Greatest Rock & Jazz Artists (in progress)

  • 1. John Coltrane
  • 2. Charles Mingus
  • 3. Captain Beefheart
  • 4. The Velvet Underground
  • 5. Frank Zappa
  • 6. Carla Bley
  • 7. Tim Buckley
  • 8. Anthony Braxton
  • 9. Ornette Coleman
  • 10. Pere Ubu
  • 11. Sun Ra
  • 12. Klaus Schulze
  • 13. Faust
  • 14. Robert Wyatt
  • 15. Miles Davis
  • 16. Bob Dylan
  • 17. Pink Floyd
  • 18. The Doors
  • 19. Nick Cave
  • 20. Cecil Taylor
  • 21. Popol Vuh
  • 22. Nico
  • 23. John Fahey
Author Comments: 

This will definitely be expanded on in the near future. Feel free to make recommendations and discuss.

How about the krautrock band Can? You may not think they produced that many supreme masterpieces, but they were consistent and brought out a number of high standard work. I agree mostly with this list (with the artists I've heard anyway), and nice job putting Pink Floyd in, what a band!

Can is an excellent choice. They'll get on here eventually, probably top 30-50.

By the way, the two 8/10+'s Can produced are colossal achievements. An 8/10+ is a masterpiece by almost any reasonable standard, and is still easily one of the best albums ever made. It's not a knock against a band to have not produced a 9/10. It's more proof of just how incredible a 9/10 really is, but definitely not a slight or reason to ignore an 8/10+ album or think that I don't think these albums are extremely impressive. A 9/10+ rock or jazz album is extremely rare and is literally a one in a million album (at least). Infact, as far as I can tell, none have come that close to being produced in over ten years (1997, Well Oiled-Hash Jar Tempo).

Do you actually know who was the inspiration for Can starting. Initially Czukay had little interest in rock music, but this changed when a student played him The Beatles' 1967 song "I Am The Walrus," opening his ears to music by rock experimentalists like the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa.

I didn't know that. I am the Walrus is a great song so I'm not surprised.

Just out of curiosity, where would you place Van Morrison or Nico?

They'd be close by eachother. Nico would probably place slightly higher: they've each been pretty equal in terms of overall quality of albums, but Nico was a much more original vocalist and invented goth--that would be the tiebreaker. Not sure where I'd place them. The hard part to assess at this point is the jazz side of things. There's still a hefty portion of masterful jazz albums I have yet to hear so I won't really have an answer until then. A good guess would be probably the lower portion of the top 30.

Why'd you add pere Ubu? Did they do something great after The Modern Dance?

I really shouldn't have had to "add them". They should've been on there from the beginning. It was an oversight on my part. Modern Dance is the single most original and important of the New Wave albums. It's also one of the very greatest, most emotionally arresting and powerful albums of all time. Their originality, emotional power, importance and influence is already enough to merit consideration. When I hear their other albums (Art of Walking, New Picnic Time, etc), so long as they're as superb as Scaruffi says, they'll only rise higher on the list.

"Modern Dance is the single most original and important of the New Wave albums"

It´s an old one i know but i fail to find a new hot discussions here on listology.

Do you still feel this way about Modern Dance? Sure it´s a good record but compared to what others were doing at the time (Talking Heads, Public Image, Television, Suicide, Wire, This Heat, Pop Group, Throbbing Gristle, Chrome, Contortions ect) Modern Dance sounds rather well.. normal. Punk rock with Beefheart inspired rhythm section (and singer) and some arty tendencies.
Have you listened to their other works by now? Dub Housing & Art of Walking are very Ravenstine dominant and thus not very "rocking", New Picnic Time is probably their most musical work after Modern Dance.

Well the glaring one missing are the Beatles. I think besides the fact the Beatles are the most cited artist in terms of influence on rock and pop music. I think their use of eastern music and I mean true use with musique concrete tape loops or with avant ideas in a rock context was pionerring in prog rock, experimental rock, art rock and pop music in general. Tomorrow Never Know concepts or rhythmic music concrete is similiar to many styles that would come later in future dance music. Love You Too, I am The Walrus a influence on Can, A Day In the Life, Rain, Blue Jay Way and others are songs and styles that were not heard before in rock music.

What's more important these songs still were able to retain their pop sensibilities.

Well the glaring one missing are the Beatles.

This is an opinion (albeit a very popular one). Judgement along this line, so long as we're talking about simply the greatness of artists or how much affinity we have for them, is entirely subjective. We're both right. You think the Beatles are great and you're right, as am I when I say I think they're just above average.

What's more important these songs still were able to retain their pop sensibilities.

This is important to you which is totally okay. I just look for something entirely different than you when it comes to music. I don't find the Beatles songs or "inventions" very significant. I feel they mostly lack emotional depth. I do enjoy the following songs quite a bit: Across the Universe, Strawberry Fields Forever, Day in the Life and Tomorrow Never Knows and I am the Walrus. I find most of their other stuff to be pretty trivial, but again this is just an opinion. We'll just have to agree to disagree on this. Thanks for your opinions though.

I have a major beef with Scaruffi opinions on the Beatles. It's funny Tomorrow Never Knows combines avant-garde, classical Indian elements and musique concrete in the course of one song. This was recorded before the Doors and the Velvet Underground. Zappa was more avant on his more experimental tracks on Freak Out than he was actually rock. A very good example was a later Beatles track called What's The New Mary Jane. Tomorrow Never Knows rhythmic concrete is the blueprint for many types of modern dance music. Love You Too is classical Indian with backward tape. Rain is a drone infested drum and bass lead style song. There are no songs like this in rock music at the time. I have not even put Strawberry Field Forever or A Day in the Life on the list and those songs add avant string arrangements to psychedelic rock. The Beatles were certainly pioneers of experimental rock, Art Rock and Progressive rock. I don't get Pierro Scaruffi stance on the Beatles or his followers. They made their share of filler but much of their music is experimental rock under the framework pop music. Most of their peers tried this approach including the Rolling Stones, The Byrds and Brian Wilson failed for the most part of just moved backed to their roots. Right till Abbey Road that was the Beatles approach to their music. At least your a pleasant Scaruffite.

I understand your viewpoint. A lot of Beatles fans are disgusted by Scaruffi. Though I agree with him on his general view of them and their place in history, I also think there is definitely a percentage of his more detailed historical "facts" on them that are inaccurate and probably the result of vitriol rather than accurate research.

Where would you rank The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley. This list should have Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. Interesting list I think you should have separate lists for jazz and rock. My problem with artists like Frank Zappa, Captain Beefhart and the Velvet Underground they are to avant garde for my tastes. The Doors and Pink Floyd have a better balance in IMO.

Where would you rank The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley.

Rolling Stones will rank quite high. Elvis won't. He's got a nice voice but he's no Tim Buckley.

This list should have Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.

Chuck Berry is probably the single most influential rock musician of all time, however I don't find his music particularly interesting. He'll probably make it on here at some point. I'd first have to revisit his music. A lot like Duke Ellington with jazz.

My problem with artists like Frank Zappa, Captain Beefhart and the Velvet Underground they are to avant garde for my tastes. The Doors and Pink Floyd have a better balance in IMO.

I do understand where your coming from. Some artists take some getting used to.

I would put The Rolling Stones in the top 10 with the Beatles and Pink Floyd number 1 and 2. Music is feel and melody and how you put chords into a musical language or form. Emotional impact from lyrical content is not actually musical content. Artists like Captain Beefheart, The Velvet Underground, and Frank Zappa on the whole lack those qualities.

Thanks for your opinion.

While I agree wholeheartedly that the emotional value of the lyrical content is not actually musical content, I don't understand what you mean by "music is feel and melody and how you put chords into a musical language or form." Please elaborate. Firstly, why is music a language? Do you mean that metaphorically, as music "communicates" feeling? What is form in music - do you mean that a good piece of music must have exposition, development, and recapitulation? And how do Beefheart, Zappa, and the Velvet Underground lack melody or feeling?

I agree with Sydfloyd about the emotional value of the lyrical content is not actual musical content. I am lost on what he means by feel in music. I am a musician feel means to me is how you play the music rather than technique. A good example is Ringo drumming on Baby You're A Rich Man it's technically not that demanding but it's played with funk and it's tasteful. Kieth Moon is a great drummer but he is more of a basher than a feel drummer.

The Beatles in style and form take for example songs like Happiness Is A Warm Gun" "Martha My Dear" and "You Never Give Me Your Money," collage forms. Zappa of course did songs of this type. Though Zappa could never approach the Beatles in terms of packing the amount of melodies or how the Beatles went from one style to another in the same course of one song. Happiness is a Warm Gun is a good example of early Math Rock. The Velvet Underground could not compete with the Beatles in this regard.

The Beatles were masters at using melody, different forms, and styles in the course of one song. I don't hear that at all in the Velvet Underground or the more avant leaning artists. One should not expect it either. They were different artists.

I could care less about arguing or even discussing the Beatles merits, but I do want to say that emotional value of lyrical content has virtually nothing to do with what I look for in music--it's all about the emotion portrayed by the degree of intensity or conviction coming from the artist and/or the arrangements/compositions--not the lyrics. Great lyrics are nice but hardly a prerequisite to me.

--it's all about the emotion portrayed by the degree of intensity or conviction coming from the artist and/or the arrangements/compositions--not the lyrics.

Ok, I will leave the Beatles out of this discussion. Explain how that is considered good music? There are plenty of artists who have conviction that make lousy music. Making emotional music does not mean it's good. I hear a lot of emotion coming from Captain Beefhart but it does not mean it's pleasing to your ears. The Doors songs had emotion made good music and their arrangements or compostions are not strikingly complex. Rush or many prog-rock artists make complex, arrangements or compositions yet their music lacks emotion. Give me an example of song by the Velvet Undergound that fits your desciption of a great song. Maybe I could understand where your coming from.

It makes good music because that is what I look for in music. I connect much more to music that has extraordinary conviction and is emotionally powerful than that which is not. I should add in that I prefer something unique to that which is very derivative (so long as its uniqueness is also delivered with conviction). It's my subjective opinion of what makes good music, that's all. If it's not yours there's nothing wrong with that.

RE: Velvet Underground examples...Every song on all of their albums are 'good'. The ones I feel are masterpieces are listed on my greatest songs/tracks list.

Just out of curiosity, how many of these artists have you heard more than 1 or 2 albums by? It seems like this is just a copy of your favorite albums list (without the albums)

Naturally it would share similarities to my albums list since the quality of art determines the quality of artist. I've heard nore than 1 or 2 albums by all of them and am familiar with their places in history as well.

Even though I have listened to jazz mostly for the last five years the only two rock musicians I like are Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles for different reasons

I think in a strange way, the Beatles were a bit like Duke Ellington in their relationships to the main streams of their music. What each did was very personal and innovative but wasn't the starting point for every new thing. As far as Modern Hard Rock is concerned, the development was done by London bands like the Stones, Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, Cream and Led Zeppelin, who had come out of London blues bands like Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and the Mann-Hugg Blues Menn. Very little of that music seemed to me to owe anything at all to the Beatles, though everyone recognised the value of what the Beatles were doing.

The Beatles on the other hand were more influential on other genres like folk rock and progressive and experimental music in pop and rock.

The Beatls infusing Avant with Classical Indian Music is just as or more important than Sun Ra playing avant garde jazz. The Beatles George Harrison had a unique harmonic sense which derived partly from his erudition in the field of Indian music. Let’s be in no doubt that George was a proficient practitioner in the theory of Indian music, and this was reflected in the way he used certain chord voicings (I’m thinking in particular of diminished chords here), and melodies that to western ears skirt towards dissonance. In fact they are reflecting of the “microtones” of Indian music scales – a good example of this is “Blue Jay Way”, which was directly based on an Indian raga, and is a very advanced example of cross-cultural musical synthesis.

So the Beatles (and Duke) stood outside the main flow, always able to join in when it suited them, but more often than not, not bothering with that flow. Anyone who listens to "Tomorrow Never Knows" or "Within You Without You" to what mainstream rock music was in 1966-1967 knows what I mean.

Also Scaruffi is a hack. There is nothing worse than somebody with something to say. The Beatles concentrated in making great albums.

What makes something "important" to me is how much it affects me emotionally or how awe-inspiring or mind-blowing it is. The Beatles rarely tried much to create that kind of an affect so they naturally don't appeal to me on the same level as those that do. It's not that they did anything wrong. They probably accomplished just what they set out to do, which is fine. Just not my thing so they're not on my list. I'm sure they're on yours and you have every right to think they're that deserving.

I wonder what people like you are going to think when the 14 minute "Carnival of Light" gets released? It might be released soon.

I'm very curious myself. As of this point I feel Revolution 9 is their masterwork. I'm hoping Carnival of Light tops even that.

If this track is better than "Revolution# 9 I will be happy. I will be consistent with my feelings like the Yardbirds not releasing the original "Heart full of Soul" or Brian Wilson not releasing Smile. "Carnival of Light" should have been released in 1967 and it loses its influence because it was not released. Though it does not take away if the song is good or its innovative. I wish they released the original 27 minute “Helter Skelter” its all going to come out there is too much to be made

That's fine. It's influence makes little difference to me. Just whether or not it is interesting, exciting and emotionally powerful. A 27 minute Helter Skelter could be interesting, as long as it goes somewhere.

Afterhours what are your feelings on the Rolling Stones? They are a good rock band that has been overrated for decades. Since all I listened to growing up in my house of course my parent doing was the British Invasion groups I have been burnt out on their body of work throughout their storied career. In my view, their work in the mid 80's ("Undercover") to mid 90's ("Voodoo Lounge") to me is not really good.

Rolling Stones are one of the greatest bands of all time and should probably be on here, if not already then certainly soon, but I agree that they lost their mojo gradually from about '72 on.

When you have Pere Ubu as #10, are you also including David Thomas' solo career or simply Pere Ubu albums?

The reason I ask is that if you take into consideration the multiple number of Pere Ubu musicians that feature on his masterful solo albums from The Sound of the Sand to Blame the Messenger (at least), I believe Pere Ubu would surpass even Carla Bley on your list. I learned there isn't much of a barrier between the Pere Ubu & David Thomas bands, and if they were considered artists as one whole, it certainly outdoes most of the nine musical careers that are on your list.

I've heard some of Thomas' solo stuff which is great, but not enough to make a significant dent on his ranking. This is just Pere Ubu at this point, one of the greatest bands in music history.

Hey AfterHours, I was wondering how many of the Residents albums you'd heard? Obviously you feel that Not Available is a 9. I think that Meet The Residents is one of the few examples of an underrated Scaruffi album, being at least an 8.5 maybe even a 9. Add to that Eskimo which I might generously give an 8 as Scaruffi does and I believe they deserve a place on this list.

Others I'm sure you've already considered but I'll say just in case: My Bloody Valentine (not just the two albums, their EPs You Made Me Realise onwards are awesome); Rolling Stones are mentioned above but still they created a lot of masterpiece tracks if not albums; finally Tangerine Dream may be the most underrated band by Scaruffi in my opinion, their style often being highly emotional but not necessarily innovative (I understand you also value these two the other way round from Scaruffi).

Yes, Residents and Rolling Stones should be added soon, perhaps a little lower down the list, but not much. Both are probably worthy of consideration for the top 25. Tangerine Dream is a good choice also.

In the end, all I care about is how emotionally powerful the work is. Innovation is just a means to produce that.

Does this list take into account overall output quality, or is it more significance and emotional power (even if just on 1-2 albums?). I'm curious because I'm thinking of using this as a guide to exploring the entire oeuvres of artists, but might use something from Scaruffi (and other disparate web sources) if it's more about overall influence/brilliance/profound depth of feeling etc. Hopefully I'm being clear. Basically, do you consider most (ideally all) the releases of the artists while compiling this list?

I'm not considering they're whole career particularly, mostly their main, most significant works.

For this list I am considering: a) how great (emotionally powerful) their best works are. b) how important their works were to the development of rock and jazz (innovation).

Of course, innovation is often a factor in determining (a). For me, it IS often emotional to hear something new and ingenius. If that is also done with a high degree of conviction than there is a good chance it will be an 8/10+, and in very rare cases a 9/10...and in ultra-rare cases a 9.5/10.

I agree. Innovation adds a lot to my appreciation of art as well; though to be honest - in theory - I don't see why it should. Just because someone happened to do something first shouldn't make the work itself any more powerful. And yet it does. I have no idea why, but there's a mysterious primal urgency in works that are charting unexplored areas, and that quality (whatever it is) does not glow as brightly or appear as crisply unforgettable in those who are replicating/imitating the essence in question. It's very weird and doesn't seem to be an altogether rational conclusion, more like absurd human intuition.

I think it comes down to the fact that in most cases the artist who invented it has the most personal conviction towards it, and this is often expressed in the work of art using what was invented. Those who follow that invention rarely have the same level of personal conviction (or more) than that of the original artist.

For instance, there is no way Rock Bottom could ever be done again by anyone else with the same level of personal conviction--because it IS Robert Wyatt, noone else. Or Trout Mask Replica, or A Love Supreme, Lorca, etc.

The Residents need to be in the top ten (if not five), two 8's and a 9! They're the perfect response to Frank Zappa, geniuses without doubt. I see you have Not Available on your list, but I didn't see Meet.. or Eskimo - didn't like or just not heard? I recommend both, the former for its epic expositional suite and the latter as it sounds like they've crossed over with Jon Hassell.

What are your latest-found favourites?

They're definitely worthy of this list. I don't know why but I haven't yet had the chance to hear either of those albums in their entirety. What I've heard sounded amazing though--8ish, with Meet The Residents being potentially 8.5ish. Once I fully listen to one or both of them I am sure the Residents will enter this list.

No latest found favorites...I'm 90% watching films and only 10% listening to music right now.

I'd have to say the list is really good, but... I know there are many that would contest this, but I've always felt 'The Doors' are very over-rated. Despite writing longer songs, they've always reminded me of 'Men At Work'. Not stylistically, of course, but more in terms of being left with a singular question: O.K... What else you got?

There are a couple songs that stand out, but overall 'The Doors' music can be summed up in a word: monotonous.

Also your list should include a man considered to be the greatest Jazz Pianist of all time: Bill Evans

As with all art, such lists are subjective.

Subjective is true...

Doors are actually underrated from my view. They're widely 'known and appreciated' it seems, but often not to the degree that they're one of the most important artists in the history of rock music. They gave rock its' drama, its' theatre, its' pathos--without which the genre would be even blander now than it was before them. Virtually every concept album oriented rock band that has followed has taken something from The Doors and Jim Morrison. From MC5 to The Stooges to Suicide to Joy Division to Pere Ubu to Slint to Morphine to, to to to--all these acts had other influences as well of course but the theatrical drama they aspired to was all Doors.

From a musical standpoint I agree that the cream of their crop came in their first 2 albums and was rather short-lived so perhaps there's an argument to be had that they never flowered into a multitude of stylistic ventures such as the Velvet Underground did over their 4 albums but it can also be said that The Doors' greatness lies in their musical synergy, their perfect symmetry as a band, their intensity and climactic focus in their I don't really see it as much of a drawback if at all...but as you said it's indeed subjective

Bill Evans is great and I think your suggestion is a good one...for me he falls short of keyboardists such as Klaus Schulze and Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra...also for this list the artists have to be on such an exalted level that they easily stand alone and I've never heard anything by him that makes me think he's quite on that level...from what I've heard he's more a part of the team than a stand-alone, band-leading artist. Are there works by him that would show different?

Due to the agreed nature of such discussions, I'd offer that when you take a closer look at the compositional achievements, ground breaking arranging pursuits (which included an intense treatment of the harmonic relationships throughout his compositions) and other brilliant artists (some on your list) that identified & were influenced by said qualities, Bill Evans is worthy. I would recommend the following:

> Portrait In Jazz
> Explorations
> Everybody Digs Bill Evans
> Undercurrent

There are some artists included on your list that I've not explored fully and I will delve further into their body of work. Perhaps not unlike yourself, I'm always interested in new avenues.

Thanks for the intellectual dialog. It's always great communicating with those that have a deeper appreciation of such an incredible art form.