This is my list of the greatest music artists of all time. My only criteria is that they have to be modern (so Beethoven doesn’t qualify.) For each selection I’ve listed the reasons why they are on my list. I mostly looked at each artist’s influence both in terms of album sales and their affect on other artists. I also added a bit of my own personal preferences. Feel free to share your top ten lists in the comments.
This one is obvious. I dare you to find a top 10 list where the Beatles aren’t on the top. Every album of theirs is a masterpiece. According to the RIAA they are the best selling artist with over 269 million certified units and a reported 600 million albums. They changed music in a way that has profoundly affected EVERY artist that has ever come after. They are the most influential act of the rock era. Whether you like them or not they have to be #1. They are #1.
2. Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson broke through all racial barriers, his performances were masterpieces, his dance moves iconic, and his music unmatched in its reach. He was easily one of the greatest live performers EVER. He is the most accomplished artist with over 100 RIAA awards, 100 billboard awards, 4 presidential awards, 26 American Music awards, and 13 Grammy’s with 8 won on one night. His album Thriller is the best selling album of all time. with over 65 million units. Michael Jackson is the total package, a singer, dancer, songwriter, the real deal. He is my number #2 and I dare you challenge his spot on my list.
Number 3 was the hardest pick for me. 1 & 2 are always easier because they are so much more obvious. I put Queen at #3 because I think Freddie Mercury has the best pipes on any singer ever. He can reach notes that seem impossible. Now don’t get me wrong, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon are no slouches, rather they are music gods. So these 4 gods are also recognized for performing one of the greatest if not greatest live rock performance at Live Aid in 1985. Bohemian Rhapsody is a song unmatched in its creativity and complexity. Oh and they also sold more than 300 million records making them one of the most successful bands ever. Queen was wicked good and gets #3 in my list.
Okay so this one is going to be surprising but hear me out. Normally you would expect to see Chuck Berry or Elvis at #4 but no, I think its Eminem. He is by far the best selling hip-hop artist of all time. He has sold over 172 million albums. His work with D12 and Bad Meets Evil also gets him extra points. He’s had 10 number one albums on the Billboard 100. His work is very influencial, as of June 2014 he is the second best selling male artist in the world and the sixth best selling artist in the US.
5. Pink Floyd
In top ten lists, 5 through 10 tends to be based more on taste. So for my #5 I’m going to put Pink Floyd. I like their body of work better than Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. I’m not a huge Bob Dylan fan so I think Floyd deserves the #5 spot. Dark Side of the Moon is the third best selling album of all time with over 50 million copies sold. On a slow week the album sells only 9,000 copies. The album was released in 1973. In 2001 it sold 400,000 copies. That is 28 years later and its still selling like hot cakes. Tell me that David Gilmore’s guitar on Echos Live at Pompeii doesn’t speak to you and I’ll set you straight. Pink Floyd is one of my favorite bands and it deserves my #5.
You can always tell a good band when the drummer goes on to create his own band that rivals the original. That’s how I set the stage for Nirvana. Their drummer Dave Grohl in his own right is a rock star worthy of this list. Nirvana had a sound that nobody had heard before and it quickly transformed them into one of the most influential bands of modern times. Kurt Cobain died in 1994 but even today their music continues to be a big influence on the rock scene. Kurt Cobain goes on my top 10 list of greatest guitarists. His voice goes on my top 20 list. In 2006 Kurt Cobain overtook Elvis to become the top earning deceased artist. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins once referred to Kurt Cobain as the “Michael Jordan” of our generation. Enough said, they are my #6.
7. Chuck Berry
I play guitar and one of the first songs I learned was Johnny B Goode. It is probably one of the most covered songs ever. Garage bands, bar bands, it is likely being covered this very second. Chuck Berry had a sound that was so perfect, his songs so amazing. Rock gods like the Beatles and Rolling Stones recorded and played songs like “Roll over Beethoven” and “Around and Around” and you look at the liner notes you see Chuck Berry’s name. Yep, those were his songs. He was that influential and he deserves to be higher on my list but his music doesn’t move me like the others above him so I’ve got him at #7. He’s in my top 10 list of greatest guitarists, partially because of his economical sound and partially for his showmanship. You can take some of his chords, add some distortion and its a Ramone’s song. You can hear his licks in everyone’s music and for that reason he’s my #7.
8. Led Zeppelin
I really wanted Led Zeppelin higher in this list but I couldn’t justify it. The band is one of the most successful bands of all time. Their albums have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide. They are the second best selling band in the US. Those are great stats but its the guitar from Jimmy Page and the vocals of Robert Plant put them solidly at #8 on my list. Jimmy Page is perhaps one of the top 5 greatest guitar players in the world. I’ve got Jimmy Hendrix at #1 but I might put Page at #2. While Led Zeppelin has been influential and is on everyone’s top ten list I don’t think they’ve had the effect as the artists that I’ve ranked above them. Still they hold a solid spot at #8.
I’m not a huge fan of Elvis but I have to respect what he’s accomplished. He should probably be higher on my list but I don’t listen to a lot of his music so he’s going to stay at #9. This is why he really deserves to be number 1 or 2. He’s the most celebrated and influential musician of the 20th century. He’s the best selling solo artist in the history of recorded music. His albums have an estimated sales of over 600 million units. He’s been inducted into multiple halls of fame. He was commercially successful in multiple genres including gospel, pop, and blues. He was a music legend. I just don’t dig on him like I do the others so he’s #9.
My 10th and final spot goes to the first woman on my list. She’s on my list though not because she’s a woman but because “bitch she’s Madonna.” Madonna is the highest grossing solo touring artist of all time. Let me make this really clear. She isn’t the highest “female” solo touring artist, she’s the highest grossing EVERYTHING solo artist. Yep, she’s a powerhouse. Her touring has grossed more than $1.3 billion in ticket sales. Nobody comes close to her and nobody will for a long time. Her albums have sold more than 300 million units worldwide and she’s the best selling female artist of all time. She rounds out my list of the top 10 greatest modern artists of all time.