I have very diverse musical taste. Some would say I'm not picky enough when it comes to the stuff I listen to. My general rule is that if there's a strong enough hook in a song, I'm in. That applies to any style of music that I come across, whether it's pop, rap, grindcore, or anything and everything in between. With this in mind, I've put together a list of some of my favorite musical artists from a variety of genres that I'm a huge fan of, but don't know many (if any) people in my life that share that love.
Led by Mark King's soulful vocals and funkified basslines, Level 42 has been on my radar since 1985, when their single "Something About You" exploded on pop radio in the States. I was in 5th grade. They never matched the success they found with "Something About You" in America, but songs like "Lessons in Love," "Leaving Me Now," and "Children Say" certainly should have been hits as well.
His recent experimental albums might have made him a critical darling (he made a record with Sunn O))) for crissakes!), but I prefer Scott Walker's late '60s and early '70s work way more. During that period in his discography, the Ohio native's baritone vocals were often set against dramatic symphonic arrangements, resulting in what I can best describe as imagining a Quaalude-addled David Bowie singing in front of an orchestra being conducted by Lee Hazelwood. Without early Scott Walker, there's no Pulp, Tindersticks, or The Divine Comedy.
Released in the middle of the decade, Icon's second album, Night of the Crime, is one of the most criminally overlooked hard rock albums of the '80s. Produced by Eddie Kramer (Led Zeppelin, KISS), mixed by Ron Nevison (UFO, Heart), and featuring co-writes from Bob Halligan, Jr. (Judas Priest, Kix), the 10-song collection finds the Arizona act delivering material that brings to mind Dokken and Lillian Axe, albeit with an AOR edge. Vocalist Stephen Clifford parted ways with Icon after Night of the Crime, but his performances on the album are fucking stellar.
The Trash Can Sinatras
Scotland's The Trash Can Sinatras specialize in pristine jangle-pop. I first fell in love with the band when their single, "Obscurity Knocks," was in semi-regular rotation on a radio station called WDRE in New York City in 1990. The band is currently gearing up for the release of their sixth studio album, but I just hope they make it back to Los Angeles so that I can finally see them live.
There was a point during my freshman year in high school when all I did was listen to Leatherwolf's second album, Street Ready (1989). I was a big fan of the band's song "The Calling," from their previous album, but Street Ready is a hard rock masterpiece. There aren't any duds on the entire record. If you go apeshit for twin guitar melodies and skyscraper high musical hooks, you have to wake up and get yourself acquainted with this album.
The Blue Nile
The Blue Nile created what I describe to people as "nighttime music." Paul Buchanan's singing style has rightfully been compared to Peter Gabriel, and the way his vocals float above the band's slow-building, synthy arrangements is pure bliss. The Blue Nile's first two albums—A Walk Across the Rooftops (1984) and Hats (1989)—are stunning, and they go great along with a glass of whiskey after a long day at work.
For most people my age, Peter Allen was the "Rio guy" from his 1979 smash hit, "I Go to Rio." But the late Australian singer-songwriter's legacy means more to me than just that (corny) single. "Fly Away," "Everything Old is New Again," and "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love" are just a few examples of Allen's top-notch pop genius.
Like the aforementioned The Blue Nile, Japan wrote and recorded music that seemed tailor-made for nighttime listening pleasure. Their early work was more in line with punk and glam rock, but the UK band evolved into something infinitely more interesting by the time 1980's Gentlemen Take Polaroids album arrived in stores. Mike Karn's creamy basslines and David Sylvain's baritone vocals, blended with the group's stark production and dramatic arrangement nuances, make for something truly unique and irresistible.
The majority of Lizzy Borden's discography is perfectly serviceable heavy metal, but his Master of Disguise concept album is an absolute classic. I'm such a fanboy of the record that I arranged a dinner at The Rainbow Bar & Grill in Hollywood with Lizzy just so I could pick his brain about the album. If you want to sample a few cuts from Master of Disguise to see what I'm talking about, try out "Love is a Crime," "Phantoms," and "Be One of Us," and let me know what you think.
The Ocean Blue
Coming out of Hershey, Pa. in the late '80s, The Ocean Blue never rose beyond college rock radio fame, but their early single "Drifting Falling" made me a fan from the first listen. Influenced by The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, and other jangly post-punk outfits, the group included saxophone in their songs, opening up their sound to exciting possibilities. Reunited after taking some time off from the band, The Ocean Blue returned in 2013 with a fantastic album called Ultramarine.