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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.

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.