Chris F. Holm was born in Syracuse, New York, the grandson of a cop who passed along his passion for crime fiction. His work has appeared in such publications as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. He’s been an Anthony Award nominee, a Derringer Award finalist, and a Spinetingler Award winner. His first novel, DEAD HARVEST (Angry Robot Books, February 2012), is a supernatural thriller that recasts the battle between heaven and hell as Golden Era crime pulp. Its sequel, THE WRONG GOODBYE, comes out in September. Find out more about Chris at chrisfholm.com and follow him on Twitter @chrisfholm
My Top Five Artists of All Time. The topic every music-nerd loves and
dreads in equal measure. I mean sure, we love to analyze, to dissect, to
batch and bin and label and list. But it's one thing to list your Top
Five First-Wave Punk Singles ("Alternative Ulster," "Sheena is a Punk
Rocker," "White Riot," "Ever Fallen in Love," "Watching the
Detectives"), or the Best Five Songs to Feature A Slide-Whistle (uh,
"Groove is in the Heart" and presumably four others). Those are playful.
Reductive. Low-pressure. But it's something else entirely to pin the
sum total of your musical tastes to five artists. It's like thinking
back over a lifetime of glorious meals and narrowing it down to the five
best bites of food you've ever tasted. Even a Top Five Albums list
would be easier; even flawed artists make perfect albums on occasion
(both Exile on Main Street and Exile in Guyville come to mind) and some
musicians bang out one-off strokes of genius before fading into creative
obscurity (Loveless or Endtroducing, for example), but marrying
yourself to five artists' whole catalogs is far trickier. I mean, do you
go with your gut or take the desert-island route, picking a
well-rounded list of stuff you could spend a lifetime listening to and
not get bored? Do you consider only current faves, or does that first
artist that ever grabbed you (Michael Jackson; hold the jokes) still
hold sway? Do you stop vamping and just get to the effing list already?
Yeah, probably that last one. So, without further ado...
1. Nick Drake
Over the course of his 26 years on this earth, Nick
Drake quite simply wrote the prettiest songs ever recorded. Hearing him
for the first time was a revelation. I'm someone who gets obsessed with
songs easily; when I find one that grabs me, I'll play it on repeat for
hours, sometimes days. Drake's "Northern Sky" no doubt set the record,
though -- when I discovered it, I must've listened to nothing else for
weeks. And his final record, Pink Moon, is (at a mere 28 minutes) pretty
much the pinnacle of what one man and a guitar can do.
The mid-'90s were all about gimmick-instrumentation.
Alt-rock with a piano! (Ben Folds Five.) With a trumpet! (Cake.) With a
violin! (Dambuilders.) And none on paper sounded gimmickier than
Morphine, what with their two-string slide bass and baritone sax. But
Mark Sandman's stunning songwriting -- by turns funny, creepy, and
heartbreaking -- elevated them well above gimmickry, and by his death in
'99, they'd recorded five spectacular records, three of them stone
classics. Morphine is a slow drink of whiskey, a sultry dame
half-glimpsed across a smoky bar; is it any wonder this noir-geek fell
in love with them?
3. A Tribe Called Quest
I'm a huge fan of hip hop, but even folks
who aren't love Tribe. Pop on The Low End Theory and people dance, it's
as simple as that. And Midnight Marauders may well be even better. I've
been listening to Tribe since '91, and they still never fail to make me
smile. If that ain't worth a top five spot, I don't know what is.
4. Carl Newman/The New Pornographers/Neko Case
Yeah, okay, I'm
cheating, lumping Neko Case in with Newman and the NPs. Sure, she's a
member of the band, but their brainy, ebullient power-pop is all
Newman's doing (a fact his may-as-well-be-NPs solo output reinforces),
and pretty far afield from Case's haunting alt-country. Thing is,
though, Newman's solo stuff led me to the NPs, who in turn led me to
Case, and they're so intertwined in my mind, I couldn't pick between
them. Both (er, all three, even though Newman and the NPs are
interchangeable) are amazing. Both are goosebump inducing. And both are
on my list because I say so.
5. Elvis Costello
Sorry, Dylan -- Costello's got my vote for best
songwriter of all time. He's also my first pick for the artist whose
catalog I'd choose were I stranded on a desert island. His stuff runs
the gamut from punk to folk to jazz to God-knows-what, most of it damned
good, and he's crazy prolific, so I'd have plenty to listen to. Though
truth be told, I'd mostly just listen to My Aim is True on repeat. It
is, in my humble opinion, a perfect record.