This top 10 music list is inspired by a YouTube video. The problem with the video was that it didn’t seem to be going for what was really all-time status; it seemed to be aimed at people whose memories go back no more than 20 years. That is, so long as we trust The Beatles, The Stones and Elvis as so iconic that no one will ever forget them (since, yes, they were mentioned).
Madonna was “popular”, sold a whole lot of recordings and videos, but no one back in the day ever accused her of being talented. However, she challenged social norms through her videos — at least, that’s what the video tries to tell itself, since most of the “challenges” were aimed at a more prurient level. She did not elevate the discussion on feminism; she debased it. I am sure, however, that Madonna does not give a whit about what I think. I could go on with how reviewers have said that she was a woman “totally in control of her career”, but exposing that fallacy would take us off topic and could fill a whole other article.
The top 10 of all-time is a hard list to make, since that would mean that I have to think for everyone. Rolling Stone Magazine seem to be the most serious about the idea; Watchmojo.com, maybe not so serious.
The bottom 5 were difficult because there were a lot of musicians I could have placed there. I didn’t consider any
- rap and hip-hop: sometimes great for novelty tunes, and sometimes for actual music; but no staying power musically IMO. Much of it is too negative and self-hating. If the KKK owned the same record labels that churned out the Hip-hop and Rap tunes, I don’t think either the music or concerts would change one bit. Many musicians in this genre are doing to people of color what Madonna did for feminism: debase the discussion. Except that they do it much more efficiently: calling women “Bitches” and “Hoes” for example, are well-known.
- Punk rock. White man’s hip hop. Also too negative IMO.
- heavy metal: Mojo mentioned AC-DC and Metallica, for example. Both popular in the 80s, but these bands have faded. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd are still remembered, and are more than a decade older. I was more selective.
The bottom 5 for me were:
- Michael Jackson. Mojo placed him at #3. I think that is over-rating him, although having lived through the 80s, and having found myself to be the owner of a Thriller album (while not being enamoured of his persona or music generally), I think he should be placed somewhere. The Thriller album alone could have made any musician’s career. Of the 9 tracks on the album, 7 were top-10 hits according to Billboard, and the album is the #1 all-time best selling record album.
- Pink Floyd. Their 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon was another all-time bestseller (second only to Thriller), having remained on Billboard for a staggering 741 weeks (14 years, three months, and one week). The Wall did not enjoy such longevity, but it too was a monster seller, and has long since enjoyed an iconic status of its own. But Pink Floyd’s output was small over the 35 years or so of its existence. Dark Side of the Moon finally left the Billboard Hot 100 Album Chart in 1987.
- U2. They heavily influenced youth culture in the late 80s to the mid-90s, and had a consistent output. They also elevated discussion about human conflict, religion, and social inequality through their music.
- Bruce Springsteen. It’s quite something when my aging English prof (recently deceased) started comparing the lyrics of the songs of Bruce Springsteen to the poetry of William Wordsworth. Both chronicled social change from the point of view of the underdog. Springsteen has influenced many musicians, and comes from a musical pedigree of amazing musicians from the East Coast of United States. He has also had a prolific musical output and a strong following.
- Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin took heavy metal to a level beyond what anyone would have thought. Most of Led Zeppelin is an acquired taste, but some of it gets you in the solar plexus right away. If if you check out any “greatest song of all time” list you can find on the Internet, 1971’s Stairway to Heaven would either be #1 or at least in the top 5 for most of them, even today.
It was difficult to get the order right on the top 5. But I think this comes somewhat close. The top 5 of the top 10 were:
- Elton John. Elton Hercules John (aka Reginald Kenneth Dwight) is a hard act to pin down. In some ways, he was overexposed, but he did pen enough monster hits with the aid of Bernie Taupin over the past 40 years to fill three greatest hits albums and three more compilations. For the first few years we saw him diving for his piano at concerts (in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis before him), except he dressed more flamboyantly, to put it mildly. I don’t think he ever needed to be that flamboyant, but I suppose he needed to stand out among all those other great 70s musicans.
- Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones dominated for five decades, and by the 1980s finally outsold and out-charted their old rivals, The Beatles in pretty much all categories. But it took them a while. If you add to their 29 studio albums their compilations and live albums, their career output (so far) is 66 albums. And that’s not to even mention bootleg albums.
- Jimi Hendrix. You may have your favourite metal guitarist, but without Hendrix, there would be no blues metal, no heavy metal, and none of the metal varieties including punk that came later. He is number 3 mostly due to his sheer influence on the dozens of genres that were made possible due to him. But his popularity mostly spans to those who know something about music, and to those who know that playing lead, rhythm and bass on the same guitar at the same time is a feat that few musicians can accomplish.
- Elvis Presley. The much-impersonated Elvis Presley, for the sheer number of hits over two decades spanning genres which include blues, country and gospel (all without ever losing what modern marketers call his “fan base”), has been a huge influence on muscians and performers over the decades. People still idolize him, even young people.
- The Beatles. They only lasted less than 10 years, but their legacy will be remembered for decades to come. In 1967 they had to stop performing because the din from screaming fans was so loud that the band members and other audience members had trouble hearing them play. And while their album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band did not have any singles (that was the group’s desire), it still sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide and reached #1 on nearly every rock album chart in the world.