"I first heard of the Beatles when I was nine years old. I spent most of my holidays on Merseyside then, and a local girl gave me a bad publicity shot of them with their names scrawled on the back. This was 1962 or '63, before they came to America. The photo was badly lit, and they didn't quite have their look down; Ringo had his hair slightly swept back, as if he wasn't quite sold on the Beatles haircut yet. I didn't care about that; they were the band for me. The funny thing is that parents and all their friends from Liverpool were also curious and proud about this local group. Prior to that, the people in show business from the north of England had all been comedians. Come to think of it, the Beatles recorded for Parlophone, which was a comedy label.
I was exactly the right age to be hit by them full on. My experience -- seizing on every picture, saving money for singles and EPs, catching them on a local news show -- was repeated over and over again around the world. It was the first time anything like this had happened on this scale. But it wasn't just about the numbers; Michael Jackson can sell records until the end of time, but he'll never matter to people as much as the Beatles did."
-- Elvis Costello
"Bob Dylan and I started out from different sides of the tracks. When I first heard him, I was already in a band, playing rock & roll. I didn't know a lot of folk music. I wasn't up to speed on the difference he was making as a songwriter. I remember somebody playing "Oxford Town," from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, for me. I thought, "There's something going on here." His voice seemed interesting to me. But it wasn't until we started playing together that I really understood it. He is a powerful singer and a great musical actor, with many characters in his voice."
-- Robbie Robertson
"Out of Tupelo, Mississippi, out of Memphis, Tennessee, came this green, sharkskin-suited girl chaser, wearing eye shadow -- a trucker-dandy white boy who must have risked his hide to act so black and dress so gay. This wasn't New York or even New Orleans; this was Memphis in the Fifties. This was punk rock. This was revolt. Elvis changed everything -- musically, sexually, politically. In Elvis, you had the whole lot; it's all there in that elastic voice and body. As he changed shape, so did the world: He was a Fifties-style icon who was what the Sixties were capable of, and then suddenly not. In the Seventies, he turned celebrity into a blood sport, but interestingly, the more he fell to Earth, the more godlike he became to his fans. His last performances showcase a voice even bigger than his gut, where you cry real tears as the music messiah sings his tired heart out, turning casino into temple."
"The Rolling Stones are my life. If it wasn't for them, I would have been a Soprano for real. I first saw the Stones on TV, on Hollywood Palace in 1964. In '64, the Beatles were perfect: the hair, the harmonies, the suits. They bowed together. Their music was extraordinarily sophisticated. The whole thing was exciting and alien but very distant in its perfection. The Stones were alien and exciting, too. But with the Stones, the message was, "Maybe you can do this." The hair was sloppier. The harmonies were a bit off. And I don't remember them smiling at all. They had the R&B traditionalist's attitude: "We are not in show business. We are not pop music." And the sex in Mick Jagger's voice was adult. This wasn't pop sex -- holding hands, playing spin the bottle. This was the real thing. Jagger had that conversational quality that came from R&B singers and bluesmen, that sort of half-singing, not quite holding notes. The acceptance of Jagger's voice on pop radio was a turning point in rock & roll. He broke open the door for everyone else. Suddenly, Eric Burdon and Van Morrison weren't so weird -- even Bob Dylan."
-- Steven Van Zandt
"Like a lot of guitarists of my generation, I first heard Chuck Berry because of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I was so blown away by the way the Beatles and the Stones were playing these hard-core rock & roll songs like "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Around and Around." I'd looked at the labels, under the song titles. I'd seen the name "Chuck Berry." But I was fortunate enough, again like a lot of guys from my generation, to have a friend who had an older brother, who had the original records: "If you like the Stones, wait until you hear this!" I heard Chuck you hear this!" I heard Chuck Berry Is On Top -- and I really freaked out! That feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach, in the hair on the back of my head: I got more of it from Chuck Berry than from anybody else."
-- Joe Perry
"Jimi Hendrix is one of those extraordinary hubs of music where everybody lands at some point. Every musician passes through Hendrix International Airport eventually -- whether you're a Black Sabbath fan or an Elmore James fan; whether you like Hanson or the Grateful Dead. He is the common denominator of every style of contemporary music. There were so many sides to his playing. 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."
-- John Mayer
"In one sense, James Brown is like Johnny Cash. Johnny is considered one of the kings of country music, but there are a lot of people who like Johnny but don't like country music. It's the same with James Brown and R&B. His music is singular -- the feel and tone of it. James Brown is his own genre."
-- Rick Rubin
"A lot of people call me the architect of rock & roll. I don't call myself that, but I believe it's true. 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, in 1956, was a hit: "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."
-- Little Richard
"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. Not only could I not help, 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
"Ray Charles is proof that the best music crosses all boundaries, reaches all denominations. He can do any type of music, and at the same time he's always true to himself. It's all about his soul."
-- Van Morrison
"What separates Bob Marley from so many other great songwriters? They don't know what it's like for rain to seep into their house. They wouldn't know what to do without their microwaves and stoves -- to make a fire with wood and cook their fish next to the ocean. Marley came from the poverty and injustice in Jamaica, and that manifested itself in his rebel sound. The people were his inspiration. Straight up. Like John Lennon, he brought the idea that through music, empowerment and words, you can really come up with world peace. But it's hard to compare him to other musicians, because music was just one part of what he was. He was also a humanitarian and a revolutionary. His impact on Jamaican politics was so strong, there were assassination attempts on his life. Marley was like Moses. When Moses spoke, people moved. When Marley spoke, they moved as well."
-- Wyclef Jean
"The Beach Boys showed the way, and not just to California. Sure, they may have sold the California Dream to a lot of people, but for me, it was Brian Wilson showing how far you might have to go in order to make your own musical dream come true."
-- Lindsey Buckingham
"Buddy Holly was one of the first great singer-songwriters -- he wrote his own material and in the end was producing it, too. He came from such a rural area and was able to speak to so many people in so many locations. He was one of the first to get away from the Tin Pan Alley songwriting factory and communicate directly, honestly with his audience."
-- John Mellencamp
"Heavy metal would not exist without Led Zeppelin, and if it did, it would suck. Led Zeppelin were more than just a band -- they were the perfect combination of the most intense elements: passion and mystery and expertise. It always seemed like Led Zeppelin were searching for something. They weren't content being in one place, and they were always trying something new. They could do anything, and I believe they would have done everything if they hadn't been cut short by John Bonham's death. Zeppelin served as a great escape from a lot of things. There was a fantasy element to everything they did, and it was such a major part of what made them important. Who knows if we'd all be watching Lord of the Rings movies right now if it wasn't for Zeppelin."
-- Dave Grohl
"Let me put it this way: wherever I go in the world, I always take a copy of Songs in the Key of Life. For me, it's the best album ever made, and I'm always left in awe after I listen to it. When people in decades and centuries to come talk about the history of music, they will talk about Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. Stevie came out of the golden age of Motown, when they were putting out the best R&B records in the world from Detroit, and he evolved into an amazing songwriter and a genuine musical force of nature."
-- Elton John
"Sam Cooke was grounded in a very straightforward singing style: It was pure, beautiful and open-throated, extraordinarily direct and unapologetic. Let's say you're going to sing "I love you for sentimental reasons." How do you hit that I? Do you slur into it? Do you put in a little hidden h? The attack on that vowel sound is the tip-off to how bold a singer is. If you pour on the letter i from the back of your throat, the listener gets that there is no fudge in the first thousandth of a second. There's just confidence from the singer, that he knows the pitch, and here's the sound. That's what Sam was great at. He had guts as a singer."
-- Art Garfunkel
"Muddy and his band opened for ZZ Top on a tour in 1981. This was over forty years after his first recordings, and that band could still play the blues, not just as seasoned pros but with the same enthusiasm Muddy had when he started out. When he sang that his mojo was working, you could tell his mojo had not slowed down at all. He was satisfied, composed, self-contained. If he had an opinion on a subject, he didn't allow a whole lot of latitude to be convinced otherwise. If he was bitter about the way he'd been treated by record companies, he never showed it. We talked to him a lot as we traveled traveled, when he wasn't chasing young girls through the airport. He told us a story once about his friends Freddie King and Little Walter walking from Dallas to Chicago. I've always had that image in my mind of two guys walking from the South to the North. Everyone else in the great migration took the train. I hope they weren't carrying their equipment."
-- Billy Gibbons
"At Motown, Marvin was one of the main characters in the greatest musical story ever told. Prior to that, nothing quite like Motown had ever existed -- all those songwriters, singers, producers working and growing together, part family, part business -- and I doubt seriously if it will ever happen like that again. And there's no question that Marvin will always be a huge part of the Motown legacy."
-- Smokey Robinson
"Listening to those four studio albums now is like reading a good book that takes place in a distant time. When I hear The Velvet Underground and Nico or Loaded, I feel like I'm in Andy Warhol's Factory in the 1960s or hanging out at Max's Kansas City. The way Lou Reed wrote and sang about drugs and sex, about the people around him -- it was so matter-of-fact. I believed every word of "Heroin." Reed could be romantic in the way he portrayed these crazy situations, but he was also intensely real. It was poetry and journalism."
-- Julian Casablancas
"Bo Diddley's music is enormous. It's deeply moving. It has the sultry, sexual power of Africa. There's all sorts of mystery in that sound. People listen to Bo Diddley recordings and think, "Oh, you can just go bonk-de-bonk-bonk, de-bonk-bonk, and you got a Bo Diddley beat." But it isn't that easy. He played really simple things but with incredible authority. I first heard him on a Rolling Stones album, on their cover of "Mona." It was such a great song; I looked at the credits and it said "Ellas McDaniel," and I thought, "Who the hell is that?" But when I wanted to get into songwriting, he was the key for me. I didn't have a lot of vocal range, and I didn't know a lot of chords on the guitar. So I was looking for a way to write, and there he was, writing very complete, very memorable songs without a lot of fuss. They weren't florid. He never bothered to change the chord, for one thing -- which is very heavy-metal! It's hypnotic. And, of course, there's the attitude, a chin-up, chest-out sort of thing. He was a bull; he had a bullish quality. Vocally, he reminds me of gutbucket Delta blues: Muddy Waters, but brought to town, rocked up. And his voice is so damn loud. It's just a huge voice, and he's got a big, deep shout."
-- Iggy Pop
"The first time we saw Otis was in 1962, and he was driving a car for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers out of Macon, Georgia. They had a moderate hit, an instrumental called "Love Twist," and they wanted to record a follow-up in Memphis with my band, Booker T. and the MG's. I saw this big guy get out from behind the wheel and go to the back of the truck and start unloading equipment. That was Otis. And we had no idea he was also a singer. In those days, instrumental groups always carried a singer so they could play the songs on the radio that the kids wanted to dance to."
-- Steve Cropper
"What I love most about U2 is that the band is more important than any of their songs or albums. I love that they're best mates and have an integral role in one another's lives as friends. I love the way that they're not interchangeable -- if Larry Mullen Jr. wants to go scuba diving for a week, the rest of the band can't do a thing. U2 -- like Coldplay -- maintain that all songs that appear on their albums are credited to the band. And they are the only band that's been around for twenty years with no member changes and no big splits."
-- Chris Martin
"In many ways, Bruce Springsteen is the embodiment of rock & roll. Combining strains of Appalachian music, rockabilly, blues and R&B, his work epitomizes rock's deepest values: desire, the need for freedom and the search to find yourself. All through his songs there is a generosity and a willingness to portray even the simplest aspects of our lives in a dramatic and committed way."
-- Jackson Browne
"I'd be curious to know how many pianos Jerry Lee Lewis went through in his lifetime. Whoever was responsible for keeping the piano in tune and making sure it didn't fall apart at Sun Studio must have wept every time he showed up to play. You think of the piano as a conservative, staid instrument, and in the last twenty years it has almost disappeared from rock & roll. But the way he played, it was just so percussive. You can hear the hammers slamming against the strings. If he were growing up now, they would probably just paralyze him with Ritalin and eliminate sugar from his diet. As it was, he turned the piano into an orchestra. He had these profound bass lines and amazing lead parts, all in perfect time. Apparently he just had too much adrenaline. I don't know what switch got flipped in his brain when he was born that compelled him to play so fast and so hard, but I'm glad it got flipped."
"After John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Fats Domino and his partner, Dave Bartholomew, were probably the greatest team of songwriters ever. They always had a simple melody, a hip set of chord changes and a cool groove. And their songs all had simple lyrics; that's the key. There are no deep plots in Fats Domino songs: "Yes, it's me, and I'm in love again/Had no lovin' since you know when/You know I love you, yes I do/And I'm savin' all my lovin' just for you." It don't get no simpler than that."
-- Dr. John
"Every rock & roll generation needs reminding of why it picks up a guitar in the first place, and four non-brothers from the borough of Queens had a concept that was almost too perfect. Their look -- ripped jeans, tight T-shirt, high-top sneakers, bowl haircut and a black motorcycle jacket -- was a cartoon version of rock's tough-guy ethos. When they first started, they played what they knew how to play, which wasn't much, and worked it to their advantage. They opted for speed rather than complexity, they aspired to be the Beach Boys, Alice Cooper and the Bay City Rollers, and their rotational three chords and headlong lunge kept them skidding through the simpleton catchphrases of their singalongs."
-- Lenny Kaye
"The first time I heard Nirvana, it was a classic record-store experience, which is something that's becoming increasingly rare these days. I walked into Rocks in Your Head in New York and asked the woman behind the counter, "What's new?" She put on "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I thought, "Wow. Somebody managed to combine R.E.M. and Metallica." I had never heard the term grunge, and I didn't know that it was going to be a phenomenon. I just knew that I was listening to something profound: a great piece of music."
-- Vernon Reid
"Prince was forbidden in my closed, Christian household. He was somewhere between Richard Pryor -- whom we absolutely couldn't listen to -- and a stash of porn. In junior high, my parents would put thirty or forty dollars in an envelope, and that would buy a card that would cover a month of school lunches. It was November of 1982, and I took my thirty-six dollars and purchased Prince's 1999, What Time Is It?, by the Time, and the Vanity 6 album. I starved that whole month."
-- Ahmir Thompson
"The Who began as spectacle. They became spectac-ular. Early on, the band was in pure demolition mode; later, on albums like Tommy and Quadrophenia, they coupled that raw energy with precision and desire to complete musical experiments on a grand scale. They asked, "What were the limits of rock & roll? Could the power of music actually change the way you feel?" Pete Townshend allowed that there be spiritual value in music. They were an incredible band whose main songwriter happened to be on a quest for reason and harmony in his life. He shared that journey with the listener, becoming an inspiration for others to seek out their own path - this while being in the Guinness book of world records as the world's loudest band."
-- Eddie Vedder
"The Clash, more than any other group, kick-started a thousand garage bands across Ireland and the U.K. For U2 and other people of our generation, seeing them perform was a life-changing experience. There's really no other way to describe it."
-- The Edge
"Of course, the first thing he'll be remembered for is the originality of his music. The first time I heard Johnny Cash was when he released "I Walk the Line" in 1956. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard. Elvis had had a lot of hits by that point, but "I Walk the Line" was completely different. It didn't sound much like any of the country music that was popular at the time, either. There was a kind of dark energy around John. My first hero, when I was a kid, was Hank Williams, and he had a similar energy. You could tell they were both wild men."
-- Kris Kristofferson
"I used to go to the Motown revues, and the Miracles always closed the show. They were that good, and everybody knew it. Not flash at all. The Supremes had bigger hits. The Temptations had the better dance moves. The Miracles did it with pure music."
-- Bob Seger
"The roots of the Everly Brothers are very, very deep in the soil of American culture. First of all, you should know that the Everly Brothers were child stars. They had a radio show with their family, and their father, Ike, was an influential country guitar player, so he attracted other significant musicians to the Everlys' world -- among them, Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, who was instrumental in getting the Everlys on the Grand Ole Opry. They were exposed to extraordinary country-roots music, and so they brought with them the legacy of all the great brother groups like the Delmore Brothers, the Louvin Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys into the Fifties, where they mingled with the other early rock pioneers and made history in the process. Perhaps even more powerfully than Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers melded country with the emerging sound of Fifties rock & roll."
-- Paul Simon
"There's a rare contradiction in Neil Young's work. He works so hard as a songwriter, and he's written a phenomenal number of perfect songs. And, at the same time, he doesn't give a fuck. That comes from caring about essence. There can be things out of tune and all wild-sounding and not recorded meticulously. And he doesn't care. He's made whole albums that aren't great, and instead of going back to a formula that he knows works, he would rather represent where he is at the time. That's what's so awesome: watching his career wax and wane according to the truth of his character at the moment. It's never phony. It's always real. The truth is not always perfect."
"Michael Jackson is the world's greatest entertainer. One of the most explosive performances I've ever witnessed was Jackson sliding across the stage at the Motown twenty-fifth anniversary show. Just watching that made us all know: That's what greatness is, and anything that doesn't measure up to that is beneath greatness. Before him there were the Beatles and Elvis and Frank Sinatra; Michael Jackson takes his place right alongside those greats."
-- Antonio "LA" Reid
"Madonna was the first female pop star to take control of every aspect of her career and to take responsibility for creating her image, no matter how much flak she might get. She's proved that she can do so many different things -- music and movies and being a parent, too. Her music has become iconic: Songs like "Holiday" or "Live to Tell" are timeless -- not just disposable hits. They feel like home. She has her spells of being moody and vibey and spiritual, but her words are so easy to relate to. She's a diva and does what she wants, but she's a loving person."
-- Britney Spears
"I've always compared Roy Orbison to a tree: passive and beautiful yet extremely solid. He maintained a sense of humility and sensitivity and gentleness uncommon to his era. He wasn't effeminate but extremely gentle. He was someone you felt entirely safe with, whether you were listening to his records or being around him. It wasn't like Elvis: It wasn't like your loins were on fire or anything like that. It's more like Roy was a private place to go -- a solace or a refuge."
-- k.d. lang
"Lennon was more than a musician; he was like a prophet. He stated his political point of view and spoke out against war, even when that meant he was being followed and hassled by the government. "Imagine" is one of the greatest songs ever. It's like a church hymn, and it states his beliefs quite clearly. And more than anything, Lennon was an icon for peace. That's hard to find these days."
-- Lenny Kravtiz
"David Bowie's contribution to rock & roll has been wit and sophistication. He's smart, he's a true musician and he can really sing. He's got such a big range: I like the Ziggy Stardust voice, but he's got a lot of different voices. He's got his crooner voice, when he wants to. And he has a melodic sense that's well above anyone else in rock & roll. Most people could not sing some of his melodies. He can really go for a high note. Take "Satellite of Love," on my Transformer album: There's a part at the very end, where he goes all the way up. It's fabulous."
-- Lou Reed
"I remember when my older brother Alex and my youngest brother, Hugh, both brought home Simon and Garfunkel albums. The music stood by itself, quite apart from anything else around at the time. Simon and Garfunkel brought something new to music: They brought themselves. Through it all -- whether they were together or not -- they've remained a force in American music and culture. Their impact has been huge. To use a hackneyed phrase, they scored some of the most meaningful years of our lives. Think of how their songs worked in The Graduate -- these were songs that spoke to a generation, in a motion picture that also spoke for a generation."
-- James Taylor
"Morrison's voice was a beautiful pond for anything to drown in. Whatever he sang became as deep as he was. He had the unnameable thing that people will always be drawn to. I've always thought of the Doors as the first punk band, even more than the Stooges or the Ramones. They didn't sound anything like punk rock, but Morrison outshined everyone else when it came to rebellion and not playing by anyone's rules. There are a lot of bands that seem to want to sound like the Doors filtered through grunge or neogrunge -- whatever it is. But it's all just ideas pasted on ideas, faded copies of copies. If you want to be like Jim Morrison, you can't be anything like Jim Morrison. It's about finding your own place in the world."
-- Marilyn Manson
"Back in 1968, the Boston Tea Party was the premier club for rock bands. My band, the Hallucinations, composed of art-school dropouts heavily drenched in R&B and Chicago blues, used the club as a rehearsal hall whenever it was available. The music we played could be described as primal, raw and heavy on attitude. We were in the midst of rehearsing one day, getting ready to open for the great bluesman Howlin' Wolf, when something caught my eye, and I looked over to see a stranger looming in the doorway. I had no idea who he was or what he was doing there, so I went over to find out what he wanted. In a thick brogue, he asked about places to play in Boston."
-- Peter Wolf
"Sly and the Family Stone didn't have to say, "Why can't we all just get along?" Looking at the band members and listening to their shared sound made the statement. On the early Sly and the Family Stone records, there was just no acknowledgment of race; they're truly utopian. A real idealism comes across loud and clear on songs like "Everyday People" and "Hot Fun in the Summertime," and people need messages like that. Those albums have tremendous optimism and real conviction. The band itself was like Noah's ark: They had blacks and whites, men and women. Seeing this group that was blind to ethnicity and that embraced so many elements of society sort of drew you in as an extended family member. This was a joyous noise and a joyful vision."
-- Don Was
"No one has been able to approach the political power that Public Enemy brought to hip-hop. I put them on a level with Bob Marley and a handful of other artists -- the rare artist who can make great music and also deliver a political and social message. But where Marley's music sweetly lures you in, then sneaks in the message, Chuck D grabs you by the collar and makes you listen."
-- Adam Yauch
"The Byrds are immortal because they flew so high. For me, they're still way, way up there. They left a huge mark. First off, the Byrds were the first credible American answer to the British Invasion. All of folk rock -- for lack of a better term -- descends directly from the music the Byrds made. They were certainly the first to introduce any sort of country element into rock music. As if all that wasn't enough, the Byrds spurred on a good degree of Bob Dylan's popularity, too. And not to be too shallow, but they also were just the best-dressed band around. They had those great clothes and hairdos. That counted for something even then."
-- Tom Petty
"Janis Joplin was absolutely a barnstormer and a complete groundbreaker. She wasn't just a great woman in rock -- at the time she was the woman in rock. Janis really created this whole world of possibility for women in music: Without Janis Joplin, there would be no Melissa Etheridge. Without Janis, there would be no Chrissie Hynde, no Gwen Stefani. There would be no one."
-- Rosanne Cash
"I was about nineteen when I first heard a Patti Smith record. It was Horses. I remember sitting there, very taken by the sound of her voice, this ferocious delivery. Later I was struck by how literate her lyrics were, how intellectual and political. I loved how, in her songs, she talked about anything other than the love in her heart for a man. And I loved her image: this non-glam look with the chopped-off hair, looking like a skinny boy. She was the complete opposite of the images that were pumped into me as a child, of what I was supposed to aspire to in a woman."
-- Shirley Manson
"Run-DMC were the Beatles of hip-hop -- Run and DMC were Lennon and McCartney, and Jam Master Jay was George and Ringo rolled into one. Raising Hell was the first true rap album, a complete work of art as opposed to a collection of singles or a novelty item. It's my favorite album of all time. It incorporated rock, but on rap's terms -- the rap wasn't underneath, it was on top. Jay-Z, OutKast, Black Star, the Roots -- everyone in hip-hop today can be traced back to Run-DMC."
-- Chuck D
"Elton kicks my ass on piano. He's fantastic -- a throwback to Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino and Little Richard. His spontaneous, improvisational playing always challenges me. And that is his contribution to rock & roll and pop: his musicianship. Before him, rock was a bunch of James Taylors -- guitar-based singer-songwriter stuff. Elton brought back fantastic piano-based rock. Elton knows what his instrument is capable of. The piano is a percussion instrument, like a drum. You don't strum a piano. You don't bow a piano. You bang and strike a piano. You beat the shit out of a piano. Elton knows exactly how to do that - he always had that rhythmic, very African, syncopated style that comes from being well versed in gospel and good old R&B. Elton and Bernie Taupin did some brilliant songwriting during the first part of his career, from Elton John to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
-- Billy Joel
"I've used the band as an example for my career. When I first tried to get record deals, nobody knew how to market me, because my sound didn't necessarily fit into any stereotypes. But the Band did a little bit of everything."
-- Lucinda Williams
It is a fundamental lesson in the history of rock & roll and its continuing power to inspire and transform. The Immortals is a tribute to those who created rock & roll, written by their peers and heirs, those who have learned from their innovations, struggles and legacies.
This year, rock & roll turns fifty, and this is the first of three special issues Rolling Stone is publishing to mark the occasion. Scholars have debated the precise birth date for as long as the music has been around. We chose July 5th, 1954 -- the day Elvis Presley recorded "That's All Right" at Sun Studio in Memphis. On that date, the nineteen-year-old truck driver not only made his first and most important single. He created a new world -- initiating a way of life and expression -- that, even at fifty, is still evolving. There is no better standard for rock & roll immortality.
The Immortals began last year with the creation of a panel of fifty-five top musicians, historians, industry executives and critics, selected by the editors of Rolling Stone. Voters were asked to pick, in order of preference, the twenty artists they deemed to be the most significant and influential of rock's first fifty years, those whose work continues to have an impact today. More than 125 artists were named. The ballots were tabulated according to a weighted point system that was overseen by the international accounting firm Ernst & Young.
Rolling Stone then asked a blue-ribbon collection of singers, musicians and producers to explore and describe the importance and impact of these immortals: on the writers' own work and personal lives; on history and society at large; and on generations to come. The stories and opinions, the incisive analyses and open admissions of love and influence, are as exciting and unpredictable as rock & roll itself. Van Morrison repays a lifetime of soulful debt to Ray Charles. Robbie Robertson describes Bob Dylan typing out his lyrics as they made Blonde on Blonde. Steven Van Zandt salutes the original R&B genius of the Rolling Stones and their undiminished prowess forty years later. Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers pays homage to the raw power and fiercely independent spirit of Neil Young. And Little Richard proves to be the world's greatest expert on -- who else? -- Little Richard.
He also makes an important distinction between success and immortality. "I wish a lot of things had been different," Richard writes. "I don't think I ever got what I really deserved." The Immortals is a commemoration of a half-century of excitement, ambition and hit records. These are the musicians and bands who gave us everything they had, regardless of the rewards, often against insurmountable odds. Here, Rolling Stone and the artists who carry on their work try to give them back a little of what they so richly deserve.