20. Bo Diddly
Aside from having a hilarious name, Diddly remains one of the great Blues voices and guitarists. Another man whose influence on others outshone his own work, his own work is still out there to discover – and it’s great.
19. Velvet Underground
I’m middling on The Velvet Underground. Influential, all sorts of fucked up, poetic and mischievous, their name has too long been synonymous with a certain culture rather than the music. That’s when you knew you’ve succeeded as an artist but failed as a musician. That’s what society has forced upon the group, not something the group necessarily did themselves, though they certainly set the groundwork. Their music isn’t the sort of thing I listen to often, and in truth I find their songs more enjoyable when covered by others. Still, they did their thing and did it better than most.
18. Marvin Gaye
Great voice, could write a tune, could deliver a message which was more than simply promoting dancing or fucking. Yet those same songs invariably made you want to dance, fuck, and maybe change the world. I’m not the biggest fan as I do find much of his stuff quite samey, but when he’s good, he’s good.
17. Muddy Waters
Muddy, BB, Bo, all these guys played the same sort of music with their own unique spin, and each one would influence the entirety of Sixties and Seventies rock. Muddy was maybe the first, and the things he did with his voice, guitar, and presence, and the songs he wrote or played would be torn apart, abused, and reconfigured by the likes of Led Zep, The Stones, Hendrix, and anybody else who picked up a guitar in those decades.
16. Sam Cooke
You see a lot of crossover with R’n’B, soul, Gospel, in these rock lists. Sometimes it’s not entirely accurate, sometimes it’s like the publication is trying to lump these other genres in with rock to make them more appealing to people who don’t listen to rock. Listening to Sam Cooke, the musical comparisons to rock aren’t obvious. He was always more of a pop vocalist, too smooth and calming and not raw enough. to truly fall into the rock category. But then, many rock singers don’t have a growl or yell or roughness, but the attitude or the writing. Cooke had sex appeal and some decent tunes, but rock?
15. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder I’ll give you – a voice of unyielding soul, the energy of his most funk-driven numbers is enough to carry him into rock spheres. Of course he has worked with some of Rock’s finest and has written plenty a rockin’ song himself. He’s going to pop up more on my other series as most of the songs I know by him are the big hitting singles.
14. Led Zeppelin
Maybe the prime example of what a rock band could or should be. Maybe the prime example of taking what had come before and transforming into something else, or taking it to the next level. The Stones, for me, always kept things simple – they took an old school Blues song and played it straight, maybe with a little more venom. Zep would take an old school Blues song, turn it inside out, chew it, swallow it, and vomit it back up along with whatever else they had been absorbing at the time. They were the perfect four piece – one of the great vocalists of all time, maybe the greatest guitarist, probably the best drummer, and easily one of the most talented multi-musicians ever. They good write some of the sexiest, heaviest music on the planet, they could be as soft as a fawning hippy, and they had all of the best stories and legends swirling around them. You’re not a music fan if you don’t get the Led out.
13. Buddy Holly
One of the first white boys of rock, merging his Country and Gospel upbringing with R’n’B sounds, he cemented rock’s beginnings. With a sizable number of songs and hits before he died at the ridiculously young age of 22, it’s not clear what he could have gone on to achieve or create. It’s true that he was only getting started before he was stopped.
12. The Beach Boys
Well of course. From glossy Beach pop/rock to the more experimental stuff I haven’t heard yet, they have enough hits to make any such list.
11. Bob Marley
I’m not a huge fan of Reggae. I always assumed I would be, and Marley was one of those icons that younger me looked forward to being able to hear when I was young. I find his music, and the whole genre’s very samey. Some stand-out songs. When your the only guy famous for the genre, of course you get a spot on the list.
10. Ray Charles
The other blind dude with a piano.
9. Aretha Franklin
Beast mode vocals activated. You’d be hard pressed to find a more powerful voice anywhere, one capable of stopping you in your tracks thanks to its authority and sensuality. She wrote the odd songs too, and her biggest hits are timeless.
8. Little Richard
I always say ‘Fuck Elvis’ when I hear people saying he did everything first. Little Richard did it better, faster, and sexier than Elvis before there was an Elvis. I don’t know much about the guy but his songs are just ballistic. Reading this self-penned piece is pretty depressing, how he never made any money from his music. The guy did it all, and while I’m sure he has plenty to show for it, it’s true that everyone who came after him took his work and his spotlight, even if they did take his groundwork and build upon it.
7. James Brown
The sweaty sex machine himself. Brown is that rare example of taking Gospel music and heritage and making something good out of it, of making R’n’B music which genuinely rocks. A sublime and tireless performer with vocals to match. I know his biggest and best and each one of those makes you want to jump around just as much as any metal song you can name.
6. Jimi Hendrix
Everyone’s favourite guitarist, he did things no-one else had or could. A showman and a player and a writer, the Hendrix songs sometimes work for me, other times they don’t. Maybe it’s the vocals which keep me from being a full blown fan or maybe it’s that many of the songs have a similar melodic style. The songs aren’t samey, but they can feel that way. I take the handle of songs I love and ignore the rest.
5. Chuck Berry
There’s a line zig-zagging through the 1950s which touches upon a number of artists who had a small number of hits and then circles around the big names – that line probably circles around Chuck Berry several times before shooting off in a thousand directions. There isn’t a single recording person in rock today that the line doesn’t connect to from Chuck. Tracing that line back, those early hits – and quite a few later ones -still rock, that youthful expression crossing every generational gap.
4. The Rolling Stones
As you’ll have seen if you read my other posts – I listened to a bunch of Stones Albums many years ago and dismissed them. I’m listening to them all again now to see if i feel any differently. It’s up in the air, but it looks like they’re more of a ‘I like 1-2 songs from each album band’ for me, though obviously millions of people have adored them and been influenced by them through time.
3. Elvis Presley
I have difficulty really loving someone if they don’t write their own material. They need something special if they don’t – a unique voice or talent elsewhere. Elvis had a unique voice and presence and stardom and aura around him. He could play, he could sing, but out of the massive number of songs he recorded, I only enjoy a relatively small number. Still, it’s Elvis.
2. Bob Dylan
Although I’ve probably heard more, I only feel like I’ve heard less than 10 Bob Dylan originals – his original versions of his own songs. He’s another artist I’ve known my whole life, but more due to other bands and singers covering his stuff. At some point I’m going to have to go through his albums one by one, but I already know I don’t like his vocals – what I’ve heard of them. The nasal quality and the delivery. I do love lyrics though, and almost everyone would rate Dylan as one of the best lyricists in the game. I’m not surprised he’s here – it’s the same with every list, but I don’t know enough to give my personal judgement.
- The Beatles
The obvious number one. They did it all, they reinvented themselves and reshaped the musical world numerous times, and left behind maybe the largest body of great songs than any other band has. Never trust anyone who doesn’t like The Beatles or at the very least acknowledge their importance.
Let me know what you think of this Top Twenty, of Rolling Stone’s list as a whole, and of the bands and artists, involved!