously, I like the image of Em as my bartender at the corner beer joint far more. This is a guy I feel like I could cry to in my beer, or otherwise talk to when it most mattered.

Jack White:

If there is anyone who qualifies as the breakout talent of the decade, it is this man. Hands down. Great guitarist, great instincts, you know the rest.

A decent argument can still be made that the Strokes brought garage level rock back to a mass audience (in terms of popularity) before Jack did with the White Stripes. But like no else who has emerged this decade, Jack combines the soul of a bluesman with the technique of an artist and the street smarts of the best rock and roll. He has also continually evolved with bands like the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. Of all the talents to emerge the past ten years, Jack is the guy I most expect to be around when all is said and done.

DAYJOB: If I'm a guitarist, this is hands-down, my dream tech at the shop.

Bruce Springsteen

Am I an unabashed Bruce Fan? Absolutely, one-hundred percent yes.

But you already knew that.

But for those of us who have also followed Springsteen from the beginning — and let's be honest here — we also know that he spent the better part of the nineties putting his art aside, raising a family, and generally trying to rediscover his voice. Once he found that voice again, however, the man was a house of fire. Not only did he reunite with the E Street Band, he also made his music a force to be reckoned with anew — both politically and musically. From The Rising to 2004's Vote For Change tour, to standing side by side with Obama this year at the inauguration (for better or for worse), Springsteen stood mostly alone as the lone remaining voice of rock's social consciousness. Well, except for that Bono guy, anyway…

DAYJOB: If my own car ever breaks down on the highway, Bruce is hands down my mechanic. He is also the guy I'd most want to share a cold one with at the bar across the street from the shop.

U2:

Quite possibly the only band continuing to carry the torch of rock's original era of activism and altruism that still matters. When U2 rediscovered the power of just being a great rock band, and putting their pretensions of arty-alternative bullshit aside this decade with All That You Can't Leave Behind , they positively ruled. Bono has also impacted the social fabric like no musician has since John Lennon. And unlike Lennon, he has done so by working within the political system.

But there are some disturbing cracks there as well.

U2's current tour represents not only a return to the rock star excess of the PopMart era, but also a disconnect from the fans who got them there in the first place. Word to Bono: It's not a "Beautiful Day" right now for those of us in post-Bush working class America. And as much I'd love to see the new tour, like so many of U2's other fans, I've been priced out of the market.

DAYJOB; I love ya' Bono. But I have only one messiah, and brother, you aint' it.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    hmmm…jay z? eminem?

    i’d have to agree on the influential part, but i’m not much of a fan. jay z has done a couple of things i’ve liked. i can’t stand eminem, with that pinched little voice. sounds like dr. seuss doing rap.

    me, give me MF Doom any day, at least for this decade.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    by the way, isn’t this where bicho comes around to remind us that a puppy dies every time somebody writes an end of the decade missive when it’s not really the end of the decade?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I think I’ve already covered the Bicho factor here Mark.

    -Glen

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Since the White Stripes had three albums out before the Strokes “This Is It”, what exactly is the argument to be made about the Strokes doing it “long before Jack ever did”?

    What’s the animosity towards Cowell? There was pop music before him and there will be pop music after him. He’s allowing the people to have a say and he’s providing opportunities for some people who might never be discovered.

    I am at a loss to see how Bruce influenced the decade.

    “Quite possibly the only band from rock’s original era of activism and altruism that still matters.”

    WTFrench? Exactly how big is this era?

    I made no comment about the end of the decade or the four-album trilogy on the previous article. But if you like I could point out decades don’t begin and end with double zeroes. those are centuries.

  • zingzing

    i would say that when u2 put “their pretensions of arty-alternative bullshit aside” is the day they stopped mattering. the drop off in songwriting since the mid-90s is astounding. bono became too self-important, the edge stopped making his guitar sound like anything but a guitar, the rhythm section stopped being a melodic, experimental force… “pop” was something of a disappointment, but at least it tried half the time.

    since then, i think they lost their swagger, and maybe their confidence. either way, i think they are content by putting out slushy, mildly different albums that are safe and bland. they barely even sound like u2 anymore… used to be that they’d change their sound immensely, but there was a common thread. now, they’re just about unidentifiable because they sound like everything else.

    they used to be my favorite band… when i was 13. hugely disappointed, but that’s the way it goes after 30 years. ask anyone except mark e. smith.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    The White Stripes/Strokes error has been corrected. Other than that, I stand by everything else said here.

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    The Dylan Trilogy was “Time Out of Mind,” “Love & Theft” and “Modern Times.” The album “Together Through Life” represents a musical shift from those three albums, and a clear break from them — thus effectively ending the “trilogy.” I apologize if I wasn’t clearer on that point.

    The “era” I refer to is, as clearly stated, the time when activism and altruism were a common thing in rock music. Bands still make socially consciousness records and they still sing about important issues — it’s just not as common as it once was. U2, at least in my mind, are the last superstar level band that still does this. Again, my apologies if I wasn’t clearer on that.

    Of course if I were clearer, there’d be nothing left for Bicho to pick apart here. And I do love to keep my readers happy…

    -Glen

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Sorry, man, but clarity has nothing to do with my disagreement with some of your statements.

    A trilogy ends with the third part by its definition. Another film didn’t need to come along after “Return of the Jedi” to conclude the first Star Wars trilogy.

    That original era in music you speak of was the late ’60s. U2 followed in the footsteps. They weren’t a part of it.

    And I am still not clear on Bruce’s influence on the decade. Many artists took part in Vote for Change and other than raising money it failed in its purpose. Bush won and none of the swing states they played went for Kerry. Even more musicians stood by Obama’s side. So who has been influenced by the two albums a majority of his fans enjoyed?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    The trilogy is the original three records I mentioned and wont repeat again. The record that came after them signaled the end of that cycle. U2 are the last to carry on the era of rock’s social consciousness, which yes, did begin in the sixties.

    Bruce’s influence is probably a matter of opinion, which is all I am sharing here. But you might want to look at Arcade Fire and The Killers for starters…

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Oh and one more thing, Bruce didn’t release two new albums this decade. He released five of them.

  • zingzing

    it’s kind of hard to decide a decade’s most influential artists before the decade has even ended… especially if only considering bands that recorded during this decade. i would say that new order certainly had an immense influence on this decade’s indie rock. and daft punk is far and away the most important dance band of the decade. but music is so far flung these days that to really try and pin down influences is pretty difficult.

    springsteen’s most important influence was on the hold steady, and while he certainly did have a lot of influence over certain bands, it certainly wasn’t coming from the stuff he did this decade. unless brendan o’brien is anything but a useless hack.

    but to suggest u2 was influencing anything new with their output over the past decade is a bit of a stretch. and eminem
    is an entertaining rapper, he’s put out nothing but shit for the last 6 or 7 years, and his stuff was pretty run of the mill in a lot of ways before that. he’s more of a celebrity than anything else at this point.

    radiohead, on the other hand, were huge. jay z, beyonce, jack white, sure… lots of rappers/singers/bands ape these people. not exactly sure why all of the time, but whatever.

    if we really wanted to be honest, then coldplay and nickleback would be in here.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I think U2’s influence continues to be more cultural than anything else Zing. They’ve made some very decent records this decade, but not a one of them has blown me away the same way that Achtung Baby did the first time I heard it. I think U2 is found a nice little groove, and are basically coasting with it. You’re right that they do these days isn’t necessarily anything particularly groundbreaking or new…but I can still admire a band who at this particular stage of their careers still make good records. Not many who’ve been around as long as U2 can say the same.

    Springsteen’s influenece I still feel is primarily musical. Bands like Arcade Fire, the Killers, and as you mentioned The Hold Steady are proof of that. I also admire the fact that even though he really has nothing left to prove, Springsteen’s live shows are still virtually unmatched. As for his recorded output this decade? Five albums…three with the E Street Band (two of which were pretty great), one doing the quieter, small band sort of thing, and another that was a freaking folkabilly hoedown.

    Not bad for an old fart, I’d say.

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    By the way, if you liked this one, you’re gonna love the one I did on my favorite albums of the decade…LOL…

    And yes, I’m being absolutely facetious.

    -Glen

  • http://dancetothemusicoftime.wordpress.com/ palais1977

    Bruce’s We Shall Overcome should get a special mention. Bruce actually had a really good decade. Much better than the nineties.
    Jack White is my new hero and I will listen to him do almost anything.

  • End Of First Decade Of 21st Century

    1.The 100th year of the 20th Century and last year of the 2nd Millennium was definitely and indisputably 2000.

    2.The 1st year of the first decade of the 21st Century and of the 3rd Millennium was definitely and indisputably 2001 – obviously. The clue is in the number ‘1’.

    3.The 10th and last year of the first decade of the 21st century will be 2010 – obviously. The clue is in the number ’10’.

    4.The last day of the first decade of the 21st century and 3rd millennium will definitely and indisputably be December 31st 2010.

    There is a concerted effort by the BBC and other major media players to deny these facts for cynical commercial and branding and packaging purposes.

    Clear thinkers will, of course, ignore them and respect and express true and honest chronological facts and conventions.

    Rage Against The Machine!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Glad someone was able to clear that up, I might have lost a lot of sleep otherwise. Now, if someone can let the rest of the publishing world who are busy publishing their various end of year and end of decade lists, maybe we can all get on the same page.

    Fight the Power!

    -Glen

  • Nick

    There are al types of artists out there, some manage to change the world, others change as the world demands it!

  • Andrew

    It has always been said that rock is the music of intelligent people, but to be honest, this is not always true.Being given the situation, quite a lot of people don’t listen to rock music, yet still they have way above an average IQ. Persoanlly I like all generes of music as long as they sound good … quite superficial I know but that’s my opinion