Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Tuesday Top Ten: Teenage Rock Stars

Sunday afternoon, I took Daughter and Lollipop to local live music venue Schuba's for their first ever rock and roll concert.
They were super-excited, even though we didn't know any of the musicians playing.  You see, a good friend of mine named Chris is a music teacher at York High School in Elmhurst.  A couple years ago, he came up with a wild idea to let his music students write and record their own original songs, and then release an album with all the songs.  With the support of the school, the idea came to fruition, and the York Album Project was born.  This is one of the coolest things I have ever heard of. 

Last year, they had 15 musicians or groups contribute songs to the album, which was called We Are The Music.  This year, that number grew to 23 (with a few repeats from last year), and the album is called This Is Amateur.  Sunday was the album release party for This Is Amateur, with most (if not all) groups and musicians in attendance, performing two songs each.

I hadn't listened to the album before going to the show, so I didn't know what to expect.  I gotta say that I was blown away at how talented these kids were.  They were all really damn good.

I was also amazed at the diversity of the songs.  On the album, there are songs that I would classify as rock, folk, ukulele folk, Andrews Sisters-esque harmonic pop, garage rock, indie rock, punk, Nick Lowe-esque power pop, grunge, a capella doo wop, alternative rock, gypsy jazz, electric blues, singer-songwriter ballads, pop, acoustic instrumental, acoustic pop, EDM, and songs that could be in a Disney princess movie.  They are all really well-crafted songs, even the songs in genres I wouldn't normally

We were listening to the album yesterday at dinner, and I made a comment about how the musicians were really good.  Daughter looked at me and said, incensed, "They're not just good, Dad; they're awesome."  Touché.

So, if you want to support a very cool project, I encourage you to download the albums using the links above.  This Is Amateur is $10, and We Are The Music is $5.

Seeing all of these high schoolers who have more musical talent than I will ever have got me thinking about rock and rollers who found success as teenagers.  So that was a long introduction to this week's Tuesday Top Ten:  teenage rock stars.  For this list, I am going to give you what I think are the eleven best examples of musicians age 18 or under who made a mark on music or had crazy success before they were of legal drinking age in Canada.  I'm limiting the list to musicians who played their own instruments (sorry Kyla, that means no Britney).

Here are my top eleven (in alphabetical order).

1.  Rick Allen
Allen is, for better or worse, known for the fact that he is a one-armed drummer.  A lot of idiots believe that he always had one arm when, in fact, he his left arm was amputated after a horrific car accident in 1984.  Anyway, Allen joined Def Leppard in 1978, on his 15th birthday.  He didn't turn 18 until after the band released their first two albums, On Through the Night and High 'n' Dry.

2.  Dave Davies
Along with his older brother Ray, Dave Davies founded The Kinks in 1963, when he was 16.  When he was 17, Dave Davies invented the power chord with his iconic distorted riff on "You Really Got Me," which topped the charts in the UK and went to #7 on the Billboard charts.  When he was 17 and 18, The Kinks had 7 Top 20 hits in the UK (including 6 Top 10s and 2 #1s) and 6 Top 40 hits in the US (including 3 Top 10s).

3.  Hanson
There are two kinds of people in the world:  people who like "MMMBop" and dead people.  It was the feel-good song of the summer of 1997, topping the Billboard charts for three weeks in May and June that year (and topping the charts in a ridiculous 26 other countries as well).  At the time, the brothers Hanson -- Isaac, Taylor, and Zac -- were 16, 13, and 11, respectively.  Of course, Pete Gregerson will tell you that "Where's The Love" is a better song than "MMMBop," and that's a debate I'd rather not have sober.  What's not debatable is that, by the time Isaac turned 18, the band had three platinum albums.

4.  The Jackson 5
When The Jackson 5 released what would become their first #1 hit, "I Want You Back," in October 1969, Jackie Jackson had just turned 18 five months earlier, while most of his younger brothers Tito (16), Jermaine (14), Marlon (12), and Michael (11) were still going through (or had not yet started) puberty.  Not only could they sing and dance, but they could also play their own instruments (although they didn't always play the instruments on the recorded versions of the songs).

5.  The Runaways
The all-female Runaways were pioneers in the mid '70s, melding punk and hard rock to inspire generations of female rockers after them and kickstarting the careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford.  In June 1976, when the band's debut album -- featuring arguably their biggest song, "Cherry Bomb" -- was released, Jett and Ford were both 17, while the rest of the band, Cherie Currie, Jackie Fox, and Sandy West, were all 16.

6.  Silverchair
I remember when Silverchair's debut single, "Tomorrow," was released because all of the guys in the band were younger than my friends and me –- and still are, for that matter.  When "Tomorrow" came out in September 1994, Daniel Johns (lead vocals and guitar) was 15, while Ben Gillies (drums) and Chris Joannou (bass) were only 14.  "Tomorrow" topped both the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks and Mainstream Rock Tracks charts, and helped propel their debut album Frogstomp into the Top 10 of the Billboard album charts.  That's pretty impressive for three Aussie kids who couldn't even get drivers licenses yet.

7.  Tommy Stinson
I saw The Replacements last year and I thought, "Man, Tommy Stinson looks great for his age," figuring he had to be in his mid 50s.  Then I looked him up, and it turns out he was only 48.  And then I did the math in my head about when The Replacements released their first couple albums and thought "that can't be right."  It was.  The guy was 11 when he and his older brother Bob formed the band's predecessor in 1978, and 14 when the band released their first full-length album in August 1981.  By the time he turned 18, the band had already released three albums and an EP, and he wasn't even 18 yet on that iconic photo on the cover of the Let It Be album, taken on his parents' roof.

8.  Ritchie Valens
When Ritchie Valens died tragically on February 3, 1959, along with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, he was three months shy of his 18th birthday.  His first single, 1958's "Come On, Let's Go," charted just outside the Top 40 at #42, but then his next single "Donna" got all the way to #2 and its B-side, "La Bamba," got to #22, but has endured as one of the most recognizable songs in rock history and, of course, was the name of the 1987 biopic about Valens's life.  (Lou Diamond Phillips, by the way, was 25 when he portrayed Valens in the film.)

9.  Carl Wilson
As a founding member of The Beach Boys, along with his older brothers Brian and Dennis, cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine, Carl Wilson was the lead guitarist, responsible for that Chuck-Berry-meets-surf-rock guitar sound that is as much of a staple of The Beach Boys' sound as those delightful harmonies.  The Beach Boys' first single, "Surfin'," was released a month before Carl turned 15.  The first album The Beach Boys released after Carl turned 19 was Pet Sounds.  So, when Carl was 15 to 18 years old, he was a member of a band with 9 Top 10 albums and 17 Top 40 songs on the Billboard charts, including 10 Top 10s and 2 #1s.

10.  Steve Winwood
If you're a Gen Xer or younger, you probably associate Steve Winwood with his '80s hits, like "Valerie," "Roll With It," and "Back in the High Life."  But long before that, and before he was in Traffic, and before he was in Blind Faith, he was the lead singer of the Spencer Davis Group, which he joined when he was 14.  As the lead singer and organist of the group, Winwood sang and played on two #1 hits in the UK, "Keep On Running" and "Somebody Help Me," before he turned 18.  And that Ray Charles-esque voice you hear on "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man" was that of an 18-year-old Winwood.

11.  Stevie Wonder
In 1963, at age 13, Wonder became the youngest artist to top the Billboard Hot 100, with his song "Fingertips –- Part 1 & 2."  When he was 15, he recorded and released his second Top 5 song, "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" (which peaked at #3).  He recorded his second #1, "For Once in My Life," when he was 17.  All in all, before he turned 18, he had released 13 Top 40 hits, including 6 that made it into the Top 10.

I'm sure there are some others I'm forgetting, so feel free to chime in.

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