Gaslight Anthem's Alex Levine picks his 7 greatest songwriters
SONGWRITING WEEK As a member of possibly the finest bunch of songwriters to emerge out of the 21st century rock scene (check the likes of the 59 Sound and the entire Handwritten album for the proof), Gaslight Anthem bass player Alex Levine has a keen ear for a hook and can sniff out a master song crafter at 50 paces.
With that in mind, and as part of Musicradar’s Songwriting week, we asked Alex to share his favourite ever songwriters, and he delivered – punk poets, rock legends, up and comers and more...
“I think my favourite, most influential songwriter has to be Joe Strummer. Joe, to me, he embodied everything that I wanted to do in music – the style, the attitude, what he was saying and how he was saying it.
"Also, the different directions that he went in, he went in a reggae direction and a punk direction and even just a straight rock or bluesy roots rock direction. Joe Strummer was the king to me, people talk about Elvis, Joe Strummer was my Elvis.
"Joe Strummer opened up a lot of doors for a lot of different people that were interested in punk rock. He was a pioneer of punk rock but he didn’t stay in that vein of punk rock, he bust open doors for a lot of people.”
“When you look at just straight Americana you have Tom Petty. Again, he influenced me a lot when I was younger.
"That’s funny because when I was a kid Free Fallin’ and all that sort of stuff was coming out so I didn’t even know about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers until much later. I didn’t know about that until much later on in my life.
"Tom Petty was so confident and so good at what he did that it was just undeniable and still to this day it is undeniable. He is a true musician. It is almost as if he doesn’t even have to try, it was almost as if he was just put on this earth to do that. In our band in general he is seen as a true innovator for us.”
“Bob Dylan is an obvious one, but then maybe not so much for me because my parents were big into music and big into rock ‘n’ roll but Bob Dylan wasn’t part of that.
"My mother hated Bob Dylan, we never listened to Bob Dylan in the house and I got into Bob Dylan way later in life, way later into being a musician. Maybe within the last ten years I have fallen in love with almost every era of Bob Dylan.
"Then there’s his son Jacob. Its funny but if Jacob and Bob Dylan were one person they ultimately would be the greatest singer/songwriter for all time because Jacob has the voice and Bob has everything else. He’s a pioneer, one of the pioneers of rock ‘n roll. He moved in a direction that no one else at that time was moving into.”
“For me, Pete Townshend embodies what you want to be. He has the attitude and the way that The Who presented themselves...those songs were crafted.
"When you look into the concepts of these records, like Pinball Wizard, they’re crazy. This guy is up there with the best and people don’t know that more or less it was just him. Everyone was a great musician in that band but he had this vision of what he wanted to do with The Who and it was remarkable.
I grew up listening to The Who and I’m a concept record fan. One of my guilty pleasures is Meatloaf, which as a concept record geek is awesome.
“Also, Pete Townshend didn’t have a drummer that would just sit back and lay it down either. From the outside looking in he was raising the band and maybe he was doing that because he knew that the band could do these amazing things.
"His bass player was a bass player while also being a rhythm guitar player and singer all in one. His drummer was one of the best drummers of all time. Roger Daltrey was one of the best singers of all time, his range was incredible. He had so much to work with that on stage Pete wasn’t doing that much, they were doing everything.”
“Freddy Mercury and Queen in general. You cannot touch them, you cannot touch Freddy’s voice and the lyrics and the way the songs are structured.
"Later on in his career, some of those older songs are some of the best he had even written. It blows my mind when you hear that Bohemian Rhapsody was conceptually three different songs and was written ten years prior to when they recorded it.
"They just had to wait for the right time and then it came out like it did. That’s pretty impressive. Queen had four great songwriters. It’s crazy, as a band you cannot touch those guys. They each had unique styles, and hey as a drummer Roger Taylor has a better voice than most singers!”
“Frank Turner is incredible. I’ve been following him for years now. We did a tour over in the UK with him six years ago and just seeing it happen before your eyes was pretty incredible.
"It was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m seeing a star being born.’ This guy was just so confident. The precision of his guitar playing was amazing and the songwriting is incredible. That had been a gap in singer songwriters and then it started becoming a thing again.”