I found this Internet list of what were supposed to be the 100 greatest bands of all time, and, as you might expect, most of my favorite bands and musicians, and, most likely yours, weren’t on it. What can we do about this?
The list appeared to be based on Spotify followers and the anonymous list maker’s ability to link music industry awards and multi-platinum album sales to overall quality and significance. At the top was The Beatles. The Rolling Stones was there, too, with Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Led Zepplin (though the picture of Zep was some other band), ZZ Top, The Who, Metallica, The Beach Boys, REM, The Band, Credence Clearwater Revival, U2, Coldplay, Rush, Steely Dan, and The Police. Heart was on the list, The Pretenders and The Eurythmics, so that bands with powerful female lead singers–whose recordings and concerts made a pile of money–could also be remembered.
I agreed that most of the choices were obviously popular and worthy of acclaim, with the exception of Grand Funk Railroad, a 70’s power trio so despised by my teenage friends and I that I made a movie about burning one of their records, they certainly earned their acclaim.
Few single musicians were on the list, unless you want to count Jimmie Hendrix (and the Experience), Janis Joplin and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Bob Marley, Miles Davis, Little Richard, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, David Bowie, Duke Ellington, Johnny Cash, Billie Eckstine, Sarah Vaughn, Hank Williams, James Brown, Billie Holiday, Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett or, perhaps the greatest musician of 20th century America, Louis Armstrong–are not there.
No songwriters were on the list, either, though their work may have generated piles of money just as big. Irving Berlin remains the songwriter with the most hits–far more than the Beatles. A day doesn’t go by when a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical is not performed somewhere in the world. Can we raise a Martini to Cole Porter’s bittersweet wit? How about Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Julie Stein, George and Ira Gershwin? Lest we forget, Bob Dylan became the first singer/songwriter to win the Nobel Prize, and his voice is STILL terrible. Though Randy Newman won an Academy Award for film songs–where would we be without “Sail Away,” as well as Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”? How could a high school senior prom end without Elton John’s (and Bernie Taupin’s) beautifully gentle “Your Song”?
What about “crossover” artists from classical music, like Yo-Yo Ma, Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein (who also qualifies to be among the songwriters, for “Maria” and “Tonight” in West Side Story)? Folk artists like Woody Guthrie, Richie Havens and Pete Seeger whose work brought social change?
While we’re at it, why are British pop and rock bands on the list, when great Latin American, South American and African bands and musicians were not? Were the sales figures unavailable? Do Astor Piazolla, Hermeto Pascoal, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masakella, Tito Puente, Ruben Blades, Tom Jobim and Joao Gilberto not qualify? Could it be the fact that the American music industry awards typically ignore, or give only token attention, to world music?
Maybe. But, in making my own list, could I be guilty of excluding others just because I don’t know the songs and sounds of a particular region or culture? Easily. Absolutely. We live in a time of abundance. One person could never listen to it all in a lifetime.
So, how do we work off our lingering annoyance at lists that don’t include the artists we love, whose work changed our lives and whose music still is in our hearts?
Play ’em. Play them when you’re driving, cooking, going nowhere fast on a treadmill or a stationery bike. Play them when you’re working from home and you’re not on a teleconference.
If they’re not on Spotify (as with most of my favorites), buy a digital download and let it survive somewhere on your hard drive.
Don’t be afraid when an earworm crawls into your brain and you find yourself humming, whistling or croaking through a few notes in the shower. Singing when you’re alone must be done, and done often!
Because whoever might be listening might need to hear it, again.