1. Tom Waits - "Goin' Out West"
I can't imagine the reactions people would have if Tom Waits was played on mainstream radio. Most people who hear some of his songs for the first time think they're funny by comparing his voice to that of Cookie Monster's. Waits has always been a trend setter and followed the beat of his own drum. A celebrated songwriter, his songs have been recorded by countless popular artists like Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, The Eagles and Bruce Springsteen. His mannerisms and acting style have been copied as well, Heath Ledger based aspects of his oscar-winning performance of the Joker on Tom Waits. Though his influence can be seen on many aspects of popular media he hasn't begged for time in the spotlight. Even after successfully suing companies for using his songs (or sound alikes) in their commercials, he'd typically donate all the winnings to charity. His music expands many genres and even defies explanation. "I Hope I Don't Fall In Love With You" is a lounge pianist's lament. "Downtown Train" a vagabond's song for unrequited love. "Goin' Out West" a bizarre sound mashing song seemingly aimed at the vanity of Hollywood.
2. Bjork - "Army Of Me"
Hailing from Reykjavik, Iceland how does one describe Bjork? A multi-instrumentalist, producer and even actress, she can seemingly do it all. After her punk band The Sugarcubes came to an end, Bjork was able to release more experimental and eclectic music. Her uniqueness overflowed visually into her music videos and became almost more well known for those over her music. With 9 studio albums under her belt spanning almost 40 years(!) she's got another one coming out this year. There aren't many adjectives to describe her music as other than simply Bjork.
3. Ween - "Ocean Man"
Dean and Gene Ween are the two masterminds behind one of the most experimental and mercurial bands of the 90's. Ween were definitely one of those bands who could have 5 different styles of songs on one album. It made them virtually impossible to place in a genre so they would get labeled as 'experimental'. For the first 10 years of their existence they would have an audio tape backing them up, before adding a few more members to the group while they toured. "Ocean Man" comes off the album The Mollusk released in 1997 and generally viewed as a concept album as most songs on it are nautical themed.
4. Primus - "Southbound Pachyderm"
Coming out of California, what makes Primus stand alone among most other rock oriented groups from the 90's is essentially Les Claypool. His distinct voice and mesmerizing often confounding slap-bass style playing was unlike anything in modern pop music. Their song often feature a story-telling narrative with humourous lyrics and double entendre. Claypool is often involved in the videos for the songs as well, which have also been noted for their uniqueness. Claypool is definitely an individual and any band he may have started would have been in a class by themselves, i'm sure of it.
5. Jamiroquai - "Virtual Insanity"
Founded by Jay Kay, Jamiroquai are a band from Britain that fuses elements from Jazz, Rock, Funk, Dance, Hip-hop and Electronic music to form their unique sound. Jamiroquai songs can often simply feature guitars, bass and drums, or a full-blown orchestra, or merely a synthesizer while Kay goes nuclear on the mic and dance floor. Think about it. What's another band that you can compare to Jamiroquai?
6. System Of A Down - "Suite Pee"
Sure you can stack System of a Down beside most heavy metal acts from the 2000's and today and it would work, but you know that they stand out like a sore thumb due to their unique time structures, vocal diversity and non-conventional song structures. I remember when I first heard Toxicity in 2001 I didn't like it, mainly because I couldn't wrap my head around it. Being unable to avoid the songs and albums however I warmed to SOAD and recognize their brilliance and talent that are unmatched to this day.
7. Brand New - "Degausser"
This one might be a bit hard to describe. Brand New first appeared on the scene as another punk band from Long Island with ties to Taking Back Sunday and The Rookie Lot. Something changed along the way and their sound started to morph and mature. More melodic tunes with dark lyrics started to populate their albums and the band started to disassociate themselves with the mainstream, choosing to write and release the type of music they wanted to instead of what might have been expected from them. It worked. 2 near perfect albums in Deja Entendu & The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me followed and they are unlike anything i've heard before in terms of song structure, themes and creativity. Their last album was released in 2009. Can't wait to hear what's next.
8. Sublime - "Badfish"
It's not punk, it's not reggae. It's something else. It can't be ska because there's no brass section. Though I can see why it would be associated with all 3. The energy of punk and ska, fused with the Reggae mentality and often chill vibe, Sublime was tough to call when they arrived on the scene. Rock stations played them. R&B stations played them. Even the Latin stations played them because of their Mexican flavours. Since their demise a few bands have come around clearly inspired by Sublime, but none will ever reach the accolades of the original.
9. At The Drive-In - "198d"
Often lumped in with the punk scene At The Drive-In were as much a punk band as they were metal, and in some songs electronic. Likely due to the eclectic array of musicians in the group, At The Drive-In could shift between genres effortlessly and often within the same song. A song could start of slow and melodic and end up with hardcore screaming. After 3 full studio albums the band split into two seperate groups: Sparta and The Mars Volta. 2 bands withe distinct sounds, kind of sheds some light on why At The Drive-In was a little all over the place.
10. Mr. Bungle - "Pink Cigarette"
Fronted by the enigmatic, yet musically enriched Mike Patton, Mr. Bungle came from Eureka, California and that is the last normal thing about them. From the get go Mr. Bungle refused to be identified by a genre or style and even went as far as wearing Halloween costumes on stage. All instruments were fair game on Mr. Bungle records from train whistles to kazoos to bongos to saxophones. One album could be described as thrash metal and then the next straight up jazz. Their 1999 album California is by far their most accessible, though some of the genre shifts still exist. In a sad happenstance around the album The Red Hot Chili Peppers also released an album that year called Californication and it greatly overshadowed the Mr. Bungle album. There was already animosity between the two groups, but that's another list for another day
Thanks again for reading! No go out there and be unique!!!