Greetings, Glancers! In my quest for always looking to post at least one listicle every couple of weeks, I’m having to take the coward’s way out and look at what other more reputable publications are posting. Now this one is a pretty obvious idea so I wouldn’t class it as stealing – everyone has their own list of favourite artists and opinions on these things. Still, it’s a regressive, lazy, click-bait type of post so you’ll have to bear with me until I can come up with something better.
There are a lot of these lists out there – every music rag and site will have their own take on it and I’m still toying with the idea of reacting to a few of them. However, I imagine most of them will be very similar and have a large crossover of artists. I went for Rolling Stone because they at least have a certain calibre of Writer, a certain respectability, and a level of talent and history which many more recent publications lack. The magazine has been going since the 60s and at least cares about music and talent rather than image and sales. Here is the link to their original article if you want to absorb it yourself and form your own opinion. What I have done is simply read the article and give some brief thoughts on each artist. I’m not going to get too hung up on placement.
Rather than let their Journalists give their thoughts on the best artists – likely factoring in influence, sales, quality, personal opinion, talent, originality, writing, technical proficiency etc, their list was based off actual industry insiders – the artists themselves, producers, writers, singers, musicians from a wide array of genres and eras. Without looking at the list then, I imagine there will be a few surprises and acts I’m not familiar with. Due to that fact alone, I’ll probably look at one more list, by a different site, for another post for comparison’s sake and because I want a more traditional list too. Also, this list apparently focuses on ‘The Rock Era’ so I don’t know if that means artists before a certain date wont be used or if certain genres are out of bounds. I’m more interested in a list which covers any genre and era, so that I can rant more.
Remember, the below selections are not mine, but I am going to give my thoughts on each. Here we go.
100: Talking Heads
I’m not going to doubt their influence, I’d have some doubts concerning their musical talent, I’m not going to question their lyrical prowess or ability to write songs which people seem to enjoy. I don’t like them – from what I’ve heard, which isn’t much – and I don’t like David Byrne’s vocals. Personal opinion, they’re not for me.
99. Carl Perkins
I only know the songs which other artists have recorded that he wrote – Elvis and The Beatles most notably. I’ve probably heard his original versions of those songs but I can’t say much more than that. Seems like an influential guy.
98. Curtis Mayfield
Much of what I referenced regarding Perkins could be said here too, although I know Mayfield through his famous work on Superfly. Remember when African American artists used to write and play with soul, and were some of the best musicians around? The white guys took all of that over in the late 50s – it’s time to share it around again I think.
I’m surprised they’re so far down on the list, given the usual adoration and ball-fondling they receive. Maybe people are finally forgetting about them and realizing that the majority of their stuff doesn’t have staying power. Outside of Automatic For The People, there are very few REM songs I personally enjoy, mostly down to how I feel about Michael Stipe’s voice. That and the fact that I’m fairly certain a light breeze could strip them to their bones and shatter their skeletons. Still, they do have a number of pretty good songs which I can’t argue against, and every so often they’ll concoct an interesting lyric.
96. Diana Ross And The Supremes
I’m glad this is a single entry – Ross has the odd solo song which I don’t mind, but with The Supremes they were unbeatable. Classy and with the right group of writers backing them, they had hit after hit and I’m sure they broke down some racial barriers which is always good. Lets keep it focused on the music though – they have a strong of nothing less than masterpiece pop hits. Ross has some good vocals, but it’s the song selection and the quality of melody and harmony which keeps them so revered today, as well as some top session musicians backing them up. I wouldn’t call them influential any longer, because today’s female pop groups and artists seem to have forgotten that melody matters.
95. Lynyrd Skynyrd
That band that you have to keep spell-checking to make sure the Ys are in the ryte places. I don’t know much about them – I’m not big on the Southern US rock scene. Still, there’s no denying the skill on display and staying power of Sweet Home Alabama and Freebird. I’m sure they have other songs too.
94. Nine Inch Nails
No doubt influential in the metal and rock arena, Nine Inch Nails, or more acurately Trent Reznor, is generally held up as one of the genre’s best lyricists. Cutting and introspective and dark, the industrial experimental sound fits the words like a worm in your soul. I think he’s a better writer than a vocalist, though he certainly has a way with creating atmosphere. I always feel like I never give NIN a chance and I always mean to, but then I remember the songs I don’t like – most of the obvious songs like Closer and Hurt are ones I don’t enjoy – then I abandon the idea.
93. Booker T And The MGs
Yeah, no doubting their influence or songwriting or playing. Just not a group I pay much attention to.
92. Guns N Roses
Now we’re talking. Hair metal was an extension of the more glamourous, self confident rock which came out of the 70s, but had too much focus on ego and image and sales and all too quickly allowed itself to transform from something about technical proficiency into something mass marketed and pussified. G’n’R was the antithesis of hair metal, the up-turning of that umbrella. They took the skill and swagger of what the genre should have been and added a raw 70s punk edge and effortless cool – these guys looked and performed like Hell’s demons were on their heels while the other hair metal bands suddenly looked like Belinda Carlisle. The band looked and felt like a gang, like a family, and their playing wasn’t overblown (at least in the beginning) yet remained vicious, rebellious, fast, and sexy – they played how animal fucking sounds and feels. Axl is an underrated songwriter, and Duff and Izzy don’t get the credit Slash gets.
91. Tom Petty
Another artist I don’t know much about – I know more about him than his music would be more accurate. What I’ve heard… I’m not a fan of the drawling vocals or Southern Sound, but I’ve heard single figure % of his work so I’m not the best example of someone accurately commenting.
90. Carlos Santana
I always found Santana suddenly finding widespread fame (again) in the 2000s quite bizarre. Here was a guy renowned in the 60s as a hippy free spirit and for playing loose, jazz infused Latino experimental rock. It was a commercial stroke of genius to link him up with some of the pop darlings of the day, and Supernatural remains a fantastic album. But you have to go back to his earlier days to find some of his truly killer playing. Carlos is a beast on the guitar with a style and tone you know is instantly his – for people who don’t really know much about guitar playing or guitarists, he is one of a very small handful of guitarists that the uninformed hear and recognise. From lightening fast breaks to soulful slow-dances, his music is perfect for a Summer afternoon beerathon, for howling at the moon afterwards, and for the come-down the next day, plus he’s a genuine, cool guy.
89. The Yardbirds
I always say that The Yardbirds existed so that later, better bands could. That’s a little unfair even if it is true, but in their short existence they set up the new rules for those later bands to follow – what can you do when you truly master an instrument? What sounds and songs will follow from feeling, what can you achieve when you don’t focus on writing a hit or looking a certain way or sounding like anyone else?
Sorry, kids, but I’m going to go on record and admit that I can’t name a single Jay-Z song. I’m sure I’ve heard plenty, but I don’t know them. I’m going to assume that of all the rap and R’n’B to come out of the late 90s he’s among the most respectable – I have friends who know their stuff and whose musical opinions often fall in line with mine who love him – that’s usually good enough for me to give someone a chance. I haven’t yet, and probably won’t. There’s just too much stuff ahead of him on the list.
87. Gram Parsons
I don’t like Country. You know this by now. Parsons at least fused Country with other stuff – but then it was the 60s and everyone was fusing everything with everything else while at the same time being out of their fucking minds on whatever mind-altering goodness they could get their hands on. Was it the music that was good, or the drugs? In any case, I mostly know him from a few songs by The Byrds. I’m sure he could have achieved more if he’s lived longer.
Similar to Jay-Z, except that I actually know some Tupac stuff. What I know I generally like but again I probably know more about the man and the myth than what he actually created and left behind. It seems like a lot of people on this list influence others, but the influence becomes reductive. Usually an artist is supposed to inspire others to be and do better, but in this case those were born out of Tupac’s success and skill have turned into everything which is shitty about music today – pre-packaged, mass produced, safe, repetitive garbage with no great message or meaning. Tupac is rolling in his grave over what you have become.
85. Black Sabbath
They essentially created metal. There were bands before and around the same time, but Sabbath brought all the vital ingredients together first. How you feel about metal will determine how you feel about Sabbath – do you like loud, heavy music? Do you enjoy frenetic rhythm sections, wailing vocals, solos like a volcano erupting and riffs like a shotgun cocking and firing? If not, you probably won’t like Sabbath – that’s fine, go listen to George Michael – but if you do, then you’ll love Sabbath. I’ve mentioned before that I’m more of a Sabbath individual songs listener, but they have enough individual songs regardless of their influence to make them a great band.
84. James Taylor
Fantastic voice and some gorgeous melodies. A nifty guitarist too. I think most metal fans have some sort of affinity with folk music, or at least the more introspective side of folk. Maybe it’s that both genres place so much value on emotion and musical ability. Taylor was at the forefront of folk, but he’s still someone whose music I haven’t heard very much of considering how prolific he has been.
It seems more and more likely that Eminem is the musical genius of my generation. How many other artists have been as prolific and as critically and commercially successful as he has within the time when he started to today? The guy’s lyrics are flawless – insightful and brutal with the same couplet, hilarious the next. No-one is safe from his tongue or his pen, not least himself, and there may not be a finer lyricist on the planet. His knowledge and understanding of music doesn’t get enough credit and unlike so many of his peers – no matter the genre – he’s never content in being one thing; he wants to get better, he only wants to prove to himself that he’s still got it.
Yea yeah, I get it, I have to listen to them. Again, the few songs I’ve heard I like – don’t love, and they’re deep within that Souther US rock style I’m not a huge fan of.
81. The Drifters
I’m not sure how The Drifters ever qualified as a single group, given how many line-up changes they had ((like the article references). What remains consistent is that the voices are always strong, no matter who was in the group they all knew how to harmonise and perform together, and the melodies were smooth and timeless.
80. Elvis Costello
He’s been going for a hell of a long time, I’ll give him that Another case of knowing the artist more than the music, though what I’ve heard I never gave a second glance.
79. The Four Tops
Like The Drifters, these guys knew how to sing together; Once they had the right writing team behind them it was a money making machine. More importantly, the music was great.
78: The Stooges
Even though it always seemed like there was a lack of focus in that they apparently hated everyone and took the piss out of everyone meaning you couldn’t take anything they said seriously, they still had raw power and energy (pun intended). It was punk which was more intellectual than most and wasn’t afraid to be sexy as well as dirty and angry. I’m not overly well-versed in their stuff but much of it you can’t help but like thanks to the urgency with which they play.
77. The Beastie Boys
One of the most notable instances of rock and rap working together, The Beastie Boys have an array of hits to their name but if you look at what mostly came out of their ideas – groups like Limp Bizkit and shite of that ilk – you have to wonder was it worth the effort? Still, the band’s early stuff sounds more fresh and vital than any nu-metal or rap inspired rock band now, and the less said about current rap artists attempts to merge with rock, the better.
76. The Shirelles
Arguably the greatest girl band of all time (obviously I still hold The Bangles in the top spot), The Shirelles may not have played their own instruments or wrote many of their own songs, it was the girl next door appeal of their vocals and performance which made them stand out. They were sexy without flaunting it, honest, open, and the vocals weren’t trying to blow out the speakers. One of the few bands to truly influence The Beatles in the early days, once they had a writing team behind them they dropped a number of hits which remain unbeaten today in terms of quality.
75. The Eagles
Like a few of the other mainly US oriented bands above, I only know a handful of their songs. Maybe it’s the Country music relationship that put me off. I’ll get to them in one of my other series.
74. Hank Williams
It’s Country, so I already have a low tolerance. It’s not whiny old crap Country though.
You already know they’re one of my favourite bands. Even if they have been the Thom Yorke And Friends band now for longer than they’ve been Radiohead. When they’re good, nobody comes close to touching them, and when they’re not good they’re still more adventurous and interesting than almost any other act. I just wish they were good again. Still, when they’re live even the songs I don’t like become something special.
They’re an average rock band who has managed to crank out more hits than most. It’s pretty much mindless music with a good beat and brain-shredding vocals. I can’t take them seriously at all, even if I do agree many of their songs are catchy.
71. Frank Zappa
An incredibly influential artist, Zappa is and was like nobody else. He was a great guitarist and writer, but it just so happened that most of his music and ideas didn’t really translate into good songs.
Join me next time for another batch and let us know your thoughts on the artists above!