“Music from the 80s and 90s was soooo much better than the crap on the radio now,” you overhear some section asshole say. Despite them being an asshat, this is largely true. In part due to survivorship bias — the bad songs didn’t make their way to the modern day — but also because classic rock songs were far more complex than any modern day pop hits.
So where does that leave us today? Settling for Justin Bieber’s Yummy and Music To Be Murdered By (yeah, okay Eminem)? Maybe this new wave of autotune-infested garbage will eventually completely eclipse classic rock and roll. Perhaps some of those classic themes will live on through John Mayer, John Frusciante, and Derek Trucks, or what the Rolling Stone refers to as the “New Guitar Gods:”
It seems incomprehensible to most that the pop artist, TMZ star, and serial celebrity-dater responsible for “Your Body is a Wonderland” is also one of our generation’s greatest blues musicians. John Clayton Mayer is known to most as the guy that broke Taylor Swift’s heart, and Jennifer Aniston’s, and Katy Perry’s, and Jennifer Love-Hewitt’s, and Jessica Simpson’s, and… well, you get the point. But the Fairfield native, who has tried very hard to escape that public life, has poured his soul into music. From “Daughters” to “St. Patrick’s Day” — which has like a hundred chords — Mayer has shown he’s as skilled with his hands as his mind. His lyrics are extremely pertinent to us college students; whether you’re afraid to eat in a dining hall because your ex lives there (“In Your Atmosphere”) or just need something for your sex playlist (“Love on the Weekend”, “Your Body is a Wonderland”).
Mayer’s first studio album, “Room for Squares,” attained unexpected success which thrust the young musician into stardom. Guitarists fell in love with his complex acoustic skills, on tracks such as “Neon” which — by Mayer’s own admission — are really difficult to play unless you have massive thumbs. Meanwhile every teenage girl was falling in love to songs like “Why Georgia” and “City Love”.
Nostalgic about high school? Check out “No Such Thing”. Tired of distant and digital romances? “3×5” has you covered. In 2002, he received a Grammy for YBIAW, solidifying himself as some pop artist who maybe had some chops on the guitar. By this point, many guitarists didn’t take him seriously and most teenage girls wanted to sleep with him.
With his second major album, fans saw Mayer start to get tatted up and work his way through hollywood. Still, his beautiful chord progressions and lyrical skills shined in pieces like “Wheel” and “Come Back to Bed”. Yet, this album would be forever known for “Daughters”, which Mayer hesitantly accepted a Grammy for. “Daughters” — which is high-key a diss track (he basically tells a dad he did an ass job raising his children, so shitty that his daughter doesn’t know how to love) — ended up netting Mayer the awards for Song of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. One of the “flyest motherfuckers in the whole game” (in his words) isn’t one to back down though. Rather than accept his pop label, Mayer embarked on a new journey to redefine himself.
With the creation of the John Mayer Trio, John hoped to show fans he’s more than just a pop artist. The album featured tasteful blues-rock songs, including covers of some of the 20th century’s greatest hits. With songs like “Another Kind of Green”, Mayer dazzled on the six-string and delivered clever lines such as “It’s not the perfect hand, But I don’t hit on nineteen.” On “Try!”, Mayer didn’t just play the guitar; he fucking rocked it. Soon, most doubts about his instrumental skills faded away. Eric Clapton said he was “gobsmacked” and that he had a “new respect for John ‘cause he’s extremely gifted.” Clapton referenced Mayer as a “master” after he shredded through classics like “Magnolia” in single takes.
Mayer released perhaps his greatest album, “Continuum”, in 2006. The album was coherent, brilliantly produced, and showed Mayer had found his groove. With his hard-to-replicate slap techniques and complicated procedures on songs like “Stop this Train”, Mayer made statements about growing up too fast, the struggles of love, and life in general. Meanwhile lyrics like “Is there anyone who ever remembers, Changing their mind from the paint on a sign?” convey political messages. Maybe you’re stuck in a bad relationship or you just can’t keep pulling all nighters to finish Math 230 p-sets, well “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” has you covered. Perhaps you’re stressed out and just need a virtual hug for comfort, then close your eyes for 3 minutes and 18 seconds as you listen to “The Heart of Life”. I cannot wholeheartedly recommend another studio album in its entirety as much as “Continuum”, but Mayer found a way to outdo himself in a three-set live performance/album, “Where the Light Is”. WTLI sums up much of Mayer’s early career (minus a few hits) in: a solo acoustic set, a blues-rock set with JM3, and a full band set.
In his next album, “Battle Studies”, Mayer crafted the perfect analogy of love as warlike. Hits like “Edge of Desire” show what it means to just want love, while the eerie “Assassin” details what it’s like to go from doing one-night stands to suddenly catching feelings for someone who doesn’t mirror them (*cough* Yalies). Mayer went on to overcome some serious health issues with three more studio albums: “Born and Raised”, “Paradise Valley”, and “The Search for Everything”. Songs like “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test” are Mayer’s way of showing off his narrative-writing skills while somehow maintaining complete relatability to the idea of wanting something more out of life, meanwhile “Shadow Days” is his way of saying he’s done some bad things, but he’s moved past them.
At the same time, new singles like New Light will play on loop on KC101, with most people not knowing the masterful guitarist behind the pop hit. If you still think he’s just some pop sellout, check out Dead & Company or watch him shred some Hendrix hits live.
Mayer will go down in most books as the man who dated pretty much every famous female celebrity in Hollywood, but give him another listen and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. In his discography, he somehow captures almost every emotion Yalies feel — whether it is wanting to be more than an investment banker, regrettably saying something stupid in section, or meeting someone at the wrong time. The blues guitarist may have had a rough start, but he’s found his rhythm and whether you’re sad, happy, or just in the mood for some good music, check him out. Usually people don’t recommend artists’ entire discographies, but then again no musician in history has ever blended smooth blues with upbeat pop to perfection, so here I am, doing exactly that. If you’re still not interested, then fuck it, go listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers shout “Give it Away” on repeat.
If you find the need to just move, give the Red Hot Chili Peppers a chance. A staple in rock and roll music since the ’80s, RHCP funked their way into the spotlight and remained there with some of the greatest musicians of our generation. With Flea slapping away on Bass, Chad Smith (Will Ferrell?) smacking the drums, John Frusciante vibing on guitar, and Anthony Kiedis… well, just dancing around really, RHCP shot to fame with hits like “Give it Away”, “Californication”, and “By the Way”. However, when Frusciante decided to step away from the fame and glory back in 2009, RHCP found themselves in uncharted territory. They looked to former backup guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who will never quite be as “pink as floyd.” Fans expected Klinghoffer to follow in John’s exact footsteps, which simply wasn’t possible nor was it meant to be. After two studio album flops later, RHCP outed Klinghoffer and announced Frusciante would be returning just before the new decade. Although new music has yet to be released, fans can be sure the Red Hot Chili Peppers will return to their ways of funk odes to California and “hey oh’s” in the ’20s. It’s music which you’ll first dismiss as utter shit, but then the raw, positive energy will begin to move you.
The third guitar god, Derek Trucks, is a masterful guitarist but there’s a slim chance you’ll like his songs if you weren’t already into the blues (and if that were the case then you’d already know who he is). Overall, the other two artists offer music which, for the first time in a while, I’m excited to hear.
Akshar Agarwal | email@example.com