Friday, March 07, 2008

This is what a music geek thinks about

I have always loved the multiple singer/songwriter band (hereafter referred to as MSS bands). This probably stems from my childhood Beatles/Monkess obsession. I just love the contrast between different singers and writers in a band setting. The Beatles are really the classic example of MSS, and also the first. In order to really be a MSS band there has to be more than one dominant singer/songwriter, so there's a real back and forth going on. All four wrote and sang their own songs, though obviously George and Ringo didn't write as much as Lennon/McCartney. While John and Paul were basically 2 solo artists in a band (SAIB) with an equal share of the material, George and Ringo both set up different band songwriting archetypes. George originated the one-song-per-album writer who sang lead only on his songs, henceforth known as OSPA. And Ringo was the first of the once-in-a-blue-moon novelty songwriters, henceforth known as OIBM.

Among all the big British bands of the 60's, the Beatles were really the only full-on MSS band. The Stones had a writing team, but only one lead singer. Yes, I know Keith was an occasional OSPA and Bill had a OIBM moment on Satanic Majesty's, but they are not a MSS band. The Who come very close, but are typically skewed. They had a lead singer who didn't write (Roger), a main songwriter who sometimes sang lead (Pete), an OSPA (John) and an OIBM (Keith). The Davies brothers in the Kinks both wrote and sang, but Dave's contributions were really in OSPA vein.

Although most people don't think the Monkees actually wrote their own sings, they did. Well, at least Mike did, although Peter, Davy and Mickey did manage to get a few in there. And in Mickey's case, pure brilliance - Randy Scouse Git anyone? Arguably, Mike was a SAIB, but shared lead vocals equally with non-songwriting Davy and Mickey. Thankfully, Peter only got a few vocal performances on record (sorry, dude).

The 60's were a great era for the MSS bands, though. The Byrds are one of the best. Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons all wrote and sang their own stuff. Along with Buffalo Springfield, they really spearheaded the MSS movement in the 70's - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young being one of the more well-known results. Fittingly, Graham Nash was in the Hollies a possible MSS British band, though I don't know enough about them to say. Maybe it was a West Coast thing, because San Francisco also had a lot of MSS bands: Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, and (I think) the Dead. The Beach Boys had multiple writers and lead singers. I would say in the 60's they were really Brian's band, but by the 70's they had become a real MSS band.

The Clash is a weird case. A songwriting duo with a main lead singer (Joe) and occasional lead singer (Mick). Queen is also a tough one to call. Yes, Freddie was the lead singer, but not the only songwriter. Vocally, Brian and Roger were OSPA's, but full-on SAIB's are far as songwriting goes. And while John didn't sing, he wrote his share of material - still enjoying those Another One Bites the Dust royalties, Mr. Deacon? It's a borderline case, but I'm just going to lump them in. Then there's Pink Floyd. Another borderline case: multiple singers, but really one main songwriter (Roger), though Dave and Richard did co-write a lot of the material. Some true 70's MSS bands include the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. And, sadly, Styx. It seems that the MSS band went out of fashion after the 70's. Maybe it was Styx's fault.

I can't think of too many examples in more recent years. Well, there's XTC, Love & Rockets, the Long Ryders, the Db's, Husker Du and They Might Be Giants in the 80's. And Uncle Tupelo, Teenage Fanclub, Travelling Wilburys and Sebadoh in the 90's. MSS bands seemed to be very popular in New Orleans when I lived there: the Continental Drifters, Dash Rip Rock, Cowboy Mouth, and my own band, the House Levelers. I'm sure there are tons of others - who else did I miss?


Rambling Canuck said...

Early Wailers with Marley, Tosh and Bunny would fit the bill.

As for current lineups - Blonde Redhead and Yo La Tengo are potentials (though I'm not sure where the actual songwriting lies. It may be just a case of sharing vocal duties).

Superwolf with Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney could be another. But really just a one-off album.

And how about Fugazi? I believe they all contributed - and definitely MacKaye and Picciotto sang their own stuff.

And Golden Smog or Little Feat or Velvet Underground or....

Wow, this is fun to think about.

Pete Best said...

Some good ones in there, but I would say Golden Smog really hits the nail on the head. Los Lobos is another good one.