VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time

“You hear it so much that you forget how phenomenal it is.  I mean even today you hear it and it’s just amazing”
-Wayne Coyne on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Hour 1, aired September 6, 2010

“He’s a great person.  He’s exactly what you wish a lot of these mega stars would be”
-Wayne Coyne on Justin Timberlake, VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Hour 2, aired September 6, 2010

“The first Stooges record, that would be part of my D.N.A. ’cause you get the feeling he’s just saying something that it is sort of erupting out of his subconscious.”
-Wayne Coyne on The Stooges, VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Hour 3, aired September 7, 2010

“There’s something about those songs and the sound and what they’re saying… just something perfect.”
-Wayne Coyne on The Velvet Underground, VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Hour 4, aired September 8, 2010

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All this week VH1 has revealed its 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, an update of their 1998 list 100 Greatest Artists of Rock & Roll.  This “all time” list is not looking back to see who stood “the test of time” in the manner of the ’98 list, rather, it’s scrolling through the iPod to see who happens to catch the ear today.  It’s the artists behind radio staples – from lite FM “guilty pleasures” to ubiquitous classic rock.  It’s divas, metal and hip-hop all meshed together with no attempt to umbrella it under a term “popists” might see as quaint (like, say, “rock n’ roll“).  It’s more than a few current superstars (i.e. Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Jay-Z, OutKast, Mary J. Blige, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Radiohead, Green Day, Pearl Jam) side to side with legendary artists (but only if they fit into the sound of now; it’s not concerned with “legends” per se).  It looks much more like a recent Billboard chart than the previous list did in its time and suggests more desire to outline the artists that define the present musical climate than to document heritage.  Afterall, older music isn’t “oldies” if you can hear it on American Idol or Glee or play it as a video game.  Perhaps there’s some story implicitly told or some lesson to be learned from this.  Perhaps it’s a symbol of how attitudes towards acclaimed popular music have changed in the last dozen years, or moreover, how VH-1 changed to VH1.  Whatever it is, it seems rather predictable and pointless.


The former was eclectic enough to include a variety of artists that stretched the “rock n’ roll” in its name: Madonna, Sam Cooke, James Taylor, B.B. King, John Coltrane, The BeeGees, Al Green, Carol King.  But it also kept focused on the popular acts of rock (which defies being defined anyway).  The new list is vaguer about what it is ranking.  Nothing in its description or title even indicates what they mean by “artists” (or why Salvador Dali or David Lynch were overlooked).  Maybe it’s implied by the source of the list – allegedly a music station – that by by “artists” they mean musical performers, but what do they mean by “greatest”… trendiest in some form of contemporary pop culture (be it music videos to video games)?  As for the “of all time” in its name – it’s basically the past few decades, with an emphasis on those in the forefront of recent years (even if only through reissue campaigns or TV synchs of their decades-old hits)…

 Whether we agreed or not with the ’98 list, at least it was clear what their list “of rock n’ roll” was ranking.  Whatever this new list is filing under the (deliberately?) ambiguous banner “of all time,” it is clearly younger than the ’98 list – leaving out huge gaps of early rock n’ roll, Motown, “Woodstock Nation” icons, blues, folk-rock and jazz that were on the first list.  To VH1, Louis Armstrong or Woody Guthrie, let alone Stravinsky or Bach, were apparently too long ago for “all time” consideration (it at least made sense that brilliant artists like these wouldn’t be included on a list of “rock n’ roll”).  In fact, a whole lotta generally acclaimed ’60s music that was on the former list – and almost as much from the ’50s and ’70s – was also apparently too old for “all time” (see all the artists on the former list but not the current below).  Simply put: even The Sex Pistols aren’t included this time, but Green Day are… 


Though both are essentially populist, some may see this new list as a “popist” response to the “rockism” of its predecessor… not just because artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna  are ranked far higher and hip-hop is embraced (somewhat), but also because the “popist” tendency to judge all music as – above all else – perpetual, immediate, entertainment (right now!) divorced from those bloated notions “rockist” cling to (such as “historical context”, “craft”, “stylistic evolution”, “originality”, “influential” or “social significance”) underlines most of the list (especially the lower half).  Thus the current guard of established hit-makers is well represented here and, yes, to say it again, that includes Green Day but not the Sex Pistols.  It’s also Radiohead but not Miles Davis, Coldplay but not The Grateful Dead (or other icons of “dated hippie idealism”) and Alicia Keys but not Gladys Knight (& the Pips) or Diana Ross (& the Supremes) – two of several Motown acts on the former list completely ignored this time. 

The most recent artist on the ’98 list was Nirvana, whom had been irreversibly finished for four years by that point.  By contrast, about a third of the artists on the current list were not on the original, and though in some cases that’s simply because they didn’t fit with that list’s description of “rock n’ roll” (i.e.  Hall and Oates, Depeche Mode, Run-DMC, George Michael, LL Cool J, Whitney Houston, Sade, Public Enemy, N.W.A. and Mariah Carey) or did, but rocked in a stereotypically “critically uncorrect” way (i.e. Black Sabbath, Genesis, Rush, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Judas Priest, Journey, The Cure, Metallica, Def Leppard, Beastie Boys, Guns N’ Roses and Rage Against the Machine), many of the new artist on the list are just plain younger.


So what do you think?

Here is the 1998 list and for comparison the ranking on the 2010 list to the right (if applicable).  How do the two lists compare to each other?  Who was criminally left off both?  Who shouldn’t have be considered?  Leave comments below.

  • 1-The Beatles (watch tonight to find out… will they stay #1? UPDATE: still the toppermost of the poppermost!)
  • 2-The Rolling Stones (watch tonight to find out UPDATE: #4)
  • 3-Jimi Hendrix (6)
  • 4-Led Zeppelin (watch tonight to find out UPDATE: rose to #3, above Jimi, and – notably – The Rolling Stones)
  • 5-Bob Dylan (watch tonight to find out UPDATE: still #5)
  • 6-James Brown (9)
  • 7-David Bowie (12)
  • 8-Elvis Presley (8)
  • 9-The Who (13)
  • 10-The Police (40)
  • 11-Stevie Wonder (10)
  • 12-Ray Charles (43)
  • 13-The Beach Boys (15)
  • 14-Marvin Gaye (20)
  • 15-Eric Clapton
  • 16-John Lennon (31)
  • 17-Elton John (28)
  • 18-Prince (7)
  • 19-Pink Floyd (18)
  • 20-The Doors (65)
  • 21-Aretha Franklin (27)
  • 22-Fleetwood Mac (37)
  • 23-The Eagles
  • 24-Bob Marley (11)
  • 25-Van Morrison (73)
  • 26-Chuck Berry (25)
  • 27-Bruce Springsteen (21)
  • 28-Sly & the Family Stone (38)
  • 29-U2 (19)
  • 30-Neil Young (26)
  • 31-The Clash (22)
  • 32-Joni Mitchell (44)
  • 33-Queen (17)
  • 34-Buddy Holly
  • 35-Otis Redding (68)
  • 36-Little Richard (53)
  • 37-Al Green (45)
  • 38-Elvis Costello (90)
  • 39-Miles Davis
  • 40-Michael Jackson (watch tonight to find out…can his death-inspired buzz “comeback” elevate him to the top of the list? UPDATE: leaped to #2, but didn’t top The Beatles)
  • 41-Janis Joplin (72)
  • 42-Nirvana (14)
  • 43-Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (59)
  • 44-The Jackson Five
  • 45-Crosby, Stills & Nash
  • 46-The Sex Pistols
  • 47-Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • 48-Van Halen (41)
  • 49-Roy Orbison
  • 50-R.E.M. (71)
  • 51-B.B. King
  • 52-Cream (61)
  • 53-Peter Gabriel (55)
  • 54-The Grateful Dead
  • 55-The Byrds
  • 56-The Kinks (39)
  • 57-Steely Dan (82)
  • 58-Sam Cooke
  • 59-Bo Diddley
  • 60-Earth, Wind & Fire (83)
  • 61-Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
  • 62-Paul McCartney (36)
  • 63-Sting
  • 64-Frank Zappa
  • 65-James Taylor
  • 66-Talking Heads (64)
  • 67-Kiss (56)
  • 68-The Allman Brothers
  • 69-Pretenders (97)
  • 70-Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • 71-Rod Stewart
  • 72-Simon & Garfunkel
  • 73-Muddy Waters
  • 74-The Velvet Underground (24)
  • 75-Curtis Mayfield (84)
  • 76-The Bee Gees (88)
  • 77-John Coltrane
  • 78-Billy Joel (51)
  • 79-Aerosmith (30)
  • 80-Tina Turner (34)
  • 81-The Band (85)
  • 82-Devo
  • 83-Iggy Pop (Iggy Pop and The Stooges listed 57)
  • 84-T. Rex
  • 85-Carole King
  • 86-Madonna (16)
  • 87-Santana
  • 88-Ramones (46)
  • 89-Johnny Cash (35)
  • 90-Tom Waits
  • 91-Gladys Knight & the Pips
  • 92-The Temptations
  • 93-The Four Tops
  • 94-Diana Ross & the Supremes
  • 95-Robert Johnson
  • 96-Lynyrd Skynyrd (77)
  • 97-Fats Domino
  • 98-Traffic
  • 99-Parliament/Funkadelic (49)
  • 100-Paul Simon 

Some more notes on the two lists.

Eric Clapton was the only in the top 20 of the last list to not be on the new one (though Cream is on both) and The Eagles are the only other act in the former top 30 to not make the current list at all.  Others on the top half of the former list now MIA are (in order of highest to lowest ranked): Buddy Holly, Miles Davis, The Jackson 5, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Sex Pistols, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Roy Orbison).  Also on the 1998 list but not the new one: B.B. King, The Grateful Dead, The Byrds, Sam Cooke, Bo Diddley, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Sting (though The Police are on both), Frank Zappa, James Taylor, The Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rod Stewart, Simon & Garfunkel, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, Devo, T. Rex, Carole King, Santana, Tom Waits, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Robert Johnson, Fats Domino, Traffic and Paul Simon (thus Paul went from being on one list twice, to not at all).

Some artists are on both lists but significantly lower on the new one – Elvis Costello (52 spots lower), Van Morrison (48 lower), The Doors (45 lower), Otis Redding (33 lower), Janis Joplin, Ray Charles, The Police, The Pretenders, R.E.M., John Lennon and Little Richard.  Others shot up considerably on the new list (suggesting they were under-rated in 1998, or are over-rated now…and that either way, it helps to have died in the last two decades): Madonna jumped 70 spots, Johnny Cash (54 places higher),The Velvet Underground and Parliament/Funkadelic (both 50 spots), Aerosmith (49), Tina Turner (46),The Ramones (42), Michael Jackson (the only artist new to the top 5), Nirvana, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Iggy Pop and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

So, if we can assume that what “Greatest Artist of All Time” means is “most iconic or trendy musical performers – circa 2010 – from the past few decades of pop culture”, than the new list is rather banal (give or take a few of the placements) and the execution of the show is even more so (stock footage briskly edited together with the same people that comment on seemingly every other VH1 special – Mark McGrath, The Donnas, Bret Michaels, Sebastian Bach, Danyel Smith, Rob Sheffield, Steve Huey, Godfrey et al).  Likewise, the few surprises in the ’98 list (by VH-1 standards that is) are unsurprisingly swept aside this time (not that the fans of Frank Zappa, Devo, T. Rex or Tom Waits are likely to care about a VH1 list anyway) and there are no surprises which artists are towards the top of both of these lists (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, The Who, Stevie Wonder, The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Pink Floyd, John Lennon, Elton John, Bob Marley, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, The Clash and Sly & the Family Stone).

Still, it’s an amusing five part series for its frequent unsuspected comments: Keith Richards impersonates Bob Marley, Scott Ian gets on his soapbox to defend Hall and Oates, Liz Phair gets her mind blown by Pink Floyd and Radiohead (as well as their namesake, Talking Heads), Sebastian Bach speaks of himself in third person to pronounce his love of Steely Dan, Regina Spektor is a “huge” fan of Eminem and Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die… not only does Zakk Wylde admire ABBA’s production and songwriting, Andrew W.K. calls “Dancing Queen” “one of the greatest human accomplishments of all time”, Ben Folds digs Phil Collins… ok, well maybe that last one was a bit susceptible…

Best of all, a few surprising commentators keep it from feeling like just another VH1 list series (including The New Pornographers -who get quite a lot of screen time, Ray Davies, Sharon Jones, Ozzy Osbourne (who has many of the most revealing lines in the series, despite sounding like he’s still stoned), Prince Paul, Elvis Costello and Wayne Coyne).  And though it’s not surprising how much more articulate Lisa Loeb is than, say, Fantasia, Biz Markee, Carrie Keegan or Sir Mix-a-Lot, it’s unexpected they remembered Lisa to bring something like insight to the show.

Watch VH1 tonight to find out the complete list, if The Beatles stay at #1 and just how high Michael Jackson rises… but more importantly, to hear what Wayne Coyne has to say about The Who… 

UPDATE: Wayne commented on Pink Floyd (“beyond classic”), Queen (“weirdest”), Bob Dylan (“so powerful” – “there’s music before Bob Dylan and there’s music after: you just can’t go back”) and, yep, his spark that bled into The Flaming Lips – The Who.  No trash talking on Brian Wilson, Nirvana or Prince though.  For more of Wayne’s insights follow Wayne Coyne’s Life in Music month all September at http://twitter.com/FutureHeartDay… with the promise of way more surprises than this VH1 list.

Psych Explorations of the Future Heart is all about enthusiasm, life, rock n’ roll, pop culture and The Flaming Lips.  Come join us, and tell a friend…


  1. Mind-boggling posting, I share the same views. I wonder why this amazing scene really does not just think similar to us along with the blog site owner :D


  2. The Sex Pistols should be on this list! They were revolutionary! List needs Sex Pistols, Eagles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dead Kennedys, Megadeath, and Eric Clapton…


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