Monday, March 29, 2004

I arrived home this evening to find the new issue of Rolling Stone in the mailbox. No, Ben "Ice" Affleck was not staring at me from the cover; this was the RS "Immortals" issue.

This is the first of three special issues scheduled this year to celebrate the 50th birthday of Rock & Roll. RS sets the birthday, by the way, as July 5, 1954 - the day Elvis recorded "That's Allright" at Sun Studios. Sounds reasonable to me.

So "Immortals" sets out to rank the 50 "most important performers in rock & roll history". They got 55 people who know rock & roll - from David Geffen to Rick Rubin to Pete Townshend to The Edge to Chrissie Hynde - to create a list of the 20 most important figures in rock & roll, then they computed the votes to come up with the top 50.

And all in all it's a pretty well-done list; certainly much better than anything VH1 has come up with on its "rankings" shows. Here's the breakout:

1. The Beatles
2. Bob Dylan
3. Elvis Presley
4. The Rolling Stones
5. Chuck Berry
6. Jimi Hendrix
7. James Brown
8. Little Richard
9. Aretha Franklin
10. Ray Charles
11. Bob Marley
12. The Beach Boys
13. Buddy Holly
14. Led Zeppelin
15. Stevie Wonder
16. Sam Cooke
17. Muddy Waters
18. Marvin Gaye
19. The Velvet Underground
20. Bo Diddley
21. Otis Redding
22. U2
23. Bruce Springsteen
24. Jerry Lee Lewis
25. Fats Domino
26. The Ramones
27. Nirvana
28. Prince
29. The Who
30. The Clash
31. Johnny Cash
32. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
33. The Everly Brothers
34. Neil Young
35. Michael Jackson
36. Madonna
37. Roy Orbison
38. John Lennon
39. David Bowie
40. Simon and Garfunkel
41. The Doors
42. Van Morrison
43. Sly and the Family Stone
44. Public Enemy
45. The Byrds
46. Janis Joplin
47. Patti Smith
48. Run-DMC
49. Elton John
50. The Band

Now, I'm not going to act like I know better than 55 rock "experts", but I have to take exception with a few things here.

First, dead people got way too much of a boost just because they died young. Hendrix at 6? I wouldn't put him quite that high given his early exit from this Earth. He had the potential to be top 5, but staying alive should count for something.

Also in the "dead boost" category, see Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and Nirvana (they must have been Geffen's No. 1). Great artists, all, but they ended up higher than they would have if they hadn't kicked it early. And I really take issue with Nirvana being at 27, above The Who, The Clash and The Doors. Sure, Cobain & Co. (thanks to Mr. Geffen) changed the face of rock in the 90s, but was it even for the better? We have them to thank for ... what? Incubus? Can you really put Cobain/Grohl ahead of Daltrey/Townshend, Strummer/Jones and Morrison/Krieger?

And death didn't seem to help Buddy Holly and Janis Joplin. Buddy's only 12? Sure, he died young, but look at what he did in less than two years. Just three years after the birth of rock & roll, he reinvented it. I say swap him with Jimi (6) and Jimi with Aretha (9) and things are better at the top. And Janis at 46? That's just wrong, man.

I'll try hard not to go off about Johnny Cash being down at 31. Obviously, RS pays no respect to country (unlike blues & soul, which place a lot of artists on the "rock" list), so if you judge JC just on his "rock" work, I guess that's about right.

More random complaints:

- Prince is way too low
- The Clash is way too low
- The Everly Brothers don't belong in the top 50
- Couldn't they find two more artists to push Elton John out?
- There's too many non-"rock" folks (James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Marvin Gaye) in the top 20. Like Cash, they belong, but not that high up on a "rock" list
- Willie Nelson should be here

As I mentioned, I think this is a pretty good list. But I'll give my top 10 for what it's worth:

1. The Beatles
2. Elvis Presley
3. Bob Dylan
4. Chuck Berry
5. The Rolling Stones
6. Buddy Holly
7. Led Zeppelin
8. The Clash
9. Jimi Hendrix
10. Little Richard


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