Indie people: Yes, we’re just the most with our rarified musical tastes, but admit: now and again we hit a crisis, and we find we can’t stomach any more Casiotone for the Painfully Alone or So So Many White White Tigers--it happens. Cleanse the musical palate with some classic rock and you’ll soon be back in the indie saddle.
This list focuses on mainstream musicians of the 1960s and 70s (and, just a little bit, the 1980s) that most indie kids overlook or sneer at. The albums mentioned, however, are pure chicken soup for the indie soul, and may also give you a newfound commonality with your butt rock older brother. I’m interpreting “classic rock” kind of loosely to mean “stuff that is generally played on oldies and classic rock radio,” and “indie” to include post-rock, twee, grunge, new folk, garage, emo, lo-fi, C86, math rock, noise pop, alt-country, what-have-you. I’m leaving out those 60s and 70s artists that are already (in my opinion) satisfactorily acknowledged as precursors to indie music (Can, The Velvet Underground, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Os Mutantes, Roxy Music/Brian Eno, Black Sabbath, Tim Buckley, The Yardbirds, Nick Drake, David Bowie, The Who, The Stooges, The Kinks, The Doors, oops, The Stones, shit, Bob Dylan, I have to stop now, oh god, can’t forget the MC5, but you get the picture). If you don’t already own their important records, you need to turn in your indie cred card NOW.
Since many of these bands have put out at least a few truly abominable records, I’d recommend sticking to the ones specifically mentioned here. By no means should you bother with, say, any Heart record released after 1983. And for those of you reluctant to support corporate rock: Hush up and start flipping the dollar bins at your local indie shop. (You do own a record player, right? RIGHT?)
One last wee note on irony. Generally speaking this isn’t an ironic list. Depending on how hip you are, you may experience some degree of irony mixed with your sincere listening pleasure; but nothing on this list is anything I’d consider “so bad it’s good.” Well...maybe Foreigner.
Badfinger: Jawdroppingly good pop. They were supposed to have been the next Beatles, but suicides, bad luck and lack of recognition (i.e. lack of royalties for their hits) destroyed them. Isn't that romantic? You should enjoy Straight Up and No Dice.
The Beach Boys are already widely namechecked as indie forefathers, but not enough to my liking. I STILL get worried looks from ignorant indie folk that suggest I am off tuna for loving the Beach Boys. You all better recognize: It’s not about the Kokomo. Their early surfin’ summer fun albums are fine, and fans of Adventures in Stereo will want to check those out; but their later rock/pop albums are BRILLIANT! And relatively ignored, aside from the universally applauded Pet Sounds. Smiley Smile is disjointed, disturbing, po-mo and absolutely essential. Friends is heartbreakingly beautiful pop, with sweetly dippy lyrics; the High Llamas were truly born of it. Wild Honey gets soulful and country-flavored, with a rocking Stevie Wonder cover. 20/20 is kind of a mishmash but features so many outstanding songs. Sunflower is also well worth your time, and Surf’s Up contains the darkest, most haunting song ostensibly about surfing, ever. Stealth Munchkin compares this record with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I would urgently steer you clear of their 80s records, which are poopy.
The Bee Gees’ Best of Bee Gees (yellow-orange cover with faces – get the right one): There is nothing disco about this record, and only the rare moment of falsetto. In fact it sounds like a lost Beatles record, mashed up with some Simon & Garfunkel. Fey, soaring, poignant pop for lovers of Belle and Sebastian and all the rest of that ilk. LOVE IT.
Cream – Ugh, Eric Clapton – despite the Yardbirds and Derek and the Dominoes, I have a longstanding distaste for the fella after growing up on early-80s MTV – I wanted to see Duran Duran, not some elder blues man. I know, not his fault. Anyhoo, Cream is great psychey bluesy rock. Dungen, for example, must love Fresh Cream as much as I do.
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Straight outta the bayous of darkest El Cerrito. I especially like the self-titled first album, Bayou Country, and Green River.
John Denver, oh, I love him so. Sweet, folky, poppy country. There was a dreadful 2000 tribute album of indie rockers (Bonnie Prince Billy, Red House Painters, Tarnation, Low, et al.) doing Denver covers; understand the compliment they tried to pay, but don’t bother with the depressing sludge they made of those lovely songs. The Greatest Hits (volumes one and two) will serve you pretty well to start with.
The Equals: Bubblegum soul/mod/pop fronted by Eddy Grant of “Electric Avenue” fame. Fantastic and infectiously bouncy. Pretty much any of their greatest hits collections will do; look for one that includes “Michael and His Slipper Tree,” “Black-Skinned Blue-Eyed Boys,” “Soul Brother Clifford,” "Police on My Back," "I Get So Excited," and/or “Help Me Simone.”
Fleetwood Mac: I am a big fan of Buckingham Nicks (which is not a Fleetwood Mac album, but oh well) and Rumours. And also Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna and The Wild Heart. Gawd, heartwrenching!
Foreigner: Kings of power ballads and dreadful filler, so do stick to the Greatest Hits. You will make many friends with a convincing karaoke rendition of "Urgent." --OK. This one is a bit shameful, and occasionally makes even me squirm, but I’m pretty into it. The hooks! The hooks!!!!!
Hawkwind: seminal space rock. Also rather garagey. They’d have been krautrock if they weren’t English. So naturally Stereolab owes them their lives, particularly Mars Audiac-era. I haven’t heard Hawkwind’s entire massive catalog, but I know Warrior on the Edge of Time, Doremi Fasol Latido, Space Ritual, and Hall of the Mountain Grill are pretty damn fine. OMG – “Kings of Speed”!! If you find these on vinyl, you'd be a fool not to flip them on eBay. One other thing – people may mock you for enthusing over Hawkwind, so be warned.
Heart: Dreamboat Annie, Little Queen. These two records cover their big early hits (“Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You”), and at least on Little Queen, all the songs in between are equally delicious. Hilarious renaissance-faire costumes on the sleeve, as a little bonus. I’m not familiar with their other records of the 70s, but I do have a working knowledge of the execrable Heart of the 1980s. Stay away from it.
Journey: Mars Volta fans may hate me for this, but I always think of them when I listen to Journey. Probably because of the crazy alien beauty of Steve Perry’s voice. Frequently cheese-tastic stadium rock, but their good songs are incomparable. Exalting, even. Like when you're standing at the edge of a seacliff with the wind ripping your hair and trenchcoat, and you're just wild with that Journey feeling; and also, you're drunk. I recommend Escape, Infinity, Frontiers, and Greatest Hits.
Led Zeppelin – all of their records. I have particular love for Physical Graffiti and the untitled album sometimes known as Led Zeppelin IV, but really they are all so important. And they rock me.
Love – The soundtrack for Bottle Rocket brought the Love back into my life. Damn, they sound contemporary. Lush and psychedelic and gorgeous. Da Capo and Forever Changes…eh, I’m out of adjectives. They’re good, real good.
Steve Miller – Abracadabra sold well, but probably embarrassed a lot of Steve Miller fans. It’s his new-wavey record and truly incredible. At least one song is surely a timewarped Shins cover. For his more good time rock and roll sound, I also highly recommend The Joker and Greatest Hits 1974-1978 (the one with the horse on the cover).
Harry Nilsson was once called a god by Paul McCartney, and reminds me of Elliott Smith. Nuff said? The greatest hits is just a smorgasbord of one masterful pop song after another. “One”, “Me and My Arrow”, and all the rest – oh yeah.
Buck Owens. Did you grow up on Hee Haw too? Man, that was some good stuff. I aspired to dress like Minnie Pearl and have big ta-tas. --In any case, I still have my love for Buck Owens and his amazing music. Start anywhere and keep going until you have all his records. Can’t believe I missed my chance to have him preside over my wedding at his Crystal Palace. Rest in peace, Buck.
Queen: Fans of the Flaming Lips and Destroyer must respect these O.G. heroes of bombastic pop. Often corny, of course. I think Classic Queen is a fine place to start.
Simon and Garfunkel: Clever, emotional, cerebral pop. I love Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; the ultra-precious titles will be stylistically familiar to any indie rocker. Bookends and the soundtrack to The Graduate are also highly recommended.
Small Faces: Ur-mods with a more oldies sound than the Who. A bit soul and a bit psychedelia and a lot good pop. Look for “Tin Soldier,” “I Feel Much Better,” and “Itchycoo Park.”
Bruce Springsteen – not the Bruce who pulled that Friends girl on stage for “Dancing in the Dark.” Need I say – it’s the early stuff, man. It’s Nebraska, which is dark and brooding. And also Born to Run, which rocks.
Thin Lizzy: If you’d told the 14-year-old darkwave me that I’d be listening to Thin Lizzy in my 30s, I’d’ve been exceedingly depressed. I mean, more depressed than normal. But fuck the 14-year-old me, burning off her fingernails and thinking Bauhaus wrote “Telegram Sam.” Cuz Thin Lizzy is goooooooood. Jailbreak is a must-hear for fans of the Fucking Champs, who borrowed rather freely from the riffs. An addictive and awesome record. The Black Rose is also quite fine. I warn you, do not have any dealings with 1980s Thin Lizzy.
Don Williams made some really beautiful country records in the 1970s, highlighted by his incredibly deep, soulful, authentic voice; he’s like the Barry White of country, if you will. The best of his songs were written by that humble genius, Bob McDill. Look for “Amanda,” “Rake and Ramblin’ Man,” “Come Early Morning,” “She’s in Love with a Rodeo Man,” “Til the Rivers All Run Dry,” “I Recall a Gypsy Woman,” and “Louisiana Saturday Night,” which contains such lyrical awesomeness as “My brother Bill and my other brother Jack / Belly fulla beer and a possum in a sack/ Sixteen kids in the front po’ch light / Loosiana Sattiday Night!” YESS! But it’s not all hillbilly shit. Most of it is like real heartfelt poetic Damien Jurado kinda stuff: free of the corniness or novelty factor of the country love song stereotype. His later records are too sappy and over-produced for my taste, however.
ZZ Top: I shake my head at myself, but dang, dog, this shit is good! I am of course talking about their earlier stuff. --Oh, who the fuck am I kidding? I love their 80s records too. And I’ve seen y’alls indie kids dancing your asses off to “Sharp Dressed Man” at PopScene, so quit your sneering. (I can’t and won’t comment on the 90s stuff.)
Woulda said something about Yes and maybe REO Speedwagon, but then I didn't. Also had issues over whether to include AC/DC, Cheap Trick, and at least two other noteworthy bands, but I guess I’m going to assume every indie person worth her salt is already down with that shit.
Thanks to Tlachtga for Big Star and Dylan (Duh+Duh=Duh).
Thanks to Nasreddin for Van Morrison, The Modern Lovers, Dylan again, Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg, Deep Purple, King Crimson, and Jefferson Airplane. Busted! I need to do my Airplane homework.
Thanks to Transitional Man for King Crimson again, Genesis with Peter Gabriel, Gentle Giant, It’s a Beautiful Day, Shawn Phillips, The Allman Bros., Lucifer’s Friend, and the Blue Oyster Cult. Also mentioned Queen’s first album and Sheer Heart Attack. Solid! Off to the dollar bins with me.
Have also thought to mention Uriah Heep, Kansas, Sweet, Def Leppard…this isn’t classic rock anymore….is it?
--I’ll try to incorporate the worthies as I can. NOBODY mentioned that I left off the Stones. Hmm.
It's been asked (actually, I asked myself this), "Girl, do you have ANY standards? Is there any classic rock you don't think is AMAAAAZING?" Yes, son. I find Bob Seger 100% unlistenable. "The Stroke" may rock, but the rest of Billy Squier's oeuvre is skin-crawly-yucky. Contrary to indie popular belief, a great deal of terrible music came out in the 1980s. And so on. Does this help?