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Top Five Tuesday — Top Five American Male Solo Artists

Recently, a United Methodist clergy colleague suggested in an online conversation that John Mellencamp is essentially a fraud, having gained his popularity because his manager must have given payola to various radio programmers to get his sons abundant airplay.

That colleague is now in the category of Former Friend.

Yet his musical & social media faux pas did lead to one happy result: it got me thinking about (and of course ranking) just WHO are my favorite domestically brewed male solo artists? So here they are:

  1. Don Henley. If you know me at all, this is the least surprising result in history. I am one of the few people who like Henley’s solo work better than what he produced as the drummer and primary vocalist for the Eagles. Yet with songs like “The Boys Of Summer” and “The Heart Of The Matter,” (Hey! What a title for a blog!) he remains my favorite.
  2. John Mellencamp. I have to admit that in the mid-80s, I felt like my Methodist-preacher-former-friend: that Mellencamp was a phony and his songs were tedious. Then I saw him in concert in 1999 and realized to my surprise how vast his catalog of really good songs is. The more I’ve listened, the more I’ve come to appreciate his poetry, his irony, his melodies, and his band’s drum work. Among my favorites are “Rumble Seat,” “Authority Song,” and “Just Another Day.”
  3. Tom Petty. Another artist who really grew on me through the years. It doesn’t hurt that the Heartbreakers’ lead guitarist, Mike Campbell, wrote the music track for Henley’s “The Boys Of Summer.” Campbell also knows how to make his solos serve the song rather than the reverse. Petty had a marvelous knack for observing both human nature and American culture. Both “Free Fallin'” and “Learning To Fly” sounds as good today as when I first heard them.
  4. Jason Isbell. A good number of you have likely never heard of Jason Isbell. If you like deft guitar work, soaring vocals, and lyrics that bring you to the intersection of poetry and recovery, you’ll want to check him out. Isbells’ 2013 release Southeastern is so good that I make it required listening for my Simplify The Message & Multiply The Impact preaching cohort.
  5. Paul Simon. Yes, better sans Garfunkel. Since “Kodachrome” was my first ever GREATEST SONG OF ALL TIME (I was eleven), Simon must be on this list. Both Graceland and The Rhythm Of The Saints are among my all-time favorite albums. And just when you think he must be ready to hang up his guitar, he comes up with “Getting Ready For Christmas Day.”

Comments ( 1 )

  • Brad Neff says:

    I guess your time in New Jersey still didn’t put Bruce on your list unless you equate him too much with the E Street Band which would take him out of contention. His solo work doesn’t garner the attention that his E Street work does, but I love Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad is nearly as good in my book.

    I can’t argue with Mellancamp & Petty – two of my all time Favs. I wasn’t a huge Johnny Cougar fan, but his conversion to Mellancamp with the Scarecrow album was an all timer for me. I played Minutes to Memories over and over again during my Jr./Sr. year’s of college. I just recently realized that he was in Charlotte last week – I realized too late or I might have tried to grab a seat.

    I grew up listening to Tom Petty & the Hearbreakers, but I never got turned onto him until Full Moon Fever. There’s probably no other album that I’ve played more over the past 30 years – not a bad song on it. I’ve been a huge fan ever since & was deeply saddened by his passing. A true American Legend.

    I will have to listen to Jason Isbell. I like Paul Simon – but Graceland is a lifetime achievement. Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes – for me, his greatest tune.

    My list has to include Bob Dylan. I was never one of those guys that appreciated poetry in English class – I always wanted to skip those sessions and move on to short stories or novels. Dylan is one of the few artists that I notice his use of words and the natural rhythm of his lyrics. His “Christian” phase was short and certainly not his best work, but there are some good songs in there. His early work has many acoustic anthems of the time and era (before my time) and he’s had so many great songs that have been covered over and over again.

    I’ve going to listen to Graceland now…..

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