So many variables determine what makes an artist or band “essential” — longevity, impact, influence, history. On-air and online, we celebrate the musicians who have shaped our cultural soundtrack for the past fifty years. Let’s love these FUV Essential artists while they’re here, and honor those who have departed too soon.
Michael Jackson, who would have turned 59 on August 29, 2017, remains one of the most talented, fascinating, elusive, and tragic figures in contemporary music. Although his troubled private life, legal travails and puzzling public persona often overshadowed his pop genius, his recordings remain a testament to his gift.
Michael Jackson (illustration by Andy Friedman)
To bare oneself with fearless candor — and speak as a survivor, a witness and ultimately as an activist — is not easy. Straddling her piano bench and bravely laying her soul bare, Tori Amos, this week's FUV Essentials artist, kicked open the door to another avenue of confessional songwriting and elevated the voices of those who've faced trauma or anguish in their lives.
Tori Amos (illustration by Andy Friedman)
Willie Nelson made it okay to be a freak, not just in country music but in life: His fans include as many blue-haired ladies as bearded hipsters as rural Republicans. And for that, for his songs, for his sweet and shaky voice, and for his rebel soul, Willie Nelson is an FUV Essentials artist.
Willie Nelson (illustration by Andy Friedman)
In his 1999 autobiography, A Cure For Gravity, Joe Jackson wrote: "As I reflect on my musical apprenticeship, I can't say where the apprenticeship ended, or if it even has yet. That's okay. It's actually comforting to think that I'll always be traveling and may never arrive. Because if you ever "arrived," wouldn't it be all over?" Jackson's lifelong quest, and his elasticity and genius as a composer, songwriter and performer, is why he's an FUV Essentials artist.
Joe Jackson (illustration by Andy Friedman)
Blondie, this week's FUV Essentials, will always be downtown ambassadors from those halcyon nights of the Seventies, when Manhattan glittered with a gritty Lower East Side panache. Yet as rock 'n' roll survivors of those fertile years of rock 'n' roll, they've also never abandoned what made them great in the first place: a visionary embrace of the future.
Blondie in 'Parallel Lines' days (illustration by Andy Friedman)
And as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers crosses the country in 2017, celebrating a formidable four-decade juggernaut of brilliant songwriting, FUV is doing the same: Tom Petty, with and without the Heartbreakers, is an FUV Essentials artist. UPDATE: On October 2, 2017, Tom Petty died after a suffering a cardiac arrest at home. He was just 66 years old.
Tom Petty (illustration by Andy Friedman)
How did Mavis Staples become a rock star?
Mavis Staples (illustration by Andy Friedman)