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100 Greatest Artists

The Beatles, Eminem and more of the best of the best

Best Artists of all time 100 Rolling Stone

Rolling Stones in London circa 1960s.

REX

In 2004 — 50 years after Elvis Presley walked into Sun Studios and cut “That’s All Right” — Rolling Stone celebrated rock & roll’s first half-century in grand style, assembling a panel of 55 top musicians, writers and industry executives (everyone from Keith Richards to ?uestlove of the Roots) and asking them to pick the most influential artists of the rock & roll era. The resulting list of 100 artists, published in two issues of Rolling Stone in 2004 and 2005, and updated in 2011, is a broad survey of rock history, spanning Sixties heroes (the Beatles) and modern insurgents (Eminem), and touching on early pioneers (Chuck Berry) and the bluesmen who made it all possible (Howlin’ Wolf).

The essays on these top 100 artists are by their peers: singers, producers and musicians. In these fan testimonials, indie rockers pay tribute to world-beating rappers (Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig on Jay-Z), young pop stars honor stylistic godmothers (Britney Spears on Madonna) and Billy Joel admits that Elton John “kicks my ass on piano.” Rock & roll is now a music with a rich past. But at its best, it is still the sound of forward motion. As you read this book, remember: This is what we have to live up to.

75

Eagles

By Sheryl Crow

The Eagles forever changed country and rock, but I just think of what they did as being great American music. It's amazing how one band could take all those influences — country and rock, of course, but also soul, R&B and folk — and still sound so distinctive.

The Eagles were a real band. After an album or two, Don Henley and Glenn Frey turned into one of rock's all-time great songwriting teams. But everyone contributed material and incredible musicianship to the effort: Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon, then Don Felder, and later Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit. They started out in the age of the sensitive singer-songwriter, and their music was as smart and sensitive as anyone's, but when they called upon it, they also had the power of a great rock & roll band.

The first song of theirs that I vividly remember hearing was "Take It Easy." Those lyrics — by Frey and Jackson Browne — could have been from any Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson song, but the instrumentation and energy were decidedly rock. The combination sounded so powerful.

I also remember being on a long cross-country family road trip as a kid, driving across the Texas desert at night. The only radio station we could get was a scratchy AM station from who knows where. The haunting opening strains of "Hotel California" came on the radio. My father thought that all of us kids were asleep; I immediately assumed that he would shut the radio off. But he didn't. He couldn't resist it any more than I could.

The Eagles provided the soundtrack to so many of my summers, and likely many of yours, too. Their melodies and harmonies have always been instantly familiar. "Desperado," "Take It to the Limit," "Tequila Sunrise" and "Best of My Love" are some of the best pop songs ever written. To this day, it simply doesn't get any better than that guitar riff from "Life in the Fast Lane."

When I sang backup for Don Henley in the early Nineties, it was a surreal experience, supplying vocals every night to Eagles songs. The audience's reaction to those classics cemented their value in my head. In my own way, I got to experience the power of the Eagles' music. But then again, we all have.

74

Hank Williams

By Beck

Hank Williams songs like "Lonesome Whistle" and "Your Cheatin' Heart" are wonderful to sing because there is no bullshit in them. The words, the melodies and the sentiment are all there, clear and true. It takes economy and simplicity to get to an idea or emotion in a song, and there's no better example of that than Hank Williams.

Hank had a voice that split wood. From his records, it sounded like he was projecting from a completely different place in his body. It was a voice that could play roadhouses without amplification, that could cut through barroom crowds. The places he played were so tough that he hired a wrestler, Cannonball Nichols, to be his bass player. Hank lived what would have been a rock star's life — full of touring, drinking and woman troubles.

I bought a 10-song Hank Williams collection on vinyl for $4.99. It was like I unlocked a box: His music spoke to me. His records are enormously important to country music, but I think I responded to them because they sounded so exotic. It's significant that Hank learned to play guitar from an elderly black musician: Hank is the ultimate hillbilly, but there's other stuff going on. For a while he was my only reference point; I've covered his songs for years. On Sea Change, I made a conscious effort to try to write songs as direct as Hank's.

I see more and more people getting into his music today. When I played his songs early on, I used to get really sick of everyone in the crowd yelling "yee-haw" all the way through. But I've noticed that there's been a rediscovery of the haunting quality of Hank Williams' music. People are listening.

73

Radiohead

By Dave Matthews

Every time I buy a Radiohead album, I have a moment where I say to myself, "Maybe this is the one that will suck." But it never does. I wonder if it's even possible for them to be bad on record.

It belittles Radiohead to describe their music as having "hooks." Their music talks to you, in a real way. It can take you down a quiet street before it drops a beautiful musical bomb on you. It can build to where you think the whole thing will crumble beneath its own weight — and then Thom Yorke will sing some melody that just cuts your heart out of your chest. There's a point on the album Kid A where I start feeling claustrophobic, stuck in a barbed-wire jungle — and then I suddenly fall out and I'm sitting by a pool with birds singing. Radiohead can do all of these things in a moment, and it drives me fucking crazy.

My reaction to Radiohead isn't as simple as jealousy. Jealousy just burns; Radiohead infuriate me. But if it were only that, I wouldn't go back and listen to those records again and again. Listening to Radiohead makes me feel like I'm a Salieri to their Mozart. Yorke's lyrics make me want to give up. I could never in my wildest dreams find something as beautiful as they find for a single song — let alone album after album. And every time, they raise their finger to the press and the critics and say, "Nothing we do is for you!" They followed their most critically acclaimed record, OK Computer, with their most radical change, Kid A. It's not that they're indifferent — it's that the strength of character in their music is beyond their control.

Seeing them perform makes me even angrier. No matter how much they let go in their shows, they never lose their clarity. There's no point where Jonny Greenwood or Ed O'Brien will suddenly look up and say, "Where the fuck are we?" There are no train wrecks in Radiohead; every album and performance is wrenching. God, these guys have suffered, or they can fake it like nobody else.

72

AC/DC

By Rick Rubin

When I was in junior high, my classmates all liked Led Zeppelin. But I loved AC/DC. I got turned on to them when I heard them play "Problem Child" on The Midnight Special. Like Zeppelin, they were rooted in American R&B, but AC/DC took it to a minimal extreme that had never been heard before. Of course, I didn't know that back then. I only knew that they sounded better than any other band.

For AC/DC, rock began with Chuck Berry and ended around Elvis. They poured their lifeblood into that groove, and they mastered it. Highway to Hell is probably the most natural-sounding rock record I've ever heard. There's so little adornment. Nothing gets in the way of the push-and-pull between the guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd. For me, it's the embodiment of rock & roll.

When I'm producing a rock band, I try to create albums that sound as powerful as Highway to Hell. Whether it's the Cult or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I apply the same basic formula: Keep it sparse. Make the guitar parts more rhythmic. It sounds simple, but what AC/DC did is almost impossible to duplicate. A great band like Metallica could play an AC/DC song note for note, and they still wouldn't capture the tension and release that drive the music. There's nothing like it.

The other thing that separates AC/DC as a hard-rock band is that you can dance to their music. They didn't play funk, but everything they played was funky. And that beat could really get a crowd going. I first saw them play in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, before their singer Bon Scott died and was replaced by Brian Johnson. The crowd yanked all the chairs off the floor and piled them into a pyramid in front of the stage. It was a tribute to how great they were.

I'll go on record as saying they're the greatest rock & roll band of all time. They didn't write emotional lyrics. They didn't play emotional songs. The emotion is all in that groove. And that groove is timeless.

71

Frank Zappa

By Trey Anastasio

In the early years of Phish, people often said we were like "Frank Zappa meets the Grateful Dead" — which sounds very bizarre. But Zappa was incredibly vital to me, as a composer and guitarist. I think he was the best electric-guitar player, other than Jimi Hendrix. Zappa conceptualized the instrument in a completely different way, rhythmically and sonically. Every boundary that was possible on the guitar was examined by him.

I'll never forget the first time I saw him live, in New York, when I was in high school. He would leave his guitar on a stand as he conducted the band. And he would not pick up the guitar until everything was totally together. There would be this moment — this collective breath from the audience — as he walked over, picked it up and started playing the most ripping, beautiful solo. When he played, he was in communion with the instrument.

I also saw Zappa at Memorial Auditorium in Burlington, Vermont, on his last tour, in 1988. He did this guitar solo in "City of Tiny Lites" where everybody in the band dropped out except drummer Chad Wackerman. I was in the balcony near the side of the stage. When Zappa turned his back on the audience to play with Chad, I saw this huge smile on his face. But this was also the guy who did 87orchestral pieces like The Yellow Shark. It's hard to believe somebody could do so many different things.

Zappa was a huge influence on how I wrote music for Phish. Songs like "You Enjoy Myself" and "Split Open and Melt" were completely charted out because he had shown me it was possible. And when I played at Bonnaroo with my 10-piece band, we did two covers, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and "Sultans of Swing." In both songs, I had the horn section play the guitar solos, note for note. I never would have thought of doing that if I hadn't seen Zappa do "Stairway to Heaven" in Burlington with the horns playing Jimmy Page's entire guitar solo, in harmony.

There is a whole generation of musicians coming up who can't play their instruments. Because of stuff like Pro Tools, they figure they can fix it all in the studio. With Frank, his musicians were pushed to the absolute brink. Phish tried hard to do that too: to take our four little instruments and do as much as we could with them. I would not have envisioned that without him.

Zappa gave me the faith that anything in music was possible. He demystified the whole thing for my generation: "Look, these are just instruments. Find out what the range is, and start writing."

70

The Police

By Brandon Flowers

Oscar Wilde said that an artist has succeeded if people don't understand his work but they still like it. By that standard, the Police were a huge success. Their songs are universal — they're part of all of our lives. You hear them on both pop and classic-rock stations, and they'll be played on the radio in Germany 100 years from now. At the same time, everything they did was really smart and worked on a few levels; you could love a particular song, then realize a year later that you had totally missed the meaning.

Take "Every Breath You Take." It's a great trick — it's impossibly catchy, people play it at their weddings, but it's a stalker song. "Roxanne" is blatantly about a hooker — it's not about how Sting loves her and broke her heart, it's just about how she's a hooker. People don't realize how unique that is. All of us are lucky to have heard songs as good as "Message in a Bottle," "Walking on the Moon" and "King of Pain" on the radio. Sting already had a career and a degree when the Police made it; he wasn't afraid of sounding like a grown-up.

My favorite is "Don't Stand So Close to Me," the one about the teacher and the young girl. That kind of storytelling has fallen out of pop music, for the most part. "Don't Stand" would be great to listen to no matter what the lyrics were — it could have just been about some girl — but the story makes it spooky and powerful. My favorite line is "Wet bus stop/She's waiting/His car is warm and dry" — he communicates the entire song with those 11 words.

Of course, the Police were amazing musicians. They were professionals who came up during the punk era and found their messages later on. I'm a big fan of how they used reggae. Bands like the Clash had already mixed it with punk, but the Police did it flat-out — it was like reggae for music geeks. Sting played bass and sang, which you don't see very often. He commanded both the rhythm section and melodies in the band. Stewart Copeland is a great drummer — you have to be to give songs like "Roxanne" and "So Lonely" their drive and also throw that reggae in there. Andy Summers has both great technique and rhythmic sense. It's amazing how many rock bands with serious grooves are made up of skinny English dudes.

The Police matured really quickly. All bands should pay attention to that. You should always try to keep moving forward.

69

Jackie Wilson

By Peter Wolf

Jackie Wilson was key in helping bridge the gap between an old-style R&B and a new incarnation of soul. Even Elvis Presley knew why Wilson was called "Mr. Excitement": I heard that seeing Wilson perform made the King want to hide under the table. The most spectacular Jackie Wilson show I ever saw was at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater, around 1960. When he took the stage, adorned in a magnificent white suit, he spread his arms open wide, as if trying to embrace the entire room. He started singing the opening notes of his song "Doggin' Around." The audience broke into screams. Even the way he casually held his hands while singing was hypnotic. His dancing was spellbinding — twists and splits that left me in total disbelief. Quickly soaked in sweat (nobody knew how to sweat as good as Jackie Wilson), he took off his jacket and pretended he was going to throw it to the crowd, creating a pure sexual enchantment. There were real women in that audience who knew what they wanted. And what they wanted was Jackie Wilson.

He seemed destined for such greatness, and yet his life ended up playing itself out like some cheap B-grade film noir. There was violence — a crazed woman once shot him — as well as tax problems, drugs, divorce and mob associations that made demands he couldn't refuse. While performing at the Latin Casino, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, he had a massive coronary and hit his head hard as he fell. At the hospital, he lapsed into a coma. He remained in that state for eight years, as the people around him fought over his estate, before he died in 1984.

I had the honor of inducting Jackie Wilson into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As I waited backstage to present my speech, I was approached by three women arguing with one another as to who should be the one to go onstage and claim the award that was to be given to Jackie. Mr. Excitement would still not have peace.

68

The Temptations

By Rod Stewart

I was on holiday with my parents in the late Sixties when I heard "I Wish It Would Rain." I lived in England, where it fucking rains all the time, so it was appropriate. But that's also when I fell in love with David Ruffin's tenor — it jumped out of the speakers and ravished my soul.

Whether it was Ruffin or Dennis Edwards or Eddie Kendricks or Paul Williams singing lead, the Tempts were always an all-star vocal band. Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, the Tempts had an unprecedented string of hits: "My Girl," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Just My Imagination." Later on, they broke ground with the psychedelic soul of "Cloud Nine." I remember listening to the high-hat rhythms on that record over and over with the guys in the Jeff Beck Group. We'd try to change every one of our songs to try and capture their drumbeats.

When I got home from holiday, I immediately bought Wish It Would Rain. At that time I was very much into folk music and turning the corner into R&B, and I'll never forget seeing that cover, with all the Tempts dressed as Foreign Legionnaires, sitting in the desert. Their outfits were wonderful — I blame them for teaching me to wear loud colors. They also came up with the cutting-edge dance routines. Nobody moved like the Tempts.

I'd later become friends with David Ruffin — when our bands would play in Detroit, Ruffin would come to every show and we'd sing "(I Know) I'm Losing You," a Temptations cover off my album Every Picture Tells a Story. His voice was so powerful — like a foghorn on the Queen Mary. He was so loud.

My children grew up loving the Temptations, and we tried to see them every time they came to town. They would always pick me out of the audience with a spotlight, trying to get me up to the stage. But I never did. I'm too frightened.

67

Cream

By Roger Waters

I was in my third year of classes at a place in London called the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Architecture, which is where I met Nick Mason and Rick Wright. At the end of each term we would have a show, and this time we had Cream — in a small hall where I had once played Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman, which is beside the point.

The curtain drew back and the three of them started playing "Crossroads." I had never seen or heard anything like it before. I was simply staggered by the amount of equipment they had: by Ginger Baker's double bass drum, by Jack Bruce's two 4-by-12 Marshall amps and by all of Eric Clapton's gear. It was an astounding sight and an explosive sound.

Two-thirds of the way through their set, one of them said, "We'd like to invite a friend of ours from America out onstage." It was Jimi Hendrix, and that was the first night he played in England. He came on and did all that now-famous stuff, like playing with his teeth. That ticket cost about a pound or so. It might have been the best purchase I ever made.

After that, Pink Floyd started to go professional, and we would run into Cream on the road. They affected so many people. Jimmy Page must have looked at Cream and thought, "Fuck me, I think I'll do that," and then put together Led Zeppelin. Along with the Beatles, they gave those of us entering the business at that time something to aspire to that wasn't pop but was still popular.

I remember Ginger Baker was insane back then, and I'm sure he still is. He hit the drums harder than anyone I've ever seen, with the possible exception of Keith Moon. And Ginger hit them in a rhythmic style all his own that was extraordinary. Eric Clapton we don't have to talk about — it's obvious how amazing he is. Then there's Jack Bruce — probably the most musically gifted bass player who's ever been.

Cream were very innovative within the context of all the music coming from the West Coast of the U.S. at that time, from bands like the Doors and Love. Apart from being a great blues band, Cream had a real good go at so many other styles, even if some of it sounds a little silly now. There are songs on all the Cream albums that amaze me still, like "Crossroads," "Sunshine of Your Love," "White Room" and "I Feel Free." They were desperately trying to write material that was truly progressive and original. And they achieved that.

66

Al Green

By Justin Timberlake

Al Green has helped overpopulate the world. He's got some serious babymaking music. But what makes him such an inspiration is the raw passion, the sincerity and the joy he brings to his music. People are born to do certain things, and Al was born to make us smile. You hear his voice and it lights everything up. Every time one of his songs starts playing — whether it's "You Ought to Be With Me," "I'm Still in Love With You," "Love and Happiness" or, of course, "Let's Stay Together" — when the stomp starts and the guitar comes in, you know you're in for something full of sweet love. His songs weren't as political as Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. But if those guys were speaking to you, Al Green was speaking for you.

Al Green's voice will always remind me of driving the back roads of Memphis with my parents, listening to cassette tapes. Hearing Al as a kid made me want to become a singer and showed me that it was OK to have a softer, more falsetto voice. I really related to that, because I never had a big, boisterous, American Idol showstopping voice. Al, he was a crooner. The way he would squeeze out a note can't be trained and can't be imitated.

Behind him was this incredible band. On songs like "Tired of Being Alone," the horns are tasteful and restrained but completely funky. I always loved the way the mistakes were kept in on his albums, like the way the band is almost out of sync at the beginning of "Love and Happiness." Even his messes are beautiful.

Eventually I found out this man I idolized lived five minutes from me in my hometown. Then, years later, I went to the White House (back when Clinton was in office), and Al was there performing. He sang Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," and the audience wept. After I released my first solo album, I was doing a TV special in Memphis, and I called him and asked if he'd grace us with his presence. We sang "Let's Stay Together" on that stage, and it was a milestone in my short, unimportant career. I learned something incredible: Everything always has to be about the show. But Al Green is the show, and when you watch him perform, you see something honest and soulful and amazing.

65

The Kinks

By Peter Buck

I've got pretty much every note the Kinks recorded on my iPod — certainly everything through 1980. And it all sounds good. The Kinks are the only major band from the Sixties I can think of that didn't go psychedelic, didn't do any of that crap that all of the other big bands did at the time. When everyone was writing song cycles about Eastern mysticism, Ray Davies was writing about a two-up/two-down flat in some English suburb. Ray wrote songs about the things that were important to him. He invented his world and gave it life. And in that world, people weren't wearing Nehru jackets, smoking pot and jamming for 24 hours a day. The Kinks created a different world — and I'm glad they did it.

When I first heard Village Green Preservation Society, in 1971, I got this picture in my head of small-town English life: village greens, draft beer. But when R.E.M. went to England in 1985, I drove through Muswell Hill — and it certainly wasn't romantic-looking. I had this picture of a gorgeous vista — when it's really a kind of grimy area. I realized these songs were all acts of imagination, that Ray was commemorating an England that was slipping away. There is a great air of sadness in those songs.

I am amazed at how great the Kinks' records sounded — even though, when you listen closely, there is very little going on in them. Village Green is the best example: Unlike a lot of records of its time, it's not stuffed with a ton of instruments. And yet the songs are perfectly realized, well arranged.

Ray wrote "You Really Got Me" on piano. Then he gives it to his brother Dave, this teenage maniac, who turns it into a demented guitar part. I read that an interviewer once asked Dave if he thought the Kinks had gone heavy metal in the Eighties. He said, "It wasn't called heavy metal when I invented it." When R.E.M. started out, Dave's solo on that song was the only solo I knew how to play. So whenever I had to do a solo, I would just play that.

The Kinks slipped into rock history through the back door. All of those great albums that we talk about now, like Face to Face, Something Else by the Kinks and Village Green — nobody bought those records in the Sixties. But those of us who love those records — and a lot of us are musicians — have loved them for decades.

64

Phil Spector

By Jerry Wexler

There are three kinds of record producers. The first kind is the documentarian — someone like Leonard Chess, who goes into a bar on the South Side of Chicago, sees Muddy Waters with a six-piece combo, then pulls him into the studio the next day and says, "Play what you played last night." The second is the type who serves the artist; I would be so brash as to include myself in that category, along with John Hammond, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, and Bob Thiele — music fans who try to develop great singers.

Then there's the producer who does it all. Phil Spector could be the greatest of these. For Spector, the song and the recording were one thing, and they existed in his brain. When he went into the studio, it came out of him, like Minerva coming out of Jupiter's head. Every instrument had its role to play, and it was all prefigured. The singer was just one tile in this intaglio. Songs such as the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" had wonderful singers, but they were tiles. Phil would get the track ready, then call upon the artist and say, "OK, now sing." There were songwriter-producers before him, but no one did the whole thing like Phil.

When I first met him, he was very young, sleeping on the couch at the Atlantic Records offices and using the switchboard after hours. He was brash, cocky and talented. I remember that if I would vouchsafe an opinion about something when we were together in the studio — a snare drum on a bridge of a song, or whatever — Phil would say, "Oh, man, I came here from California to make hits." It meant, "Shut the fuck up and get out of my face." But like Dizzy Dean used to say, "If you can do it, it ain't bragging," and Phil can do it: play piano and guitar, compose and produce.

His music is impeccable. Where it comes from, I don't know.

63

Tina Turner

By Janet Jackson

Tina Turner has become more than just a musical superstar and sex symbol, though she is definitely both of those things. For me — and I imagine for millions of others — Tina now stands as an enduring symbol of survival and of grace. Her music is a healing thing.

Remember that famous introduction to "Proud Mary," when Tina talks about liking things "nice and … rough"? We all know that she faced some rough times in her life. But the reality is that life never threw her anything that she couldn't handle. One of Tina's big hits is called "We Don't Need Another Hero." Yet Tina has become a heroic figure for many people because of her tremendous strength. Tina doesn't seem to have a beginning or an end. I felt her music was always there, and I feel like it always will be.

The story of Tina's rise and fall with Ike Turner is well-known. You can see what it was like in the movie What's Love Got to Do With It. But I believe it's time to put the Ike story to rest. The truth is that when Tina came back in the Eighties, she became much bigger than she was the first time around. Tina's story is not one of victimhood but one of incredible triumph.

In the beginning, Tina's music was based on hard times and harsh realities. Think about a song like "Nutbush City Limits." That was her story. But over the years, her story changed, and her music reflected those changes beautifully. Tina has the ability to dream, get out, get over and get on with it. She's transformed herself into an international sensation — an elegant powerhouse. But wherever she may be, whether it's in Spain, Asia or Egypt, she's never forgotten her humble beginnings. Tina Turner knows who she is, and to this day, she remains one of the true greats. In every sense, the woman has legs.

62

Joni Mitchell

By Jewel

Joni Mitchell is a bigger icon than she is a star. Bob Dylan and Keith Richards became so famous that they're stars and icons. Joni is still unknown to lots of people. The impact she had wasn't flashy. But she influenced people who became stars.

I remember a friend in high school playing me "A Case of You," from Blue. I could tell that Joni was a painter by the way she wrote lyrics. She describes smells and sounds and uses fewer words to transmit more feeling. Her melodies are about shapes. The singing lines are slow, steep plateaus. One of the things I learned from Joni: If you can tell the story and keep things moving, you don't need to return to the chorus on time.

What she writes is closer to journalism: On Blue, you hear everything she experienced, the highs and the lows. It's such a lonely album — not in the "I don't have any friends" sense but in the sense that you're a little bit removed, and always watching. It takes a lot of courage to be that honest, especially as a woman. When she did it, it was a fluffy time — pretty girls singing about pretty things.

Joni had an edginess that not many women expressed then. Joni Mitchell never made a big deal out of being a woman. She had such a strong sexuality, but she didn't feel the need to deny that part of her in order to be taken seriously. She also didn't play it up — although many of her songs are about sex.

I met her at a Vanity Fair photo shoot. Stevie Wonder introduced us. He took my hand — I guess I led him to her — and he said, "Joni, I'd like you to meet Jewel." I just shook her hand and tried to swallow. I didn't have anything to say to her. Her influence on me is so obvious. I hope she can hear it.

61

Metallica

By Flea 

In 1984, I was on tour with my band, somewhere in the middle of America. It was around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. We're all crammed into our van, with all our equipment. It was raining. We were tired, we'd been on the road. And this music comes on the radio. I couldn't believe that it existed. My mind was being blown by this beautiful violence that was unlike anything I'd ever heard before.

It wasn't punk rock. It wasn't heavy metal. It was precise and explosive and heavy. It was aggressive and intense, and it had these really wild and bizarre rhythm changes. But it still held together as a bitchin'-ass song. I was singin' along with it by the end, though it certainly wasn't using any conventional pop-song pattern that I had ever heard. That song was "Fight Fire With Fire." And it opened up my mind to the mighty force of nature that is Metallica.

When Metallica started in 1981, they didn't really take your typical path to success. I don't know if massive stardom and selling a zillion records were on their minds when they were getting the ball rolling. But if they were aiming at becoming one of the most successful rock bands of all time, they sure were going about it in a kooky way. Maybe they were thinking they were going to break into Casey Kasem's Top 40 countdown with their debut record, Kill 'Em All. They were definitely going for a hit single with the song "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth." A five-minute-long bass solo is a sure ticket to commercial success.

That song is one of the great moments in rock history for the electric bass guitar. Every Cliff Burton-based solo I've ever heard is a soulful, psychedelic, headbanging expression that rocks your world, trips your brain out and gets the house rockin'. It's a beautiful piece of music played by an awesome rocker of a young man who was a masterpiece of a human being. I can never listen to any Metallica record without thinking of him. It is clear that the gift he gave lives on in that band's music.

The fact that Metallica connected with the world in the way that they have is phenomenal. They have become a household name with music that is anything but mainstream. It's outsider music. And for it to do what it has done is truly mind-blowing. When I hear Metallica, I get this feeling that they're doing something that they have to do.

There is this thing in them wound up so tight that they have to let it out, let that thing uncoil; it has to be released. An infinite well of sadness, a hell of a lot of pain and anger, but mostly, a lot of love for the process of releasing this stuff. For the people who give it up and get rocked by Metallica, the world is a less lonely place. When a person gets rocking to their music, everything else disappears, and that person is just one with the rock. It is an inexplicable, awesome thing, and I bow down to it. Pain and hurt can be a muse for great art. It's one of the greatest rites of passage for any artist, and it's something that touches us most deeply. Anyone who has ever been to a Metallica show, and banged their head, and thrown up the devil horns, has been a part of something great. Rocking so hard to the brutal beat of Metallica for those couple of hours, in a way, is as healthy as any spiritual exercise — group meditation, any love-in, anything.

Metallica's career is a huge, dynamic thing, and they have done it all. They have worked their way up from nothing, and written the jams that rocked the world. Metallica are fucking rad! The music is bitchin'! It is unbelievable! And they continue to rock on. Whatever gets thrown at them, they persevere and they get stronger; they are a family. And they are as intense and inventive as ever.

60

The Sex Pistols

By Billie Joe Armstrong 

The Sex Pistols released just one album — Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols — but it punched a huge hole in everything that was bullshit about rock music, and everything that was going wrong with the world, too. No one else has had that kind of impact with one album. You can hear their influence everywhere from Joy Division to Guns n' Roses to Public Enemy to the Smiths to Slayer. Never Mind the Bollocks is the root of everything that goes on at modern-rock radio. It's just an amazing thing that no one's been able to live up to.

It's a myth that these guys couldn't play their instruments. Steve Jones is one of the best guitarists of all time, as far as I'm concerned — he taught me how a Gibson should sound. Paul Cook was an amazing drummer with a distinct sound, right up there with Keith Moon or Charlie Watts. There are bands out there still trying to sound like the Sex Pistols and can't, because they were great players.

The difference between John Lydon and a lot of other punk singers is that they can only emulate what he was doing naturally. There was nothing about him that was contrived. As far as the bass player goes, I don't think it was necessarily a mistake to replace Glen Matlock with Sid Vicious. Matlock was cool, but Sid was everything that's cool about punk rock: a skinny rocker who had a ton of attitude, sort of an Elvis, James Dean kind of guy. That said, there's nothing romantic about being addicted to heroin. He was capable of playing his instrument, but he was too fucked up to do it.

The things that Lydon wrote about back in '76 and '77 are totally relevant to what's going on right now. They paint an ugly picture. No one ever had the guts to say what they said. The only person who did anything similar to it was Bob Dylan, and even Bob Dylan was never that blunt.

When I first heard them, I was 14 or 15 and into a lot of heavy-metal and hard-rock music. I think I was at a girl's house. I remember hearing those boot stomps to "Holidays in the Sun." And then the guitar came roaring through like thunder. By the time Lydon's vocal came in, I definitely wanted to destroy my past and create something new for myself. That's sort of the impact that they always had on me and my music. When I'm trying to create something, I always refer to the Sex Pistols, because they show you what the possibilities are in music. You don't have to emulate them, but thanks to them, you can take it anywhere.

59

Aerosmith

By Slash 

I don't think this generation has a clue what classic Aerosmith was all about. But they were the template for what I do, as well as plenty of bands that came after Guns n' Roses: Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam all owed a serious debt to old-school Aerosmith.

My big awakening happened when I was 14 years old. I'd been trying to get into this older girl's pants for a while, and she finally let me come over to her house. We hung out, smoked some pot and listened to Aerosmith's Rocks. It hit me like a fucking ton of bricks. I sat there listening to it over and over, and totally blew off this girl. I remember riding my bike back to my grandma's house knowing that my life had changed forever. Now I identified with something.

The key to Rocks is the first two songs — "Back in the Saddle" and "Last Child." That combination just ripped my head off. But my favorite song on the record has always been "Nobody's Fault," which is the second song on the B side. Aerosmith had an aggressive, psychotic, drugged-out vibe, but at the same time they had a Stones-y blues thing going on. There was just nothing cooler than Aerosmith coming out of America at that point. What else was there? Foghat?

When I was just starting to learn how to play guitar, Aerosmith gave me the shove I needed. I identified with Joe Perry's image, both soundwise and visually. He was streamlined in a way that reminded me of Keith Richards, was always wasted and had a careless guitar style that was really cool. But I was also totally into Brad Whitford's guitar solos, and he had a more direct influence on the way I play than anybody realizes. And anyone who sings needs to be exposed to Steven Tyler.

My first Aerosmith concert was in 1978, at a festival with Van Halen — they were incredibly loud and I barely recognized a note, but it was still the most bitchin' thing I'd ever seen. Soon after that, they broke up, which to me marked the end of Seventies rock. The next time I saw them was when they got back together six years later, and they were amazing. When Aerosmith are in the groove, they're just rock-solid. Not too long after that, Guns n' Roses were asked to open for Aerosmith on their Permanent Vacation tour. We went to their manager's hotel room, and while he was in the bathroom we ordered $1,500 worth of room service and trashed the place. But they must have liked us a lot, because they put us on the bill anyway, and I've known them ever since.

58

Parliament and Funkadelic

By Ice Cube 

When I was going out in the Eighties, you could get your ass kicked if you put on Funkadelic's "(Not Just) Knee Deep" at a house party. Some DJs wouldn't play that song or "Flash Light," because a fight would start: The crazy motherfuckers at parties would become real crazy. "Knee Deep" was their coming-out music. At 15 minutes, it was so long and so good, it made you feel like now was the time. For whatever. George Clinton showed me that anything goes: You do what you feel.

Obviously, he had great musicians on those albums: Bootsy Collins on the bass; Bernie Worrell, the best keyboard player I've ever heard. Clinton would pull in people like James Brown's saxophone player Maceo Parker and anyone else he could find. The arrangements are always so unpredictable: high-pitched synthesizer sounds you never heard before, followed by straight-up beautiful music. He could turn the corniest things into funk.

My uncle Jerry was a DJ and introduced me to all the P-Funk records when I was a little kid: The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, Mothership Connection. I loved them because they reminded me of cartoons, but they were crazy and psychedelic, and the superheroes were black men. To this day they still have the best album covers I've ever seen; they would sustain you as much as a video would today. I remember just sitting and staring at the cover of Motor Booty Affair; there was that picture of Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk with a big-ass bird breathing down his neck. My favorite characters were Star Child and Sir Nose, even though Sir Nose was a sucker who didn't swim and didn't like the funk. I was too young to go to the concerts, but I'd hear about them from my older brothers and sisters — about the huge stage shows, and one story about a fan who stripped off all his clothes and ran the length of the arena. That bugged me out.

In the end, nobody described George Clinton's music better than the man himself: It is "Cosmic Slop," it is funkadelic — funky and psychedelic. You feel a mothership connection. Clinton was a great marketer, in the best sense possible: He delivered what he promised. He was no Geraldo Rivera — he was Muhammad Ali or LeBron James. His music never went away on the West Coast, and you can still hear his mark all over music today. Parliament and Funkadelic were 30 years ahead of their time.

57

Grateful Dead

By Warren Haynes 

I didn't grow up a Deadhead. I didn't become a big fan until 1989. I first saw the band in 1979 — I was 19 — but my head was somewhere else at the time. My wife, Stefani, was a Deadhead, though, and after we met, in 1989, we'd go to see them every chance we'd get. One night, at Madison Square Garden, Bruce Hornsby — who was playing keyboards with them — pulled us up onstage and sat us behind his piano. We were 10 feet from Jerry Garcia, and you could see how that audience zeroed in on him. He was the focus of everything. There was a synchronicity between the Dead and the crowd, and it was mesmerizing to watch Jerry, in his own understated way, steering that ship — knowing it was a big ship that could barely be steered, but if anybody could steer it, it was him.

Obviously, most of today's jam bands are influenced by the Dead. But what disappoints me about a lot of current music is that you don't hear any history in it.

The Dead were aficionados of folk, acoustic blues and bluegrass — particularly Garcia. In the songs he wrote with Robert Hunter, and in Bob Weir's stuff too, you're also hearing music from 40 years ago. Everyone focuses on the magic of Jerry's guitar playing and the vulnerability of his voice, but his sense of melody and chord changes was unbelievable. The ballads especially connected with me: "Loser," "Wharf Rat," "Stella Blue." My song "Lay of the Sunflower," on the Gov't Mule album The Deep End, has a lot of Garcia's melodic sensibilities.

Before I joined the Dead in 2004, I played with Phil Lesh for about five years. He is one of the most original bass players ever. His background was in classical music; he looks at the bass guitar as a piece of the orchestra, like a low-pitch brass instrument. His job isn't just holding down the root notes — he and the drummers, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, are moving all over the place. A lot of the magic in the Dead's music came from Phil and Jerry learning how to play together, combining Phil's approach with Jerry's unique blend of influences.

Jerry is still one of the few guitarists where as soon as you hear him, you know instantly who it is. As a guitar player, that is the thing I strive for: the distinct, recognizable personality that comes out in every note. There was a humanity in Jerry's guitar work as well as his singing that drew you in. He was a very personal guitarist; he played with more heart and soul than technique. And to me, that's what the best music is made of.

As a band, the Dead also redefined success. They created this following that grew and grew, and they did it without compromising themselves. They survived in a world where survival didn't seem possible. They bucked the system and encouraged their fans to do the same: to be free thinkers. There are a lot of Deadheads who were completely different people before they connected with the Grateful Dead.

The Dead still believe in that message. When I'm with the Allman Brothers, the band always leaves it up to me how much of Duane's influence I should show. The Dead are like that too. They're never going to tell me, "Play it more like Jerry" or "less like Jerry." It's always, "Do what you think is right."

56

Dr. Dre

By Kanye West 

Do hip-hop producers hold Dr. Dre in high esteem? It's like asking a Christian if he believes Christ died for his sins. Dre has a whole coast on his back. He discovered Snoop — one of the two greatest living rappers, along with Jay-Z — and signed Eminem, 50 Cent and the Game. He takes artists with great potential and makes them even better. I wonder where I'd be right now if Dre had discovered me.

I remember hearing Dre's music before I really knew who he was. I had a tape of Eazy-E's Eazy-Duz-It when I was 11 years old (until my mother found out it had curses on it and confiscated it). I didn't know what "production" was back then, but I knew I loved the music. The more I learned about producing hip-hop, the more I respected what Dre was doing. Think about how on old N.W.A records the beat would change four or five times in a single song. A million people can program beats, but can they put together an entire album like it's a movie?

When I was learning to produce, working in a home studio in my mother's crib, I tried to make beats that sounded exactly like Timbaland's, DJ Premier's, Pete Rock's and, especially, Dr. Dre's. Dre productions like Tupac's "California Love" were just so far beyond what I was doing that I couldn't even comprehend what was going on. I had no idea how to get to that point, how to layer all those instruments. The Chronic is still the hip-hop equivalent of Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life. It's the benchmark you measure your album against if you're serious. But it's "Xxplosive," off 2001, that I got my entire sound from — if you listen to the track, it's got a soul beat, but it's done with those heavy Dre drums. Listen to "This Can't Be Life," a track I did for Jay-Z's Dynasty album, and then listen to "Xxplosive." It's a direct bite.

I first met Dre in December of 2003. He asked me to produce a track for the Game. At first I was star-struck, but within 30 minutes I was begging him to mix my next album. He's the definition of a true talent: Dre feels like God placed him here to make music, and no matter what forces are aligned against him, he always ends up on the mountaintop.