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Old 04-25-2016, 12:15 PM   #1
Ben Tausig
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Default Prince, the Eagles, and best-of lists

Hello,

I am an ethnomusicologist considering a question about greatest-of-all-time lists. I may write an article about it, and I appreciate your input.

Specifically, after Prince died, I began looking at greatest band lists, and noticed that the Eagles are often ranked very high, usually around the same place or a bit higher than Prince, who is often somewhere in the 20s or so. For example, on this list from VH1: http://www.rockonthenet.com/archive/1998/vh1artists.htm

Both artists are much beloved, and have had an enormous impact on music. I was wondering if you felt that these lists were justified in how they position the Eagles, and if you might offer some reasons why or why not? What are these lists measuring anyway, and what do you think they *should* measure?

My thanks! Ben Tausig, Stony Brook University, Department of Music
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Old 04-25-2016, 12:45 PM   #2
Shadowland07
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Default Re: Prince, the Eagles, and best-of lists

I feel that the "greatest of all time" lists are usually popularity contests and one's opinion. Most don't take into account the body of work. If they do it's the most well known songs. In all lists, The Beatles are usually number one with the Rolling Stones right behind, followed by Led Zeppelin. Eagles are ranked pretty fair but due to my love for their music I always wish they were higher (in the top ten). I think that the lists should take into account the body of work, and how well the albums sold. If they did, I don't think the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan would be ranked so highly as they had a number of stinkers among their great work. But it should also be noted that not all artists put out the same amount of work.
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Old 04-25-2016, 04:29 PM   #3
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Default Re: Prince, the Eagles, and best-of lists

Welcome to The Border, and thanks for posting the VH1 list. I like reading this type of list, but I must admit I tend not to prefer to directly compare bands with solo artists. I think they should have done a separate list for them (maybe a Top 50 of each) as well as the overall list. In the long run, it is a lot harder for a band to have success over an extended period - not saying that isn't difficult to do that as a solo artist, but there isn't this constant need to appease a multitude of individuals with different tastes and opinions (which usually becomes unworkable, sooner or later) and therefore I think it is easier for solo artists to maintain long, successful careers.

If I remove the solo artists on the list, their top ten bands becomes:
1. The Beatles (1)
2. The Rolling Stones (2)
3. Led Zeppelin (4)
4. The Who (9)
5. The Police (10)
6. The Beach Boys (13)
7. Pink Floyd (19)
8. The Doors (20)
9. Fleetwood Mac (21)
10. Eagles (22)

The Eagles are the tenth highest band and 22nd highest artist, ahead of Sly & The Family Stone (11th/28th), and U2 (12th/29th)

I will give my opinion on the top 10, which probably won't surprise regular Borderers much. I am glad to see the Eagles in the top 10, although at the very least I think they should be ranked above The Police (definitely overrated on this list - sorry, but I can't agree with them being the fifth best band of all time) and also The Doors and Fleetwood Mac. I am an FM fan, at least of the Rumours version of the band, but the Eagles are better in my opinion. I would personally put them above The Who and The Beach Boys as well, although I think these two have stronger cases than the previous three.

As well as the Eagles, I am a big fan of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Although I am not a particularly big Beatles fan (despite growing up about 15 minutes away from Liverpool city centre), I think their case to be number one is overwhelming. However, I personally feel Led Zeppelin should be ranked above the Stones - the sequence of their first six albums is outstanding and is quite possibly the best such run from the start of a career of all time, Eagles included (who had a not exactly shabby run themselves in the 1970s), and almost all of the music they made is very good, which I can't say for the Stones.

To me, when it comes to rating the best bands of all time, I can't really look beyond the music itself (when I say music, I mean all aspects, including the lyrics, vocals etc.). I think you do have to have a good number of 'great' songs, although this is difficult to quantify. The band should also have talent, although I don't think technical ability is that important, just the ability to write and perform quality music. I personally don't think longevity is that important - it's important for a band to prove they are not a one-hit wonder, but beyond that I don't think bands should get anything extra for being around longer. Having more songs and more albums only helps if they are up to old standards - I think the probability of this happening decreases over time as bands get older and run out of ideas. The Stones have had a far longer career than The Beatles, yet I tend to agree with those who think that their best music is long behind them. Indeed, I'd argue that a long career 'tail' of weak releases after a band has passed its peak years can damage its reputation. I don't think this has happened to the Stones, but I feel there is some value in knowing when to quit (like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, and more recently I'd add R.E.M. to this list too).

Commercial success I feel is important up to a point - I don't think an unknown band can claim to be the greatest band, but there are many cases, even for successful bands, where some of their best work has not sold as well, while comparatively weaker albums sell like hot cakes. Desperado is a terrific album in my book, but it wasn't very successful when it first came out. On the flip side, I have to turn to a non-Eagles example: Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits. In terms of sales, this is by far their most successful album, but although I do like it quite a lot, they have 2-3 other albums which I consider better.

My reasonably 'objective' list would have a top five like this.
1. The Beatles
2. Led Zeppelin
3. The Rolling Stones
4. Pink Floyd
5. Eagles (best American band)

I'd be quite happy to move the Eagles and Floyd above the Stones, but I reckon I've been dangerous enough by putting Zep above them. To me, one thing the Eagles and Floyd share is that they managed to transcend a somewhat niche corner of the rock genre (country rock and progressive rock, respectively) to become great and hugely successful bands whose music is standing the test of time well (all in IMO of course).

I remember once seeing a post on a blog somewhere which made well-reasoned arguments (not necessarily that I agree with them, just fair and well made) that the top four bands should be The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zep and U2. I don't agree with their top four, but I should try and find this as it is quite interesting. I've probably gone on quite long enough for now though!
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Old 04-25-2016, 09:11 PM   #4
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Default Re: Prince, the Eagles, and best-of lists

I pretty much agree with Shadowland and Jonny Come Lately. I'm not a fan of these lists at all because they are very subjective and always have a bias. Of course, I am biased too, but there are many reasons that I believe the Eagles legitimately belong in the Top 10, some of which have already been mentioned. Just for starters, putting The Police and The Doors ahead of the Eagles is absurd, IMHO. And to further illustrate how ridiculous these list are - Aerosmith at #79 ... REALLY?
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