Thursday, 13 November 2008

Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Singers

blog post #13532512 about Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Singers List will not say "it's so bad it doesn't even deserve my attention!" or "why the hell do they continue to embarass themselves?" or any such unself-aware nonsense. Rolling Stone do this specifically so that people talk about it, it gets reported by other media sources, and bloggers discuss their favourite singers, and yes many people decide it sucks and that RS has no credibility, but all publicity is good publicity, right? Here's the list in full (which, on the official RS site, is split onto 101 different pages! 101 page views, right, boosts the advertising. Why the hell not? They'd rather you bought the actual magazine, I'm sure):

100 Mary J. Blige
99 Steven Tyler
98 Stevie Nicks
97 Joe Cocker
96 B.B. King
95 Patti LaBelle
94 Karen Carpenter
93 Annie Lennox
92 Morrissey
91 Levon Helm
90 The Everly Brothers
89 Solomon Burke
88 Willie Nelson
87 Don Henley
86 Art Garfunkel
85 Sam Moore
84 Darlene Love
83 Patti Smith
82 Tom Waits
81 John Lee Hooker
80 Frankie Valli
79 Mariah Carey
78 Sly Stone
77 Merle Haggard
76 Steve Perry
75 Iggy Pop
74 James Taylor
73 Dolly Parton
72 John Fogerty
71 Toots Hibbert
70 Gregg Allman
69 Ronnie Spector
68 Wilson Pickett
67 Jerry Lee Lewis
66 Thom Yorke
65 David Ruffin
64 Axl Rose
63 Dion
62 Lou Reed
61 Roger Daltrey
60 Björk
59 Rod Stewart
58 Christina Aguilera
57 Eric Bourdon
56 Mavis Staples
55 Paul Rodgers
54 Luther Vandross
53 Muddy Waters
52 Brian Wilson
51 Gladys Knight
50 Bonnie Raitt
49 Donny Hathaway
48 Buddy Holly
47 Jim Morrison
46 Patsy Cline
45 Kurt Cobain
44 Bobby "Blue" Bland
43 George Jones
42 Joni Mitchell
41 Chuck Berry
40 Curtis Mayfield
39 Jeff Buckley
38 Elton John
37 Neil Young
36 Bruce Springsteen
35 Dusty Sprinfield
34 Whitney Houston
33 Steve Winwood
32 Bono
31 Howlin' Wolf
30 Prince
29 Nina Simone
28 Janis Joplin
27 Hank Williams
26 Jackie Wilson
25 Michael Jackson
24 Van Morrison
23 David Bowie
22 Etta James
21 Johnny Cash
20 Smokey Robinson
19 Bob Marley
18 Freddie Mercury
17 Tina Turner
16 Mick Jagger
15 Robert Plant
14 Al Green
13 Roy Orbison
12 Little Richard
11 Paul McCartney
10 James Brown
09 Stevie Wonder
08 Otis Redding
07 Bob Dylan
06 Marvin Gaye
05 John Lennon
04 Sam Cooke
03 Elvis Presley
02 Ray Charles
01 Aretha Franklin

here's my money: we all have our favourites and arguing whether Sam Cooke or Otis Redding should be higher is pretty inconsequential. On the RS page I saw fans complaining "John Fogerty should be in the Top 5!", and all that, well maybe. Personally I'd like to have seen Bjork and Morrissey a bit higher, Lennon & McCartney a bit lower, and places found for Eddie Kendricks and Scott Walker; but, whatever: I haven't listened closely to every singer on this list, so maybe I'm wrong. It's pretty tough to argue against Aretha, or Ray or Elvis or the several soul stars in the upper reaches, and so on. But one omission really stands out for me: where the hell is Frank Sinatra?

If Frank Sinatra had won that poll, would anyone have seriously argued? Sure, Sinatra's first successes came before the 'rock era' which the poll claims to encompass, but he hardly stopped there: arguably his three signature songs (if his canon could be reduced to just three!) were "That's Life" (1966), "My Way" (1969) and "New York, New York" (1979). Fact is, he's one of the four biggest selling solo artists of all time (with Elvis, Bing Crosby and Jacko), and it was all down to his voice. In fact, according to Rolling Stone's own 1983 Record Guide, "He virtually invented modern pop song phrasing".

Why didn't he make the list? In a way, we can't blame Rolling Stone as such. This wasn't a Wenner-Marsh committee meeting which necessarily placed Dylan and the Beatles really high because, like, they define music for baby boomers (oh look, Dylan and the Beatles' singers are really high, huh). RS asked 179 'experts' to name their Top 20s, and Sinatra obviously didn't score enough points to make the list. What're they to do, fake it? Their list of 'experts' ranged from James Blunt (!) to Iggy Pop to David Fricke, but with almost 200 people taking part it's pointless trying to pick a few out who're undeserving, or whatever. So what explains the collective amnesia?

I think Frank Sinatra's just really uncool. Rolling Stone and the boomer generation have done such a thorough job of convincing us that popular music started with Elvis and The Beatles, with their music, that nobody from before then ever gets a look-in. But as I said - Sinatra still sold millions during the 60s and 70s, it's just by that time he was an anachronism, for the oldies, for the garage store spin-racks. He's other, but not in the sense of alternative: he's like Enya, who everybody's heard of and still sells by the bucketload, but Enya and Sinatra seem to exist in their own little space which is other to what I and we listen to and god knows who actually buys all these millions of records? It's probably your grandparents (at least as far as Sinatra's concerned, I'd still have no clue about Enya), or in other words: the boomers parents! So no wonder none of these 'experts' listed Sinatra as a favourite!

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