Dave's Music Database books

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Greatest Artists of All Time…Or at Least Since 1950

Sigh. I love collecting lists – it is the reason for Dave’s Music Database – but VH1’s latest is the kind that leaves me shaking my head and rolling my eyes. VH1 started their countdown Monday (9/6) and ran it all week, an hour a night, revealing #1 on Friday (9/10). The list was compiled by gathering votes from over 200 of today’s music stars. Check out the list here.

The reason I compile multiple lists and average them together is to weed out some of the idiosyncrasies of individual lists and offer up at least slightly more objective results. VH1’s list suffers from the most gargantuan of the “greatest” list flaws – the absurdly, over-the-top “greatest of all time” claim. Really? All time, huh? Apparently if you look up “all-time” in the VH1 office thesaurus, it lists “last 60 years” as a synonym.

We won’t even get into how most music lists are oblivious to artists who have recorded outside of the Western world and in any language other than English. Even my aggregate lists can’t correct that problem. Sorry, Wei Wei. Maybe you have sold 200 million records – which out-distances the likes of U2, David Bowie, and Prince – but since the non-Chinese speaking world pretty much has no idea who you are, you don’t exist.

Here’s another pet peeve – to me, “artist” implies an individual performer while the more appropriate “act” suggests either an individual or group. That may be more a personal quibble over language, though, so we’ll let it slide.

As long as I’m linguistically nitpicking, though, I’d also prefer a less inflammatory proclamation than “greatest.” The word immediately invites scorn, begging boorish morons to unleash potty mouths on blogs, shredding all those deemed unworthy of a “greatest” tag and crucify the list for overlooking their personal favorites. While a simple title change will not dissuade haters from loudly (and poorly) trumpeting their completely subjective opinions as facts, can we at least go with a title like “The Top 100”? At least that heading implies that the data was gathered in some objective manner and that the list is merely a presentation of those who were the top vote getters.

But let’s go back to that All Time = Last 60 Years point. The oldest act on the list is Ray Charles. His first chart hit goes back to 1951. If we include his work with the Maxine Trio, we can even go back as far as 1949. This means, roughly, that VH1 is unaware of the existence of music prior to the rock and roll era. At least a 1998 list also generated by the network acknowledged Robert Johnson, B.B. King, and Muddy Waters as well. The latter two date to the ‘40s while Johnson goes all the way to 1936. Still, that doesn’t mean that VH1 actually knew these artists made music before 1950. After all, these are generally considered influential acts in the development of rock ‘n’ roll, so maybe VH1 also considers them part of the rock era.

Of course, VH1 just tabulated the results of today’s current recording artists’ votes, so really shouldn’t be held responsible for the callous neglect by today’s musicians of music made before they were born. That being the case, let me offer up a gentle reminder for the next go-round that there is actual documented proof of recorded music prior to 1950. One doesn’t even need to dig through the vaults at the Library of Congress to find them. They are as close as one’s Internet-capable device of choice. Here’s a few acts to check out:

1900s: Billy Murray, Henry Burr, Byron G. Harlan, Arthur Collins
1910s: Al Jolson, Ben Selvin
1920s: Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo
1930s: Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday
1940s: Nat “King” Cole, Hank Williams

These are just the most notable artists of the era of recorded music prior to the 1950s. Asking these musicians to explore the world before the existence of iPods, CDs, tapes, eight tracks, and phonographs would be roughly the equivalent of asking Sarah Palin to accept that creatures trolled this Earth more than 6000 years ago. Despite the evidence, we’ll continue living in the odd musical vacuum that selects Cheap Trick and LL Cool J as greatest artists of all time while blissfully wandering through life unaware that Beethoven and Mozart ever walked the planet.

Besides, a simple name change to the list can forgive these omissions. Taking into account my other suggestions, how about re-christening the list “The Top 100 Acts of the Rock Era”? That would fix everything, now wouldn’t it?

Well, not exactly. There are some significant acts from the last six decades who are overlooked. First off, back in 1998, even VH1 acknowledged Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Miles Davis, Sam Cooke, Eric Clapton, the Byrds, Rod Stewart, the Supremes, and the Temptations. Now that a dozen years have passed, apparently these acts’ contributions pale in comparison to the legacies of Sade and the Notorious B.I.G.

I’m picking on VH1 for all this, but these are not unique problems. Listmakers tend to make bold proclamations. Hey, it generates interest and let’s face it, accurate titles like “VH1 Submits a Bunch of Ballots to People Who Make Music So That We Can Compile the Results and Present a Top 100 List of the Results Over Five Nights and Hopefully Make a Lot of Money Off Ad Revenues” just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

Oh, well. Enough whining for now. I’ve got to get to work on the latest DMDB list. Coming soon: “The Latest Top 100 of All Time List Presented by Dave’s Music Database in Hopes of Getting You to Become a Facebook Fan, Regular DMDB Reader, and Eventual Customer for the Slew of DMDB Books I Hope to Publish.” Enjoy!

For daily doses of my musical obsession, check out the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page.

No comments:

Post a Comment