Everyone has their own special music they like to listen to on their home audio system. But there are certain crowd pleasers that everyone appreciates, and these are hard to deny. That doesn’t mean you can blare any of these musicians at top volume on your home audio equipment any time of day, but whenever you play their work, you will exhibit excellent taste.
You may not have been expecting this list to include people from before the 1950s, but no list of musicians would be complete without homage paid to the classics. Bach was the great orchestrator of music – his fugues represent mathematical perfection and his output was prodigious. He wrote a cantata dedicated to God every Sunday for two years. Following in his footsteps were Mozart, that musical prodigy, who took everything that had been done before him and made it better, and even delved into opera, and Beethoven, whose powerful symphonies ushered in a new era and a host of new composers in the classical arena.
Fast forward to the American Golden Age, post-WWII, in that stretch along the Mississippi from New Orleans to Memphis, Tennessee. Who comes to your mind first? Elvis. And in any discussion of “The King” mention must be made of African-American music, from the blues to the jazz played in clubs throughout the region, to the burgeoning style of rock ‘n’ roll. And while artists such as Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry are important to this discussion, they don’t quite have the lasting power of, say, Louis Armstrong, who was the greatest trumpeter of all time and arguably the greatest jazz musician of all time. That automatically places him as one of the ten best artists too. By the time the counter-culture of the ’60s appeared, however, there was a new name in town, and that was Bob Dylan. His lyrics became the voice of a generation, whether he liked it or not. And out west, where rock ‘n’ roll was reaching new levels through drug-tripping and free love, was the best guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix. In the pop arena of the ’80s, Michael Jackson was clearly not just one of the best musical artists of all time, but one of the best entertainers, too. But these are just the American contributions to great music.
The Beatles are quite possibly the most important musicians of all time. They inspired a trans-Atlantic mania, embodied all of the different niche movements going on in the U.S. and set the precedent for number one, best-selling albums. The Rolling Stones are a bit more rock-geared, and after learning from and covering many of the great unknown American blues artists, became nearly as influential, and much more enduring, playing shows until well into their ’60s.
These ten names will likely live on for hundreds of years. That’s what true greatness means.