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!


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