The stats alone would be enough to secure this spot for the Bad Boys of Boston - more than 100 million albums sold, worldwide stadium tours, enshrinement in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a raft of awards from Grammys to MTV moon men. But numbers and trophies can't possibly tell the whole glorious, raunchy, tumultuous, debauched, and defiantly rocking story of this quintet that synthesized the sounds of its ancestors - gritty blues, stomping Brit rock, classic pop - into a hard rock sound at once ferocious and irresistible. The band has flirted with implosion time and again, but 40 years, three acts, nine lives, and countless imitators later, fantastical frontman Steven Tyler, guitar ace Joe Perry, and the locomotive trio of guitarist Brad Whitford, bass player Tom Hamilton, and drummer Joey Kramer are still laying down attitude and fire.
The Pixies released only four albums in three years and never cracked the mainstream, but their artful embrace of musical extremes and radical subversion of conventions created a blueprint for the alternative rock explosion that would follow: whiplash dynamics, a ferocious collision of noise and melody, and cryptic lyricism that flirted with the primal and the surreal. How influential were they? Kurt Cobain was famously fond of saying that Nirvana was trying to rip off the Pixies, and interest in and regard for the band has only grown over the years. Their recent reunion shows, in venues larger and swanker than any they played the first time around, are filled with kids who genuflect at the altar of real musical heroes.
The Beatles saw so much potential in a barely-out-of-his-teens James Taylor that he was the first non-British signee to their Apple label. We can't argue with them. They were likely impressed, as so many still are, by the warmth of his resonant tenor - still undimmed by age - his elegantly intricate guitar style, and his gift for delivering pathos, humor, and ruefulness, often all in one finely honed tune. No matter how personal the demons Taylor has wrestled in song, his voice has been the sound of solace, celebration, and sustenance. Along the way, he has racked up multi-platinum sales, immense peer respect, and a place alongside Aerosmith in the rock hall of fame.
Disco was the genre that unleashed Donna Summer's astonishing voice upon the masses, and she reigned supreme in the Studio 54 glory days. The woman born LaDonna Gaines transcended the ephemera of that era by bringing erotic heat and a beating heart to Giorgio Moroder's icy synths and pulsating beats on hits like "Love to Love You Baby" and her powerhouse face-off with Barbra Streisand, "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)." But even as the mirror ball turned, Summer ambitiously looked beyond dance-floor catnip by exploring concept albums and new sonic frontiers. And long after the glitter faded she was still working hard for the money and scoring hits. Every big-voiced diva who has emerged since, from Whitney Houston to Alicia Keys, owes a debt to Summer.
Every single song on the Cars' debut album is still in rotation on rock radio - no small feat considering the competition for nostalgia programming. The Cars were utterly canny, expert at cherry-picking the most iconic and broadly appealing elements of new wave, hard rock, and Top 40 and fusing the parts into savvy anthems that were somehow as exhilarating as they were slick. Rigorously affectless, the band's off-kilter, design-driven aesthetic made them MTV staples in the thrilling early days of the music video era. The result? For a few shining years, the Cars achieved that most attractive and elusive state of pop music grace: a hit machine with credibility.
J. Geils Band/ Peter Wolf
Long before the No. 1 hit "Centerfold" catapulted the group onto a world stage, the J. Geils Band was known around here as something much more meaningful - New England's blues-rock saviors. There's a lot to be said for a band that sticks it out for 15 years before becoming famous, but you got the impression the guys weren't initially hungry for just that. They were in it for the music, a down-and-dirty mix of R&B and rock that morphed into a more pop-oriented sound in the '80s. Reunions have been sporadic since the group disbanded in 1985, and when frontman Peter Wolf left the lineup two years before that, he enjoyed a successful solo turn as a jive-talking hellcat who thinks the nighttime is the right time. Still a man about town, Wolf recently released his thoughtful seventh solo album, Midnight Souvenirs.
Joan Baez, pop musician? Not exactly, but the folk matriarch ultimately transcended genre: She was the embodiment and lightning rod of her generation, a beacon of its hopes and indestructible spirit. New York had Dylan, but we could claim Baez, since she moved to Belmont when she was 17 and dropped out of BU soon after enrolling. With nothing more than an acoustic guitar and that sterling soprano, the so-called "barefoot Madonna" quickly established herself as a formidable talent around here, most notably at Cambridge's Club 47 (now Club Passim). Some 50 years later, Baez is the grande dame of folk music and as committed as ever to activism. And her influence is still felt around the world every time a young woman steps up on stage with just a guitar and a mission.
The Roxbury group may have set a record for successful spinoffs, as Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, and Brown replacement Johnny Gill all enjoyed solo careers, and Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, and Ronnie DeVoe teamed up for the '90s sensation Bell Biv DeVoe. But it was the '80s R&B bubble gum confections like "Cool It Now" and "Candy Girl" that first had girls swooning. With five distinct personalities, voices, and styles, New Edition hewed to the familiar boy-band formula of predecessors like the Jackson 5. But the teens also injected a streetwise swagger into their sweet pop-soul nothings that became the modern template for harmonizing, synchronized-dancing heartthrobs everywhere, including another famous group of Boston kids.
New Kids on the Block
If you attended high school anywhere in the country in the late 1980s, there's a good chance you heard a familiar refrain in your lunchroom: Who do you love most, Jordan or Joey? New Kids on the Block were global pop stars, but you could tell from those accents that they were the pride of Boston. Assembled by producer Maurice Starr, who had previously discovered New Edition, the band rocketed up the charts with teen-pop anthems such as "Hangin' Tough" and "You Got It (The Right Stuff)." Initially dismissed by critics, they were the blueprint for the boy-band revival in the early '90s. And when NKOTB reunited in 2008 for a new album, it was as if time had stood still. The Block debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart that year, proving that they still had the right stuff, even if they weren't kids anymore.
Aimee Mann/'Til Tuesday
Til Tuesday, the band Aimee Mann formed in the early '80s after dropping out of Berklee College of Music, enjoyed one big single with the moody new wave anthem "Voices Carry." But it was Mann's whip-smart songwriting that leapt off the page and became her stock in trade when the frontwoman set out as a solo artist. She stepped boldly into her role as proto-poster girl for independent musicians, fleeing the hits-obsessed major-label system to establish a thriving career on her own terms. More to the point, Mann became a master craftswoman, a cobbler of beautiful, barbed narratives that define a singer-songwriter's task: to illuminate our deepest, darkest selves.
From the fertile mind of an MIT whiz kid (Tom Scholz) and an angelic vocalist from Danvers (the late Brad Delp) came an arena-rock band that broke ground in melding state of the art with state of the heart on its blockbuster debut. More than "just another band," Boston, which included guitarist Barry Goudreau, drummer Sib Hashian, and bassist Fran Sheehan, expanded the vision of what rock music could look and sound like.
Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
Thoroughly eccentric, totally inscrutable, completely charming. A fearless, nimble negotiator of pop music stylings, Jonathan Richman is the ultimate cult artist. He may have started out a punk and underground rock pioneer, but Richman and his music have grown in wildly unexpected ways during a nearly four-decade-long career that remains creatively vibrant to this day.
Mission of Burma
Mission of Burma navigated the sweet spot between art and chaos like a bunch of post-punk PhDs. This was a band that tickled your brain and battered your psyche (not to mention eardrums) with aplomb bordering on annihilation. Moreover, it reconvened in 2002 after a nearly 20-year hiatus and did it all over again, in a rare second act that finds the band as powerful and relevant as ever.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
This rowdy, plaid-clad bunch, led by mischievous carnival barker frontman Dicky Barrett, was a true DIY success story long before the major labels got hip to its blend of serrated metal guitar, buoyant rock-steady ska grooves, a jubilant horn section, and a whole lot of punk snarl. The band's Top 40 breakthrough in 1997 was icing on a long-cooking cake.
Evan Dando isn't the first near-superstar whose personal antics derailed his band's prospects, but he's Boston's own, which means that we know what much of the rest of the world has forgotten: Dando was and is a first-rate pop-rocker, master of sunny hooks and weary refrains that sketch alt-ennui in deceptively breezy miniature.
If the concept of working-class Boston could be scientifically translated into a musical equivalent, it would be the sound of this endearingly scruffy band of punks. Whether celebrating Celtic pride or the heart of the working man, rooting on our home teams, or lionizing misfits, barflies, and brawlers, the Murphys manage to marry menace, mirth, and meaning into something brutal yet inviting.
Like Cape Cod rock band the Barbarians, the Remains should have been much bigger than they were. Led by Barry Tashian, the quartet whose members formed while at BU was a regional sensation, playing a lean blast of garage rock and soul while selling out long-gone venues like the Rathskeller. By 1965, the Remains were signed to a major label (Epic) and a year later opened the Beatles' last US tour. The Remains broke up right around the time their self-titled debut was released in '66, only to be heralded decades later as "America's lost band."
The trio's three-year run was short but potent, and it's safe to say Galaxie 500's legacy as a seminal slow-core band, with its downbeat gauzy melodies and arrangements, was fully recognized only after guitarist Dean Wareham, bassist Naomi Yang, and drummer Damon Krukowski had split up in 1991. Still living in Cambridge, Krukowski and Yang continue to release evocative rock records as Damon & Naomi. Wareham launched the now-defunct but beloved Luna before his current indie-pop duo of Dean & Britta.
On paper, a lineup of two-string slide bass, baritone saxophone, and drums doesn't make a lot of rock 'n' roll sense. But Morphine made minimalist rock that somehow brimmed with bluesy, jazz-inflected sounds and dark, intense moods. Mark Sandman, Dana Colley, and Billy Conway hung out on the cutting edge - a wry, urbane alternative during the grunge-drenched '90s - until Sandman's death in 1999.
Amanda Palmer/ Dresden Dolls
Songwriter-piano basher-performance artist-provocateur-pop confessor-theater renegade-rabid collaborator-goth pinup-ukulele powerhouse . . . Amanda Palmer is Boston's ever-enterprising art-world hyphenate, at home on street corners and in Symphony Hall. The Dresden Dolls, her cabaret-punk duo with Brian Viglione, set the tone, but hardly the boundaries, for Palmer's expansive and fiercely independent vision.
Tufts University was the incubator for this affable trio that started out armed only with acoustic guitars, bongos, and a dream. Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, and Brian Rosenworcel met at freshman orientation and have been inseparable since, releasing a string of albums that have evolved from scrappy and earnest dorm-room demos to mature and inventive pop-rock opuses.
In the grand tradition of family acts, these five brothers - Ralph, Feliciano, Arthur, Antone, and Perry Lee - were blessed with heavenly harmonies and the good fortune to hit the bull's-eye of the '70s soul/disco revolution, thanks in part to another band of brothers, the Bee Gees, who penned Tavares' Saturday Night Fever hit.
He certainly didn't learn to surf around these parts, but Dick Dale spent his formative years in Quincy and was known then as Richard Monsour. That's an overlooked fact about the legendary guitar master who's inextricably linked to California's sun and sand. Responsible for some of surf rock's defining anthems ("Miserlou" for one), Dale influenced countless generations of future guitar heroes and still keeps a breakneck touring schedule at age 73.
James Taylor openly admits he modeled his early career on Tom Rush, marveling at his prowess for interpreting classic folk and blues and later country-rock. An accomplished guitarist and early champion of singer-songwriters such as Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell, Rush kept a low profile in recent years before resurfacing with last year's overlooked What I Am.
Troll YouTube for evidence of the G-Clefs' legacy, and you get just a handful of wildly infectious doo-wop songs such as "Ka-Ding Dong" and " 'Cause You're Mine." Otherwise, you have to dig a little deeper to track down out-of-print records from this Roxbury R&B quintet that's still performing.
First-rate pop spanning lo-fi, melancholic dirges and pastoral, wholehearted anthems.
An elegant, articulate, perennially under-appreciated singer-songwriter.
Letters to Cleo
Fronted by the indefatigable Kay Hanley, they rocked with both hooks and heft during their '90s heyday.
Zedek is the quintessential unsung hero, the damaged and defiant rocker who had several local alternative bands, including Come, before striking out on her own.
Roaring out of Cape Cod, these garage rockers charted with just a few songs but inspired generations of bands from New England and beyond.
Blake Babies/Juliana Hatfield
With three albums of classic '80s college rock, Blake Babies were briefly Boston's next big thing before they split and Hatfield went on to a solo career.
Linchpin of the alt-rock '90s, packing emotional and musical power.
The pride of Stoughton and an exquisite singer-songwriter.
Jo Dee Messina
From Holliston to Nashville, one of our most successful country singers.
Earnest, infectious electro-pop. For this young band, let's hope adulthood doesn't kill the joy.
Twenty years in, our punk-metal heroes are still breaking through. Go, team.
Its dark, quietly brash take on bluegrass is a bridge between old-time and new-school.
Faces on Film
Frontman Mike Fiore spins an ethereal web with the dark-hearted ruminations heard on 2008's sublime The Troubles.
Almost always on the road, Jewell has real feeling for the dusky country, gospel, and rock songs she performs with her tight backing band.
Eli 'Paperboy' Reed
This Boston-bred soul singer who summons Sam Cooke is well on his way to proving he's not just an R&B revivalist.
Recognition for the brutal beauty of these heavy-duty metal masters is in the bag.
If anyone is in it for the long haul, it is this gifted R&B singer and guitarist from Norwell.
Boys Like Girls
And girls like Boys Like Girls, helping the emo quartet become one of the Hub's most recent success stories.