He Said, She Said: Gone Too Soon

A rash of recent musical deaths (Michael Jackson and DJ AM among others) have led us here at Rocks Off to do some speculating of our own: Which musicians do we feel were taken from us too soon?

Obvious answers like the Famous Js (John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin) or the dual tragedies of Tupac and Biggie are givens, of course. And it's silly to sit around wishing that Buddy Holly or Bobby Darin were still alive, because even if they hadn't been taken from us via plane crashes or shittily-done open heart surgery they still wouldn't be alive today.

Which leaves us with the following ten artists, all of whom we feel would still be kicking ass and taking names if they were around.

1. Stevie Ray Vaughan: Isn't he number one on everyone's list? At least every good Texan's list, that is? Although we still have Jimmie (who clearly got the looks in the family, but not necessarily the talent), no one will ever come close to replicating Stevie's wild but warm Stratocaster stylings. Also: when are musicians going to learn to avoid helicopters at all costs?

2. Layne Staley: Easily one of the saddest deaths in rock 'n' roll, Staley stashed himself away in his apartment for close to five years before finally succumbing to an overdose in 2002. The worst part? No one noticed he was dead for two weeks, until his accountant noticed he hadn't spent any money recently. Although it's endlessly debatable whether Staley or Jerry Cantrell was the heart and soul behind Alice In Chains, it's not debatable that Staley was enormous talent lost too young.

3. Karen Carpenter: If Carpenter was still around today, we imagine her taking the stage at a VH1 Divas concert and making everyone else ashamed for even trying to sing. Her voice was nothing short of stunning, a fact made more incredible by the fact that she was originally a drummer with terrible stage fright. No one truly understood anorexia in the 1970s, a disease which is far easier to diagnose and treat these days, which makes her death even more tragic.

4. Nick Drake: Whether or not Drake committed suicide is still widely debated. But what's known is that Drake's serious depression and insomnia greatly contributed to his signature heartbreaking style of songwriting. The brilliantly sad album Pink Moon is probably the greatest example of his work. Although not widely known at the time of his death, we can only imagine that if Drake were alive now he'd revered nearly as much as Bob Dylan.

5. Selena: The beautiful and gifted Selena was an icon here in Texas despite singing almost exclusively in Spanish. Her music easily transcended language barriers and ethnicity and was as popular at our white-bread high school in the 1990s as was N*Sync. With the release of her first English-language album just around the corner, Selena was posed for massive stardom when she was cut down by a crazed fan in a motel room in 1995. One can only imagine the heights of her popularity if she were alive today.

6. Marvin Gaye: Just like the plot twist from some awful Lifetime movie, Gaye was killed in an argument by his very own father just as he was in the throes of a glorious comeback thanks to the seminal nookie-song "Sexual Healing." Gaye was responsible for more R&B hits than you can probably name, which only leads us to wonder how many more smooth jams the world has missed out on since 1984.

7. Ian Curtis: Sure, Curtis's death transformed the dark post-punk band Joy Division into the snappy, bright, edgy New Order. But one only needs to listen to the brilliant "Ceremony," written in the weeks leading up to Curtis's suicide, to imagine what more New Order could have become.

8. Jim Croce: Croce died at the young age of 30 in a plane crash after taking off for a concert in Sherman, Texas. Planes and musicians just don't mix, a moral which no one will ever seem to learn. Croce's posthumous success made his early death even more tragic: the now-beloved songs "Time In a Bottle," "I Got a Name" and "I Have To Say I Love You In a Song" were all released just a few months after his death in 1973.

9. Elliot Smith: The official story is that Smith stabbed himself in the chest, but Rocks Off and thousands of other conspiracy theorists just don't buy it. Compared to fellow list inhabitant Nick Drake even before his untimely demise, Smith already had a rabid cult following before his death in 2003. We imagine his fans would be something along the lines of Claymates but cooler if he were still alive today.

10. Jeff Buckley: The most tragic death in Memphis since the King died on his throne, Buckley drowned while taking a familiar swim in Wolf River with his boots and all of his clothes on, a poor decision that may have contributed to his inability to resurface after a tugboat passed by and created a strong wake from which Buckley never emerged. In the 12 years since his death, countless artists have written tributes to the singer-songwriter and his music continues to become more popular with each passing year.

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