The Greatest Artists of All Time

While I was doing a little research on Prince, per DDB’s cover of “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” I came across this monstrosity known as Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Now before we proceed, I know my own expertise is limited and I don’t pretend to know all about every group on the list. So, let’s establish a reasonable foundation for critique of this project, presupposing that: 1) what does Stockholm Steve know?; 2) such a list is inherently subjective; and following from that 3) complete “accuracy” is essentially impossible; in addition, 4) for better or worse, “artist” and “band” are equated here, but we won’t delve into that possible distinction; and to further temper my general dissatisfaction 5) no name-calling of Rolling Stone or said artists allowed. I will try my best not to descend into diatribe, but no promises! Let’s have some fun.

First off, we have the Beatles at Number 1. What a daring choice, you ambitious selectors. Listen, just because they’re the frickin’ Beatles and everyone loves them (or should) doesn’t absolve them from criticism. I’m just kidding, I love the Beatles and I’ve already broken rule #5. That being said, who else would you go with if not the band from Liverpool? For quantity and quality they cannot be beat. Moving on…

Bob Dylan at #2. We know Bob Dylan wrote some of the most incredible lyrics ever set to song. I respect that. His guitar melodies were catchy and profound at the same time. His influence was enormous; he pretty much created the “folk” music genre. At the same time, I personally find it impossible to get past the fact that he was a mediocre singer at best. As far as I’m concerned, singing is a pretty darn important part of “music.” Is that an unfair judgment? Can Dylan be so great as to overcome such a glaring flaw and ascend to #2 of all time? You know my answer.

Elvis at #3. I’ll try to be as impartial as possible with this one. Elvis’ debut album in 1956 included no original music. Most notably, it featured covers of Carl Perkins, Ray Charles, and Little Richard (more on him later). Perhaps his most famous song, “Hound Dog,” was written by Lieber and Stoller and recorded four years earlier by legendary blues singer Big Mama Thornton. Elvis gets an A for timing, as his own rise coincided with the rise of television – without which he undeniably would not have been so famous. Dylan and Presley also fall in the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers list, but I won’t go there.

#4 The Rolling Stones. Wait, what’s the name of the magazine putting out this ranking list? Hmm… My mom says “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” is crude and even misogynistic. It’s not explicit that Mick is talking about sex, but I won’t argue her on this one. I can only name two other RS songs, Get Off My Cloud and Gimme Shelter. Maybe that makes me musically illiterate. Or maybe the Rolling Stones are overrated…

Chuck Berry, #5. For me, the case of Chuck Berry is somewhat similar to Elvis Presley. Is he timeless? I’m not sure. He had incredible timing and was one of the fathers of rock and roll. I think there is such a thing as overvaluing the “musical impact” an artist has if the artist’s work isn’t that spectacular. To me, it matters more how well the music holds up over time than the impact it had in its day. I could be wrong. The Beatles certainly hold up. Does CB?

#6 – Jimi Hendrix. I’m not going to argue with this one. Has anyone ever been more of a virtuoso on electric guitar?

The one and only James Brown at #7. JB was a force of nature. No soul singer sang with more desperate energy than JB. And that’s a bold statement. Would we have had Michael Jackson or Prince without JB first? Can anybody outgroove JB? Doubtful. Is he the seventh greatest artist of all time? I’m not sure. But I know that the man was a sublime performer until the day he died.

#8, Little Richard. No. This is just bad. Does anyone have a Little Richard song on their iTunes besides Tutti Frutti? Does anyone even have Tutti Frutti? Is Tutti Frutti even a good song? Inexcusable.

You already know how I feel about Aretha Franklin. Without a doubt she must be in the top 5. Is it just a coincidence that #1-4 are all white people? Oh no he didn’t….

#10 Ray Charles. Did you see the movie yet? It’s fabulous. So is Ray. Thank god they fit him in the top 10. I would have really had a fit.

I’ll comment a bit more sparingly from this point, if you’ve even stuck with me this far!

Bob Marley and the Beach Boys at 11 & 12. Ok, fine. Buddy Holly, 13? Ahead of Stevie Wonder (15), Sam Cooke (16), and Marvin Gaye (18)? Bull. A lot of bull. Zeppelin at 14? Well, even I admit that Robert Plant is an insane singer, and I don’t even listen to hard rock. Muddy Waters (17), Velvet Underground (19), and Bo Diddley (20) round out the top 20. Bo Diddley? Come on now.

Otis, U2, Springsteen…Jerry Lee Lewis? Eh. The Ramones at 26, Prince at 27. Waiting to hear what my friend Elias has to say about that order. Out of those artists, I’d have Prince at 20. But now I’m definitely being biased!

#33: The Everly Brothers. Who? MJ at 35. Madonna ahead of John Lennon? Hmm. That doesn’t really count, it’s pretty tough to separate Lennon from the Beatles. PS We should have seen Duke Ellington or at least Louis Armstrong by now.

Hey, we got a rap group! Public Enemy at #44, Run DMC at #48. They should probably reverse that order, but how can you argue with “Fight the Power”? Enemy was a direct product of the Reagan presidency. I’ll stop there.

Metallica and Aerosmith ahead of Al Green? Ok, I’m done.

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