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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.

30

Nirvana

By Iggy Pop

The first time I saw Nirvana was at the Pyramid Club, a rank, wonderful, anything-goes dive bar on Avenue A in New York. It wasn't known for having live bands; it was known more for cross-dressing and bar dancing. I had a photographer friend, and he told me, "There's a really hot band from Seattle you have to see. They're gonna play the Pyramid, of all places!"

You could smell the talent on Kurt Cobain. He had this sort of elfin delivery, but it was not naval gazing. He was jumping around and throwing himself into every number. He'd sort of hunch over his guitar like an evil little troll, but you heard this throaty power in his voice. At the end of the set he tossed himself into the drums. It was one of maybe 15 performances I've seen where rock & roll is very, very good.

After that, I bought Bleach, and listened to it in Europe and Asia on tour. I still like this album very much, but there was one song, "About a Girl," that's not like the rest of the album. It sounded like someone gave Thorazine to the Beatles. And I thought, "If he puts out a record full of that, he's gonna get really rich." And sure enough …

I met Kurt at a club in L.A. right before Nevermind came out. We took a picture and he said, "Come on, let's give the finger!" So we did. I bought Nevermind and I thought, "This has really got it." Nirvana genuinely achieved dynamics. They took you down, they took you up, and when they pressed a certain button, they took you over. They rocked without rushing and they managed melody without being insipid. It was emotional without sounding dated or corny or weak.

Some time later, Kurt reached out to me. I missed the call, but my wife took the message: "Kurt Cobain wants to go into the studio with you." See, I'm 113 years old now; I was about 72 in the Nineties, so I was going to bed at, like, 10 p.m., and he was just getting going around 11. I did call him back a couple of times. The number was from the Four Seasons in L.A., and I would get these responses like, "Mr. Cobain has not left the room for three days" or "Mr. Cobain is under