VH1′s 100 Greatest Artists Of All Time
An annotated personal account of suspect understanding.
100) Alicia Keys — Good singer but not passionate enough for me; sometimes she straddles the piano seat like Tori Amos and it weirds me out; feel like she’s not “black enough” which I know is semi-racist and dumb.
99) Hall & Oates — They seem like they were gay, though I know they weren’t lovers; just sayin’ they exuded a gay vibe, heterosexually.
98) Depeche Mode — That synth-pop was the alternative to the hair bands of the late ’80s would suggest they’d be less douchey, or perhaps not.
97) Pretenders — Lead singer Chrissie Hynde sorta looked like Patti Smith, who sort of looked like Susan Sontag, who on a bad day sort of looked like Alice Cooper. My point is, I was always too scared to listen.
96) Journey — The kind of band you get to be hipper than, by default.
95) OutKast — Andre 3000′s bourgeois clothes always bothered me, like ironic gangster or something. I just felt like he secretly wanted to be a model but his music was always better than his face. Sort of sad.
94) Mariah Carey — I heard she’s an insane bitch. And that weird fancy back-and-forth thing she does with the mic scares me. I don’t like her at all.
93) Pearl Jam — I had Ten, Vs., Vitalogy (’91, ’93, ’94) and liked them all a lot; Eddie Veddie and Co. managed to keep their integrity through the downfall of grunge (i.e. Bush, Nickelback, Collective Soul) and still rock out, though with boutique obsolescence.
92) LL Cool J – I liked how he kept licking his lips in “Going Back to Cali”; seemed like obsessive compulsive disorder, but since he’s a stud no one called him out on that.
91) Green Day – Dookie (1994) was a great album, like punk but Jackass style; they had a playful self-awareness that was refreshing. One day they got political. Then one day they started wearing mascara.
90) Elvis Costello — New wave “nerd rock” at its best. I most related to “Alison” (1977), whose favorite lyric of mine went, ‘Cause I don’t know if you are loving some body / I only know it isn’t mine. Well said, my sensitive bro.
89) Beastie Boys — About two weeks after the release of “Sabotage” (1994), my father — who wasn’t aware of the song, or band — screamed SABOTAGE! upon finding still-warm dog shit on our lawn, mapping out the conspiracy with brown hot hands. I laughed so hard.
88) Bee Gees — Right now I’m imagining a hairy-chested man with a eunuch’s falsetto in tight spandex whose balls are clearly visible. This is why the ’70s died.
87) George Michael — Faith (1987) was the first album I ever bought. I liked his ass shake in tight jeans. I remember my little prick getting hard at “I Want Your Sex,” not knowing he was gay. Wow, a gay dude gave me some of my first boners. Sweet.
86) N.W.A. — I actually prefer Dr. Dre’s more mellow cannabis-imbued later work. I guess at the time these “Niggaz With Attitude” — though, personally, I think they want us to flat out say the n-word, and take responsibility for creating it — were a much needed voice in pop music.
85) The Band — Seems meta to call your band that, though they probably blew.
84) Curtis Mayfield — Who is Curtis Mayfield. I bet he’s black.
83) Earth, Wind and Fire — Their name is so hippie and exhausting I basically shut them out of my mind.
82) Steely Dan — I seriously don’t know who these people are. They probably have long hair, an occasional brass section, and mommy issues.
81) ABBA – Infantile palindrome in all caps whose Aryan members are just too happy for me. I need more pain in my music. Damn Swedes.
80) Mary J. Blige — I was briefly interested in her when I found out Cat Power (Chan Marshall) loved her, but didn’t relate.
79) Eminem — The voice-over scene at the end of “Kim” (2000) always disturbed me, as my mother used to hide from my drunken father behind a bathroom door while they screamed. I recently heard it and got upset.
78) Judas Priest — ’70s metal is just weak, guys already old, in squeaky leather, having no idea how hard it could get. Beavis and Butthead’s a capella rendition of “Breaking the Law” was the best thing to happen to those geezers.
77) Lynyrd Skynyrd — They’re like the Grateful Dead, but for southern racists who also have self-glorified provincial tastes in music by which to guide their unexamined and obsolete lives.
76) Run-D.M.C. — Raising Hell (1986) was the second album I ever bought with my own cherished allowance. I was rapping right when rapping got cool, in the ’80s, not like all these Drake or Lil B posers rapping on YouTube, you dig?
75) Rush — Seems like computer science majors or gaming dudes tend to like Rush; maybe it’s the math-y drums and bass, or maybe lame begets lame.
74) The Cure — All the either really hot or ugly girls liked The Cure. It’s like having severe looks somehow made you like The Cure. I loved this girl who loved The Cure. She was a beauty, used to sing “Just like heaven” and made me want to die.
73) Van Morrison — When I’m completely wasted I start singing alone in my condominium and believe that I sound like Van Morrison. I believe that it’s moving, and that it’s a shame I’m not being recorded. Sorry Van, and all my neighbors.
72) Janis Joplin — Seems like a textbook bipolar case, with our patient “cycling” numerous times within a single song, her solicitation for manual cardiovascular surgery, however figurative, the result of her manic end-of-the-world episodes.
71) R.E.M. — Despite his chronic affectation, Michael Stipe is a true poet. Automatic for the People (1992) changed my internal life in high school, and still does to this day. His ability to speak-sing in such a quotidian manner verged on some Zen chant. Will probably listen to it tonight.
70) Def Leppard — A drummer with one arm. Drummer.
69) Tupac Shakur — I actually don’t know much about him, only that he was shot and had great abs with confrontational tattoos on them. I always thought “why you evoke 2-pac[k] when you have a 6-pack” but just silently to myself. I ain’t gettin’ shot.
68) Otis Redding — Always got him and B.B. King confused.
67) Coldplay — Chris Martin’s eco-political smugness basically boils down to “I’m banging Gweneth Paltrow, and made millions of dollars off four-chord songs”; he really pisses me off sometimes.
66) Justin Timberlake — I used to hate on him but he’s incredible on Saturday Night Live, and a really talented Renaissance man (i.e. singing, dancing, acting, improv); yes, I would say that I’m a Justin Timberlake fan.
65) The Doors — Jim Morrison had charisma, fine, but he’d look schizophrenic were it not for brilliant keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who held together the songs with ribbony lines despite the former’s vocal absentmindedness.
64) Talking Heads — Every artsy or hipster person has to like this band. They somehow escaped the indignation of popularity felt towards Radiohead, in terms of an underlining Avant-garde conceit turned populace. They are okay, I guess.
63) Notorious B.I.G. — He’s got that wet emphatic throat gurgle thing that morbidly obese people tend to have; add to that distinct ebonics, self-hatred, and somewhat morbid misogyny, and you have me grinding my skinny ass to him.
62) Genesis — Was it Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel that “came out” gay? I bet the other one is too. Smart music just ain’t fun.
61) Cream — Seems like a douchey name for a band, at least my non-lactose interpretation of it. I once heard a Cream riff that sounded lame and never looked back.
60) Whitney Houston — Pictures of her crack den felt straight out of Eraserhead; it’s sad how drug addiction can trash a true beauty and talent.
59) Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers — Tom Petty’s hair is upsetting, and his affected Dylan-esque voice doesn’t help; and that odd Roald Dahl character thing he’s into. Gross.
58) Cheap Trick — Hair band before there were hair bands. Something sad about this.
57) Iggy & The Stooges — There’s that photo of Iggy with blood all over his bare chest. I’m always skeptical about music where people somehow end up bloody (Sex Pistols, GG Allin), like some my nosebleed was worse than yours in the playground mentality. I don’t buy it.
56) KISS — With pantomime makeup, it is not surprising they played into the theatrical charade of hard rock; their fans too young, too earnest, to see the stage on which they played with such artifice.
55) Peter Gabriel — I had his soundtrack Passion (1989) for Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ on repeat a good hunk of my collegiate years, perhaps narcissistically thinking I was Jesus Christ himself (we have the same initials, thanks).
54) Public Enemy — Their ostensible social critique always seemed mitigated by the complicity of Flavor Flav’s constant “black face” allusions. This list needs more political rap, so at least they’re on here — though time’s not a-changin’, but keeping the black man down by a heavy wall clock around his neck.
53) Little Richard — His mustache disturbs me.
52) Beyoncé — Every time I’ve ever seen Beyoncé, either in a video or on some red carpet-y event, I look down at her bountiful arse and imagine her snapping my neck (to the left) with a quick thrust. She’s a goddess.
51) Billy Joel — I have difficulty relating to musicians who wear blazers over t-shirts.
50) Sade — Is she that lady with the bronze smooth skin who sounds like Enya?
49) Parliament-Funkadelic — Who the hell is this? And what’s up with the syntactically obedient hyphen. This isn’t English class.
48) Rage Against The Machine — lol. Pretty chill riffs, may have even shredded at times, but wow… their politics feel like a Noam Chomsky and/or Howard Zinn soaked soggy in kid cereal.
47) Jay-Z — I guess he didn’t hear what I said about hyphens. I don’t like it when Jay-Z, or any rapper, supplements a lyric with “uh,” as the entire posturing of rap is one’s quick and seamless ability to find or execute a rhyme. Jay-Z goes “uh” a lot.
46) Ramones — Probably the most overrated band ever, merely culturally at the right place at the right time; what’s worse, now every bro who only knows a I-IV-V chord progression can cite them as an influence for their sloppy slacker songs.
45) Al Green — Sexiness in indirect proportion to weight gain. He is not the optimal example, but I felt it should be said now. Also, why the hell aren’t The Smiths on this list? It’s ridiculous.
44) Joni Mitchell — In college, after a girl I loved didn’t love me back, I listened to Blue (1971), specifically “River,” in that way where you empathize with a song while thinking that it’s empathizing with you, continuously for about two months. The opening piano still gets to me.
43) Ray Charles — My thoughts about this are elaborated upon at No. 10 with Stevie Wonder.
42) Metallica — Lars Ulrich’s tongue flap as air cunnilingus; James Hetfield’s acne scars as the most invigorating moments of my youth. I may have hurt my vertebrae to Ride the Lightning (1984) and Master of Puppets (1986). Definitely my ear drums.
41) Van Halen — Eddie Van Halen made a guitar not sound like a guitar. The ’80s was about this kind of mediation. David Lee Roth made Sammy Hagar look permanently swollen and on the beach. As for me, I jumped off furniture to them.
40) The Police — Only a trio with enough ego for a quintet. May this be a lesson in working together, Sting. It’s a good thing he had yoga, royalties, and a nice chunk of talent to fall back on.
39) The Kinks — Ray Davies is the most underrated songwriter of the entire British invasion. Dismissed as a simplistic songwriter for the inferior “You Really Got Me,” most still take for granted the brilliant Village Green Preservation Society (1968), one of my favorite albums ever.
38) Sly & The Family Stone — Are these those dozen or so funkadelic people who kicked so much ass I don’t know why I never listened to them?
37) Fleetwood Mac — There are two types of people who listen to Fleetwood Mac: people who listen, enjoy, and get on with their lives; and people who end up getting eight cats and wearing only black lace.
36) Paul McCartney — Massive talent unfortunately buried under subsequent/current douchey behavior i.e. banging young models and thinking you’re still in your early twenties. I feel gross whenever I see him pout at the piano during “The Long and Winding Road.”
35) Johnny Cash — This man is still kicking your ass from the grave. It’s not country, it’s the world.
34) Tina Turner — During my parents’ separation, my mom listened to Tina Turner to help empower herself during emotionally difficult times as a single mom. There was something noble in her raspy voice, as my mom and I endured. Love has everything to do with it. I owe Tina a lot.
33) Guns N’ Roses — The night before Use Your Illusion(s) I and II (1991) came out I was so excited I barely slept. I recall having my shoes on already under the covers, ready to dash to the mall the next morning to buy both of them. I did, and rocked out for about two years until I realized ’twas all cheesy.
32) Black Sabbath — An example of an important band, in a historical context (i.e. the birth of metal), that wasn’t actually all that good. Their songs are ponderous, structurally boring, only heightened by Ozzy’s psyche ward-y/horror film voice.
31) John Lennon — His simple love song “Oh Yoko!” could make me celebrate their relationship, even though everything about her is frightening. Imagine (1971) is a lucid album with profound moments. You could really tell he needed a break from Paul.
30) Aerosmith — As ridiculous their late career is, they are probably one of America’s better rock bands. Their stigma of “poor man’s Rolling Stones” is unfair, as their music was perhaps more deft, and agile. Get Your Wings, Toys in the Attic, and Rocks (’74, ’75, ’76) are phenomenal.
29) Radiohead — They should be higher on this list. I feel like the voters (themselves musicians, peers) might be jealous of their success. It’s hard to say anything here that won’t piss haters off.
28) Elton John — Don’t let your son go down on him, just sayin’.
27) Aretha Franklin — I r-e-s-p-e-c-t her for asking for it; that she needed to spell it out implicates how daft the patriarchy is. You go girl.
26) Neil Young — After the Gold Rush (1970) is my favorite album of all time. Perhaps it’s the uncanny nostalgia of relating to heartache experienced before I was born. Such a sad, brave, and honest album, his voice straining at the piano. Neil Young’s charm is less pointable to than other sentimental poetic men like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, or Leonard Cohen, but his entire oeuvre is a journey into some of the most beautiful unsung songs ever. I love this man.
25) Chuck Berry — Some dude who sped up the blues and people said it was rock and roll. It’s not interesting, or entirely moving even.
24) The Velvet Underground — Vapid and eternally cool, I’m on the fence with them. I like their songs but always feel like an arrogant bastard while listening to them. Take off your shades people, it’s always nighttime with you.
23) AC/DC — Seems a little high on the list; I mean, sure, they rocked ass, but all the riffs were predicable and they were misogynists. Though Angus Young’s O-face was adorable.
22) The Clash — “Should I stay or should I go?” always seemed like white people problems to me. I was never compelled by such bass smashing emphaticness.
21) Bruce Springsteen — The pro-America working class romanticism thing seems hypocritical or shallow, but that’s just because I’m cynical. I like his message, and while am not a fan, am glad this earnest dude is out there.
20) Marvin Gaye — I’m listening to “What’s Going On?” while writing my entry for him. His voice was angelic. My scrotum feels light and all alright. Right on, baby.
19) U2 — Since Africa and shades Bono has been omnipresent and obnoxious, an example of ego destroying the art, but I will concede to his earlier tender moments. Save his tendency to exaggerate emotions at the end, “With or Without You” and “All I Want Is You” were teen lessons in unrequited love. I’m glad they were around.
18) Pink Floyd — If listening to The Wall (1979) over and over again makes you depressed and want to stay in your room forever, then come over. I could make special brownies. We could make babies.
17) Queen — Smart band that I should like, but somehow don’t.
16) Madonna — Contextually, I understand why she’s important, but I was never moved.
15) The Beach Boys — I like how Brian Wilson went insane after making Pet Sounds (1966) but didn’t try to market it like he was some tortured genius. He always tried to write happy songs, but was deeply sad. Sometimes you just can’t fake it.
14) Nirvana — Too much, mostly glib, has been already said about Kurt Cobain’s death and legacy. That many of my generation remember the first time they heard the opening chords to that song, well, says something big. In Utero‘s atonal tendencies were pointing to a new phase, sadly cut short.
13) The Who — Feel like I should have gotten into them, but never did, in part because Pete Townsend looks like that bad guy from Die Hard.
12) David Bowie — John Lennon’s more interesting and provocative brother. The alienness of Space Oddity (1969) and Hunky Dory (1971) challenged, then changed me; solipsist gems that told their own story, enthralled by themselves.
11) Bob Marley — In college, all the annoying free-spirited people loved him in collusion with their vague liberal politics, so I started off pissed. But now I listen to him. I feel his love, and feel happier (for a while of course, let’s not get carried away).
10) Stevie Wonder — Seems like basically the more popular Ray Charles. This might piss some people off, but I seriously don’t understand the whole blind-black-dude-at-the-piano thing that apparently people can’t get enough of.
9) James Brown — Dude’s an insane genius. Sometimes at work when I’m down I YouTube a clip of him dancing. Makes Usher seem like an embryo.
8) Elvis Presley — Sexy early voice, but no way.
7) Prince — I’m really surprised and happy that this freak got so high on the list; he’s one of the more interesting figures in pop music, in how he performed in a heteronormative context (virile dominant male; generic misogyny) while inverting such notions with his queer persona.
6) Jimi Hendrix — I’ll admit his guitar playing was unworldy (he played left-handed on a guitar that was strung right-handed), but his songs just don’t sound good to me.
5) Bob Dylan — I’m one of those guys who didn’t like it when he “went electric,” as the wonderfully oblique layered ironies of his more personal acoustic work became one-dimensional, as if he just wanted to rock out. Dude’s just too big for me to get into here.
4) Rolling Stones — Righteous youth embalmed forever. So sexy, so good.
3) Led Zeppelin — Give the frat boys the classics, I’ll take the unexpected miracles of three tracks off Physical Graffiti (1975), “Ten Years Gone,” “In the Light,” and “Down By the Seaside” in darkness on my couch.
2) Michael Jackson — The man could dance somewhere between air and water, and some really nice songs, but seriously. Overrated.
1) The Beatles — Yes. To try to explain to corroborators and dissenters is respectively redundant and useless.
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If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”