I just came across a fascinating feature on the Rolling Stone website called "The Top 100 Artists of All Time." The cool thing is that they have other musicians do the write-ups. Today and tomorrow I'll present excerpts from the Top 10. Let us know in the comments if you agree/disagree and what these icons have meant to you.
10. Ray Charles
"His sound was stunning — it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing — it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing. As a singer, Ray Charles didn't phrase like anyone else. He didn't put the time where you thought it was gonna be, but it was always perfect, always right. He knew how to play with time, like any great jazzman. But there was more to him than that voice — he was also writing these incredible songs. He was a great musician, a great record maker, a great producer and a wonderful arranger."—Van Morrison
Charles's great affinity for country music is evident when he sings with The Man in Black on Johnny Cash: The Greatest—Duets.
"As a producer, I almost always addressed phrasing and enunciation with the singer, but in Aretha's case, there was nothing I could tell her. I would only be getting in her way. Nowadays, singers who want to be extra soulful overdo melisma. Aretha only used it a touch and used it gloriously because her taste was impeccable. She never went to the wrong place."—Jerry Wexler
Can I get an "amen" for the melisma critique? Aretha can be seen in a vintage performance in this history of the Montreux Jazz Festival on DVD.
8. Little Richard
"You've got to remember, I was already known back in 1951. I was recording for RCA-Victor — if you were black, it was called Camden Records — before Elvis. Then I recorded for Peacock in Houston. Then Specialty Records bought me from Peacock — I think they paid $500 for me — and my first Specialty record was a hit in 1956: 'Tutti Frutti.' It was a hit worldwide. I felt I had arrived, you know? We started touring everywhere immediately. We traveled in cars. Back in that time, the racism was so heavy, you couldn't go in the hotels, so most times you slept in your car. You ate in your car. You got to the date, and you dressed in your car. I had a Cadillac. That's what the star rode in….
Most dates I didn't get paid. And I've never gotten money from most of those records. And I made those records: In the studio, they'd just give me a bunch of words, I'd make up a song! The rhythm and everything. 'Good Golly Miss Molly'! And I didn't get a dime for it. Michael Jackson owned the Specialty stuff. He offered me a job with his publishing company once, for the rest of my life, as a writer. At the time, I didn't take it. I wish I had now.
I wish a lot of things had been different. I don't think I ever got what I really deserved.
I appreciate being picked one of the top 100 performers, but who is number one and who is number two doesn't matter to me anymore. Because it won't be who I think it should be. The Rolling Stones started with me, but they're going to always be in front of me. The Beatles started with me — at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, before they ever made an album — but they're going to always be in front of me. James Brown, Jimi Hendrix — these people started with me. I fed them, I talked to them, and they're going to always be in front of me.
But it's a joy just to still be here. I think that when people want joy and fun and happiness, they want to hear the old-time rock & roll. And I'm just glad I was a part of that."—Little Richard
7. James Brown
"James Brown is his own genre. He was a great editor — as a songwriter, producer and bandleader. He kept things sparse. He knew that was important. And he had the best players, the funkiest of all bands.... And the music always came from the groove, whereas for so many R&B and Motown artists at the time it was more about conventional songs. James Brown's songs are not conventional. 'I Got You,' 'Out of Sight'— they are ultimately vehicles for unique, even bizarre grooves….
I could watch that clip forever! Brown does three or four more numbers too. Read more about the Godfather of Soul in The Hardest Working Man: How James Brown Saved the Soul of America. Above: Brown shows Carson how to bust some moves.
6. Jimi Hendrix
"He is the common denominator of every style of popular music. Was he a bluesman? Listen to 'Voodoo Chile' and you'll hear some of the eeriest blues you can find. Was he a rock musician? He used volume as a device. That's rock. Was he a sensitive singer-songwriter? In 'Bold As Love,' he sings, 'My yellow in this case is not so mellow/In fact I'm trying to say it's frightened like me'" — that is a man who knows the shape of his heart. So often, he's portrayed as a loud, psychedelic rock star lighting his guitar on fire. But when I think of Hendrix, I think of some of the most placid, lovely guitar sounds on songs like 'One Rainy Wish,' 'Little Wing' and 'Drifting.' 'Little Wing'" is painfully short and painfully beautiful. It's like your grandfather coming back from the dead and hanging out with you for a couple of minutes and then going away. It's perfect, then it's gone. I think the reason musicians love Hendrix's playing so much is that the language of it was so native to his head and heart. He had a secret relationship with playing the guitar, and though it was incredibly technical and based in theory, it was his theory. All you heard was the color. The math is what's been applied ever since."—John Mayer
Jimi Hendrix: People, Hell & Angels collects the eclectic material he was working on when he died, while his iconic performance at Woodstock is preserved in the DVD set Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music—Ultimate Collector's Edition.
TOMORROW: The Top 5.