For those who are convinced they were born in the wrong decade, are for whatever reason drawn to their dad’s college playlists, or simply enjoy traipsing around campus wearing a distressed Led Zeppelin T-shirt from Urban Outfitters, this article is for you. And, for those who consider dad rock an aesthetic better left to dads, or believe soul music doesn’t apply to them, I am optimistic the following will alter those (utterly untrue) notions.
The deaths of music greats can bring about a serious sense of grief for someone you probably only know about as much as Rolling Stone will divulge. With the recent passing of Ginger Baker, the legendary drummer who famously transcended both musical genres and rules of civility, it seems that the loss of musicians so influential in the 1960s and ‘70s have become the norm. However, we can take some comfort in the fact that many modern musicians possess similar abilities and potential for impact. This is the music that I’ll be writing about today. In other words, here are some coping strategies for music mourners.
The abrupt loss of David Bowie, one of the most influential figures in both music and pop-culture, left millions shaken in 2016. His controversial confidence and provocative live performances gained him global acclaim. Some contemporary artists who mirror the same gusto are Sundara Karma and Arcade Fire. Lead singer and frontman for Sundara Karma, Oscar Pollock, sounds eerily similar to the late Bowie in certain shades of a song, but the band’s high-energy, indie vibe leaves ample room for musical undertakings all their own. Their latest album “Youth Is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect” is chock-full of airy vocals nested in phrasing that echoes Bowie’s tendencies for complexity. Arcade Fire’s musical style is similar, albeit a bit less ethereal. Signed with Durham’s own Merge Records, Arcade Fire shot to fame after their third album “The Suburbs” earned them the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2011.
The bookend to Bowie’s January death was the loss of Leonard Cohen in November of the same year. The singer, songwriter, poet and novelist, while perhaps not as prolific as the hype suggested, was an enigma, writing songs that didn’t allow stingy lyrics the luxury of being masked by a catchy tune. His music was simple and honest, as demonstrated in his plainly heart-wrenching song, “Hallelujah.” Nick Cave employs a similar vocal and thematic style. The dark, brooding baritones often delve into themes of death, love, religion and violence. Cave and his long-time backing band, the Bad Seeds, have experimented with a wide variety of musical styles on their 17 studio albums, but their music consistently contains traces of Cohen’s signature laments. Suzanne Vega, ironically sharing her name with Cohen’s song “Suzanne,” is also influenced by the late singer, as heard in her melancholic song “Tom’s Diner” and especially in her latest album “Lover Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers.”
The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, died in 2018. She found critical acclaim and commercial success after her cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” debuted in 1967, and continued to stun people around the world with her booming voice, poise, and swagger. Although they too have passed, Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones are well worth a mention. Winehouse died far before her time, joining the “27 Club” in 2011, and Sharon Jones died just three years ago in 2016. Both artists boasted voices that brimmed with enough experience and emotion to make you believe in reincarnation. Winehouse’s album “Frank” is a gorgeous reflection of her jazz roots as she begins her transition to pop stardom, and Jones and her Dap Kings are widely revered as the kick-starters to the late-2000s revival of soul and funk. Today, artists like Leon Bridges are shining reassurances that soul music is far from dead. Bridges’ effortless vocal style, reminiscent of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, soothes the soul of even the most calloused of listeners. His breakout song “Coming Home” transports listeners back to the 1960s, and its accompanying album was nominated for the Grammy for Best R&B Album in 2016.
Tom Petty died in late 2017, but the sting of his passing continues to resonate. From the Heartbreakers to the Traveling Wilburys, Petty’s musical and lyrical mastery made him one of the best-selling artists of all time, and his rightful place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is undisputed. The War on Drugs utilize lyrical phrasing and slurs that echo Petty’s signature, no-frills vocal style. When their indie-vibed, synth-dubbed tracks, like “Red Eyes” and “Holding On,” are stripped down, Petty’s influence shines clear and proud. Cage the Elephant flaunts a fascinating, polyamorous marriage of classic rock, punk, alternative, funk and blues. Receiving the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 2016, “Tell Me I’m Pretty” is a gloriously diverse experiment of tempo, genre and lyrical themes. Petty-esque sounds are found more unconventionally with Cage the Elephant, as the group’s musical styles strut from one genre to another, but both artists possess a natural and undeniable quality of cool.
A song that hits home can impact your life forever, let alone an entire discography of an artist with whom you can relate. The loss of those who wrote the soundtrack for the lives of so many can be disheartening. But there is hope for the future of music even yet. The show goes on. Your soundtrack isn’t finished. What will the next song be?