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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”