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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.

33

The Everly Brothers

By Paul Simon

The roots of the Everly Brothers are very, very deep in the soil of American culture. First of all, you should know that the Everly Brothers were child stars. They had a radio show with their family, and their father, Ike, was an influential country guitar player, so he attracted other significant musicians to the Everlys' world — among them Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, who was instrumental in getting the Everlys on the Grand Ole Opry. Perhaps even more powerfully than Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers melded country with the emerging sound of Fifties rock & roll. They were exposed to extraordinary country-roots music, and so they brought with them the legacy of the great brother groups like the Delmore Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys into the Fifties, where they mingled with the other early rock pioneers and made history in the process.

The Everly Brothers' impact exceeds even their fame. They were a big influence on John Lennon and Paul McCartney — who called themselves the Foreverly Brothers early on — and, of course, on Simon and Garfunkel. When we were kids, Artie and I got our rock & roll chops from the Everlys. Later, as Simon and Garfunkel, we put "Bye Bye Love" on Bridge Over Troubled Water, and much later, Phil and Don both sang on the song "Graceland."

Before the Everly Brothers joined Artie and me on the road in 2003, Phil and Don had actually quietly retired three years earlier. They basically came out of retirement for us. I said, "Phil, look, if you're going to retire, you might as well come out one more time and take a bow and let me at least say what it is that you meant to us and to the culture."

You know, the Everlys have a long history of knocking each other down, as brothers can do. So in a certain sense, it was hilarious that the four of us were doing this tour, given our collective histories of squabbling. And it's amazing, because they hadn't seen each other in about three years. They met in the parking lot before the first gig. They unpacked their guitars — those famous black guitars — and they opened their mouths and started to sing. And after all those years, it was still that sound I fell in love with as a kid. It was still perfect.

32

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

By Bob Seger

I used to go to the Motown revues, and the Miracles always closed the show. They were that good, and everybody knew it. Not flash at all. The Supremes had bigger hits. The Temptations had the better dance moves. The Miracles did it with pure music.

Back then the radio played the rougher stuff, like "Do You Love Me," by the Contours, only at night. Smokey Robinson — they played him all day. Everybody loved his songs, and he had a leg up on all the other singers, with that slightly raspy, very high voice. Smokey was smoky. He could rasp in falsetto, which is hard to do and perfect for a sad ballad like "The Tears of a Clown" or "The Tracks of My Tears."

Smokey wrote his own stuff, so he had an originality or individualism that maybe the other Motown greats didn't. He was a lyric man as well as a melody man, a musicians' musician. It's kinda like Hollywood, where you have the star, and then you have the actors' actor. Gene Hackman — when was the last time that guy gave a bad performance? Smokey was the Gene Hackman of Motown.

I grew up in the black neighborhoods of Ann Arbor, Michigan, so I didn't think in terms of black music or white music. It was all just music to me. Smokey's first hit, "Shop Around," was one of the first records I bought. Later on, when my brother went into the service and I was the sole support of my mother, I was playing bars six nights a week, five 45-minute sets a night. This was '63-'67, and I could make the most money playing in a trio. We had a medley of six Smokey songs that we played at least twice every night: "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," "Shop Around," "Bad Girl," "Way Over There" and a couple of others. It was a survival move — the people demanded it. Also, if you were after a girl in the audience, it was always a good idea to do some Smokey.

Smokey was also known as the nicest guy at Motown, which you hear in his voice. I used to do a Canadian television show called Swingin' Time, and everyone from Detroit would show up: the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations. All of them nice people, but Smokey was particularly a gentleman. I saw him again around '87 at an awards show. I was able to tell him how much I appreciated his writing, and all the money I made playing his songs in bars. I have great memories. Thank you, Smokey.

31

Johnny Cash

By Kris Kristofferson

Johnny Cash was a biblical character. He was like some old preacher, one of those dangerous old wild ones. He was like a hero you'd see in a Western. He was a giant. And he never lost that stature. I don't think we'll see anyone like him again. Of course, the first thing he'll be remembered for is the power and originality of his music. The first time I heard Johnny Cash was when he released "I Walk the Line" in 1956. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard. Elvis had had a lot of hits by that point, but "I Walk the Line" was completely different. It didn't sound much like any of the country music that was popular at the time, either. There was always a kind of dark energy around John and his music. My first hero, when I was a kid, was Hank Williams, and he had a similar energy. You could tell they were both wild men.

As a songwriter, I've always loved his lyrics. At the beginning of his career, John released a bunch of powerful songs in a very short time. For me, the best one was always "Big River." It's so well-written, so unlike anything else. The lines don't even seem to rhyme. "I met her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota/And it tore me up every time I heard her drawl." His imagery was so powerful: "Then you took me to St. Louis later on, down the river/A freighter said she's been here/But she's gone, boy, she's gone/I found her trail in Memphis/But she just walked up the bluff/She raised a few eyebrows, and then she went on down alone."

The first time I saw John live, I was on leave from the Army, visiting Nashville. He was playing the Grand Ole Opry, and I was watching from backstage — and he was the most exciting performer I'd ever seen. At the time, he was skinnier than a snake, and he was just electric. He used to prowl the stage like a panther. He looked like he might explode up there. And in fact, there were times when he did. One night at the Opry, he knocked out all of the footlights. I think they banned him for a while after that. But they banned Hank Williams, too. They were a pretty conservative crowd.

The main thing about John, though — the thing that everybody could sense — was his integrity, the integrity of his relationship with his music, with his life and with other people. He stood up for Bob Dylan when everyone in the music business was criticizing Dylan for going electric. And he did the same for me, in the Eighties, when I was taking a lot of criticism for going down to Nicaragua. That's the kind of guy he always was. He stood up for the underdog.

I thought that The Man Comes Around, one of the last albums John did, was terrific. His version of "Danny Boy" kills me every time.

I think he'll be remembered for the way he grew as a person and an artist. He went from being this guy who was as wild as Hank Williams to being almost as respected as one of the fathers of our country. He was friends with presidents and with Billy Graham. You felt like he should've had his face on Mount Rushmore.

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 the bed."

As for his legacy: He was Johnny B. Goode. He was the last example that I can think of within rock & roll where a poor kid with no family backup from a small, rural area effected a serious emotional explosion in a significant sector of world youth. It was not made in Hollywood. There were no chrome parts. It was very down-home at its root. Somebody who is truly nobody from nowhere reached out and touched the world. He may have touched it right on its wound.

29

The Who

By Eddie Vedder

The Who began as spectacle. They became spectacular. Early on, the band was in pure demolition mode; later, on albums like Tommy and Quadrophenia, it coupled that raw energy with precision and desire to complete musical experiments on a grand scale. They asked, "What were the limits of rock & roll? Could the power of music actually change the way you feel?" Pete Townshend demanded that there be spiritual value in music. They were an incredible band whose main songwriter happened to be on a quest for reason and harmony in his life. He shared that journey with the listener, becoming an inspiration for others to seek out their own path. They did all this while also being in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's loudest band.

Presumptuously, I speak for all Who fans when I say being a fan of the Who has incalculably enriched my life. What disturbs me about the Who is the way they smashed through every door of rock & roll, leaving rubble and not much else for the rest of us to lay claim to. In the beginning they took on an arrogance when, as Pete says, "We were actually a very ordinary group." As they became accomplished, this attitude stuck. Therein lies the thread to future punks. They wanted to be louder, so they had Jim Marshall invent the 100-watt amp. Needed more volume, so they began stacking them. It is said that some of the first guitar feedback ever to make it to record was on "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," in 1965. The Who told stories within the confines of a song and, over the course of an entire album, pushed boundaries. How big of a story could be told? And how would it transmit (pre-video screens, etc.) to a large crowd? Smash the instruments? Keith Moon said they wanted to grab the audience by the balls. Pete countered that like the German auto-destructive movement, where they made sculpture that would collapse and buildings that would explode, it was high art.

I was around nine when a baby sitter snuck Who's Next onto the turntable. The parents were gone. The windows shook. The shelves were rattling. Rock & roll. That began an exploration into music that had soul, rebellion, aggression, affection. Destruction. And this was all Who music. There was the mid-Sixties maximum- R&B period, mini-operas, Woodstock, solo records. Imagine, as a kid, stumbling upon the locomotive that is Live at Leeds. "Hi, my name is Eddie. I'm 10 years old and I'm getting my fucking mind blown!" The Who on record were dynamic. Roger Daltrey's delivery allowed vulnerability without weakness; doubt and confusion, but no plea for sympathy. (You should hear Roger's vocal on a song called "Lubie [Come Back Home]," a bonus track from the reissue of their first album, The Who Sings My Generation. It's top-gear.)

The Who quite possibly remain the greatest live band ever. Even the list-driven punk legend and music historian Johnny Ramone agreed with me on this. You can't explain Keith Moon or his playing. John Entwistle was an enigma unto himself, another virtuoso musical oddity. Roger turned his mic into a weapon, seemingly in self-defense. All the while, Pete was leaping into the rafters wielding a Seventies Gibson Les Paul, which happens to be a stunningly heavy guitar. As a live group, they created momentum, and they seemed to be released by the ritual of their playing. (Check out "A Quick One While He's Away," from the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus.)

A few years ago in Chicago, I saw Pete wring notes out of his guitar like a mechanic squeezing oil from a rag. I watched as the guitar became a living being, one getting its body bashed and its neck strangled. As Pete set it down, I swear I sensed relief coming from that guitar. A Stratocaster with sweat on it. The guitar's sweat.

John and Keith made the Who what they were. Roger was the rock. And at this point, Pete has been through and survived more than anyone in rock royalty. Perhaps even beyond Keith Richards, who was actually guilty of most things he was accused of.

The songwriter-listener relationship grows deeper after all the years. Pete saw that a celebrity in rock is charged by the audience with a function, like, "You stand there and we will know ourselves." Not "You stand there and we will pay you loads of money to keep us entertained as we eat our oysters." He saw the connection could be profound. He also realized the audience may say, "When we're finished with you, we'll replace you with somebody else." For myself and so many others (including shopkeepers, foremen, professionals, bellboys, gravediggers, directors, musicians), they won't be replaced. Yes, Pete, it's true, music can change you.

28

The Clash

By The Edge

The Clash, more than any other group, kick-started a thousand garage bands across Ireland and the U.K. For U2 and other people of our generation, seeing them perform was a life-changing experience. There's really no other way to describe it.

I can vividly remember when I first saw the Clash. It was in Dublin in October 1977. They were touring behind their first album, and they played a 1,200-capacity venue at Trinity College. Dublin had never seen anything like it. It really had a massive impact around here, and I still meet people who are in the music business today — maybe they are DJs, maybe they are in bands — because they saw that show.

U2 were a young band at the time, and it was a complete throw-down to us. It was like: Why are you in music? What the hell is music all about, anyway? The members of the Clash were not world-class musicians by any means, but the racket they made was undeniable — the pure, visceral energy and the anger and the commitment. They were raw in every sense, and they were not ashamed that they were about much more than playing with precision and making sure the guitars were in tune. This wasn't just entertainment. It was a life-and-death thing. They made it possible for us to take our band seriously. I don't think that we would have gone on to become the band we are if it wasn't for that concert and that band. There it was. They showed us what you needed. And it was all about heart.

The social and political content of the songs was a huge inspiration, certainly for U2. It was the call to wake up, get wise, get angry, get political and get noisy about it. It's interesting that the members were quite different characters. Paul Simonon had an art-school background, and Joe Strummer was the son of a diplomat. But you really sensed they were comrades in arms. They were completely in accord, railing against injustice, railing against a system they were just sick of. And they thought it had to go.

I saw them a couple of times after the Dublin show, and they always had something fresh going on. It's a shame that they weren't around longer. The music they made is timeless. It's got so much fighting spirit, so much heart, that it just doesn't age. You can still hear it in Green Day and No Doubt, Nirvana and the Pixies, certainly U2. They meant it, and you can hear it in their work.

27

Prince

By Ahmir Thompson

Prince was forbidden in my closed, Christian household. He was somewhere between Richard Pryor — whom we absolutely couldn't listen to — and a stash of porn. In junior high, my parents would put $30 or $40 in an envelope, and that would buy a card that would cover a month of school lunches. It was November of 1982, and I took my $36 and purchased Prince's 1999, What Time Is It?, by the Time, and the Vanity 6 album. I starved that whole month.

"Little Red Corvette" from 1999 was one of the first regularly played songs by a black artist on MTV; Prince crossed boundaries like that all the time. In the first five songs on Sign 'O' the Times, he sprawls across James Brown, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Curtis Mayfield in five easy swoops and maintains his own identity. But it's Purple Rain that was a crowning achievement, not only in Prince's career but for black life — or how blacks were perceived — in the Eighties. It's the equivalent of Michael Jordan's 1997 championship games: He was absolutely just in the zone, every shot was going in. "When Doves Cry" is one of the most radical Number One songs of the past 25 years. Here's a song with no bass line in it, hardly any music. Yet it's still had such an influence; "When Doves Cry" is a precursor to the Neptunes' one-note funk grind, a masterpiece of song with just a drum machine and very little melody. Purple Rain was a great movie too. Anyone who saw Eminem's biopic, 8 Mile, if they're over 35, the first words out of their mouth are, "Oh, I liked that film the first time I saw it back in the Eighties. It was this Prince movie called Purple Rain."

Prince must be one of the most bootlegged artists of the rock era — on a weekly basis I listen to a bootleg called The Dream Factory, which would later be known as Sign 'O' the Times. His ability to create on the spot is mind-boggling. Like a hip-hop MC freestyling, he executes ideas off the top of his head in a very convincing manner. But there must be at least 20 ways to prove that hip-hop is damn-near patterned after Prince, including his genius, blatant use of sexuality and the use of controversy as a way to get attention. I don't think any artist before had used that level of sex to get in the door and be accepted by the mainstream. I wonder what his mind state was in 1981, standing onstage in kiddie briefs, leg warmers and high heels without a Number One hit. That was a risk. Also, Prince created the image of what we now know as the video ho — he was a pioneer of objectifying and empowering women at the same time. Jay-Z often talks about ghostwriting for other artists; Prince is notorious for ghostwriting. Not only that, but he invented different aliases for himself in a way that rappers have adopted — he was Jamie Starr, Joey Coco or Alexander Nevermind.

I met Prince in 1996, and I was prepared for the grasshopper voice, the one that he always uses at award shows, but he was totally normal. Just like you and me, except he's Prince. We played together a few times, and one of my hero moments of all time is after a concert in New York when me, him and D'Angelo got onstage and played for about a half-hour. His period of silence about a decade ago bothered me. It was really a shame that his fight for independence from the labels was a David and Goliath battle that he had to fight alone. But judging from what he's done lately, I'm happy to say that he hasn't lost a step in his 30 years of doing it. He seems as young and as in charge as ever. He definitely seizes the moment. In case a few people counted him out, he's got a few trump cards up his sleeve.

26

The Ramones

By Lenny Kaye

Every rock & roll generation needs reminding of why it picks up a guitar in the first place, and four nonbrothers from the borough of Queens had a concept that was almost too perfect. Their look — ripped jeans, tight T-shirt, high-top sneakers, bowl haircut and black motorcycle jacket — was a cartoon version of rock's tough-guy ethos. When they first started, they played what they knew how to play, which wasn't much, and worked it to their advantage. They opted for speed rather than complexity, they aspired to be the Beach Boys, Alice Cooper and the Bay City Rollers, and their rotational three chords and headlong lunge kept them skidding through the simpleton catchphrases of their singalongs.

The Ramones were pure, unadulterated — and hardly adult in their adolescent concerns of sniffing glue and beating on brats with a baseball bat, even if the brats were themselves. Their sibling rivalry meshed like any television reality show. Johnny was the stern older brother, disciplined, military; Dee Dee was the blunt instrument; Tommy was the producer who knew the record business, and like any good producer, knew that you build a great track from the drums out. Joey was the beating heart.

The Ramones had their act so together that they would change it only in increments for two decades after they took it out of the CBGB nest in 1975. They were easily understood, translatable. When the band got to England on Independence Day 1976, returning the favor of the English Invasion in a fun-house mirror, it was a frontal assault on here-we-go-again pop subculture.

The Ramones always believed in their music's message of self-deliverance. They affirmed that if they could do it, you could do it; just be resolute. Count to four.

When I think of a Ramones moment, I remember not the early years — when the bands played for each other on the Bowery, and each was like a different world — but a late afternoon in May, somewhere in New England, a daylong festival, maybe the early Eighties. I'm standing backstage with Johnny, and we're talking about nothing much, guitars we've known, the Red Sox, and finally the conversation stops, and we just look around, quiet in the midst of electric noise, seeing where rock & roll has brought us on this beautiful afternoon, playing the music we love.

25

Fats Domino

By Dr. John

After John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Fats Domino and his partner, Dave Bartholomew, were probably the greatest team of songwriters ever. They always had a simple melody, a hip set of chord changes and a cool groove. And their songs all had simple lyrics; that’s the key. There are no deep plots in Fats Domino songs: “Yes, it’s me, and I’m in love again/Had no lovin’ since you know when/You know I love you, yes I do/And I’m savin’ all my lovin’ just for you.” It don’t get no simpler than that.

Even when Fats Domino did songs by somebody else, it was still Fats. He could really lock in with his band and play those hard-driving boogie shuffles — it was pre-funk stuff, and it was New Orleans, and he did it all his way. One thing that most people miss, which he did on some of his biggest records, like “Blueberry Hill”: He could do piano rolls with both hands. A couple of guys, like Allen Toussaint, could do Fats to a T, but with Fats, there was brothsome little different thing. He was like Thelonious Monk that way. You can always tell when it’s Monk and when it’s somebody trying to play like Monk.

I give a lot of credit to Dave Bartholomew, Fats’ producer and songwriting partner. They were a team. Dave produced records perfect for Fats. He had the sense to go with the best-feeling take when they were recording. People would have missed something great about Fats if they had just heard the more “correct” takes — the ones without that extra off-the-wall thing that Fats would bring.

You can’t hardly hear the bass on some of Fats’ early records. Later, they started doubling the bass line with the guitar, and it made for a very distinctive sound. That became standard with Phil Spector. I don’t know if Phil picked it up from Fats or from somebody who picked it up from Fats, but it started with Fats. You can hear a lot of Fats in Jerry Lee Lewis. Anytime anybody plays a slow blues, the piano player will eventually get to something like Fats. I can’t tell you the number of times I played sessions and was asked specifically to do Fats. Eighty kajillion little bands all through the South — we all had to play Fats Domino songs. Everybody, everywhere.

Fats is old school to the max — he loved to work the house, do looooong shows and push the piano across the stage with his belly. That innocence is there in his music. He’s a good man, and people respond to that goodness. I don’t think it was about anything other than the tradition of working the house and what felt good to Fats.

When all the payola scandals were happening and it looked bad for rock & roll, Fats did an interview in some magazine. He said, “I don’t know what all the trouble is about us being a bad influence on teenagers. I’m just playing the same music I played all my life.” That’s what Fats was about. He didn’t look on what he did as special or different. He just did what Fats did.

24

Jerry Lee Lewis

By Moby

I'd be curious to know how many pianos Jerry Lee Lewis has gone through in his lifetime. Whoever was responsible for keeping the piano in tune and making sure it didn't fall apart at Sun Studio must have wept every time he showed up to play. I don't know what switch got flipped in his brain when he was born that compelled him to play so fast and so hard, but I'm glad it got flipped.

There's a perhaps apocryphal story that when he and his cousin, the evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, were children, they went to a roadhouse and listened through the window to some amazing R&B band. Jimmy Swaggart supposedly said, "This is the devil's music! We have to leave!" But Jerry Lee just stood there transfixed and couldn't tear himself away. He was an evangelist for the devil's music.

If you listen to his records, they sound more punk rock than just about anything any contemporary punk band is doing. His records sound faster than they actually are, and they sound louder than they actually are. If you listen to them on a crummy little stereo on low volume, they still sound like they're exploding out of the speakers.

Whether it's Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard or Gene Vincent, these guys were dripping sex and anarchy. Their records all have a sense of abandon, like they had given up all hope of commercial success or ever being respected, so they just wanted to play crazy music and get laid.

If I had a daughter, I wouldn't let her date a musician, because most of them are just too dumb. In Jerry Lee's case, if he were coming over for dinner, I would literally lock her up. The story of him marrying his 13-year-old cousin is unbearably sad. Elvis had just been drafted, Jerry Lee was about to tour England for the first time, and the scandal broke. He was never able to ascend to the throne that was rightfully his. And the piano faded because it was too big and too hard to mic. The beauty of the electric guitar is that it's small, portable, loud and easy to mic.

"Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On" are the iconic singles. But if you really want to understand Jerry Lee Lewis, find some video performance of him doing "Great Balls of Fire." It's pure, narcotic rock & roll excitement.

23

Bruce Springsteen

By Jackson Browne

In many ways, Bruce Springsteen is the embodiment of rock & roll. Combining strains of Appalachian music, rockabilly, blues and R&B, his work epitomizes rock's deepest values: desire, the need for freedom and the search to find yourself. All through his songs there is a generosity and a willingness to portray even the simplest aspects of our lives in a dramatic and committed way. The first time I heard him play was at a small club, the Bitter End in New York, where he did a guest set. It was just an amazing display of lyrical prowess. I asked him where he was from, and he sort of grinned and said he was from New Jersey.

The next time I saw him play it was with his band, the one with David Sancious in it. I'd never seen anybody do what he was doing: He would play acoustic guitar and dance all over the place, and the guitar wasn't plugged into anything. There wasn't this meticulous need to have every note heard. It filled that college gym with so much emotion that it didn't matter if you couldn't hear every note.

A year or so later I saw him play in L.A., with Max Weinberg, Clarence Clemons and Steve Van Zandt in the band, and it was even more dramatic — the use of lights and the way it was staged. There were these events built into the music. I went to see them the second night, and I guess I expected it to be the same thing, but it was completely different. It was obvious that they were drawing on a vocabulary. It was exhilarating, and at the bottom of it all there was all this joy and fun and a sense of brotherhood, of being outsiders who had tremendous power and a story to tell.

Bruce has been unafraid to take on the tasks associated with growing up. He's a family man, with kids and the same values and concerns as working-class Americans. It runs all through his work, the idea of finding that one person and making a life together. Look at "Rosalita": Her mother doesn't like him, her father doesn't like him, but he's coming for her. Or in "The River," where he gets Mary pregnant and for his 19th birthday he gets a union card and a wedding coat. That night they go to the river and dive in. For those of us who are ambivalent about marriage, the struggle for love in a world of impermanence is summed up by the two of them diving into that river at night. Bruce's songs are filled with these images, but they aren't exclusively the images of working-class people. It just happens to be where he's from.

Bruce has all kinds of influences, from Chuck Berry and Gary U.S. Bonds to Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. But he's also a lot like Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and James Dean — people whose most indistinct utterances have been magnified to communicate volumes. He is one of the few songwriters who works on a scale that is capable of handling the subject of our national grief and the need to find a response to an event like September 11th. His sense of music as a healing power, of band-as-church, has always been there. He's got his feet planted on either side of that great divide between rebellion and redemption.

22

U2

By Chris Martin

I don't buy weekend tickets to Ireland and hang out in front of their gates, but U2 are the only band whose entire catalog I know by heart. The first song on The Unforgettable Fire, "A Sort of Homecoming," I know backward and forward — it's so rousing, brilliant and beautiful. It's one of the first songs I played to my unborn baby.

The first U2 album I ever heard was Achtung Baby. It was 1991, and I was 14 years old. Before that, I didn't even know what albums were. From that point, I worked backward — every six months, I'd get to buy a new U2 album. The sound they pioneered — the driving bass and drums underneath and those ethereal, effects-laden guitar tracks floating out from above — was nothing that had been heard before. They may be the only good anthemic rock band ever. Certainly they're the best.

What I love most about U2 is that the band is more important than any of its songs or albums. I love that they're still best mates and that they each play an integral role in one another's lives as friends. I love the way that they're not interchangeable — if Larry Mullen Jr. wants to go scuba diving for a week, the rest of the band can't do a thing. U2 — like Coldplay — maintain that all songs that appear on their albums are credited to the band. And they are the only band that's been around for more than 30 years with no member changes and no big splits.

It's amazing that the biggest band in the world has so much integrity and passion in its music. Our society is thoroughly screwed, fame is a ridiculous waste of time, and celebrity culture is disgusting. There are only a few people around brave enough to talk out against it, who use their fame in a good way. And every time I try, I feel like an idiot, because I see Bono actually getting things achieved. While everyone else was swearing at George Bush, Bono was the one who rubbed Bush's back and got a billion dollars for Africa. People can be so cynical — they don't like do-gooders — but Bono's attitude is, "I don't care what anybody thinks, I'm going to speak out." He's accomplished so much with Greenpeace, in Sarajevo, at the concert to shut down the Sellafield nuclear plant, and he still runs the gantlet. When the time came for Coldplay to think about fair trade, we took his lead to speak out regardless of what anyone may think. That's what we've learned from U2: You have to be brave enough to be yourself.

21

Otis Redding

By Steve Cropper

The first time we saw Otis Redding was in 1962, and he was driving a car for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers out of Macon, Georgia. They had a moderate hit, an instrumental called "Love Twist," and they wanted to record a follow-up in Memphis with my band, Booker T. and the MGs. I saw this big guy get out from behind the wheel and go to the back of the truck and start unloading equipment. That was Otis. And we had no idea he was also a singer. In those days, instrumental groups always carried a singer so they could play the songs on the radio that the kids wanted to dance to.

We had a few minutes left at the end of the session, and Al Jackson, our drummer, said, "This guy with Johnny, he wants us to hear him sing." Booker had already left for the day, so I sat down at the piano, which I play only a little for writing. Otis said, "Just gimme those church things."

We call them triplets in music. I said, "What key?"

He said, "It don't matter."

He started singing "These Arms of Mine." And, man, my hair stood on end. Jim [Stewart, co-owner of Stax] came running out and said, "That's it! That's it! Where is everybody? We gotta get this on tape!" So I grabbed all the musicians who hadn't left already for their night gigs, and we recorded it right there. When you hear something that's better than anything you ever heard, you know it, and it was unanimous. We almost wore out the tape playing it afterward. "These Arms of Mine" was the first of 17 hit singles he had in a row.

Otis had the softness of Sam Cooke and the harshness of Little Richard, and he was his own man. He was also fabulous to be around, always 100 percent full of energy. So many singers in those days, with all due respect, had just been in the business too long. They were bitter from the way they were treated. But Otis didn't have that. He was probably the most nonprejudiced human being I ever met. He seemed to be big in every way: physically, in his talent, in his wisdom about other people. After he died, I was surprised to find out I was the same age as he was, because I looked up to him as an older brother.

When I wrote with Otis, my job was to help him finish his songs. He had so many ideas that I'd just pick one and say, "Let's do this," and we'd write all night long. "I Can't Turn You Loose" was just a riff I'd used on a few songs with the MGs. Otis worked it up with the horns in about 10 minutes as the last thing we did one night in the studio. Just a riff and one verse that he sings over and over. That's all it is. With Otis, it was all about feeling and expression. Most of his songs had just two or three chord changes, so there wasn't a lot of music there. The dynamics, the energy, the way we attacked it — that's hard to teach. So many things now are computer-generated. They start at one level and they stop at the same level, so there isn't much dynamic, even if there are a lot of different sounds.

I miss Otis. I miss him as much now as I did after we lost him. I've been to the lake in Madison, Wisconsin, where they have the plaque. The best explanation I've read is that his plane missed the runway on the first approach, and it circled around over the lake when the wings iced up. That was December 10th, 1967. It's been difficult for me to listen to Otis since then. It brings back too many memories, all great except for the end.

20

Bo Diddley

By Iggy Pop 

Bo Diddley's music is enormous. It's deeply moving. It has the sultry, sexual power of Africa. There's all sorts of mystery in that sound. People listen to Bo Diddley recordings and think, "Oh, you can just go bonk-de-bonk-bonk, de-bonk-bonk, and you got a Bo Diddley beat." But it isn't that easy. He played really simple things but with incredible authority. I first heard him on a Rolling Stones album, on their cover of "Mona." It was such a great song; I looked at the credits and it said "Ellas McDaniel," and I thought, "Who the hell is that?" But when I wanted to get into songwriting, he was the key for me. I didn't have a lot of vocal range, and I didn't know a lot of chords on the guitar. So I was looking for a way to write, and there he was, writing very complete, very memorable songs without a lot of fuss. They weren't florid. He never bothered to change the chord, for one thing — which is very heavy-metal! It's hypnotic. And, of course, there's the attitude, a chin-up, chest-out sort of thing. He was a bull; he had a bullish quality to everything he did and everything he played. Vocally, he reminds me of gutbucket Delta blues: Muddy Waters, but brought to town, rocked up. And his voice is so damn loud. It's just a huge voice, and he's got a big, deep shout.

Then there's the way he played the guitar. First of all, Bo's hands were about a foot long from the wrist to the tip of the finger. He really controlled his guitar. Bo plays his instrument, and the way the rhythm clicks is unique. What seems to pass for guitar more and more now is some wimp with a fuzz box. Somewhere around Hendrix, the line was crossed. Hendrix had both: He had the hands, and he had the fuzz box. Now all they have is the fuzz box — a lot of them.

Bo Diddley had a huge impact on Sixties rock. The Stones covered Bo Diddley, and the Yardbirds did "I'm a Man," and the Pretty Things did his song "Pretty Thing." My band in high school, the Iguanas, did a few of his songs, including "Road Runner," and you can hear a bit of him in the Stooges. You can be damn well sure that Jack White has studied Bo's records.

I've had a little personal experience with Bo. I worked with him in Vegas once, and I kept running into him on airplanes in the Eighties and Nineties — always in first class, always alone, always with a roll bag, his police hat and his sheriff's badge. I think Bo and Chuck Berry have both suffered the trivialization of people who are covered too much. His influence is everywhere, but his personal career could have used a boost. Some car or jeans company needs to put a track of his in a commercial so a lot of young dudes and dudettes can go, "Whoa — that's rockin'!"

19

The Velvet Underground

By Julian Casablancas 

When you listen to a classic-rock station today, why don't they play the Velvet Underground? Why is it always Boston and Led Zeppelin? And why are the Rolling Stones so much more popular than the Velvets? OK, I understand why the Stones are more popular. But there is also a part of me that has always felt that it should have been the other way around. The Velvet Underground were way ahead of their time. And their music was weird. But it also made so much sense to me. I couldn't believe this wasn't the most popular music ever made.

Listening to those four studio albums now is like reading a good book that takes place in a distant time. When I hear The Velvet Underground and Nico or Loaded, I feel like I'm in Andy Warhol's Factory in the 1960s or hanging out at Max's Kansas City. The way Lou Reed wrote and sang about drugs and sex, about the people around him — it was so matter-of-fact. I believed every word of "Heroin." Reed could be romantic in the way he portrayed these crazy situations, but he was also intensely real. It was poetry and journalism.

A lot of people associate the Velvets with feedback and noise. White Light/White Heat is the kind of record you have to be in the mood for. You have to be in a shitty bar, in a really shitty mood. But the Velvets created some very beautiful music, too: "Sunday Morning," with John Cale's viola; "Candy Says"; "All Tomorrow's Parties" — I can't imagine that song without Nico singing it, although I thought Maureen Tucker had a cool voice, as well as being a really cool drummer. She had a femininity. I thought she sounded hotter than Nico.

In the beginning, the Strokes definitely drew from the vibe of the Velvets. I listened to Loaded all the time when we started the band, while I was writing my first songs. For four solid months, it was just Loaded and this Beach Boys greatest-hits record, Made in the U.S.A. A lot of our guitar tones are based on what Reed and Sterling Morrison did. I honestly wish we could have copied them more. We didn't come close enough. But that was cool, because it became more of our own thing. Which is something else I got from the Velvets. They taught me just to be myself.

18

Marvin Gaye

By Smokey Robinson 

At Motown, Marvin was one of the main characters in the greatest musical story ever told. Prior to that, nothing quite like Motown had ever existed — all those songwriters, singers, producers working and growing together, part family, part business — and I doubt seriously if it will ever happen like that again. And there's no question that Marvin will always be a huge part of the Motown legacy.

When Marvin first came to Motown, he was the drummer on all the early hits I had with the Miracles. He and I became close friends — he was my brother, really — and I did a lot of production and wrote a lot of songs for him: "Ain't That Peculiar," "I'll Be Doggone." Of course, that means that I spent a lot of time waiting for Marvin. See, Marvin was basically late coming to the studio all the time. But I never minded, because I knew that whenever Marvin did get there, he was going to sing my song in a way that I had never imagined it. He would Marvinize my songs, and I loved it. Marvin could sing anything, from gospel to gutbucket blues to jazz to pop.

But Marvin was much more than just a great singer. He was a great record maker, a gifted songwriter, a deep thinker — a real artist in the true sense. What's Going On is the most profound musical statement in my lifetime. It never gets dated. I still remember when I would go by Marvin's house and he was working on it, he would say, "Smoke, this album is being written by God, and I'm just the instrument that he's writing it through."

Marvin really had it all — that voice, that soul, that look, too. He was one very handsome man. He had sex appeal and his music was sexy. You couldn't blame women for falling in love with Marvin.

I said before that when you worked with Marvin, it meant you were waiting for Marvin. But Marvin was always worth the wait. I suppose that in a way, I'm still waiting for Marvin.

17

Muddy Waters

By Billy Gibbons 

Muddy and his band opened for ZZ Top on a tour in 1981. This was over 40 years after his first recordings, and that band could still play the blues, not just as seasoned pros but with the same enthusiasm Muddy had when he started out. When he sang that his mojo was working, you could tell his mojo had not slowed down at all. He was satisfied, composed, self-contained. If he had an opinion on a subject, he didn't allow a whole lot of latitude to be convinced otherwise. If he was bitter about the way he'd been treated by record companies, he never showed it. We talked to him a lot as we traveled, when he wasn't chasing young girls through the airport. He told us a story once about his friends Freddie King and Little Walter walking from Dallas to Chicago. I've always had that image in my mind of two guys walking from the South to the North. Everyone else in the great migration took the train. I hope they weren't carrying their equipment.

People call his sound raw and dirty and gritty, but it wasn't particularly loud. It just sounded that way. A guitar amplifier in the Fifties was maybe the size of a tabletop radio. To be heard over a party, you had to crank that thing as loud as it would go. And then you left behind all semblance of circuit design and entered the elegant field of distortion that made everything so much deeper. If you didn't have a big band with 20 guys, you had 20 watts.

I first heard Muddy Waters through two friends of mine, Walter Baldwin and Steve Roberts, in junior high in 1962 or '63. We grew up together and jumped on every piece of musical madness we could find. Most people in my generation probably discovered Muddy backwards from the Rolling Stones, who got their name from a Muddy song. I heard him just before the Stones got here, but it was all good, whether you discovered it backwards, forwards or sideways.

Anyway, I picked up the guitar because of Muddy Waters as much as anyone. Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Albert King, B.B. King, Freddie King — they all had an impact too, but they all followed Muddy Waters. He started out in Mississippi playing acoustic, using his thumb to play the bass line and a real bottleneck slide for melody on the upper strings. The slide guitar got the nuance of the human voice better than any other instrument. Basically, it was a Robert Johnson thing, and Muddy took it to Chicago, electrified it, added a bass player and a harp with a good backbeat, and you had a party. His bands were always powerhouses, and his voice had an amazing depth.

The remarkable thing is that the blues never died out, ever. It's been rediscovered every 10 years since the Twenties. Nobody can do what Muddy did, but his energy is still fueling that fire. You can hear his enthusiasm in bands like the White Stripes or the Black Keys. I'd recommend his first album, The Best of Muddy Waters, with the early Chess singles, to anyone. Every track is worthy. The albums Johnny Winter produced in the late Seventies, Hard Again and I'm Ready, are also terrific.

It was all supposed to be disposable. Just noise on a shellac disc. And here we are in the 21st century still trying to figure out how such a simple art form could be so complicated and subtle. It's still firing brain synapses around the world. You've got the Japanese Muddy Waters Society corresponding with fans in Sweden and England, and his music can still propel a party in the U.S. He made three chords sound deep, and they are.

16

Sam Cooke

By Art Garfunkel 

Sam Cooke was grounded in a very straightforward singing style: It was pure, beautiful and open-throated, extraordinarily direct and unapologetic. Let's say you're going to sing "I love you for sentimental reasons." How do you hit that "I"? Do you slur into it? Do you put in a little hidden "h"? The attack on that vowel sound is the tip-off to how bold a singer is. If you pour on the letter "i" from the back of your throat, the listener gets that there is no fudge in the first thousandth of a second. There's just confidence from the singer, that he knows the pitch, and here's the sound. That's what Sam was great at. He had guts as a singer.

Sam also threw a lot of notes at you. Today you hear everyone doing those melismatic notes that Mariah Carey made popular. Sam was the first guy I remember singing that way. When he's singing, "I love you for sentimental reasons/I hope you do believe me," the next line should be, "I've given you my heart." But he goes, "I've given you my-my-mah-muh-my heart/Given you my heart because I need you." It's as if he's saying, "Now that I've sung the word, I'm going to sing it again, because I've got all this feeling in my heart that demands expression." He gave us so much that he could have given us less, and that would've been enough, but he put in all those extra notes, as in "You Send Me," where he's scatting between the lines: "I know, I know, I know, when you hold me."

He had fabulous chops, but at the same time fabulous taste. I never felt that he was overdoing it, as I often feel with singers today. He stayed rhythmic and fluty and floaty; he always showed brilliant vocal control.

I must have sung "You Send Me" to myself walking up and down stairwells at least a thousand times. It was on the charts right when I was having my first little success with Paul Simon as Tom and Jerry. Our "Hey, Schoolgirl" was on the charts with "You Send Me" and "Jailhouse Rock." "Jingle Bell Rock" had just come out. I was just a kid, calling on radio stations for promotional purposes, and all I heard was "You Send Me." Sam was great to sing along with. He was my hero.

There was a deep sense of goodness about Sam. His father was a minister, and he obviously had spent a lot of time in church. His first success came early as a gospel singer, and he expanded into R&B and pop. It looked like he was making the right choices in life until he got shot by the night manager of a motel. You wonder who he had fallen in with.

Paul Simon, James Taylor and I covered "Wonderful World," which he also wrote. It was a teenage short story like Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" or "School Days." You're stroking the teenager's sense of style with those pop songs. Sam was a master of that idiom. "Wonderful World" was unsophisticated but very Tin Pan Alley.

Sam came along before the album was discovered as an art form. You think of him in terms of songs. My favorites are "Sad Mood," "Wonderful World," "Summertime," "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons" and "You Send Me." I think that "A Change Is Gonna Come" shows where he could have gone if he had lived through the Sixties, doing Marvin Gaye kind of lyrics about the society we live in. It was a tremendous loss when he was killed. I remember thinking, "Oh, that can't be." He was such a rising star, a fabulous singer with intelligence. And that brilliant smile.

I used to think he was just a great singer. Now I think he's better than that. Almost nobody since then can touch him.

15

Stevie Wonder

By Elton John

Let me put it this way: Wherever I go in the world, I always take a copy of Songs in the Key of Life. For me, it's the best album ever made, and I'm always left in awe after I listen to it. When people in decades and centuries to come talk about the history of music, they will talk about Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. Stevie came out of the golden age of Motown, when they were putting out the best R&B records in the world from Detroit, and he evolved into an amazing songwriter and a genuine musical force of nature.

He's so multitalented that it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes him one of the greatest ever. But first, there's that voice. Along with Ray Charles, he's the greatest R&B singer who ever lived. Nobody can sing like he does. I know: I actually recorded a version of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" when I was young, and I really had to squeeze my balls to get those high notes.

As a keyboard player, I've played with him over the years, and he never ceases to amaze me, the stuff he comes up with. He can play anything — check out his harmonica playing. I think I'm a pretty good musician, but he's in a whole other league. He could play with Charlie Parker or John Coltrane and hold his own.

Stevie's Sixties hits are amazing — joyful music that still sounds great — but then, starting in the Seventies, he hit a run of albums that's unsurpassed in music history, from Talking Book to Songs in the Key of Life. I think the elite — the most major of major artists — often have a period when they can do no wrong. It happened to Prince, too, who is like Stevie in some ways. He has got an immeasurable amount of talent — so much talent that sometimes it can seem like he's kind of lost.

Stevie is an amazingly positive, peaceful man. When you ask him to do something, he is generous. He loves music. He loves to play. When he comes into a room, people adore him. And there aren't many artists like that. People admire you and they like your records, but they don't want to stand up and hug you. But this man is a good man. He tries to use his music to do good. His message, I think, is about love, and in the world we live in today, that message does shine through.

14

Led Zeppelin

By Dave Grohl

Heavy metal would not exist without Led Zeppelin, and if it did, it would suck. Led Zeppelin were more than just a band — they were the perfect combination of the most intense elements: passion and mystery and expertise. It always seemed like Led Zeppelin were searching for something. They weren't content being in one place, and they were always trying something new. They could do anything, and I believe they would have done everything if they hadn't been cut short by John Bonham's death. Zeppelin served as a great escape from a lot of things. There was a fantasy element to everything they did, and it was such a major part of what made them important. It's hard to imagine the audience for all those Lord of the Rings movies if it wasn't for Zeppelin.

They were never critically acclaimed in their day, because they were too experimental and they were too fringe. In 1969 and '70, there was some freaky shit going on, but Zeppelin were the freakiest. I consider Jimmy Page freakier than Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was a genius on fire, whereas Page was a genius possessed. Zeppelin concerts and albums were like exorcisms for them. People had their asses blown out by Hendrix and Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, but Page took it to a whole new level, and he did it in such a beautifully human and imperfect way. He plays the guitar like an old bluesman on acid. When I listen to Zeppelin bootlegs, his solos can make me laugh or they can make me tear up. Any live version of "Since I've Been Loving You" will bring you to tears and fill you with joy all at once. Page doesn't just use his guitar as an instrument — he uses it like it's some sort of emotional translator.

John Bonham played the drums like someone who didn't know what was going to happen next — like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff. No one has come close to that since, and I don't think anybody ever will. I think he will forever be the greatest drummer of all time. You have no idea how much he influenced me. I spent years in my bedroom — literally fucking years — listening to Bonham's drums and trying to emulate his swing or his behind-the-beat swagger or his speed or power. Not just memorizing what he did on those albums but getting myself into a place where I would have the same instinctual direction as he had. I have John Bonham tattoos all over my body — on my wrists, my arms, my shoulders. I gave myself one when I was 15. It's the three circles that were his insignia on Zeppelin IV and on the front of his kick drum.

"Black Dog," from Zeppelin IV, is what Led Zeppelin were all about in their most rocking moments, a perfect example of their true might. It didn't have to be really distorted or really fast, it just had to be Zeppelin, and it was really heavy. Then there's Zeppelin's sensitive side — something people overlook, because we think of them as rock beasts, but Zeppelin III was full of gentle beauty. That was the soundtrack to me dropping out of high school. I listened to it every single day in my VW bug, while I contemplated my direction in life. That album, for whatever reason, saved some light in me that I still have.

I heard them for the first time on AM radio in the Seventies, right around the time that "Stairway to Heaven" was so popular. I was six or seven years old, which is when I'd just started discovering music. But it wasn't until I was a teenager that I discovered the first two Zeppelin records, which were handed down to me from the real stoners. We had a lot of those in the suburbs of Virginia, and a lot of muscle cars and keggers and Zeppelin and acid and weed. Somehow they all went hand in hand. To me, Zeppelin were spiritually inspirational. I was going to Catholic school and questioning God, but I believed in Led Zeppelin. I wasn't really buying into this Christianity thing, but I had faith in Led Zeppelin as a spiritual entity. They showed me that human beings could channel this music somehow and that it was coming from somewhere. It wasn't coming from a songbook. It wasn't coming from a producer. It wasn't coming from an instructor. It was coming from four musicians taking music to places it hadn't been before — it's like it was coming from somewhere else. That's why they're the greatest rock & roll band of all time. It couldn't have happened any other way.

13

Buddy Holly

By John Mellencamp

Buddy Holly was a complete and utter hillbilly. I'm very proud of that. So much of our musical heritage is from the country. People always ask me, "Why do you stay in Indiana?" Well, I have to. Just about every song, every sound that we emulate and listen to was created by a hillbilly, born out of the frustration of a small town where there ain't much to do in the evening. That's one thing that I loved about Buddy Holly.

Buddy Holly was one of the first great singer-songwriters — he wrote his own material and in the end was producing it, too. He came from such a rural area and was able to speak to so many people in so many locations. He was one of the first to get away from the Tin Pan Alley songwriting factory and communicate directly, honestly with his audience.

I was just a little kid when I first heard Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue." You may not understand what it was like being about nine years old in 1957 or '58, but it was quite a treat. All of this music was just coming out of nowhere — Memphis and Texas. I was in a band when I was in sixth grade, and we played "Not Fade Away." You shouldn't even be in a band if you haven't played that song. It's two chords, beautiful melody, with a nice message. Holly's songs never really left my consciousness. When I set up my iPod, there he was, those same songs that I've heard for all these years. They sound just as good as the first time I heard them.

Holly's melodies and arrangements were a huge influence on the Beatles. With the whirlwind they were on in 1964, the first thing John Lennon asked when he got to The Ed Sullivan Show was, "Is this the stage that Buddy Holly played on?" That shows a lot of quiet admiration. Listen to the songs on the first three Beatles albums. Take their voices off, and it's Buddy Holly. Same with the Rolling Stones.

Record companies encourage young artists to copy what's been there before. But nobody was pushing Holly in any direction. That was just all him and his instincts. Those songs are great, and some are only a minute and 25 seconds long. Think about delivering a song like that today. The magic that Buddy Holly created was nothing short of a miracle. The fact that he died at 22 is just ridiculous. That tells you all you need to know about just how focused and visionary he was.

12

The Beach Boys

By Lindsey Buckingham

The Beach Boys showed the way, and not just to California. Sure, they may have sold the California Dream to a lot of people, but for me, it was Brian Wilson showing how far you might have to go in order to make your own musical dream come true.

In the beginning, I was someone who grew up in California and loved the early music that he and the Beach Boys made. Later, I would relate to Brian's struggle as an artist against a machine that tended toward serving the bottom line — the industry attitude that if it works, run it into the ground. Music meant much more to him than that. He was trying to do something so much bigger than that with his teenage symphonies to God. In the process, he really rocked the boat and changed the world.

When the Beach Boys started, Brian was taking European sensibilities and infusing them into a Chuck Berry format. Those harmonies were based on the Four Freshmen, with a little church element added to it. He put all that on top of Chuck Berry rock & roll, and the result sounded so fresh. I remember hearing "Surfin' Safari" first when I was in sixth grade. It had the beat, the sense of joy, that explosion rock & roll gave to a lot of us. But it also had this incredible lift, this amazing kind of chemical reaction that seemed to happen inside you when you heard it.

Pet Sounds is the acknowledged masterpiece, and it's everything it's said to be, with Brian taking some of the influences he got from Phil Spector and making something all his own. But even before that there's Side Two of The Beach Boys Today!, which is really just one ballad after another and is for me one of the great sides on a rock album. Those are beautiful numbers — "Please Let Me Wonder," "Kiss Me Baby," "She Knows Me Too Well," "In the Back of My Mind" — that foreshadow Brian's angst and start exposing his vulnerability. A lot of what you find later on Pet Sounds or Smile, you could find in a different form early on.

Today it's nice to see that Brian's in a place where he can do what he wants without the pressure of selling or of having to be the support system for so many others. Because he gave the rest of us more than his fair share of good vibrations.

11

Bob Marley

By Wyclef Jean

What separates Bob Marley from so many other great songwriters? They don't know what it's like for rain to seep into their house. They wouldn't know what to do without their microwaves and stoves — to make a fire with wood and cook their fish next to the ocean. Marley came from the poverty and injustice in Jamaica, and that manifested itself in his rebel sound. The people were his inspiration. Straight up. Like John Lennon, he brought the idea that through music, empowerment and words, you can really come up with world peace. But it's hard to compare him to other musicians, because music was just one part of what he was. He was also a humanitarian and a revolutionary. His impact on Jamaican politics was so strong, there was an assassination attempt on his life. Marley was like Moses. When Moses spoke, people moved. When Marley spoke, they moved as well.

Marley almost single-handedly brought reggae to the world. When I was growing up in Haiti — where my father was a missionary and a church minister — we could barely get away with listening to Christian rock and definitely couldn't get away with any rap. When I was 14, I slipped on "Exodus," and my dad, who didn't speak English very well, asked me, "What's this song about?" I told him it was biblical, and it was about movement. The minute it reached his ears — the minute Marley's music reaches anybody's ears — he was automatically grooving. The vibe goes straight to your brain.

"Redemption Song" transcends time. "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/ None but ourselves can free our minds/Have no fear for atomic energy/'Cause none of them can stop the time." It will mean the same thing in the year 3014. Today, people struggle to find what's real. Everything has become so synthetic that a lot of people, all they want is to grasp onto hope. The reason people still throw on Bob Marley T-shirts is because his music is one of the few real things left to grasp onto.

10

Ray Charles

Ray Charles is proof that the best music crosses all boundaries, reaches all denominations. He could do any type of music, and he always stayed true to himself. It's all about his soul.

His music first hit me when I heard a live version of "What'd I Say" on American Forces Network in Germany, which I used to listen to late at night. Then I started buying his singles. His sound was stunning — it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing — it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing.

As a singer, Ray Charles didn't phrase like anyone else. He didn't put the time where you thought it was gonna be, but it was always perfect, always right. He knew how to play with time, like any great jazzman. But there was more to him than that voice — he was also writing these incredible songs. He was a great musician, a great record maker, a great producer and a wonderful arranger.

There's a reason they called Ray Charles "the Genius." Think of how he reinvented country music in a way that worked for him. He showed there are no limitations, not for someone as good as he is. Whatever Ray Charles did, whatever he touched, he made it his own. He's his own genre. It's all Ray Charles music now.

I always learn something from him. It's music that set a tough standard. For me, two albums that stand out are Ray Charles at Newport and Ray Charles in Person. Then there's Genius + Soul = Jazz with the Basie orchestra and Quincy Jones. And of course Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. There's so much to live up to — these days, you almost have to go backward to go forward.

In 2004, I did a duet with him on one of my songs, "Crazy Love." It felt fantastic. I always loved his singing, but I also connected with him on a soul level. I just felt his emotion. People like Ray Charles — and Sam Cooke, Bobby Bland and Solomon Burke — defined what soul was for me. It wasn't just the singing — it was what went into the singing. These were guys who put their souls on the line.

This music is way beyond marketing. This music is global, and its appeal is universal. Ray Charles changed music just by being himself — by doing what he did and translating it to millions of people with the force of his soul. That's his legacy. I think that the music of Ray Charles will probably outlive us all — at least I hope that it will.

9

Aretha Franklin

As a producer, I almost always addressed phrasing and enunciation with the singer, but in Aretha's case, there was nothing I could tell her. I would only be getting in her way. Nowadays, singers who want to be extra soulful overdo melisma. Aretha only used it a touch and used it gloriously because her taste was impeccable. She never went to the wrong place.

It wasn't her gospel training. Most young African-American singers get their musical training in church. Training can give you form, can give you tradition, can give you the cadence. When genius gets good training, it can expedite the process, but training isn't genius. Genius is who she is.

"Respect" had the biggest impact, with overtones for the civil rights movement and gender equality. It was an appeal for dignity combined with a blatant lubricity. There are songs that are a call to action. There are love songs. There are sex songs. But it's hard to think of another song where all those elements are combined.

Aretha wrote most of her material or selected the songs herself, working out the arrangements at home and using her piano to provide the texture. In this case, she just had the idea that she wanted to embellish Otis Redding's song. When she walked into the studio, it was already worked out in her head.

Otis came up to my office right before "Respect" was released, and I played him the tape. He said, "She done took my song." He said it benignly and ruefully. He knew the identity of the song was slipping away from him to her.

Aretha had a minor career at Columbia before coming to Atlantic. I don't think Columbia let her play the piano much. It's always been my belief that when a singer plays an instrument, you should let them play it on the record, even if the singer is not a virtuoso, because they're bringing another element to the recording. In Aretha's case, there was no compromise in quality. She was a brilliant pianist.

It is part of her genius. No one can copy her. She's all alone in her greatness.

8

Little Richard

A lot of people call me the architect of rock & roll. I don't call myself that, but I believe it's true. You've got to remember, I was already known back in 1951. I was recording for RCA-Victor — if you were black, it was called Camden Records — before Elvis. Then I recorded for Peacock in Houston. Then Specialty Records bought me from Peacock — I think they paid $500 for me — and my first Specialty record was a hit in 1956: "Tutti Frutti." It was a hit worldwide. I felt I had arrived, you know? We started touring everywhere immediately. We traveled in cars. Back in that time, the racism was so heavy, you couldn't go in the hotels, so most times you slept in your car. You ate in your car. You got to the date, and you dressed in your car. I had a Cadillac. That's what the star rode in.

You remember the way that Liberace dressed onstage? I was dressing like that all the time, very flamboyantly, and I was wearing the pancake makeup. A lot of the other performers at that time — the Cadillacs, the Coasters, the Drifters — they were wearing makeup, too, but they didn't have any makeup kit. They had a sponge and a little compact in their pocket. I had a kit. Everybody started calling me gay.

People called rock & roll "African music." They called it "voodoo music." They said that it would drive the kids insane. They said that it was just a flash in the pan — the same thing that they always used to say about hip-hop. Only it was worse back then, because, you have to remember, I was the first black artist whose records the white kids were starting to buy. And the parents were really bitter about me. We played places where they told us not to come back, because the kids got so wild. They were tearing up the streets and throwing bottles and jumping off the theater balconies at shows. At that time, the white kids had to be up in the balcony — they were "white spectators." But then they'd leap over the balcony to get downstairs where the black kids were.

I didn't get paid — most dates I didn't get paid. And I've never gotten money from most of those records. And I made those records: In the studio, they'd just give me a bunch of words, I'd make up a song! The rhythm and everything. "Good Golly Miss Molly"! And I didn't get a dime for it. Michael Jackson owned the Specialty stuff. He offered me a job with his publishing company once, for the rest of my life, as a writer. At the time, I didn't take it. I wish I had now.

I wish a lot of things had been different. I don't think I ever got what I really deserved.

I appreciate being picked one of the top 100 performers, but who is number one and who is number two doesn't matter to me anymore. Because it won't be who I think it should be. The Rolling Stones started with me, but they're going to always be in front of me. The Beatles started with me — at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, before they ever made an album — but they're going to always be in front of me. James Brown, Jimi Hendrix — these people started with me. I fed them, I talked to them, and they're going to always be in front of me.

But it's a joy just to still be here. I think that when people want joy and fun and happiness, they want to hear the old-time rock & roll. And I'm just glad I was a part of that.