We’ve written several times over the last couple of months about how much we’ve been looking forward to Lee Ranaldo’s solo album Between the Times and the Tides, and how much we’ve been enjoying it now we’ve heard it in full. It’s a welcome step into the spotlight for Ranaldo, a man long-appreciated for his startlingly innovative approach to the guitar, but perhaps less so for his songwriting talents and vocals. The arrival this week of Between the Times and the Tides has gotten us thinking about other musicians who’ve perhaps been overlooked in comparison to more prominent band mates. Click through for a selection of our favorites, and let us know who you think deserves a place in the sun.
We mentioned a while back that we considered Ranaldo’s songwriting to be Sonic Youth’s secret weapon — apart from his immediate talents as a guitarist, he’s a fine lyricist and a pretty decent singer to boot. It’s excellent to see him exercising the full breadth of his talents on Between the Times and the Tides.
It’s a well-documented fact that The Doors had no bass player, but the reason they could get by without one was the remarkable keyboard dexterity of organ player Ray Manzarek, whose left hand provided all the low-end the band would ever need. His right hand, meanwhile, provided the instantly recognizable melodic figures on songs like “Light My Fire” and “Love Her Madly.” For all that, though, your average Joe would struggle to name a member of The Doors beyond Jim Morrison. Ah, the life of a sideman.
Dirty Three’s drummer has one of the most distinctive and innovative styles of anyone working today, relying heavily on the use of brushes and percussive fills, rather than keeping any sort of regular beat. All three Dirty Three members are fine musicians, but it’s the wild-haired flailing violin style and hilarious inter-song anecdotes of Warren Ellis that tend to grab the attention. Listen beyond Ellis’ “melodies,” however, and marvel at how White manages to both bring order to the chaos and to infuse the songs with a color that’s all his own.
Prince’s band, generally
There have been some killer musicians in Prince’s band over the years — Wendy & Lisa, Maceo Parker, Sheila E. But for all their undoubted talents, it’s hard to emerge from the shadow of bona fide genius, even if that shadow isn’t a particularly long one. See also: Frank Zappa’s band.
Despite the fact that she apparently turned up to her first day at the Rhode Island School of Design naked and painted green, Tina Weymouth has tended to be overshadowed by her former band mate and long-time nemesis David Byrne. Her style’s never been flashy, but it was hugely innovative, marrying the driving energy of punk to the loose, melodic sounds of funk and reggae to create something that’s somehow both tightly wound and hugely danceable. Beyond her work in Talking Heads, her basslines with Tom Tom Club and as a member of the Compass Point All-Stars are also well worth investigating.
The least flamboyant Manic Street Preacher, and the one who apparently always had to be coaxed into wearing the stencilled blouses the rest of the rocked with such panache, Sean Moore is nonetheless integral to the Manics’ sound. He and James Dean Bradfield write all the music (with Nicky Wire and the sadly absent Richey Edwards making up the band’s “political wing”), and he’s both an excellent drummer and fine arranger. He plays a pretty mean trumpet, too.
Joe Strummer was the star, Mick Jones was the resident songwriting genius, Paul Simonon was the bass-playing savant with the movie star looks, but it was Topper Headon who really made The Clash what they were at their peak. Headon was a musician of generous if understated talents — he also played bass, piano and guitar — and his arrival coincided with the band blooming from angry punk rockers into genre-bestriding globe-conquerers. “We were lost until we found Topper Headon,” Strummer said, and the drummer’s departure — he was fired in mid-1982 for heroin abuse — signaled the start of The Clash’s decline. “It was over the day we sacked Topper,” Strummer later recalled ruefully. “I don’t, think honest to God, we ever played a good gig after that.”
Ariel Pink’s bass player is a strong contender for the prize of “Our Favorite Person in Music Today,” mainly because he looks like some sort of outlandish psychedelic wizard. But boy, can he ever play the bass.
He doesn’t wear a school uniform or a flat cap, but AC/DC wouldn’t be AC/DC without Malcolm Young. His brother Angus is the band’s figurehead, but it’s Malcolm’s rhythm guitar work — chunked out on his heavily-strung Gretsch Jet Firebird, which he calls “The Beast” — that’s been underpinning the band’s sound for the best part of 40 years.
No, not as a singer — as a drummer! Karen Carpenter’s talents behind the kit have been overshadowed over the years by her vocals and her undoubtedly tragic life story. It’s a shame, because she was a rare female drummer in her era, and a thoroughly accomplished one to boot. (Feel free to skip the hokey intro and fast forward to about 1:30, where Karen emerges.)