Morphine is the second band that I probably have ranked much too high, based on their actual chart accomplishments. But Morphine, another good Boston band having been formed in Cambridge, MA in 1989, was just so damn good. An unusual trio, Morphine was comprised of lead singer/bass player Mark Sandman, saxophonist Dana Colley, and drummer Jerome Deupree (who over the course of the band’s existence split time with Billy Conway, who originally filled in for an ill Deupree in 1991 and then became the principal drummer from 1993 through the end of the band’s existence). Their music is probably some sort of combination of jazz, blues, and rock, but there is no other band that sounds like Morphine.
A large reason for that was the ridiculous musicianship of Colley, who often played two saxes at once, and the unmatched inventiveness of Sandman, who mostly played a two string bass of his own devising that he played using a slide. He also created the tritar, which had two guitar strings and one bass string. His vocals are also distinct and evocative of George Thorogood or Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Kind of a back of the throat, mellow sound that allows the music to shine through.
In all, Morphine released only five albums. And they never really had anything close to a charting hit. They were in heavy rotation on college stations, but never really broke through to the mainstream. Part of the reason they never got beyond cult status was Sandman’s untimely death on stage in Palestrina, Italy in 1999. And while the remaining members carried on with various projects including three different Morphine tributes (Orchestra Morphine, Members of Morphine, and most recently Vapors of Morphine) and one awesomely named the Ever-Expanding Elastic Waste Band, they have never come close to actually hitting the mainstream.
So why are they this high? The Hall has a history of rewarding musicianship and uniqueness, even without a massive hit. Perhaps no band better signifies this than the Velvet Underground, who released five albums over seven years without sniffing a hit, but still managed to find their way into the Hall. Not that Morphine ever had the impact of Velvet Underground, but their likelihood of being a pet project of someone on the committee is high. They fit all of the criteria.
Even if they don’t make the Hall, they were unique and totally awesome as a band. And I should say in full disclosure that the Vapors of Morphine have a weekly gig at Atwood’s Tavern in Somerville, MA should you ever want to go see them. The same Atwood’s tavern owned by my buddies, The Brothers Magee (John, Patrick, and Ryan for those of you scoring at home). So you can go see the remaining members play incredible songs like this one. (I also recommend both “Buena” and “You Look Like Rain” for those of you discovering them for the first time. You will not be disappointed).
24. David Gray
If there is one thing that you will notice when it comes to solo artists and the Rock Hall it’s that if they aren’t superstars and are women they will be referred to as indie artists, and if they aren’t superstars and they are men? Well, then they become singer-songwriters. David Gray falls into that second category. Born in 1968 in Sale, Trafford, England David Gray has been incredibly prolific but only moderately successful in charting. He released his first single “Birds Without Wings” in 1992 and started touring in 1993 and has essentially been releasing music and touring ever since.
That is not to say that Gray has been entirely without hits. While his first three albums were largely ignored, his fourth album, 1998’s White Ladder exploded. It is still the number one selling album in the history of the country of Ireland, going an astonishing 27 times platinum there. It is estimated that one out of every four households in that country have a copy of White Ladder. It also went platinum in the U.S. and 10 times platinum in the U.K. But even that success was hard fought.
As I said, the album was released in 1998, but it took a re-release by Dave Matthews’ label ATO in 2000 for it to really find its footing. It finally hit the #1 spot in the U.K. in May of 2001, nearly two and a half years after its release. It had five singles that charted in the U.K. including “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”, “Sail Away”, “This Years Love”, “Please Forgive Me”, and “Babylon”. It was this last single “Babylon” that became his springboard to international acclaim and became only charting single in the U.S. topping out at #57 in 2000.
Since then he has continued to produce high quality music having put out a total of ten albums and securing 12 charting hits in the U.K. He is still touring, currently kicking off a new 21 city with Alison Krauss in Hershey, PA on Monday. But when it comes to the Hall, while the voters love their “singer-songwriters” (certainly much more than their “indie artists”), there are just way too many other “singer-songwriters” ahead of him to get much quick consideration. That said, he has made a career out of creating and performing consistently great music. Is there a possibility he gets in someday? Yes. But not much of one.
23. Blind Melon
Founded in Los Angeles by three Mississippians (guitarist Rogers Stevens, bassist Brad Smith, and drummer Glen Graham), a Pennsylvanian (guitarist Christopher Thorn), and a Hoosier (lead singer Shannon Hoon) Blind Melon used their quirky mash up of psychedelia and alternative rock to explode onto the music scene in the early 1990s. That run was far too brief mainly due to Hoon’s cocaine induced heart attack in New Orleans in October 1995. In reality, Blind Melon is a one hit wonder. But no one of my generation really feels like that way about the band do they?
Their first album, the eponymous Blind Melon was released 25 years ago this month. And while the first single released off this record, “Tones of Home” charted on both the Mainstream and Alternative Rock Charts, it was their second single “No Rain” that made them household names. While it only hit #20 on the Billboard Hot 100, it was #1 on both the Mainstream and Alt Rock charts. It also has one of the most distinctive music videos of the 1990s. If you are making a collage of images that define the 90s, that little girl in the bee costume has a prominent place on your poster board.
With the success of “No Rain” they spent much of 1993 and 1994 touring as the opening act for Lenny Kravitz and even the Rolling Stones on the “Voodoo Lounge” tour. They also performed at Woodstock ’94. And they spent a lot of time checking Hoon in and out of rehab. They moved to New Orleans to record their second album Soup, which was released in 1995. While the song “Galaxie” was a moderate success, the record failed to capture the magic of “No Rain”. And against the advice of Hoon’s rehab counselor they decided the album needed more support and went on tour, where Hoon ultimately would die.
The band has broken up and reformed various times since Hoon’s death. Even producing two new albums, 1996’s Nico, which really was a compilation of unreleased tracks that was to fund education for Hoon’s young daughter by the same name, and 2008’s For My Friends, with new lead singer Travis Warren (previously of Rain Fur Rent). But the death of Hoon in many ways was the end of Blind Melon’s success.
Still they end up much higher on the list than other more successful artists because they seem to be a much more successful and influential band than they actually were. And when it comes to the folks voting, perception is definitely reality. So while they certainly would be one of the least successful acts in the Hall were they ever elected, it certainly couldn’t be entirely ruled out. Plus, how cute is the bee girl?
When Camper Van Beethoven’s eight year run ended in 1990, lead singer David Lowery went back home and started recording demos with his childhood friend, guitarist Johnny Hickman. Together the two Redlands buddies grabbed a third Redlands musician, bassist Davey Faragher, and a rotating list of drummers (seriously, they went through more than Spinal Tap) to release their first album Cracker in 1992. The first single of which, “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)”, hit #1 on the Modern Rock tracks and set the stage for their breakthrough sophomore album, 1993’s Kerosene Hat.
Kerosene Hat is an alternative rock masterpiece. First single “Low” hit #3 on the Modern Rock tracks and was their biggest crossover hit, “Get Off This” hit #6, and “Euro Trash Girl” hit #25. They contributed a song “Whole Lotta Trouble” to the Empire Records soundtrack (my favorite movie soundtrack of all-time) and a solid third album The Golden Age highlighted by the first single “I Hate My Generation”. Unfortunately, the refrain for Cracker and a bunch of these guitar driven bands of the early 90s, by the end of the decade music was dominated by pop starlets and boy bands and many good bands saw their record sales decline. Both The Golden Age and its 1998 follow-up Gentleman’s Blues saw declines over previous albums.
The band continued performing, but band members started heading off on their own side projects. Lowery started a Camper Van Beethoven revival in 1999. Farragher had previously moved on to first back John Hiatt and Elvis Costello. And the drummers, well they kept being replaced (although the seventh drummer Frank Funaro did stick around for nearly a decade). Eventually both Lowery and Hickman embarked on their own solo careers. That said, between 1998 and 2014 they did play enough together to release an additional five albums. Unfortunately, none of them made much of an impact on the music scene.
So Cracker is still performing and putting out music all of these years later, just with time for side projects built in (and lawsuits against Spotify for improperly streaming their music without a license). They are still an amazing alternative rock band, mixing punk, rock, psychedelia, and country among other genres. There are probably a lot of other alternative rock bands who will have to get in before they even get considered. But their career will be on the peripheries of the Rock Hall discussion for years to come. And that will be based on songs like this. Awesome, awesome songs like this. And all of us Crumbs (their fan base), all of us disgraced cosmonauts thank them for that.
By all rights, this is too low for the band that likely created the Britpop revolution of the early 90s. A movement that would bring us Oasis, Blur, Pulp, and Elastica among others. But despite being Brit music magazine coverboys before ever releasing an album, Suede has become largely overshadowed by the bands that came after them. And really that is a shame.
Founded in 1989 in London, Suede is a five piece alt rock outfit currently (and for most of their history) comprised of singer Brett Anderson, lead guitarist Richard Oakes, bassist Mat Osman, drummer Simon Gilbert, and keyboardist Neil Codling. Their discovery really occurred in January 1992, when their discovery by Nude records founder Saul Galpern saw them at a gig and approached them to sign with his label. By April of 1992, “Melody Maker” magazine had deemed them the “Best New Band in Britain”.
Their sound, which was such a contrast from the grunge scene that was taking over the music world, combined with the intrigue that surrounded the sexually ambiguous and largely androgynous style of lead singer Brett Anderson, quickly launched the band from being the next big thing to actually hitting the charts all over Europe. By 1993 their self-titled album would hit #1 in the UK and would eventually go platinum.
They only charted twice in the U.S., with 1992’s “Metal Mickey” and 1998’s “Everything will Flow”, but their influence on music in the 90’s is undeniable. Although the band went on hiatus from 2003-2010, they are back together and still touring and making music. I was unsure where they belonged in this list because they could be pretty much anywhere between 10 and 30. But they end up here. And it is probably lower than they deserve.
Anyway, here they are with my favorite of their songs: 1996’s “Beautiful Ones”. Enjoy.