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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.

60

The Sex Pistols

By Billie Joe Armstrong 

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

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

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

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

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

59

Aerosmith

By Slash 

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

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

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

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

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