VH1, the channel that used to play music videos, recently released their list of "100 Greatest Artists of All Time," as voted on by today's so-called artists. The list is a joke, of course, as by "all time" they mean "the rock era," as no one bothered to mention Frank Sinatra, George Gershwin, or J.S. Bach. Even taking the list as a rock-era list, however, there are some issues.
VH1's top 10 "greatest artists" were as follows:
1. The Beatles
2. Michael Jackson
3. Bob Dylan
4. Led Zeppelin
5. Rolling Stones
6. Jimi Hendrix
8. Elvis Presley
9. James Brown
10. Stevie Wonder
It's hard to argue against the Beatles heading the list, of course, but there's a lot wrong otherwise. I mean, there' no way Michael Jackson ranks over Dylan or Elvis, and there's really no justification for Prince to be in the top ten at all. It's really indefensible.
The problem, as I see it, is defining "best." It's just too subjective. My "best" isn't going to be the same as yours. Heck, my own definition of "best" will probably differ from day to day, depending on how I'm feeling about things.
So, given that most of the artists interviewed for the TV show talked about how big an influence a given artist was on them, personally, I'd like to change the criteria and suggest a list I'll call the "Top Ten Most Influential Artists of the Rock Era." Here's who I'd choose:
1. The Beatles
2. Bob Dylan
3. Elvis Presley
4. Chuck Berry
5. Berry Gordy
6. Phil Spector
9. Joni Mitchell
10. Rolling Stones
Note that these aren't necessarily my ten favorite artists, or even the ten I'd call the "best," however that's defined. Instead, these are the ten who I think most influenced the music of the era.
As to specifics, I'd agree that it's debatable whether Dylan was really more influential than Elvis, but that's the way I see it; Mr. Zimmerman really influenced the way songwriters wrote. As to putting Joni Mitchell on the list, while she's obviously not as talented as Dylan and the Beatles, she influenced and inspired several generations of female singer-songwriters. (Without Joni, no Jewell -- which I'll forever hold against her). Same thing for putting Aretha on the list; she inspired the creation of the female vocal diva, which rules to this day. (Without Aretha, no Celene Dion -- again, I hold this against the Queen of Soul.) And the same for Madonna -- I'm not a fan, but it's obvious that Lady Gaga and her ilk are.
I put Phil Spector and Berry Gordy on the list, even though they're not performers, because as producers they strongly influenced the sound of the music of the 60s and beyond. Gordy, of course, helped create the Motown Sound, which led to the Philly Sound, which led to just about all soul and R&B music of the past 50 years. Spector's Wall of Sound influenced everybody from Brian Wilson to Bruce Springsteen to U2, so he gets on the list easy.
The others are fairly self explanatory. The Stones, while not my personal favorites, influenced generations of bad boy rock and rollers, as well as the punk and grunge movements. Chuck Berry pretty much invented rock and roll and defined R&R guitar, so there's no way he's not on there. Dylan, as noted, changed the way songs were written, so he's a given. Then there's the Beatles, who head up any list no matter how it's defined. There was pop music before the Beatles and pop music after the Beatles, and that's just he way it is.
But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.