The Great Debate – The Greatest Artists Ever

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Time to create some controversy. Several people have asked me to put together a list of the Greatest Artists of All Time.

First, let’s define “Greatest of All Time.” Of course, it’s subjective. I’m going to define it here as the artists that had the biggest impact on the world of music. Now…how do you define “biggest impact?” Things get even more gray – hence the inevitable controversy.

To be more specific, I’m going to focus on performing artists. I think you can legitimately argue that the great composers, in all genres, should be considered on any list of the greatest musical artists. However, to me, the performance of music is the key. The great composers need great performers to make their compositions great.

Before I give you mine, here is what some other music-oriented institutions have on their lists.

Rolling Stone magazine last published their list in 2010. Their top 5 (from #5 to #1) are Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles.

Billboard magazine, the periodical that has their famous charts that I always refer to in these posts, uses a ranking system based on artist’s performance of their songs that chart on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Their top 5 are Mariah Carey, Elvis Presley, Elton John, Madonna, and The Beatles., an on-line ranking website, has the question live on their website right now. They’ve had nearly 50,000 voters. Their top 5 are Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd and The Beatles. It’s interesting that the top 5 are different for men (The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Beatles) compared to women (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Queen).

Another on-line ranking website,, has their own list based on votes by members. Their list of the Greatest Artists of All Time is Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Michael Jackson and The Beatles.

VH-1 published a list in 2010, based on a poll of critics and music industry people. Their top 5 are Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson and The Beatles.

So…here goes, the Mark’s Music Mania Top 5 GOAT list! I tend to lean towards artists that define an entire genre (for example Motown = The Miracles, Grunge = Nirvana, Reggae = Bob Marley, etc); artists that became cultural phenomenons (Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Madonna, etc); and artists that were so innovative that they profoundly influenced thousands of artists after them (Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Aretha Franklin, etc). Of course, the best of the best cross all of these criteria.

5 – Hank Williams – in a career that only last 15 years before his death at the age of 29, his impact on Country and Western music made the genre what it is today.

4 – Michael Jackson – his innovation in creating songs that sound amazing; his impact to music, dance and style; his brilliant use of visual arts to take the experience of his music to levels that have never been equaled – the King of Pop had a profound impact on both artists and fans.

3 – Aretha Franklin – the Queen of Soul was the most charted women in music history, was the first women in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and she is arguably the greatest singer of all time.

2 – Elvis Presley – Elvis was the first artist to make music provocative, perhaps the most important innovation in music history. This opened the door to hundreds of genres and sub-genres that leveraged that fact that being provocative is the essence of modern music.

1 – The Beatles – listen to their music in chronological order. The Beatles were so, so far ahead of their time. In just a few years, they went from a very good teeny-bopper rock and roll band to artists with songs that were so innovative that they sound fresh even today, 50 years later. Artists from the 70s, 80s, and 90s were highly influenced by the music of the Beatles. Their cultural impact in the 60s is unrivaled. I have to agree with all of the others – The Beatles are the Greatest of All Time!

So…Who do you think is The Greatest of All Time?

Here’s The Beatles, the Greatest of All Time, performing Hey Jude. The first 45 seconds of this is hilarious! Then, the song of course is awesome!


2 thoughts on “The Great Debate – The Greatest Artists Ever”

  1. I’m not going to challenge your list for the top 5. I’m sure there would be a blues guy later in the list like Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, Queen could make the top 10 in my book as well. As for current artists, like him or not a case could be made for Eminem. The Beach Boys could also be up there with their innovations in recording techniques. So many amazing artists to choose from and lists are so subjective to people’s tastes in music. Nice work Mark!

  2. GOAT huh?? Actually, had that for dinner last night; really good.
    Great topic, thanks for bringing it up; had a lot of time to think about on my two hikes this week.
    My first impression was most influential; Seems Mark favored artists that were influential. In that vein, I would be thinking Beatles, BB King, Supremes; maybe even King Crimson, Bee Gees, Dylan, Johnny Cash, Madonna, Jethro Tull, Supertramp, Moody Blues, etc. Then I thought, wait, these are the GREATEST, not most influential. And it is subjective. For example, my gut reaction is that most people would say the GOAT would include Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Elton John, and Led Zeppelin, not necessarily in that order. Michael Jackson would be on the list but he is more Pop than Rock. If we include other genre’s, there are so many more options including more blues, country, and R&B (and disco!!) artists. How about Sinatra?? If we are sticking with pop/rock, then Queen, The Who, and various Eric Clapton incarnations, Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac also deserve consideration. All these bands are what others would say, not me. I like a few songs from the artists above; none move me.

    But the GOAT needs to be all about the one who is doing the rating. What MOVES ME. In that case we are talking:

    Crack The Sky – Yes, I know that no one has heard of them and Mark makes fun of me BUT, they move me. They have 20 studio albums and have lasted for 43 years so far. Their first album (1975) is their best, but their releases from the 80’s, 1998, 2010, and 2015 are not far behind. Just released a retrospective (re-recorded greatest “hits”) and new studio album in 2018. They have evolved from rock, pop, ballads, etc. while maintaining a distinctive sound.

    Pink Floyd – Enough said

    Chicago – Jimmy Hendrix called Terry Kath one of the greatest guitarists of all time. I agree. Things digressed after Chicago VII when they became a ballad band featuring Peter Cetera. Then Terry Kath killed himself (by mistake). Can’t deny the unique addition of horns in almost every song. Some of the early stuff is real innovative and much harder rock than their later stuff.

    Beatles are a distant fourth. Fifth would be even more distant, maybe Supertramp.

    What is the common thread with all MY artists?? Every one features horns and strings in at least some of their songs. Never realized that until now!

    Maybe GOAT albums next time.

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