Thursday, September 9, 2010

Getting Lost In Long Lists

While it is no secret that I love lists I think sometimes magazines and music channels get a little carried away. The most effective lists are the ones that are a little shorter – top ten, 20, 25 and maybe 50. But even 50 is pushing it. Once the powers that be get into doing lists of the top 100 or 500 of anything I start to wonder what the difference is between number 76 on the list and number 134 on the list.

The most recent of these long lists is VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists Of All Time which highlighted the best of the best in music over the course of the last four nights. The special was very well done as they compiled amazing footage of these artists performing some of their biggest hits. The show also featured an eclectic group of commentators such as Sheryl Crow, Cypress Hill, Ozzy Osbourne and Bret Michaels, among others, who were there to give anecdotes and talk about their fabulous peers.

Because there was no time frame on this list (i.e. this wasn’t a list of the best artists of the 90s) and it wasn’t narrowed down at all (i.e. greatest guitar songs of all time) VH1 compiled their results by asking over 200 artists to vote and send in their ballots. Big names such as Carrie Underwood, Alicia Keys and the members of bands such as Aerosmith and The Police were among those who were polled.

But here is my question: How do you go about putting a list like that together? First of all, you have to come up who your favorite artists are which is a task in and of itself. Then you have to put them in order. How the hell do you do that? What do you take into consideration? Maybe you ask yourself: How many songs do I like? How often do I listen to this band? How many times have I seen them live? Have their songs gotten me through tough times? Have they helped me celebrate happy times? I could go on and on…

Another aspect of this whole thing that’s interesting is that this isn’t the first time VH1 has compiled a list like this. In 1998 VH1 released a list called 100 Greatest Artists Of Rock And Roll which was very similar except hip hop and rap artists were left off the list. Either way I was very interested to see how the lists compared to each other so I looked at the top 20 artists from 1998 and 2010 and what I found was fascinating.

Here’s what did not surprise me:

-The Beatles were ranked number one on both lists. Do I agree? Not so much but I wasn’t shocked at all.
-Prince jumped from number 18 in 1998 to a more suitable spot at number seven in 2010.
-Led Zeppelin clocked in at number four on both lists. Hell yeah.
-Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley occupied positions in the top 10 on both lists. I should hope so.
-The Who, Stevie Wonder and The Beach Boys barely shifted spots between 1998 and 2010.

Here is what did surprise me:

-Michael Jackson was ranked number three this year but didn’t even make the top 20 in 1998. Was he so high on the list this year because of his death in 2009? I hope not considering there has never been and will never be an artist quite like MJ.
-Nirvana was not listed in the top 20 in 1998 which was only four years after his death. Have we seen another Kurt Cobain since? Not even close.
-David Bowie was number 12 on the list this year and he was number seven in 1998. Seriously?
-Ray Charles, Eric Clapton and Elton John made the top 20 in 1998 but not in 2010. Those are three of music’s most important pioneers for crying out loud.
-AC/DC didn’t appear in the top 20 on either list. I wasn’t aware you could get more rock and roll than AC/DC.

Twelve years separated the two lists and they were very different. I wonder what VH1 will come up with in 2022…

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