What’s that old saying? “You can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been,” right? And what applies to life in general surely applies to music in particular, as well.
We once read somewhere that while jazz giant John Coltrane is often considered immensely influential, it is quite difficult to find tangible examples of this influence—the great David S. Ware not withstanding—because ‘Trane was such a unique saxophonist. Therefore, his influence is more of spirit than actual playing, according to this assertion. The following examples are unlike this. In fact, they point to a direct relationship between the work of latter-day interpreters and what music influenced them.
In other words, you know that new, cool, fresh-sounding band you like? Chances are, there’s an earlier, lesser-known—and sometimes, better—version of them out there. Here are 5 instances of this phenomenon:
THE WHITE STRIPES are perhaps the most popular rock group to come out of this decade. But in the late ‘80s the two-man team of guitarist Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow, together known as FLAT DUO JETS, were already mashing a variety of musical styles with an old school, garage-like sensibility. A good starting point is their 1990 self-titled album [Sky/Dog Gone], even though it’s not their most representative one, due to the boys adding a bass player on this occasion. Regardless, it rocks pure and simple and is yet another reminder of why Jack White should’ve never settled for a mediocre drummer—at best—such as Meg White.
Among QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE’s frequent collaborators is MASTERS OF REALITY vocalist/guitarist Chris Goss who also produced QOTSA frontman Josh Homme’s previous band, Kyuss, among many others. One listen to the Masters’ bluesy/stoner/updated classic rock sophomore album, Sunrise on the Sufferbus [Chrysalis-1992]—with no less than the legendary Ginger Baker on drums—and you can clearly deduce why Homme keeps working with Goss on a regular basis. And why he owes him big time.
Kurt Cobain loved his hometown heroes THE MELVINS so much,
he even roadied for them early on, in addition to soaking up their influence. And when NIRVANA was catapulted into the stratosphere, Cobain was instrumental in landing the San Francisco-by-way-of-Aberdeen, WA trio a major label record deal. Kurt partially produced and played on Houdini [Atlantic-1993], arguably the best of their major label trifecta. Sadly, Kurt may be gone but the Melvins soldier on and have even paid tribute to their old friend with a straightforward "Smells Like Teen Spirit", ably sung by none other than '70s teen idol Leif Garrett (!) on their 2000 covers album The Crybaby [Ipecac].
Bizarrely, many seem to think—including rock critics who should know better—that FRANZ FERDINAND’s sound (as well as that of The Dead 60s, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, The Futureheads, etc etc etc) appeared fully formed out of nowhere, when in fact, they owe a very big chunk of their musical identity to none other than WIRE.
Their first two albums, the landmark 1977 debut Pink Flag, and 1978’s post-punk blueprint Chairs Missing [both Harvest/EMI] are rarely, if ever, discussed in terms of their influence on this newest generation of British rockers. But the truth is, their presence is as strong as The Jam, The Clash, or even—dare we say it—early XTC in the work of these UK upstarts. (And if they tell you they don't know/love U2's "Two Hearts Beat As One" from the War album [Island-1980], they're flat out lying.)
On 1999’s The Soft Bulletin [Warner Bros], THE FLAMING LIPS took their acid-fried psychedelia down a notch, pushed forward their simmering Beach Boys influence and with the assistance of producer David Fridmann gave it a widescreen, modern sheen. Cool. However, even a cursory listen to A Wizard, A True Star [Bearsville-1973] makes it quite evident that TODD RUNDGREN had come across this same formula in the early '70s. When people talk about latter-day Flaming Lips, influences such as Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Yes, and the aforementioned Beach Boys, are always paid, um, lip service. They must not be aware of Rundgren's fourth solo album with its heavy synths, big distorted drums, airy melodies, and insular wit. Not for long, hopefully.