Follow the Beat of Your Own Drum

In the past few years, music has become one of my biggest obsessions. My Ipod never leaves my side and travels with me everywhere. It seems as though it has suddenly become a growth or third limb on my body. My obsession with music began in high school when I was first introduced to the Beatles by my band teacher. Of course, I had heard of the Beatles before but had never taken the time to really delve into their music. I soon realized just how unique their sound was and I could not get enough of their music. Much to my parents chagrin I began getting really into music. I would frequent all of the local record stores for the lps of all of my favorite artists and every time I went to the library, I would check out the latest biography or autobiography of any musician that was available and then gloriously bring it home and begin to devour it,while my mother and father both looked at each other and winced.

They just couldn’t understand how their only daughter who also happened to be a straight A student could be so fascinated with those renegade musicians like Mick Jagger or David Bowie who were never known for their squeaky clean reputations. I suppose they thought they would corrupt my young, innocent mind. However, over the years they have come to accept my obsession with music and are no longer concerned that I am going to turn into some hippy who lives in a tent outside city hall, strumming a guitar while protesting the government's cruelties against mankind. They have even come to accept the fact that I am going to be an entertainment lawyer and may be representing musicians in the future.

My music tastes have developed as I have gotten older. I find that most of today’s music does not appeal to me in the least; most of it is artificial and over-produced just to get it some airplay. I tend to lean towards older music from the sixties and seventies. The artists from those eras were not necessarily concerned with airplay but were instead more concerned with making a new and unique sound. They thought outside the box. The artists of that time period of course wanted to be popular and gain fame but that was not their only goal. They wanted to promote what they thought was new and exciting music that was also very well produced. Artists these days are more concerned with fame and airplay, than trying to develop something new and creative. They tend to just copy other artists sounds. I have always admired those artists who never conformed to popular opinion and instead did their own thing. I wanted to explore those artists from the sixties and seventies who stuck to their guns and at the same changed the music industry and shook it from its foundations.

I have always thought that Bob Dylan was one of the greatest songwriters of all time.Even though I don’t know what he is talking about in his lyrics half of the time, I have always found his songs to be interesting and well produced.

Bob Dylan’s influence on music is incalculable. He pioneered several different styles of songwriting over the years from thought-provoking and emotional melodies to stream of consciousness narratives. With his nasally voice, curly mop of unbrushed hair, and worn clothing, Dylan proved that you didn’t have to be incredibly handsome or have a pitch perfect voice in order to become a successful singer. His influence was highly evident in the mid-sixties when everyone from Peter, Paul, and Mary to the Byrds were covering his songs and having great success with them. Even the Beatles were influenced by Dylan and their eventual shift towards introspective songwriting probably would not have happened had Dylan not introduced it to them through his own songwriting.

Dylan first broke out onto the music scene in 1961 as a folk singer and gained a record deal with Columbia. However, it wasn’t until his second album , The Freewheelin Bob Dylan, that he began to gain critical acclaim. All of the songs on the album were of his own composition, which was unusual for the time period. However, as the sixties progressed, Dylan began to stray from his folk rocker persona and started to expand his musical boundaries and began to include more blues, R&B, and rock into his repertoire. Many felt that he was abandoning folk rock and at a concert in England, he was literally drowned out by the jeers from the crowd when he came out on stage with an electric guitar. Dylan had never really cared about the public perception of his music anyway so it did not faze him in the least. He and his band just continued to play the song at an overwhelming loud volume to drown the crowd out.

Dylan was never quite satisfied with sticking to one type of music. He’s recorded everything from country-rock that followed his motorcycle accident in the late sixties to Christian rock that followed his announcement that he was a born again Christian in the eighties. Dylan never really cared about playing a certain type of music that was popular at the time and instead just played whatever was in his heart at the moment. But you can be assured that whatever, Dylan is doing at the moment, it is sure to be unique and exciting.

Another artist who I truly admire is David Bowie. He was a true musical chameleon, who was always adapting his style and never stuck with one genre for too long. He thought outside of the box and really never cared whether or not the public approved of what he did. His aim was to shock people and make them come out of their comfort zones. He is an amazing artist who truly transformed the seventies with his outrageous style and unique voice.

There is probably no other artist who totally reinvented the perceptions of how an artist should behave, act, or dress than David Bowie. He was constantly adapting himself according to the fashion and trends at the time and demonstrated a keen skill for perceiving what musical trends would be popular in the next few years and then synthesizing that style into his own music. Bowie was one of the first rock and roll stars to take on a stage persona and adapt theatrical elements into his concerts. Without his influence in rock and roll, there would probably be no Madonna or Lady Gaga who both wear strange costumes and use large scale productions in their shows. Bowie proved that you didn't have to be a clean cut, normal guy in order to be a great musician. He knew he was different and weird but also talented and wanted to show the world just how far he could go.

David Bowie had been struggling to become a major artist ever since the late sixties. He had made several lackluster albums that had only produced one hit, the astronaut-themed,“Space Oddity,” which had hit the charts right when Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. It was then that Bowie realized that if he wanted to capture the attention of audiences, he needed to do something drastic. Bowie had always been a fan of the theatre and wanted to create a character that he would dress as during his shows. Out of this desire, came his Ziggy Stardust persona complete with his own band called the Spiders from Mars. Bowie’s Ziggy character was otherworldly, complete with flaming red hair that emphasized Bowie’s high cheekbones and multi-colored eyes, gallons upon gallons of face paint and outrageous stage clothing that varied from women’s dresses to skin tight leotards. He finally hit it big with the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in 1972. The album and the concerts that followed it were a smash hit, and it helped Bowie to become the only true glam rocker to carve out a niche in America. Bowie was a self-proclaimed freak and millions of teenagers who themselves were outcasts flocked to his concerts because they connected with him. They felt that he was a rock messiah sent down from Mars to save Earth from boring music. Soon, Bowie became the one of the biggest musicians of the seventies, selling more albums than any other artist in Britain since the Beatles.
However, after recording several hit albums as Ziggy Stardust, he began to tire of the stage persona. Bowie was no longer content to continue to churn out more albums in the glitter rock genre. In 1973, he disbanded the Spiders and announced his retirement from rock and roll. But, Bowie was back in 1975 with a new sound and a new stage presence. While on tour in America, Bowie became obsessed with soul music and refashioned his band into a Philly soul group. He would go on to incorporate that soul sound into his Young Americans album that would go on to become his first major crossover hit.

Bowie never was content to stick to one genre of music. If he got bored with one genre, he would just pack everything up and move onto a new style. He's recorded everything from avant- garde that resulted from his stay in Berlin to reggae in the eighties. He was also one of the first artists from the late sixties to adapt his music to the MTV music video craze, which helped him maintain his popularity much longer than some of his contemporaries. As the years progressed, Bowie moved into other forms of art besides music as well. He starred in the critically acclaimed play The Elephant Man on broadway and then went on to have a moderately successful acting career as well. He even worked as a producer for Lou Reed's most successful album to date, Transformer and Iggy Pop's comeback album Lust For Life. Say what you will about Bowie, but you can never say that he was boring!

I have always admired female singers who actually have real talent and do not just use their sex appeal to get to the top. Of all female rockers, this fits Patti Smith to a tee. I have always admired Smith because she was never concerned with public perception or even fame. All she ever wanted to do was express herself through her music and poetry.

Considered by many to be the goddess of punk rock, Patti Smith ranks among the most influential female rock and rollers of all time. Her music which blended both rock and poetry was unconventional and challenging at a time when rock and roll music was suddenly becoming more and more commercialized. Smith followed no muse but her own and sang whatever seemed to be inspiring her at the moment. Her voice while untrained was highly expressive and powerful. Smith who was almost skeletal, with long shaggy black hair, and large wild eyes, proved that a woman did not have to be exceptionally gorgeous or even sexy for that manner to be a true rock artist. She went beyond the boundaries of her gender to become a true rock legend. Smith only wanted to be seen as an artist and not as just some female who was up on stage for the enjoyment of the males out in the audience. She never conformed to the standards of how most people expected a woman to uphold. Instead of wearing dresses and hiding her keen intelligence, Smith wore androgynous clothing that essentially made her look like a female Keith Richards and brandished her intellect through her poetry and songwriting. By doing so, she showed that it was actually possible to be true to yourself and your art, no matter what others thought of you. She never cared about doing what was popular at the moment and never cared in the least if her songs got airplay. Her songs were a way of expressing herself as an artist and that’s really all Smith cared about at the end of the day.

After moving to New York City and living with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti began to take an interest in the new punk rock scene that was taking New York by storm. She soon became a regular at clubs around the area like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. After headlining at CBGB's for eight weeks, Patti was approached by the president of Arista Records, Clive Davis and was offered a recording contract. In 1975, she gained critical success with her debut album, Horses, which featured several unorthodox covers of party rock songs like Van Morrison’s “Gloria,” which was an unusual choice for someone who was labeled a punk rocker.

Over the next few years, Smith continued to record more experimental, free form records with her band well into the late 1970’s. In 1978, she collaborated on “Because the Night” with Bruce Springsteen which became her most successful song to date. The ballad climbed all the way to number thirteen and pushed the her album Easter into the Top 20. However, just as Smith was gaining critical success, she backed away from the spotlight. In 1980, Smith married fellow musician, Fred “Sonic” Smith, and retired from music in order to live a life of domesticity near Detroit while raising two young children.

However, after the tragic death of her of both her husband and brother to heart disease in 1994, Smith made a re-emergence into music, eventually releasing Peace and Noise in 1997 which garnered her first Grammy nomination for the track “1959.” Smith had essentially made a huge comeback and was more popular than ever. She continues to tour and in 2011 was named one of Time’s most influential people of the year.

Patti Smith revolutionized what it meant to be a female artist in the music industry. She was a true artist who followed no rules but the ones that she set for herself and was essentially the first punk rocker to gain a recording contract, even beating the Ramones to the punch. However, fame was never one of Smith’s concerns and even when she eventually did gain success, she backed away from it all in order to live a happy, less stressful life as a wife and mother. Even when Smith, returned to the music scene in the nineties, she could have easily just toured on the laurels of her back catalog. Instead, she created new and exciting music that reviled the other music that artists were generating in that era. Patti Smith’s influence is unimaginable and had she not rose to fame, we may not have had many of the great female rockers that exist today.

Tom Petty is probably my favorite American rock star of all time. His songs like “Free Fallin” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” are simple but at the same time are able to invoke powerful images within your mind. I have always admired Petty because he is a perfectionist and always wants to make sure that his albums are top notch and perfect in sound. He’s been known to spend weeks or even months working on one guitar riff or one verse just to make sure that it will fit perfectly into whatever he is working on. I love this about him because it proves that he is truly committed to his craft.

Petty is probably one of the last true traditional rockers to emerge onto the music scene in the late seventies. At a time when heavy metal and pop rock was dominating the charts, Petty embraced the classic rock sound from the fifties and sixties that was slowly disappearing into the background. He never broke from tradition like many of this punk rock contemporaries of the era and instead celebrated the best and most unique parts of musicians like the Beatles and Dylan. This created a unique hybrid of rock that recalled the music from the past but at the same time had a unique ring to it.

Petty’s band the Heartbreakers were a top notch, tight band that suited Petty perfectly. His slurred, nasal voice was often compared to Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn from the Byrds but his songwriting was more direct than theirs and brought to mind the simplistic stylings that Neil Young was known for. Throughout his career, Petty never strayed far from his signature sound, but was able to expand it, bringing in aspects of everything from psychedelia to Southern rock and new wave. Petty was also one of the few traditionalist rock and rollers to embrace music videos, creating some of the most iconic videos of the decade like, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” which featured Tom and the Heartbreaker acting out a psychedelic version of the tea party scene from Alice in Wonderland . His willingness to expand his musical horizons allowed him to sustain his popularity much longer than many of his other traditional rock contemporaries.

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Petty was bitten by the music bug early on in his life. After moving to California with the Heartbreakers in the late seventies, they were picked up by Shelter Records. They produced a few albums that gained some success in both England and America but it wasn’t until their third album, Damn the Torpedoes was released in 1979 that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers really hit it big. The album became an instant success ,ending up spending seven weeks at number two and spawning two top twenty hits.
As Petty’s popularity began to rise, he began to experiment with his music. The band began to branch out into other genres of music like soul and new wave, which can be seen in their 1985 album Southern Accents. Petty even began a solo career in the mid-eighties that was kick started by his partnership with Jeff Lynne in the rock supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys. With Jeff Lynne, he produced his first solo album, Full Moon Fever in 1989. This album became Petty’s commercial pinnacle, reaching number three on the US charts, going triple platinum and spawning three hit singles including, “Free Fallin’.” His second solo effort, Wildflowers, which was produced by Rick Rubin in 1994, tied Full Moon Fever for his biggest selling studio album. With the success of his solo albums, Petty proved that even without his Heartbreakers behind him, he was still able to produce quality music that was able to capture audiences.

Petty also never let the music executives take advantage of him or his fans. With his long, blonde hair, thin frame, and seemingly laid back attitude, Petty looked more like a surfer dude than a professional musician with a keen economical mind. The executives took one look at him and assumed that he was just an ignorant kid who could be taken advantage of. However, they soon found out that Petty was a force to be reckoned with. Petty took his music and career very seriously and was not about to let any record executive tell him what kind of music he could write or how he was supposed to market himself to his audiences. Right before Petty was about to make it big time with the release of Damn the Torpedoes, he found out that his contract was going to be sold to MCA Records. When Petty attempted to renegotiate his contract with the new label, they were unwilling to meet his demands. So, Petty paid 500,000 dollars from his own pocket to get Damn the Torpedoes produced and then hid the record as bargaining chip against MCA. He eventually had to file for bankruptcy to gain more leverage in the legal dispute that followed. However, MCA finally gave in and allowed Petty out of his original contract and signed a new three million dollar contract that allowed Petty to have more creative control in the production and sale of his music. Petty’s problems with the record executives was far from over though. He ran into trouble with them once again when he was getting ready to release his 1981 album Hard Promises. MCA wanted to release the record for a price of $9.98 which was high for the time. Petty refused to comply with their wishes and threatened to withhold the album until they lowered the price to $8.98. MCA eventually saw things Petty’s way and released the album at the cheaper price.

These four musicians are true artists who stepped outside of the box to change the music industry forever. They never allowed anyone to tell them how they should run their career or what they should sing. Instead, they ran to the beat of their own drum and let the music flow from them naturally. They revolutionized the rock and roll industry and changed it for the better. Without their influence, who knows what would have happened to the music industry.





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