Home Music Music Lists

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.

53

The Allman Brothers Band

By Billy Gibbons 

In a way, their name says it all. It wasn't just about the fact that Duane and Gregg Allman had the same parents. The Allman Brothers Band was a true brotherhood of players — one that went beyond race and ego. It was a thing of beauty.

The Allmans were without question the first great jam band, and they took the jam to heights that it had not previously reached. They played traditional blues mixed with their own unique brand of rock & roll, and there was nothing but strength in that group.

Duane Allman played what he wanted to hear. There have been bottleneck-guitar players forever, from the Twenties through the Sixties, but Duane began doing things no one had ever done before. He had a tone and a style that were uniquely his. He was just a stunning and singular musician who was gone way too soon.

Then there was his kid brother, Gregg. His singing and keyboard playing had a dark richness, a soulfulness that added one more color to the Allmans' rainbow. The Allman Brothers had respect for the roots of this music. They learned from the blues, and they continued to interpret the form in their own manner. They took something old and made something new.

I was lucky enough to see the Allmans up close in the beginning. I first became aware of them when they were breaking out of Macon, Georgia. They had played Austin and made a tremendous noise down there. Word spread very quickly in those days. The next thing we knew we were on the road with these guys, opening up for them and Quicksilver Messenger Service, and witnessing music history.

We would linger by the stage after our set and listen to Duane and Dickey Betts play guitar together. It was like they were weaving a beautiful piece of cloth. Dickey was remarkable in his own right. Yet in the beginning, no one in that band — Duane, Dickey, Jaimoe Johanson or Butch Trucks — outshined the others.

There are a couple of moments on At Fillmore East that defy description — where the Allmans take the music to places it had never been. That extended version of "Whipping Post" is the all-time end-all for me. The Allmans were the great Southern-rock band, but they were more than that. They defined the best of every music from the American South in that time. They were the best of all of us.

52

Queen

By Gerard Way 

My dad was a mechanic. He worked on a lot of bottom-of-the-rung cars that didn't have cassette decks. But they had 8-tracks. Somebody left an 8-track tape of Queen's Greatest Hits in a car — the one where they're wearing leather jackets on the cover, and Freddie's got the mustache. I loved it immediately, and I came to emulate Freddie both as a child and as an adult.

"Bohemian Rhapsody" is arguably the greatest song ever written. I'm sure people told them it was too long or had too many movements. But then it came out and just took hold of the world. When you're in a band and you find something that breaks every rule, it gives you creative hope. And Queen were always trying something new; none of their hit songs were paint-by-numbers.

When My Chemical Romance were making The Black Parade, we watched tons of documentary footage about A Night at the Opera, Queen's best album. We used Brian May amps and wrote songs with different movements. But we didn't try to make another "Bohemian Rhapsody." Whenever someone tries to do that, they fail.

I love the way Freddie performed. He would strike amazing poses; maybe he practiced them in front of a mirror, but he wasn't pretending to be somebody else. That was him telling the world, "This is who I am." I remember when the surviving members of Queen were looking for a singer a few years ago, I was like, "I would love to try it." Freddie's songs are just so much fun to sing, and he had such stamina. I would definitely have to quit smoking to be able to do what he did.

Queen fell in and out of being cool, maybe because they were so sincere. Rock music is all about being phony sometimes. And they weren't. They were obviously so psyched to be doing what they were doing.

They had a polarizing quality. I heard a story — maybe apocryphal — that Queen played a festival and got booed off the stage. Freddie vowed they would return as the biggest band in the world. And they did. When we played the Reading and Leeds festivals, we had to follow Slayer, and got bottles of piss thrown at us. I thought, "If we ever come back here, we're gonna headline it." I've always held on to the same dreams as Freddie.

51

Pink Floyd

By Wayne Coyne 

When I was growing up in the 1970s, Pink Floyd were ever-present. My brothers and my older sister and all their friends constantly played records in their rooms while they smoked pot. Especially Dark Side of the Moon. You heard that every day of your life, for at least three or four years around then.

Turning 14 years old is already a heavy combination of things. For Dark Side of the Moon to be playing in the background during that time was perfect. As you looked deeper into their music, everything you find out leads to something interesting. Pink Floyd were always a group of great creative minds who did whatever the fuck they wanted and didn't worry about all the little rules.

They had an amazing ability to change between records. You don't realize how powerful that is when you're just a listener. But being a person who's made 14 records, you see how big a deal it is. They have a phase one, a phase two, maybe even a phase three and four. A lot of groups — if they're lucky — just have a phase one.

They started out with Syd Barrett writing these whimsical stories, these songs that were kind of surf-rock, kind of R&B, but in his own fucked up way. Later you had Roger Waters evoking these big, universal landscapes of human crises. And Pink Floyd came to embrace this idea of "We can play stadiums and we can fill them up with giant fucking pig balloons." Their music could just always hold that.

Yet, despite all these different pieces moving around, there is a lot of very simple musicality going on. Compared to the prog-rock groups they get thrown in with — King Crimson or Yes or Genesis — their music is actually very simple. You can grasp the chord progressions and melodies the first time you hear them. I love all those other groups but with Pink Floyd I understand the emotion.

Take a song like "Fat Old Sun," from Atom Heart Mother. Living in Oklahoma, I sometimes can't relate when English bands sing about English things. When David Gilmour sings about the sun going down, there's something simple about it. It didn't seem like the sunset was happening in some king's country, in some other world. It seemed like he was singing about me walking in the sunsets in Oklahoma.

Show Comments