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Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

Related:
Minneapolis music scene named second-best in the U.S.
50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene

Minnesotans need to remember to exhale sometimes -- especially fresh on the heels of being ranked as the number two music scene in the country. Shouldn't it be enough to simply enjoy a rich history of quality musicians blossoming from fertile local soil? For those times when worrying that people in Athens, New York, or Des Moines are having more fun than us becomes too much to bear, we've prepared this exhaustive list of the best acts to come out of the North Star State. It's an artistic blanket that fits nicely over a chipped shoulder or a bruised ego in a pinch. -Reed Fischer

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list
Photo by Emily Utne

20. Doomtree
Origin: Hopkins and Minneapolis | Active: 2001-present | Songs: "Bangarang," "Goodbye," and "Drumsticks"
Probably the best way to explain the Doomtree collective to an unknown is to call it the Wu-Tang Clan of the Minneapolis indie scene. Each member has their own well-respected, distinctive style that sets them apart from one another but when formed together, it's deadly entertaining. Members include P.O.S, Dessa, Sims, Mike Mictlan, Cecil Otter, Paper Tiger, and production genius Lazerbeak. What's scary about this group is even after 10-plus years turning out great music and shows they are just getting started. It's safe to say that the Doomtree clan ain't nuthin' to fuck wit. -Lars Larson

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

19. Walt Mink
Origin: St. Paul | Active: 1989-97 | Song: "Shine" (Directed by a 22-year-old Sofia Coppola and shot/edited by Spike Jonze)
Named after their favorite psychology professor at Macalester College, Walt Mink lurked on the hazy periphery of the Twin Cities music scene in the '90s. Their blistering debut, Miss Happiness, is one of the best records of the decade, and third album, El Producto, was the fledgling music review site Pitchfork's first perfect 10.0. After original drummer Joey Waronker left to be in Beck's band in '94, the group experienced record label difficulties, and Walt Mink lost a bit of their direction and potency. But their place in Twin Cities music history is secure based on the strength of their superb studio output alone. -Erik Thompson

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

18. The Suicide Commandos

Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1974-1979 | Song: "Burn It Down"

They were together for barely five years, and they released only one studio album (plus a live one), but it's safe to say that without the Suicide Commandos, there'd be no Minneapolis punk as we know it. Granted, it didn't take much to parse out what Chris Osgood had in mind when he shouted, "Burn it down! Burn it down!" But then that was the point: The Commandos were all about energy and enthusiasm, a giddy squall of feedback and wiry hooks that may as well have announced the end of the world. Anyone since who's hit a power chord or turned the volume up to 11 owes these guys a debt of gratitude. -Jeff Gage

 

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

17. The Jayhawks
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1985-present | Songs: "Blue" and "Waiting for the Sun"
It's easy to pinpoint what got the Jayhawks to stand out in a flock of alt-country bands -- the voices. Gary Louris and Mark Olson's clear, intertwining tenors stood in stark contrast to the gruff, cigarette-raw delivery that traditionally dappled their mid-'90s contemporaries' work. Although the band's lineup seems to be constantly in flux, the quality of the songcraft has thankfully been far more stable. Tomorrow the Green Grass from 1995 is the easy favorite for its heft of weeping solos ("Miss Williams' Guitar"), a novelty Grand Funk Railroad cover ("Bad Time"), and crystalline beauty of "Blue." -Reed Fischer

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

16. Dillinger Four
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1994-present | Songs: "Noble Stabbings!!" and "Last Communion"
Dillinger Four might be the only band anyone gives a shit about that still has an Angelfire domain for their official website, but they've kept things far more current in the cred department. We have guitarist Erik Funk to thank for the majesty of is his property, Triple Rock Social Club, and the rigorous punk work with bandmates Paddy Costello, Billy Morrisette, and Lane Peterson. And unlike a lot of bands that eventually wussed out, these guys have stayed true to a balance of skinned-knuckle intensity and hooks for days. D4's habit of holding humor and political discourse in a tight, raised fist results in catchy statements like "A Floater Left With Pleasure in the Executive Bathroom." After all, getting brains to pogo along with bodies is a doubly visceral experience. -Reed Fischer

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

15. Lifter Puller
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1994-2000 | Song: "Let's Get Incredible"
Sure, the Hold Steady is one of the most beloved bar bands in America, but

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

14. The Jets
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1985-present | Songs: "Crush on You" and "Make It Real"
Back before everyone had to put a damn ukelele in their song, plenty of the best-known Jets jams were sultry synthesizer catnip for Adult Contemporary program directors. Overall, the group's mid-'80s output was an undeniable pop machine that had a good number of folks mentioning the eight Wolfgramm kids in the same breath as the Jacksons. Thanks to Nero, "Crush on You" has endured into the dubstep era, but the original still rules to this day. -Reed Fischer

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

13. Soul Asylum
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1983-present | Song: "Sometime to Return"
Folks frequenting the right Twin Cities bars in the late '80s and '90s were bound to eventually run into Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner. The band finally broke big in 1992 with the triple-platinum selling Grave Dancers Union after working tirelessly in their early days to cultivate a passionate local following with riveting live shows and steadily improving studio efforts. And while that runaway success eventually took its toll on the band (as did the sad passing of bassist Karl Mueller), Soul Asylum are poised to reconnect with their longtime fans on their forthcoming new record, Delayed Reaction, which is due out in July. -Erik Thompson

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

12. Low
Origin: Duluth | Active: 1993-present | Song: "Murderer"
Low's patented slowcore style is akin to the muted, protracted sound of sheets of ice breaking during the first throes of spring in their native Duluth. While they certainly keep you waiting for the payoff within their sedate songs, Low were radically different from the  flannel-covered, guitar-fueled angst that colored much of the '90s. Signing to the venerable grunge label Sub Pop in 2005 has given an added push to Low's career, and their recent output has taken on a welcome restless edge, while thankfully still allowing for the occasional tranquil moment. -Erik Thompson

 

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

11. Brother Ali
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1998-present | Songs: "Forest Whitaker," "Take Me Home," and "Uncle Sam Goddamn"
In a medium that is currently dominated by rented Maybachs and soft Canadians, Brother Ali is a fresh breath of chilly Minnesota air. The North Side native has cemented himself as one of the top draws in this game, and even shared a stage with Justin Timberlake. The Rhymesayers vet puts on a must-see live show, and always turns out great product. While other rappers are rocking leopard-print leotards, Ali keeps it real with his no-nonsense yet humorous attitude, insightful lyrics, and soul -- so much soul you think Stevie Wonder is going to pop out his chest. Singed, sealed, delivered, he's ours. -Lars Larson

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

10. Babes in Toyland
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1987-2001 | Songs: "Bruise Violet" and "Sweet 69
Kat Bjelland is one of the nastiest female vocalists, period. Although the woman who adeptly howled, growled, screeched, and cooed through the band's three studio albums was a transplant from Oregon, Babes in Toyland's sludgy punk was born here in the Twin Cities. In the early- to mid-'90s, Bjelland and co. helped launch the trend of pairing babydoll dresses and Doc Martens, and really there was no more apt attire for the Babes' subversive anthems. This band was so badass that they kicked Courtney Love out of it, and Beavis and Butthead were admittedly huge fans. -Reed Fischer

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

9. Hüsker Dü
Origin: St. Paul | Active 1979-1987 | Song: "Makes No Sense At All"
Hüsker Dü perfectly captured the raw energy and restless urgency of the Twin Cities in the '80s, churning out one boozy, blistering anthem for the underused after another. Infighting and drug abuse didn't keep the trio from recording some truly memorable thrash albums, and their shambolic live shows added to their growing local mystique. While their less abrasive later material would help lay the groundwork for the alternative scene that would follow in the '90s,Zen Arcade and New Day Rising were potent and tempestuous. -Erik Thompson
 

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

8. Information Society
Origin: St. Paul | Active: 1982-1997, 2006-present | Songs: "What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy)," "Peace & Love, Inc.," and "Walking Away
If Depeche Mode had spent more time listening to Kurtis Blow, maybe they'd have beaten Information Society to the punch. Seeded in mastermind Kurt Harland's Macalaster College dorm room, this sample-heavy new wave act proved to be a local blue light special on truth, and fueled countless retro dance parties since the mid-'80s. The sheer fact that a clip of Leonard Nimoy uttering, "Pure energy," lifted from an episode of Star Trek made it into the band's calling card hit shows that this rotating cast of synth-pop provocateurs weren't playing by anyone else's rules. -Reed Fischer

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

7. The Time
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1981-1985, 1990-1991, 1995-present | "Cool," "Jungle Love," and "Jerk Out"
"You all want to learn a new dance?" Morris Day boastfully asked his audience during the classic track "The Bird." Who knew that generations later we would still wouldn't be too fat to fly? Originally another creative outlet for Prince and his compulsive songwriting, the Time ended up being a touring rival of the purple one, and one of the most entertaining bands this city has seen. Numerous artists have sampled or covered Time songs over the years to much success. Plus you have Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who made the careers of Janet Jackson, the S.O.S Band, and even Kevin Garnett. - Lars Larson

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

6. Atmosphere
Origin: Minneapolis | Years Active: 1989-present | Song: "Trying to Find a Balance"
Atmosphere is the Prince of his decade. Now that your coffee is spilled on your pants and your jaw is at your collar, let me explain. Slug and the Purple One don't have much in common on the sonic front, but both have come to embody our region to an obnoxious degree. You know the drill, Minnesotans. You're on vacation, you strike up a conversation with a native who finds out you're from Minneapolis. You either get asked about Prince, snow, or Atmosphere. Having now successfully pulled the Rhymesayers brand up from their own bootstraps, Slug and Ant are now free to take the rest-of-career victory lap that comes with being living legends. It's a luxury that puts many great artists' noses in the air. But something tells us Atmosphere's will stay closer to the grindstone. -Mark Brenden
 

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

5. The Suburbs
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1977-1987 | Song: "Love Is the Law"
Has Minnesota ever produced a cooler bunch of guys than the Suburbs? Probably not. The 'Burbs were stylish, a little offbeat, and had personality to spare. You couldn't help but want to be like them, but then again, that was easier said than done: Between Beej Chaney, resident wild man, and Bruce Allen, the not-so-secret secret weapon, the 'Burbs encapsulated everything great about the Minneapolis Sound, from middle-finger punk rock to chic New Wave dance beats. That was never clearer than on Love Is the Law, their career-defining credo and the album that, in an ideal world, should rightfully have made them stars. -Jeff Gage

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

4. The Replacements

Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1979-1991 | Songs: "Color Me Impressed" and "Bastards of Young"

List-making be damned! We all know who we'd cheer for the hardest, and when it comes to the Replacements, that's all that ever mattered. "Beautiful losers" doesn't tell the half of it; these four street rats were sloppy, crass, sometimes downright stupid, and invariably at their best when they came unglued. Paul Westerberg may have fixed the band's heart firmly on his sleeve, but it was Bob Stinson's loose-cannon behavior that warmed its soul. The 'Mats made getting shitfaced in public an art form, their piece de resistance a bratty, but endearing, style of self-sabotage. They never made it to the big time, but that's probably for the better. If they had, they wouldn't be ours to cheer for. -Jeff Gage

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

3. The Andrews Sisters
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1925-1967 | Songs: "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," and "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön"
For anyone under the age of 65, it might be a surprise to see this group make it to the top three. But back when swing and boogie-woogie ruled the airwaves, the Andrews Sisters were bigger than Destiny's Child. Over the course of their squabble-ridden career, the three-part harmonies by

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

2. Bob Dylan
Origin: Born in Duluth, raised in Hibbing | Active: 1962-present | Song: "Like a Rolling Stone," "Tangled Up in Blue," and "The Times They Are a-Changin'"
No other musician born in Minnesota has had Bob Dylan's enduring cultural impact

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

1. Prince
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 1976-present | Songs: "Purple Rain," "Kiss," "When Doves Cry," and "Little Red Corvette" (blocked on YouTube) 
Prince Rogers Nelson was "born" in Minneapolis, but he's actually a space alien. Simply put, there has never been a showman quite like him on this earth, and his adventurous blend of soul, funk, and blues (and eventually hip-hop) is worthy of that unpronounceable symbol he briefly adopted in the '90s. Adventurous albums like Sign o' the Times and Diamonds and Pearls smashed innumerable social and artistic taboos for the mainstream, and showed this guy didn't ever want to get pinned down -- unless, perhaps, in the bedroom. Prince built a purple empire here with Paisley Park, taught us what it means to be purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, wrote the ultimate doomsday song ("1999") and then topped himself ("Let's Go Crazy"), and put on the best Super Bowl halftime show of all time. Have you listened to Prince today?  
-Reed Fischer


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