posted: May. 8, 2014 @ 5:56a
*Includes the stars' own quotes about their lives and careers.
*Includes suggested playlists and analyses of their music.
*Includes bibliographies for further reading.
*Includes a table of contents.
It is rare in the world of music for a general consensus to form over who was the best at anything. Many would call The Beatles the greatest rock band, but it’s easy to find strongly opinionated dissenters. However, when it came to playing a guitar and laying the soundtrack for the psychedelic era, just about everyone agrees there was Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) and then there was everyone else. Anyone arguing otherwise either never heard his music or saw him perform.
In fact, Jimi Hendrix is one of the few musicians known primarily for his sound and what he could do with a guitar than for his discography. A part of that is due to his untimely death and entry into the 27 Club, but it is also due to the fact that he was so revolutionary with the use of an electric guitar and so skilled at playing it that the effects have largely not been duplicated since. It was heavy, loud, and completely raw, and yet he was a pioneer in genres as varied as blues and heavy metal. As Pete Townshend famously put it, “With Jimi, I didn't have any envy. I never had any sense that I could ever come close.”
The life and career of Janis Joplin marks such a stark departure from the blues, rock and soul traditions as American society has come to know them that her brief and tempestuous career defies artistic analysis, if only because there is so little precedent aside from the great African-American blues and jazz singers that influenced her. For a woman born in 1943 and coming into her professional prime in the 1960s, Joplin stood as a mesmerizing and baffling foil to the female tradition in non-classical music, which had previously been symbolized by pure, mellow voices singing thoughtful texts. The American music scene was entirely unprepared to witness the emergence of a white woman who could sing the blues with such authenticity, force, and depth of feeling.
Of course, for all the mention of Joplin’s career, there is nearly as much focus on her untimely death at the age of 27, particularly because she died just a few weeks after Jimi Hendrix’s death at the age of 27 and was followed in death by Jim Morrison at the age of 27 less than a year later. Those three all died as a result of alcohol and drug abuse, and they formed the starting point for the legendary “27 Club”, which memorializes rock stars who died at the age of 27. Morrison, the charismatic poet/musician of The Doors, helped to transform the subgenre of rock n’ roll as a stylistic flavor into the full-fledged institution of Rock Music, and he accomplished all of this by being extreme, in every sense of the word. His poetry was assaultive, blatant and graphic, a sign of the times, and his voice was mystical and haunting, lacking any sense of what was previously or typically considered vocal beauty. Whether intentional or not, Morrison also led the charge of excessive defiance toward anything hierarchical or rule-laden, and the acting out of his subconscious urges on public stages around the world amazed and shocked everyone who saw or heard about it.
Kurt Cobain later noted that he tried to model his most famous song after one The Pixies might have done, but “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and its accompanying music video ushered in rock’s “grunge” movement at the start of the 1990s, and the song, ironically named after a deodorant, captured the culture in its entirety. A reaction to the likes of the previous decade’s yuppies and acts like M.C. Hammer, grunge became a sound and culture for angst-ridden teens and the disaffected youth who were proud to be plain. Whether Cobain intended for it or not, grunge became the most popular music of the decade, and the look and sound both became trendy fads, even as he personally struggled with the lifestyle.