30
Nov
11

Rolling Stone does it again

Lists are cool. They’re an easy way to fill a bunch of space, to start arguments and to update every so often. Rolling Stone is the master of such lists: it feels like every few years they have to put together the Final Rankings of something: songs, albums, guitarists, etc. They put together the definitive list of guitarists in 2003, back when us here at Extended Play still subscribed to Rolling Stone (and the idea it was still relevant).

Lists in anything are an exercise in futility if only because it’s impossible to define exactly what they’re supposed to represent. Is Eric Clapton “better” than Keith Richards or Jeff Beck? Or, more importantly, who cares? It’s kind of fun to argue about the top five or 10 (or 20, if we’re on an especially boring road trip), but once you crack the 50 mark, it feels especially arbitrary. But that’s the nature of these beasts: they’re all bound by the loyalties and tastes of the people involved. Mostly, anyway.

Unless it’s editor is feeling especially frisky, every list of The Best Guitarists Ever will wind up with Jimi Hendrix on top. Rolling Stone’s list does, and we’re inclined to agree. Was he a better player than, say, Keith Richards? That’s debatable; everybody knows he’s there because of his importance in popularizing the electric guitar.

But Hendrix is an exceptionally easy case to make, mostly because nobody’s really going to argue it. It’s like saying the best album of all time is Sgt. Peppers. Sure, it all depends on what best means, but everybody’s willing to agree it’s a big enough term to cover that one choice. Once you get away from that slam-dunk, it gets a little harder.

Right from the number two selection, Rolling Stone gets all messed up. If we’re talking about importance, is Eric Clapton, who didn’t even play the best guitar parts on his best guitar album, more important than the guy who did? If we’re talking about people who are technically very good, Jeff Beck should be there. And what about Jack White, who’s done more for guitar rock in the last decade than anybody? Shouldn’t that count for something?

Indeed, the list overlooks more than a few major figures. It praises Neil Young, but overlooks Danny Whitten, who was a major part of the material RS references. Speaking of Dans, where’s Danny Gatton? And where’s Django Reinhardt or? Al Di Meola?

But that’s a minor criticism. This list, like every other list RS has ever done, is essentially meaningless. It’s arbitrary, subjective and banal. And that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s not meant to introduce readers to the work of Rory Gallagher  or even to cement the idea that Hendrix is the best ever. It’s there to provoke arguments and blog posts (like this one). In a vacuum it doesn’t mean anything. Their list only takes meaning when people take exception to it. So do yourself a favor. Instead of taking 20 minutes to read their list, take some time to listen to what we here at Extended Play consider some of the best guitar rock of all time.

 




 

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