The Irrelevance of Rolling Stone Magazine


Rolling Stone Magazine recently published it’s ‘100 Greatest Artists Of All Time’, which has been expanded since its introduction in 2004. At first, after reviewing the list, I was taken back by the broad term “artists of all time”. Putting my opinions and objections aside as to the order of the list (They really put U2 at #22 and The Doors at #41… Really?), the integrity of the list itself is flawed. The introduction (see the article link) tries to lend merit to the list by describing it as the most influential artists of the Rock & Roll Era.  In that statement alone they are already back-peddling, perhaps as a means to justify the fact that the list clearly goes far outside the definition of Rock & Roll, or even Rock for that matter.

But before I go further, it’s important to first look at Rolling Stone Magazine’s partner in crime, the ever compromised (and bastardized) Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  If my understanding of the definition of Rock & Roll is correct, it’s a fairly broad umbrella term that includes Rock & Roll, Rock, Metal. Heavy Metal, Rockabilly, Punk, Grunge, Progressive and several other sub-genre classifications which I’m certain I’ve missed.  Its influences – like other types of modern music – were Blues, Swing, Country, Hillbilly, Rhythm & Blues, Jazz and again, likely a few more I’m again missing, although these are not themselves genres of Rock.  What clearly does not fall under the definition of Rock & Roll is Funk, Reggae, Hip-Hop, Soul, Disco, Gospel and Standards, which leaves me confused as to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees that are clearly not Rock & Roll.

Here are a few examples:

2010 – Abba (Disco)
2009 – RUN D.M.C. (Hip Hop/Rap)
2008 – Madonna (Pop)
2006 – Herb Alpert (Pop/Jazz) and Miles Davis (Jazz)
2005 – The O’Jays (Disco/Soul/Funk)
2001 – Michael Jackson (Pop)
2000 – Billie Holiday (Jazz) and Nat “King” Cole (Pop/Standards)
1998 – Jelly Roll Morton (Jazz)
1997 – Mahalia Jackson (Gospel) and The Bee Gees (Disco/Pop)
1990 – Louis Armstrong (Jazz)
1987 – Hank Williams (Country)

The Hall of Fame justifies some of these inductees as “early influences” (Hank Williams, Louis Armstrong), yet others – who are clearly not “Rock & Roll” (Madonna, Michael Jackson and Abba) – as “performers”.  I think it’s a safe bet to say that if Madonna toured with Abba, it would not be called a “Rock” Concert.  Why then is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame not called the “Pop Music” Hall of Fame?  And where are the Swing and Jazz drummers like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa who rocked as hard if not harder than any Rock drummers today? Who is in charge over there? In any case, in my opinion, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is somewhat of a joke, merely a commercial vehicle with diminished significance – much like Rolling Stone Magazine.

So, Rolling Stone Magazine publishes yet another insignificant list.  Its Top 100 include Blues pioneer Howlin’ Wolf and Country great Hank Williams, but exclude Louis Armstrong, perhaps the greatest virtuoso of the 20th Century.  As a matter of fact, not one Jazz artist was included, with Miles Davis being omitted from the original 2004 list, to be replaced in 2011 by Jay-Z.  There you have it folks, Rolling Stone says that Jazz doesn’t matter and that Hip-Hop is Rock & Roll, and if Rolling Stone says it, it must be true (not).

“Artists” is ambiguous and subjective, while “All Time”, well, wasn’t there this guy named Mozart? Rolling Stone’s lists are lame on so many levels, but I’m sure they help to sell magazines. You used to be the Playboy Magazine of Rock and Roll…
What happened?

Craig Sumsky
DJ and Music Enthusiast

14 Responses

  1. Joseph Tomlinson

    Ok, Chuck Berry in the top ten over Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder? Really? I’m pretty sure those two were not only more successful and better musicians, but also far more influential on music.

  2. Rick.

    Lists, especially ones like this, are always subjective. Ask a hundred people the top music artists of all time and you’ll get a hundred varying lists. I’d rank songwriting artists higher than those that didn’t write their own songs, for example. So Elvis Presley wouldn’t rank as high as Elvis Costello would for me. I don’t know RS’s criteria for their list so I can’t fault them for it.

    I do agree on Rolling Stone’s general irrelevance, however. They’ve been doing the same schtick for decades and I’m pretty much bored with it.

    Recently, I somehow got a free subscription to Spin magazine and Spin has figured out how to change with the times, still covering big artists and devoting tons of pages to emerging artists and technologies. That, I can get behind.

  3. Joe,

    Yes actually, Chuck Berry’s influence is likely much greater. We need to have a talk about Zeppelin, but in the meantime, you really should give Berry a closer look. I think you’ll find he is way more significant than you are giving him credit for.


  4. Jon Dranoff

    Craig, the Rolling Stone lists have become more and more ridiculous as time goes on. You are right on several counts:

    1. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should not include non-rock artists. Period. Patti Smith – in. Madonna – out. Talking Heads – in. The Carpenters (though I like them) – out. This nonsense with the “early influences” is unfair. You are right that Krupa is much more interesting than the unmemorable guy from U2.

    2. Rolling Stone’s lists are just ridiculous. With regards to greatest rock artists of all time, I am willing to bet that in 2030, few of us will remember much about Jay Z, but everyone will remember the Kinks, if not the Zombies, Doors, and Animals. Rock is a genre, and its best-of list deserves to reflect that.

    3. Worse still with Rolling Stone’s lists is that they go out of their way to reward sound over substance. Sure, I love Johnny Ramone, but in no way does he belong on a top 100 rock guitarists list. Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry – no question. George Harrison – if not in the top 3, there’s a problem. But where’s Mick Taylor? Doesn’t he blow away The Edge? If you want a guy whose sound changed things, why not include Andy Summers or Robert Fripp? Musicianship does matter. I hate to say it, but I’m not sure that Bo Diddley even fits in a list of the real greats.

    4. There are tough calls. Steve Cropper is one of the best guitarists of all time, but his primary musical form was soul (on another point, I have dumped the term R&B, since it has been misused as a catch-all for black music of the late ’40’s-on). However, I think that he qualifies, as his style was one of the dominant rock styles of his era; moreover, he mixed incredibly well with the rockers of the time. On the other hand, Prince is a pretty good guitarist (not as good as he thinks he is), but in no way is he a top 100 rock guitarist. He’s a brilliant funk/pop star who played overdriven guitar solos really well. That’s not exactly rock.

    Look forward to the discussion expanding.

  5. Jon,

    You almost wrote another article in itself with that comment, and I wholeheartedly agree with you on every point.

    As a side, I couldn’t help but notice you brought up U2 several times. I tried to skirt the issue, but, is it me or does it almost seem as if Bono and U2 are now “in bed” with the Rolling Stone people?

    Again though, yes, if you’re going to call it “Rock”, or even infer “Rock”, then be Rock, not every genre under the sun with some connection to Rock.

    I’m certain that The Hip Hop Hall of Fame would not include Elvis as an “early influence”.


  6. I think possibly a more interesting article would have read something like: “I didn’t agree with the selections made on the Rolling Stones list, so here is a list that I came up with.”

  7. Bruce Kolman

    I have not read Rolling Stone since the 80’s. But to be fair, my beloved R&R has lost most of the relevance it had 10-20 years ago. New music has transformed into either lowest common denominator product or is so hard to find now due to the near total loss of rock radio (most of which is classic rock now). The last really great rock album that i listen to from start to finish was American Idiot.
    Concerts are a fortune to go to so I rarely see live music anymore.
    No wonder there is nothing I care to read about in Rolling Stone.

  8. I’m good with this Hall of Fame list 🙂 These people, no matter their genre, were tremendously influencial in all aspects of music – including rock. Good point about the R&R Hall of Fame name though; the title should be changed (there hasn’t been a clear genre called “Rock and Roll” since the 60s).

    Never agreed with “The Greatest…” lists entirely, but always entertaining and good for a conversation.

  9. Mark,

    Call it Rock, Rock & Roll, Blues, Pop or whatever, maybe we should have it be like “The Museum of Popular Music”, with each genre having its own wing. I do agree though, it makes for good conversation.

    Going back to the comment by Steve Croce, I’m sure if I made my own list, it would be as speculative as Rolling Stone’s.


  10. Amstell13

    Craig, what does “we need to have a talk about Led Zeppelin” mean? If your going to dismiss their greatness, you obviously don’t know much about music. If anyone’s greatness needs to be checked its the Beatles and Rolling Stones. They are two of the most overrated bands ever. And please, don’t tell me Led Zeppelin stole their music, because that is utter nonsense. Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and especially Eric Clapton , all stole/borrowed a ton from the blues greats.
    Where is Alvin Lee, Michael Schenker, Robert Fripp, and Ronnie Baker Brooks on Rolling Stone’s greatest guitarists list?

  11. Amstell,

    There is no questioning that their ‘greatest guitarists’ lists is perhaps even more flawed.

    As far as Led Zeppelin, no, I would not totally dismiss them. What I will say is that Cream, Hendrix, Clapton and many more artists did ‘covers’ of blues greats, but unlike Zeppelin, they credited what was covered, unlike Zeppelin who did not.

    The greatness of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones is simply a matter of opinion, and record sales would seem to reflect that people do like them.


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