One day last week I was digging through the free bin at Downtown Books and News and happened across an issue of Rolling Stone from December of last year. The cover story was “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” I’ve been thumbing through it off and on all week and I am consistently disgusted, both at who they included and who they left out. I’m pretty bored, so I figured I might as well do a nice write-up and thoroughly rebuke their list. (In the event you’d like to read the list for yourself, you can check it out here. But now without further ado, allow me to dissect this festering pile of monkey shit that Rolling Stone calls the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time…

Mama always told me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” She also told me “Life is like a box of chocolates.” There’s always a few in the box that are just absolutely horrible, and the second you bite into them you want to vomit. And since that’s kinda how I feel reading most of this list, I think I can ignore mama’s previous advice and say some mean things. But just to be fair, I’ll start with what I actually liked about their list.

  • They include a good number of black guitarists, mostly from the early days of rock and the world of blues and funk. These days rock and roll is usually seen as the music of white teenagers, and most of your top-selling rock musicians are white. This perception, however, is completely divorced from history. The guitar first came into prominence as the instrument of choice of the black community, especially in blues, folk, soul, and jazz. The synthesis of these various “black” styles of music was the basis for what became known as rock and roll, and consequently most of your early rock musicians were black. It really wasn’t until the 70’s and 80’s, when white and black music started to move further apart, that the idea of a black man playing guitar became a novelty. Thankfully this list showcases a number of important and influential black guitarists from all eras of rock and blues, reestablishing the fact that the guitar knows no color code, even if the typical idiotic rock fan does.
  • George Harrison is sitting pretty at #11. Although I would personally rank him higher, it feels great to see him get that much recognition. His guitar playing was fluid and melodic, creative and adventurous, and always the perfect fit for the song. Yet for some reason his name never gets tossed around on lists like this, and his guitar playing genius goes unnoticed by all except Beatles fanatics.
  • Johnny Marr is on the list. Period. Another name you don’t see mentioned very often, he is nonetheless a phenomenal guitarist. Too bad he always got overshadowed by Morrissey.

And that’s about it. Now onto what I didn’t like…..

  • The entire list is designed to fit Rolling Stone’s extremely narrow target demographic – well off baby boomer white liberals with too much time on their hands and shitty taste in music. They really should have named it The 100 Greatest Guitarists In The Genres Of Rock And Blues Who Performed Between The 1950’s And The Late 2000’s And Sold More Than Two Million Records In The United States. Just about everything pre-rock is ignored. Anyone who was huge on the international scene but never broke big in the US is left off. Underground artists are only mentioned if they had a considerable enough influence on current artists. And as if that weren’t enough, talent and technical skill are often overlooked in favor of influence, trendiness, or notoriety. In the next few bullets I’ll go into more detail on each of these points…
  • Evidently, jazz and classical don’t exist as genres of music. How else can you explain the absence of such legendary guitarists as Andres Segovia, Sabicas, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, Charlie Hunter, and John Williams? You will not find a single guitarist worth his salt who wouldn’t include Django or Segovia in a list of the 100 best guitarists of all time. The only possible reasons guitarists like this didn’t make the cut would be that the editors had never heard of them, or that they figured their demographic had never heard of them. Even though it’s sometimes a stretch to call Rolling Stone a music magazine, I find it hard to believe no one involved in the publication of this list knows who Charlie Christian is, so I’m left to believe they left off incredible musicians such as these for fear that an issue full of jazz and classical guitarists wouldn’t sell as well as one full of classic rock guitar gods and alternative era pretty boys.
  • Once fashionable styles that are now considered “uncool” are not represented at all. So don’t expect to see any hair metal or shred guitar. You know, those dinosaurs that 25 years ago we were claiming to be “the best guitarist of all time.” Now they don’t even get mentioned. A partial list of important, influential, and extremely talented guitarists who were left off the list simply because their style of music isn’t en vogue anymore: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, Vito Bratta (White Lion), C. C. Deville (Poison), John Sykes (Whitesnake), Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Marty Friedman (Megadeth), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy and others),  and Michael Schenker (UFO and Scorpions). There’s plenty more that I’m forgetting. The 80’s were all about one-upmanship, so pretty much every band had an amazing guitarist trying to outdo everyone else on the scene. Sure it was pretentious and sometimes lacking in actual emotion, and sure many of us look back on this era and cringe, but you can’t possibly deny the incredible talent that was on the scene at that time. Well, unless you’re Rolling Stone.
  • Musicians and bands that never broke big in the US don’t even get a passing mention in this list. So there’s no King Sunny Ade, an amazing Nigerian guitarist known as the “father of world music,” who counts Trey Anastasio as one of his disciples. Pretty much anyone playing a non-western style of music was ignored. So that means there’s no Prasanna either, who plays the guitar as if it were a sitar and composes some of the most strange and beautiful music on the planet.
  • Artists from Western, English-speaking countries who aren’t popular in the US were also ignored. Don’t expect to see Bruce Cockburn on the list, even though the Canadian singer-songwriter is one of the most talented guitarists to ever walk the face of the earth. Also, forget about John Squire, the dazzling UK guitarist from the extremely influential band The Stone Roses. And definitely not James Dean Bradfield – while best known as frontman of the Welsh band Manic Street Preachers, he’s one of the most inventive and emotional lead guitarists around. It doesn’t seem to matter that the Manics are one of the most popular bands in the world, and have been making music for over 20 years. They haven’t had any hits in the US, so obviously their amazing guitarist isn’t one of the 100 best.
  • While I earlier gave Rolling Stone props for including so many black guitarists, I have to take away any props they earned for the lack of female guitarists. No Ani DiFranco. No Jennifer Batten. No Susan Tedeschi. They did include Bonnie Rait and Joni Mitchell, but I never really thought guitar playing was a central focus of their music (well maybe with Bonnie Rait, but I was always more focused on the red hair and sultry vocals), so I’m thinking they just wanted to include some women and those were the first two to come to mind.
  • They were super choosy when picking artists from the underground. Sure you get J Mascis and Thurston Moore, but that’s about it. Why Mascis, but not Roger Miller (Mission Of Burma), Frank Black (The Pixies), or Bob Mould (Husker Du)? What about Bob Stinson (The Replacements), Chris Bell (Big Star), or Jon Auer (The Posies)? I say throw in Elliott Smith, whose finger picking and sense of phrasing was mind-blowing, and maybe Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple of the dB’s, who pretty much perfected the jangle pop sound.
  • Their punk cred is shaky at best. Sure they included Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, but how could they not also include the far superior and similarly named Mick Jones from The Clash? And everyone loves the Ramones, but should Johnny really be at #28? He’s lucky to even make the list, let alone be so high. I’m happy to see Tom Verlaine, but #90 is ridiculously low. And how on earth could they include him but not his partner in crime Richard Lloyd? Listening back to all those old Television records, you really can’t separate the two. Unless you’re making a list for Rolling Stone of course.
  • The classic rockers who didn’t make the cut is just as mind-boggling as the rest of my critique. No Steve Miller?  No Steve Howe? No Steve Morse? No Steve Hackett? (Do they have something against guys named Steve?) No Neal Schon? No Rick Nielsen? No Robin Trower? No Gary Rossington or Allen Collins? These were extremely talented, big name guitarists in big name bands who had big hits and influenced millions of kids to run out and buy guitars. Yet they don’t make the cut. Odd.
  • Where THE FUCK is Peter Frampton? I could have included him in the “classic rock” bullet above, but this is such a glaring omission I felt compelled to give it its own bullet. Anyone who ever plugged into a talk box did it because of this guy. How he didn’t make the list is beyond all understanding.
  • Like seriously… no Robert Smith? I know The Cure haven’t had a hit in a while. I know he’s not a flashy player. I know most fans are drawn to the songs themselves and not the musicianship. But really. His playing is pure genius.
  • They include John Mayer in a side column about young guitarists (he’s young-ish right?) but don’t include anything about the man who paved the way for his bro-rock stylings, Dave Matthews. Both are pretty talented guitarists, and could possibly make the cut. Add to this the complete lack of Brad Nowell of Sublime, and I can’t help but wonder if Rolling Stone even understands their own demographic.
  • How exactly do you include James Hetfield, yet not Kirk Hammett? At the very least they should both make the cut, since their playing is so intertwined and so central to the Metallica sound. But in pretty much every way, Hammett is the better guitarist, and should not only make this list, but be several spots higher than Hetfield.
  • Several other entire genres were ignored. Even genres that I don’t particularly like have guitarists who I would include in my personal top 100. In the world of country, I have to tip my (ten gallon) hat to Junior Brown, Vince Gill, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Jerry Douglas, and the everywhere-at-once session guitarist Dan Huff.
  • Contemporary Christian Music, while usually the place where music goes to die, has also produced some wonderful guitarists, including but not limited to shred-master-turned-worship-leader Lincoln Brewster, Steve Mason and Matt Odmark of Jars Of Clay, Jason Martin of Starflyer 59, Andrew Pricket of The Prayer Chain, Derri Daugherty of The Choir, Bob Hartman of Petra, Oz Fox of Stryper, Andrew Osenga of The Normals, and Derek Webb of Caedmon’s Call. And no, I was never a youth group CCM kid. That was sarcasm, by the way.
  • No “new age” to be found either. At the very least, players like Michael Hedges and Erik Mongrain should be recognized for completely reimagining how we approach a guitar.
  • Ranked too high: Keith Richards (#4 – he’s not even the best guitarist in the Stones), Jonny Greenwood (#48 – I love love LOVE Radiohead, but he’s about 40 or so spots too high by even the most conservative fanboy estimate), John Frusciante (#72 – I could see him sitting around #95 or so, depending on if we’re just counting his Chili Peppers work or if we include his solo stuff).
  • Ranked too low: Roger McGuinn (#95 – he basically invented jangle pop, but he ranks below a lot of people who copied his sound), Andy Summers (#85 – ask any guitarist and they’ll tell you he should be in the top half of this list), Dick Dale (#74 – incredibly influential, super talented, one of the most innovative musicians of his time; without him we wouldn’t have reverb, tremolo picking, or modal playing in popular rock music), John McLaughlin (#68 – based on technical ability alone he should be in the top 20, but an even more impressive feat is that he got legions of rock kids to listen to jazz), Mark Knopfler (#44 – an amazing player with a unique style, how can he not be in the top 25?), Prince (#33 – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Prince is easily the best guitarist currently making music. Since non-fans don’t exactly think “guitar” when they think of Prince his rank doesn’t surprise me, but anyone who has really listened to his playing would put him in the top 10), Brian May (#26 – another surefire top 10,  you just don’t get much more grand and beautiful than his playing), David Gilmour (#14 – how anyone could rank him outside of the top 5 is beyond me).
  • Why the fuck are they ranked at all: Tom Morello (#40 – I’ll grant that he’s a very innovative guitarist, but on a purely technical level he’s no that good. He basically just experiments and makes weird and creative noises. That’s pretty cool on many levels, but it doesn’t make him one of the greatest guitarists of all time), John Lennon (#55 – he’s a legendary songwriter, a gifted poet, the voice of a generation, and a capable rhythm guitarist. Key word: capable. As in, there’s no way he should make the top 100, especially considering some of the omissions), Jack White (#70 – I like white boy blues rock as much as the next guy, and I’ll admit he’s quite good. Just not Top 100 good, by any stretch of the mind), Kurt Cobain (#73 – again, great songwriter and the voice of a generation, but let’s be honest – he was a pretty shitty guitarist. His playing was sloppy, his chord progressions were simple and lacking in the way of innovation, and his solos were just the vocal melody played in the blues box. Nothing about this warrants being in the top 500, let alone making this list), Lou Reed (#81 – I love his playing and the sense of cacophony he brings to music. But on a technical level he’s just not that great), Paul Simon (#93 – I’m noticing a trend here – if someone writes good songs AND plays the guitar, we stick them on this list, regardless of the actual skill with which they play the guitar).
  • All in all, the list is too narrow, too safe, and too predictable. Hendrix, Clapton, and Page as #1, 2, and 3? Gee I didn’t see that one coming. Why not take some risks and throw us some curveballs? Oh wait, Rolling Stone doesn’t want to be thought-provoking, they just want to sell magazines. My bad.

I feel like I’m leaving so much out. But I’ve rambled on long enough, and at this point the only people who are still reading are guitarists and rabid music nerds. Not to mention the fact that I’m slowly falling asleep and I have to wake up in about six hours. All in all, I think it’s time I called it a night. Hope you enjoyed my rambling.

 

Advertisements