Sunday, November 23, 2008

What, No Dave Matthews?

I'm glad to see that Rolling Stone got such a kick out of my old post on my favorite singers that they decided to compile another one of their infamous "100 Greatest" lists in response. This one is not too bad, or at least not as open to obvious criticism as their 100 Greatest Artists list (you know, the one that excluded Pink Floyd?!*@). Nevertheless, the list's (in my opinion) overall high quality has not prevented various outraged music lovers from dubbing it the "worst list ever" for leaving off the legendary vocal stylings of artists such as Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder. Let them rant.

I'm not sure I would have gone with Aretha Franklin at the top. Perhaps her influence has been so pervasive that I really haven't given her proper credit for inventing the whole R&B diva thing. Perhaps I just don't respect the whole R&B diva genre a great deal. Also, I would say that Aretha's artistic legacy mostly rests on the material she recorded at Atlantic from approximately 1967-1969. Great stuff, sure, but enough to earn her the title of greatest singer of all time? I wouldn't quite go there. I'd say the #2 and #3 choices, Ray Charles and Elvis Presley, respectively, might have been more deserving of the number one spot - but not by any outrageous margin.

Most of my favorites are here: Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, etc. Even some of my more esoteric and less obvious picks made the cut, like Neil Young, George Jones, Brian Wilson, and Karen Carpenter (I love the quote they dug up from John Fogerty here: "Karen Carpenter had a great sound, but if you've got three guys out on the ballfield and one of them started humming [a Carpenters song], the other two guys would pants him.")

Which reminds me: One of the features I really liked about the 100 Greatest Artists list is that Rolling Stone had managed to recruit, for every entry, some other famous musician to contribute a little blurb on the assigned artist. But it seems like the deadline must have snuck up on the magazine a bit sooner than expected this time because eighteen entries come accompanied with a musician's essay and all the rest are simply essays written by the Rolling Stone staff. Which is it, guys? Either you go with all musician essays or all staff essays, but you don't just go with both! Maybe it's a work in progress. Let us hope so.

On the other hand, they may have redeemed themselves to a certain extent by featuring scans of some of the handwritten ballots, so you can actually see how the world-famous voters voted! Keith Richards cheekily voted for himself in the final spot. Courtney Love, James Blunt, and Sebastian Bach didn't get the memo and shamelessly voted for themselves in the top spot (Ozzy Osbourne at least put himself at #6). And Maynard James Keenan of Tool wrote in only his own name and left the rest of the ballot blank. B.B. King picked mostly jazz and blues singers, but then threw Whitney Houston in there. Merle Haggard listed "The Beatles" as one singer. James Hetfield named metal acts exclusively, with the exception of Johnny Cash. Iggy Pop reserved a spot for Neil Diamond. Alice Cooper's was probably the most surprisingly tasteful of the lot. Can you really picture the King of Shock Rock sitting alone in his apartment listening to Dionne Warwick, Frankie Valli and Laura Nyro? "Welcome to My Nightmare" indeed.

6 comments:

Peter Matthew Reed said...

Why not a mix of musicians' and staff essays? It's not a science experiment, so I don't see why it has to be that rigorous. After all, they arbitrarily choose the electors mostly from artists who are millionaires from what I can see. Why don't the folk musicians from Cornwall or the Isicathamiya artists from Zululand get a vote?

Also, I am sure Patrick Stump (of Fall Out Boy) is sorry he wrote an essay; he was the only person who did who had to have their band named for those of us who wouldn't recognise him straight away from his name alone. Slam!

Herr Zrbo said...

That's weird LE, for some reason I thought you didn't care for Janis Joplin all that much?

I'm not sure what I think of doing a list like this. Yes, some singers are better than others, but otherwise it seems to be a matter of taste, even more so than 'greatest bands' list. At least with a 'greatest bands' list you can point out all the bands who were influenced by that one band, but with singers it's hard to say "Oh Axl Rose is better than Dolly Parton". One sings in a LA infused hard-rock style, the other sings in a Nashville country style. Who's really 'better' than whom? Are we going on how good their actual voices sound (Dolly), or on how their voices influence the sound and feel of the genre they're working in (Axl)?

Little Earl said...

"Why not a mix of musicians' and staff essays? It's not a science experiment, so I don't see why it has to be that rigorous."

But why only 18 musicians' essays? That's not even a nice round number! It just seems half-assed.

"Also, I am sure Patrick Stump (of Fall Out Boy) is sorry he wrote an essay; he was the only person who did who had to have their band named for those of us who wouldn't recognise him straight away from his name alone. Slam!"

Yeah, not even Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) received a "Jim James of My Morning Jacket." That's gotta hurt.

"Are we going on how good their actual voices sound (Dolly), or on how their voices influence the sound and feel of the genre they're working in (Axl)?"

My guess would be both. At least that would explain how Bob Dylan ended up at #7 (congratulations Yoggoth).

"That's weird LE, for some reason I thought you didn't care for Janis Joplin all that much?"

Me not care for Janis Joplin? ME not care for JANIS JOPLIN? Who said this? WHO SAID THIS?

Herr Zrbo said...

I dunno, I thought you had said it. But maybe I'm confusing you with someone else(?) I guess I was under the impression that you didn't go for female singers at all.

Peter Matthew Reed said...

Just wanted to big up my Dickensian embedding of relative clauses in my comment. "he was the only person who did who had to have their band named for those of us who wouldn't recognise him straight away from his name alone." Awesome!

I always used to get Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell confused. I like Joni Mitchell a whole bunch, but Janis Joplin, not so much.

How good their 'actual' voices are is entirely unmeasureable (assumption), so the polling must be based on subjective levels of familiarity and influence. This poll is worthless. Would be worth seeing how well it correlates with the best selling artists of the last 40-50 years.

Herr Zrbo said...

In that case I nominate Tarja Turunen of (former) Nightwish fame because she actually sings unlike half of the females on that list. Christina Agui-who??