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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.

63

Tina Turner

By Janet Jackson

Tina Turner has become more than just a musical superstar and sex symbol, though she is definitely both of those things. For me — and I imagine for millions of others — Tina now stands as an enduring symbol of survival and of grace. Her music is a healing thing.

Remember that famous introduction to "Proud Mary," when Tina talks about liking things "nice and … rough"? We all know that she faced some rough times in her life. But the reality is that life never threw her anything that she couldn't handle. One of Tina's big hits is called "We Don't Need Another Hero." Yet Tina has become a heroic figure for many people because of her tremendous strength. Tina doesn't seem to have a beginning or an end. I felt her music was always there, and I feel like it always will be.

The story of Tina's rise and fall with Ike Turner is well-known. You can see what it was like in the movie What's Love Got to Do With It. But I believe it's time to put the Ike story to rest. The truth is that when Tina came back in the Eighties, she became much bigger than she was the first time around. Tina's story is not one of victimhood but one of incredible triumph.

In the beginning, Tina's music was based on hard times and harsh realities. Think about a song like "Nutbush City Limits." That was her story. But over the years, her story changed, and her music reflected those changes beautifully. Tina has the ability to dream, get out, get over and get on with it. She's transformed herself into an international sensation — an elegant powerhouse. But wherever she may be, whether it's in Spain, Asia or Egypt, she's never forgotten her humble beginnings. Tina Turner knows who she is, and to this day, she remains one of the true greats. In every sense, the woman has legs.

62

Joni Mitchell

By Jewel

Joni Mitchell is a bigger icon than she is a star. Bob Dylan and Keith Richards became so famous that they're stars and icons. Joni is still unknown to lots of people. The impact she had wasn't flashy. But she influenced people who became stars.

I remember a friend in high school playing me "A Case of You," from Blue. I could tell that Joni was a painter by the way she wrote lyrics. She describes smells and sounds and uses fewer words to transmit more feeling. Her melodies are about shapes. The singing lines are slow, steep plateaus. One of the things I learned from Joni: If you can tell the story and keep things moving, you don't need to return to the chorus on time.

What she writes is closer to journalism: On Blue, you hear everything she experienced, the highs and the lows. It's such a lonely album — not in the "I don't have any friends" sense but in the sense that you're a little bit removed, and always watching. It takes a lot of courage to be that honest, especially as a woman. When she did it, it was a fluffy time — pretty girls singing about pretty things.

Joni had an edginess that not many women expressed then. Joni Mitchell never made a big deal out of being a woman. She had such a strong sexuality, but she didn't feel the need to deny that part of her in order to be taken seriously. She also didn't play it up — although many of her songs are about sex.

I met her at a Vanity Fair photo shoot. Stevie Wonder introduced us. He took my hand — I guess I led him to her — and he said, "Joni, I'd like you to meet Jewel." I just shook her hand and tried to swallow. I didn't have anything to say to her. Her influence on me is so obvious. I hope she can hear it.

61

Metallica

By Flea 

In 1984, I was on tour with my band, somewhere in the middle of America. It was around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. We're all crammed into our van, with all our equipment. It was raining. We were tired, we'd been on the road. And this music comes on the radio. I couldn't believe that it existed. My mind was being blown by this beautiful violence that was unlike anything I'd ever heard before.

It wasn't punk rock. It wasn't heavy metal. It was precise and explosive and heavy. It was aggressive and intense, and it had these really wild and bizarre rhythm changes. But it still held together as a bitchin'-ass song. I was singin' along with it by the end, though it certainly wasn't using any conventional pop-song pattern that I had ever heard. That song was "Fight Fire With Fire." And it opened up my mind to the mighty force of nature that is Metallica.

When Metallica started in 1981, they didn't really take your typical path to success. I don't know if massive stardom and selling a zillion records were on their minds when they were getting the ball rolling. But if they were aiming at becoming one of the most successful rock bands of all time, they sure were going about it in a kooky way. Maybe they were thinking they were going to break into Casey Kasem's Top 40 countdown with their debut record, Kill 'Em All. They were definitely going for a hit single with the song "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth." A five-minute-long bass solo is a sure ticket to commercial success.

That song is one of the great moments in rock history for the electric bass guitar. Every Cliff Burton-based solo I've ever heard is a soulful, psychedelic, headbanging expression that rocks your world, trips your brain out and gets the house rockin'. It's a beautiful piece of music played by an awesome rocker of a young man who was a masterpiece of a human being. I can never listen to any Metallica record without thinking of him. It is clear that the gift he gave lives on in that band's music.

The fact that Metallica connected with the world in the way that they have is phenomenal. They have become a household name with music that is anything but mainstream. It's outsider music. And for it to do what it has done is truly mind-blowing. When I hear Metallica, I get this feeling that they're doing something that they have to do.

There is this thing in them wound up so tight that they have to let it out, let that thing uncoil; it has to be released. An infinite well of sadness, a hell of a lot of pain and anger, but mostly, a lot of love for the process of releasing this stuff. For the people who give it up and get rocked by Metallica, the world is a less lonely place. When a person gets rocking to their music, everything else disappears, and that person is just one with the rock. It is an inexplicable, awesome thing, and I bow down to it. Pain and hurt can be a muse for great art. It's one of the greatest rites of passage for any artist, and it's something that touches us most deeply. Anyone who has ever been to a Metallica show, and banged their head, and thrown up the devil horns, has been a part of something great. Rocking so hard to the brutal beat of Metallica for those couple of hours, in a way, is as healthy as any spiritual exercise — group meditation, any love-in, anything.

Metallica's career is a huge, dynamic thing, and they have done it all. They have worked their way up from nothing, and written the jams that rocked the world. Metallica are fucking rad! The music is bitchin'! It is unbelievable! And they continue to rock on. Whatever gets thrown at them, they persevere and they get stronger; they are a family. And they are as intense and inventive as ever.

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.

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.

55

Eric Clapton

By Steven Van Zandt 

Eric Clapton is the most important and influential guitar player that has ever lived, is still living or ever will live. Do yourself a favor, and don't debate me on this. Before Clapton, rock guitar was the Chuck Berry method, modernized by