25. Buddy Holly
Though his career didn’t last for long, Buddy Holly left an indelible mark on rock music. For starters, he took something rather nerdy–a pair of black-rimmed glasses–and turned them into a legendary rock and roll accessory. You won’t hear any arguments from Donnie Iris, Elvis Costello, or Rivers Cuomo.
He also was one of the first artists to get experimental in the studio, introducing overdubbing into his recordings (a technique that uses various vocal takes, simultaneously, to add emphasis to certain parts of a song–which is now a staple in popular music). Holly’s biggest accomplishment though, may be inspiring a group of kids who started a band called The Beatles.
24. Michael Jackson
Your children should know that Michael Jackson was scoring hits when he was–well–just a kid. Now we wouldn’t recommend your kids sharing a bed with the “King of Pop,” but knowing his catalog is a must for any well-rounded musical education. After stepping out from the shadow of the Jackson 5, MJ ruled the 1980’s with a sequins-covered fist–setting sales and chart records that will never be broken, taking the art of music videos to a whole new level, performing jaw-dropping dance moves that to this day are still being imitated, and establishing precedent after precedent in pop music. Yes he’s become the butt of many jokes, but talk to any serious music person, and they will still give Jackson his just due in music history.
23. The Rolling Stones
The Energizer Bunnies of rock music–they keep going, and going, and going. The Rolling Stones are highly regarded as one of the greatest bands–ever. Because they’re still touring, they are one of the few “greatest bands ever” your child can still see live. The Rolling Stones are a good study for your youngsters, because by tracing their roots, your children will discover that the Stones had a serious jones for American Blues’ musicians like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley. They then took those inspirations and built their own rock legacy upon it, the same way bands influenced by the Rolling Stones have done. Your child will also be happy to discover that the Stones’ Keith Richards is the inspiration for one of their favorite movie characters–Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of The Caribbean.
22. Bruce Springsteen
It seems inconceivable that an artist who once released an album (Nebraska) recorded on a simple 4-track tape deck–in the midst of his career mind you–would still be able to sell out arenas and stadiums with relative ease. It also seems inconceivable that the artist in question, Bruce Springsteen, followed up that lo-fi effort with one of the biggest rock offerings of all time, Born In The U.S.A.–one of the best selling albums ever that spawned seven top-10 hits. Besides getting name-dropped in folk, pop, mainstream rock, and indie circles, it also feels appropriate to mention “The Boss'” name in conjunction with baseball and apple pie.
21. Dr. Dre
As a member of N.W.A., Dr. Dre helped put gangsta and West Coast rap on the map, but after he cut ties with the group in the early 90’s, Dre became one of the most influential figures in all of hip-hop. While delivering his signature, authoritative rhymes on his solo debut, The Chronic, Dre also showed his talents as a producer, lacing together one of the most original sounding hip-hop albums of all time, ushering in the G-funk era. Before The Chronic, most hip-hop fans weren’t interested in who produced what tracks for their favorite artists, but years later, Timbaland, Just Blaze, The Neptunes, and Scott Storch became household names. Besides being a hall-of-fame MC and producer, Dre also had an incredible eye for talent, making big stars out of Calvin Broadus and Marshall Mathers. You may know them as Snoop Dogg and Eminem.
NOTE: Most of Dre’s material is not child-appropriate. You may want to wait a few years before introducing your children to The Chronic.
20. Elvis Presley
First of all, your kids need to know that Elvis was more than a jumpsuit-wearing, chubby guy with sideburns and a curled lip. He was The King! You don’t get that name if you’re some type of novelty act. Elvis Presley’s mix of rock, rhythm and blues, gospel, and country garnered him more #1 hits than any male artist in the history of music. Also, keep in mind that every shakin’ booty you see on television owes a debt of gratitude to Elvis, the first person to shake his hips (causing mass hysteria in the process) on national TV. And the trend of music stars being so popular they only go by one name? You can thank Elvis for that too.
19. Guns N’ Roses
Many people remember history like this: There was hair metal and then there was Nirvana. Though Nirvana did “save” music in the early 90’s, they weren’t the only ones responsible for burying the brand of rock categorized by poofy hair and spandex pants. That honor could very well go to Guns N’ Roses. At one time, yes, the band members had big hair and wore really tight pants, but Guns N’ Roses’ sound and rock sensibility was much more aggressive than any of their late 80’s/early 90’s counterparts. It also didn’t hurt that their catchy-as-sin songs appealed to everyone from devout metal fans to mainstream rock listeners. On top of it all, G N’ R destroyed the notion of pretty-boy-rock-stars and re-introduced the element of “tough” back into rock music–which, sadly, frontman Axl Rose bought into a little too much.
18. Johnny Cash
Punk rockers, country musicians, folk artists, and lo-fi indie acts all derive inspiration from Johnny Cash’s unique sound (and look). If you really think about it, Cash is arguably the Godfather of Punk, Alt-Country, and even Goth–considering his subject matter was dark and his choice wardrobe color was black. Hell, with a name like Johnny Cash, he could even be considered an early inspiration for hip-hop. Though he was never as “sexy” as fellow Sun Records alum, Elvis Presley, go into any punk rock dive bar today, and patrons will tell you that not only is Johnny Cash The Man In Black, but The King as well.
The most successful female recording artist, according to the Guiness Book of World Records, Madonna began her world chart domination a quarter-century ago–that’s several lifetimes in the realm of pop music. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and multi-Grammy winner masterfully married memorable images and styles to her music, forever revolutionizing the landscape of pop with her theatrical live concert spectaculars and her lavish, sleek music videos. Familiarizing your progeny with the Queen of Pop is really a matter of cultural literacy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun: Madonna’s penchant for infectious dance beats and her keen ear for catchy hooks guarantee your kid will enjoy the journey through this phenom’s oeuvre. Besides, what teen hasn’t wanted to say, at one point or another, “Papa, don’t preach!”?
Though it may take your kids a while to grasp the complexity of Radiohead’s later material, there’s no question that Radiohead are one of the most respected, experimental, and innovative artists of the last 20 years. The earlier your child learns about Radiohead, the sooner they’ll be able to get into musical arguments about them. For the most part, there are two types of Radiohead fans: 1.) Those who believe Radiohead’s best two works of art were the more rock-influenced, The Bends and OK Computer, and 2.) Those that believe everything released after OK Computer marked Radiohead’s creative zenith. During these spirited debates, your child will soon be introduced to bands that came before (Pink Floyd) and after (Coldplay, My Morning Jacket, Muse) the almighty Radiohead.
15. Black Sabbath
To many youngsters–and like a handful of artists on this list–Ozzy Osbourne is known more for being a reality television star than a groundbreaking music artist. Some kids may also recognize “The Prince of Darkness” from his cameo on the Muppets’ Kermit Unpigged album, where Ozzy sings a duet with Miss Piggy. Before he became a cute and cuddly mainstream attraction, Ozzy was biting the heads off of live bats and fronting the seminal (which, by the way, means “highly original and influential”) heavy metal band, Black Sabbath. With tuned-down guitars and horror-inspired lyrics, Black Sabbath could not only be considered the Godfathers of Heavy Metal, but the Godfathers of Grunge as well, since many of the bands forming in the Pacific-Northwest were inspired by Sabbath’s dark, sludgy, and powerful sound.
Your kids may know Joseph Simmons as the lovable father on MTV’s reality (but not really) show, Run’s House, but before he was trading verbal quips with his children on television, Run was one-third of the legendary hip-hop group, Run-DMC. Run and DMC (Darryl McDaniels) supplied the powerful boasts, while Jam Master Jay acted as the group’s band, manning the turntables. If you want to give your kids a quick Run-DMC history lesson, here’s all you need to tell them, “Run-DMC was the group who took hip-hop from the streets and brought it to the masses.” Listening to a lot of old-school hip now, Run-DMC still stand out from the rest of the pack–their rhyme-delivery was rougher and tougher, their beats more back-breaking, and their sound was unlike anything that came before or after them.
A children’s trash metal education should always start with Metallica. Quite simply, in their prime, no one did it better or were more accessible than the Bay-area thrash pioneers. Beneath their dark subject matter and ferocious sound always rested a pop sensibility. This came to fruition on their fifth studio release, The Black Album. Though many faithful Metallica fans felt alienated by the album’s mainstream appeal, it did bring the band a whole new level of success, making them a household name and putting their songs in heavy rotation at sporting events ever since. After introducing your child to Metallica, don’t be surprised if they get detention for drawing Metallica logos all over their desk at school.
Proving once again that all good things start with punk. After U2 got better on their instruments they became one of the world’s biggest rock bands in the 80’s, and then accomplished the feat twice more, by catching fire at the beginning of the 90’s with Achtung Baby, and then again in 2000, with a comeback album of sorts, All That You Can’t Leave Behind. U2, maybe more so than any other band in history, used their high profile to make the world a better place. Bono is probably the only person in music who is on most world leaders’ speed dials. On a music note, Edge’s textured guitar sound has been duplicated by 20-year’s worth of musicians. When your child hears that familiar guitar, they should know where it came from (though some My Bloody Valentine fans may beg to differ).
When turning your children onto hip-hop music, it’s important to let them know about the greatest MC of all-time, KRS-One (an acronym for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone). Bronx born, KRS-One, one-half of the group, Boogie Down Productions, made his mark on the hip-hop world after wining a now legendary feud against MC Shan, who claimed hip-hop started out in Queensbridge. KRS-One brought a socially conscious, politically fueled, street sensibility to hip-hop, earning him the titles: “The Teacha,” “The Blastmaster,” and “The Philosopher.” KRS-One is responsible for starting the “Stop The Violence” movement in hip-hop, as well as establishing The Temple of Hip-Hop, reminding the masses that: Rap is something you do, Hip-Hop is something you live!
10. The Ramones
Introducing your offspring to The Ramones will not only give them an important education on early punk rock music, but they will also be given the tools to call out all their classmates who wear Ramones t-shirts, yet know nothing about the band. The history of The Ramones is simple: They were one of the very first “punk” bands, innovators of the 2-minute power-pop gem, their signature look of blue jeans, sneakers, and leather jackets has been replicated a gazillion times, and they never reaped the benefits enjoyed by the many bands that borrowed from their sound.
9. Public Enemy
Long before Flavor Flav become a sit-com and reality-TV star he was the energetic hypeman in Public Enemy, arguably, the most important hip-hop group of all-time. In the late-80’s/early 90’s Public Enemy brought their edgy, yet mainstream friendly protest music to the masses. While most hip-hop groups were rhyming about sneakers, gold chains, and fly honeys, Public Enemy were dealing with subject matter a little more serious: racism in America, corporate greed, and inner-city poverty. Chuck D’s authoritative rhyme delivery, added with the Bomb Squad’s brilliant music production, one of the most identifiable logos in music, and a live show that featured military soldiers (S1W) flanked on each side of the stage, gave Public Enemy a look, sound, and intensity that would never again be matched in the world of hip-hop.
8. Green Day
Why so high on the list? Well, when introducing your children to bands, I’m sure they’d like to be turned onto some acts that are currently touring and making albums. As proved by their last release, American Idiot, Green Day are still at the top of their game and are as relevant now as they were back when they were crafting pop-punk nuggets in the mid-90’s. Factor in, all three members are cute as pie, have kid-like names (Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool, Mike Dirnt), and deliver a spit-shine, near-perfect brand of punk that translates in both small cubs and huge football stadiums.
7. Bob Dylan
If you ever take your kids to New York City and stroll through the Lower East Side, you can simply point to all the unkempt hipsters wearing scarves, tight pants, and pointy shoes, and say, “See that kids, they’re just trying to be Bob Dylan.” If you want your kids to be chillin’ like Bob Dylan, here are two things they need to know, 1.) In his prime Bob Dylan may have been the coolest human being to ever walk the planet. 2.) In the turbulent decade of the 60’s, Dylan was the voice of counterculture, using his folk tunes to rally support for the civil rights and anti-war movements. You may recall the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream Speech”–guess who was on hand to play a couple songs?
6. The Clash
If an act is nicknamed, “The Only Band That Matters,” it’s a pretty good indicator that your kid should know about them. The Clash were a perfect punk rock storm–looking good, sounding great, practicing what they preached, and never afraid to add a little reggae and hip-hop into their punk rock sound. If your kid finds out about The Clash early enough in their childhood, they’ll be able to use this rebuttal when smart asses in the lunch line start bragging about their favorite Warp Tour acts: “Yeah? Well they’re just ripping off The Clash!”
5. Led Zeppelin
It would be fair, accurate, and almost unarguable to a point, to call Led Zeppelin the greatest band that ever lived. Whenever your kids hear a thick, blistering rock and roll track on their iPods, they should know who introduced that sound to the masses. Led Zeppelin brought an unequaled level of ferociousness and talent into rock music. Besides being thrown around with names like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in best-bands-of-all-time conversations, Led Zeppelin has also been credited by some as being the first heavy metal band. While creating some of the most treasured albums in rock history, Led Zeppelin also took the notion of “rock star” to unprecedented heights during their heyday in the 70’s. C’mon, has there ever been a bigger rock star than Jimmy Page? Well, besides Robert Plant?
4. The Beastie Boys
In many ways the Beastie Boys are the Forest Gump of modern music. During the early days of New York City hardcore–they were there. Opening up for Madonna on her first arena tour–they were there. Signing to Def Jam (when its headquarters was a dorm room) as hip-hop ascended into the mainstream–they were there. When alternative music flourished in the early 90’s–they were there. And before one-stop summer festivals became all the rage in the U.S.–they were there–assembling the best bands of the day in an attempt to Free Tibet. Besides being the self-proclaimed Scientists of Sound, the Beastie Boys could also be considered the Kings of D.I.Y., doing most of their musical endeavors (recording, producing, video-making) in-house. It won’t take much effort to get your children excited about the Beastie Boys, especially their music videos, which are right down a youngster’s alley. What kid doesn’t love robots, car chases, and grown men bouncing around in fuzzy costumes?
3. James Brown
Let’s just start with the nicknames: The Amazing Mr. Please Please, The Star Of The Show, The Godfather of Soul, The King of Funk, The Hardest Working Man In Show Business…ladies and gentlemen, JAMES BROWN! Because of James Brown, many current day superstars bring a treadmill on tour with them. He set the bar high for a whole new level of intensity and athleticism in live music. His quick-shouting boasts, mile-a-minute dance routines, non-stop stage show, and revolutionary take on rhythm and blues, leaves his finger prints on practically every current-day genre of music. Without James Brown, their wouldn’t be a lot of things, including hip-hop. Thousands upon thousands of hip-hop tracks have sampled Brown’s catalog (let alone the break of “Funky Drummer”). Might as well add “Godfather of Hip-Hop” to the list too.
Though many bands before them helped lay the groundwork, Nirvana was THE band that saved music in the early 90’s, ushering in a new era of sound, attitude, and creativity. Pop acts quickly fell off the charts, as alternative music boomed, making stars out of bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, and shining a light on Nirvana-influences like Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, and The Melvins. In turn, this movement opened the door for groups like the Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Beck, and Weezer. Kurt Cobain’s master plan was simple–combine Black Sabbath’s sludgy riffs with the pop sensibility of The Beatles, add some punk rock fury, a drummer who likes to pummel the hell out of his kit, and a tall best friend who can play bass and banter on stage. Your sons and daughters need to know about Nirvana, because most of the bands around today were inspired by these three lovable losers (one of which is currently in a band called the Foo Fighters).
1. The Beatles
If your kids should know about one band on this list, it’s The Beatles. Whether they’ll admit it or not, every band listed here, who came about after The Beatles, were somehow inspired by them. The Beatles didn’t create rock and roll, but they pretty much wrote the manual for it. They’ve seen and done it all. Creating bubblegum-pop-music? Check. Cranking out raw rock music? Check. Getting experimental, trippy, and challenging the hell out of their fan base? Check. Getting into creative arguments and eventually breaking up? Check. Looking good while doing it? Check. Check. Check. Check. Even various non-musical things were inspired by The Beatles. Every time someone exits an airplane on the tarmac and waves to an imaginary crowd, they’re imitating The Beatles’ first trip to America. Throwing up a peace sign? Most people–whether they realize it or not–are just trying to be John Lennon. If your kid wants to know about music, the Beatles are the first place to start.