There was an interesting article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about Tom Petty: Rock God Or Mere Mortal? “As Tom Petty prepares to release a career-spanning anthology next week, an attempt to determine where he falls in the music pantheon.”
The basic premise is that though he sold a lot of records, maybe because he was prolific with the pop hook, he just seems to lack the “cool” quotient. I’m thinking the way Huey Lewis & the News, even in the height of their success, was uncool. Whereas the late Johnny Cash, on whose second American Recording Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played on, was “cool”.
This has less to do with talent or chart success as it does with the artist shaking things up musically, as Elvis Costello or Bruce Springsteen were known to do.
There was a chart on the page suggesting coolness, from uncool to very cool, which looked roughly like this (there was also a loudness axis): Bob Seger, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel (sorry, SamuraiFrog), John Mellencamp, AC/DC, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Pretenders, Eagles, Jimmy Buffet. Carlos Santana is about in the middle. Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Rolling Stones, James Taylor, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, David Byrne, Neil Young, Nick Cave.
First, do you agree with the ranking? I always thought Pretenders were cooler, and James Taylor, not so much. Neil Diamond put an album with producer Rick Rubin a couple years ago, which always seems to enhance the cool factor; it certainly worked for Cash.
Secondly, where would you place Petty on the list? He’s played with George Harrison, Dylan and the aforementioned Cash. He put together his old band Mudcrutch and put out a decent album a couple years ago. I’d say he was at least as “cool” as the Stones, who would be cooler without most of their output of the last couple decades.
Finally, what other artists do you think fall on the “uncool” pantheon unfairly, or on the “cool” list unjustifiably? Let’s face it: Jeff Lynne, even as a Wilbury, has never been particularly cool. But I always thought Linda Ronstadt, who moved from genre to genre, was more cool than she was given credit for.