The other day, on the sidewalk outside the BW offices, I got into one helluva brawl with Amy Atkins, the paper's arts and entertainment editor. More than once, I thought I had her ready to cry uncle, but she kept coming back like Rocky in that one movie, and I never did land a knockout. It ended up with the two of us rolling around in a snow bank like Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in that one movie, and I guess you could call it a draw. Whew! Good thing someone came along and broke us up or we might still be there.
She started it. Yeah, it wasn't my fault! We were just yakking along about the Grammy Awards, which, at the time, were coming up (Amy does most of the band reviews and music critiques in BW and she knows a lot about the modern music scene—as though there's anything worth knowing about the modern music scene, ha ha!) and all I said was, "There isn't a damn thing going on in popular music anymore that can hold a candle to what we had in the late '60s ... early '70s," and Jeez Louise, she goes Paula Abdul on me! Or is it Amy Whinehorse ... house ... whatever? I don't know. I get them all confused. Paula Abdul ... Christine Aguisomethingorother ... Beyoncewhat'sername ... I can't tell them apart anymore. I won't go so far as to say they all sound alike, but I can damn sure say they all sound like something I don't want to listen to. So I say, "There isn't a damn thing going on in popular music anymore ... etc., etc. ... " and she sucker punches me with, "Cope, how can you say that when you don't have the slightest idea what's going on in music anymore?"
See what I mean? She started it.
But it's not over, by gawd. It's been gnawing at my gut like the alien embryo in that one movie and I don't intend to let it go. I know I'm right, and to prove it, I'm going down to the library to dig out a year's worth of old Billboard Magazines. Then I'm going to list all the bands and solo acts that had a hit in the top 40 during that year. (I haven't decided on which year yet. Someone suggested 1972, but my gnawed-up gut is telling me 1970.) Then, by gawd, I'm going to print that list in this column. Out here in the open air for everyone to see. Then, by gawd, I'm going to issue a challenge to anyone—especially that gosh-dang Amy Atkins—to compile a comparable list of current pop musicians that can hold a candle (judged on the basis of diversity and uniqueness of styles, creative innovation, instrumental accomplishment, spirit, soul, substance, breadth of appeal, and pure talent) to what we had back then. And THEN —when I have proven beyond all doubt that such a comparable list simply can not be compiled ... no way, no how—I will wither Amy Atkins down to a lump of pure, quivering defeat. Until she howls for mercy and throws in every towel she's ever owned—that's how I shall deal with that gosh-dang Amy Atkins. Question my hipness, will she!
So kids ... here, in no particular order ... is my list, proceeding generally from 1970 to 1972. (Yes, I ultimately decided to go with both. And I threw in 1971 for good measure.) As you read through this, notice, if you will, how impossible it would be to confuse an artist with any other. Love 'em or hate 'em, at least you could tell them apart.
•Leon Russell, George Harrison (solo), Sugarloaf, Joe Cocker, Bobbie Gentry, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Sandpipers, Van Morrison, Jackson 5, James Brown, Diana Ross (solo), Bill Withers, The Guess Who, The Grass Roots, Simon & Garfunkel, Dawn, Three Dog Night, The Impressions, Grand Funk Railroad, Plastic Ono Band, Badfinger, Aretha Franklin, Vanity Fare, Wilson Pickett, B.J. Thomas, Ray Stevens, Santana, The Beatles, Rare Earth, Junior Walker & The All Stars, The Hollies, Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, Steppenwolf, Bobby Sherman, Blood Sweat & Tears, Glenn Campbell, Ike & Tina Turner, Sly & The Family Stone, Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick, Mungo Jerry, The Spinners, The Four Tops, Charley Pride, Linda Ronstadt, The New Seekers, The Friends Of Distinction, John Phillips, Mountain, Bobby Bloom, Lulu, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, The 5 Stairsteps, Tommy James & The Shondells, Mark Lindsay (solo), Eric Burden & War, Norman Greenbaum, The Miracles, The Ides Of March, Jay & The Americans, Johnny Cash, The Archies, Jimmy Cliff, Bobby Goldsboro, Barbra Streisand, Brewer & Shipley, Coven, Lighthouse, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Cat Stevens, Stephan Stills (solo), The Isley Brothers, The Temptations, Perry Como, Marvin Gaye, Ten Years After, Elvis Presley, Rod Stewart with Faces, Rod Stewart (solo), Carole King, The Staple Singers, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Hamilton Joe Frank & Reynolds, Curtis Mayfield, The Osmonds, Ray Charles, The Partridge Family, Chicago, Graham Nash (solo), David Cassidy, Sonny & Cher, Judy Collins, Paul McCartney (solo), B.B. King, Bread, The Who, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Melanie, The Rolling Stones, James Taylor, Ray Price, Donny Osmond (solo), Michael Jackson (solo), Cher (solo), Sweathog, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Richie Havens, The Bee Gees, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Olivia Newton-John, John Lennon (solo), Ringo Starr (solo), The Doors, Kris Kristofferson, Janis Joplin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lou Rawls, Delaney & Bonnie, Joan Baez, Ocean, Cymerron, Anne Murray, John Denver, Carly Simon, Henry Mancini, Peter Nero, Tony Orlando & Dawn, 8th Day, Tower Of Power, The Classics IV, Bobby Womack, Harry Chapin, Rick Springfield, Little Sister, War (without Eric Burden), Bobby Vinton, Yes, Gary Glitter, Hot Butter, Joe Simon, Jim Croce, The Chi-Lites, Gallery, Chuck Berry, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Paul Simon (solo), Andy Williams, Al Green, Wings, Allman Brothers Band, Derek & The Dominoes, The Moody Blues, The 5th Dimension, The Stylistics, Lobo, Todd Rundgren, Joe Tex, Johnny Nash, Helen Reddy, Neil Young (solo), Bob Dylan, Ricky Nelson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Roberta Flack, The Main Ingredient, The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, Procol Harum, Nilsson, Arlo Guthrie, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Mott the Hoople, Don Mclean, Mac Davis, The Band, The O'Jays, Led Zeppelin,Wayne Newton, Isaac Hayes, Jackson Brown, America, Commander Cody, and The Eagles.
OK, Mizzzzzz Atkins! Match that ! Go ahead. Just try. (And to any young people who have no idea who most of these musicians are or what kind of music they recorded, I invite you to check them out. But, be prepared to forever after be dissatisfied with the crap you're listening to now.)