Monday, September 20, 2010

Frank, Glenn, John and Ludwig

VH1 recently put together another of their "list shows", this one being "Top 100 Artists of All Time". That rather ambiguous title leaves a lot of room for interpretation, although a quick glance at the top 5 pretty well clarifies how the participants defined it.

The Beatles
Michael Jackson
Bob Dylan
Led Zeppelin
The Rolling Stones

Overall, it's mostly pop/rock/rap performers who were big in America in the last 60 years. It seems to me that many of the people polled confused "great" with "people who really influenced me personally". I also get the impression not many music historians were included in the poll. Of course, the main purpose of these lists - besides giving VH1 a reason to exist - is to stimulate argument, and this one has done it.

As I scanned the list, I thought of a few people I thought deserved places, based on my own interpretation of who should be on it.

- Frank Sinatra. His absence surprised me a bit, since quite a few of the people interviewed in the show have expressed admiration for him in the past. He may have been the first big teen idol. The girls who screamed for Elvis got the idea from the bobby soxers who screamed for Frank 15 years earlier. His overall image became part of American culture, and he and the Rat Pack gave Las Vegas the cache that helped make it what it is. It's also important to remember that he really could sing, especially in that bobby soxer era before he hurt his vocal cords. And to expand the term "artist" a bit, I don't see anyone else on that list with an acting Oscar.

- Glenn Miller. A recent classic Casey Kasem broadcast provided a bit of trivia. Billboard started publishing its charts in 1940. In the first 3 years of that chart, the Glenn Miller Orchestra had 36 top-10 songs. No one else has had so much chart success in such a short time. As Casey noted, had the charts been in existence sooner, and had Miller not disappeared in 1944 in a presumed plane crash in the English Channel, it would have been greater. In The Mood might be the biggest song of the Big Band era, and one of the greatest American songs of any type. Grandbaby likes to shake her rump to it.

- John Philip Sousa. 100 years ago, he was as big as anyone has ever been. He wrote official songs for the Army and Marines, as well as several universities. His work is used in the credits of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Almost every marching band in a parade will at some point play something he wrote. The Stars and Stripes Forever could join In The Mood on that list of great American songs.

I could add others as well. Beethoven immediately comes to mind, based on the presence of his work in modern culture (the Ode To Joy and the Fifth Symphony are both regularly used in various forms and venues). A good case could also be made for the Carter Family, given their influence on many forms of American music. Others, I'm sure, could add to the list. Expanding the inputs worldwide would provide yet more nominations, and material for bloggers like me, who can always use it.

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