The When It Was Cool 100 Greatest Rock and Roll - Pop Music Artists of All Time.
By: Karl Stern (@wiwcool)
How do you compile a list of the one hundred greatest rock and roll and pop music artists of all time and not have it be purely subjective? How do you quantify it?
I put together a formula that will attempt to do just that. I used a system to rank the acts and at the end of the article I have included links to the sources used in case you would like to do further research.
It should be noted, that this list leaves off numerous top selling acts that would be best classified as Country Music such as Garth Brooks and Johnny Cash or old standards artists such as Frank Sinatra. Rap artist are included since many of them have crossed over onto the pop charts and are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Step 1: Albums sold received the most weight. You might think this would be a straight forward process but there are wildly varying numbers given depending on your source. I used sources from RIAA and Billboard then averaged them. I used six different compilations in total to eliminate most errors. From that list I then cut it down to a list of 150 musical acts.
Step 2: After I had my list of the 150 highest selling musical acts of all time, I next wanted to give them points based on critical review. Obviously, this is far more subjective than their sales numbers, so I used a variety of sources such as "best of" lists and "greatest ever" rankings from well known websites and magazines and added a value to each of those numbers from best to worst and added it to the point total I got in step one. Critical review carried about half the weight as did sales numbers and Billboard chart rankings. This should eliminate the bias between the two as the critics were literally all over the place.
Without further delay, here are the 100 Greatest Acts in Rock and Popular Music. There also is a podcast special discussing this list in further detail if you are interested in more detail about the process used to put the list together. The number after the name is the total points they accumulated so you can judge for yourself the gap between the acts.
1) The Beatles - 1363 pts.
To the surprise of no one, The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison) were head and shoulders above everyone else. The Beatles performed strongly in every category from album sales, to chart success, to critical acclaim. I have personally stated many times that I felt The Beatles were overrated but the statistics show that I am clearly wrong. The Beatles are indisputably the best Rock & Pop music act ever.
When I first tried to imagine what this list might look like, I knew The Beatles would finish strong but I wasn’t sure if they would finish above Elvis or Michael Jackson but it soon became clear as list after list, critic after critic, and sales chart after sales chart confirmed that The Beatles were massively beloved and extraordinarily influential.
As you might imagine, I read a lot of rock and roll related biographies and the vast majority of them somewhere credit The Beatles with inspiring them or getting them into music. Beatlemania was a little before my time so I didn’t live through the hottest time of it so I can only imagine what it must have been like at it’s peak. The Beatles are an absolute phenomenon. They are also the greatest rock and pop music act of all time.
2) Elvis Presley - 1319 pts.
The King of Rock & Roll remains the King. As you can imagine, Elvis performed strongly in every category, especially sales, but he also did well in critical acclaim too. I can only imagine how insane his numbers would be had he lived past the age of forty-two, gotten himself in shape, and updated his music style to a more modern take and released albums into the 1980's.
Elvis Presley, a boy from a two room house in Tupelo, MS, became the second greatest Rock & Pop music artist in history and didn't live past the age of forty-two. Let that sink in for a minute. Elvis’ star burned incredibly bright but only for a short time in the overall scheme of things but to a certain generation he is the biggest megastar of all time. In fact, in Americana there are a few certain celebrities who manage to transcend being a star into becoming something even bigger, a fixture of American culture. Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, and Elvis come to mind.
I actually expected Elvis to finish first ahead of The Beatles but after reading numerous articles and critical reviews it seems that most saw that The Beatles evolved their music with their later offerings being far more mature and complex than their earlier ones. Elvis never truly evolved his style. Elvis songs in the mid-1970s still sounded like 1950s music in a lot of ways while more contemporary acts like Led Zeppelin were doing music far more interesting. Keep in mind Elvis was only around forty at that point he could have still easily advanced his style and been making relevant music into the early 1980s but, sadly, his life ended in 1977.
3) The Rolling Stones - 1289 pts.
I expected Michael Jackson to end up number three, and on the sales charts he is, but The Rolling Stones (Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, and Ian Stewart) gathered enough points during the critical acclaim portion of the ranking system to pass the King of Pop.
It seems every critic loved The Rolling Stones. I fully expected to see them in the top five greatest rock and roll acts of all time but I did not expect to see them at number three. I guess they finally got some satisfaction. It also helped that The Rolling Stones continued rocking seemingly forever. The never ending touring schedule of The Rolling Stones keep them perpetually exposed to new generations of fans and their music is largely timeless. While Elvis can seem dated there is some quality about The Rolling Stones that isn’t.
Again, The Rolling Stones heyday was just a bit before my time. I came along listening to music in the 1970s and in retrospect I sort of viewed The Rolling Stones as a more hardcore version of The Beatles. I’m still not sure that I’m very far off base on that but I do know one thing, when I think about the term “rock and roll” The Rolling Stones are the first thing that comes to mind.
4) Michael Jackson - 1266 pts.
The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, was one of the most thrilling (see what I did there?), charismatic, and talented performers in music history. He also sold a whole lot of albums and dominated the charts during the 1980's. But… there is also controversy.
I noticed when compiling the statistics during the critical acclaim portion of the rankings that critics began backing off on Michael Jackson during the period where he was facing some very serious legal allegations involving children. I believe this critical freeze period hurt him and probably kept him out of the number three spot. Several "Top" and "Greatest" lists from the later years of his life omitted him or placed him significantly further down the charts than his talent and sales would suggest he should be.
It’s hard for people to separate the art from the artist and in Michael Jackson’s case it has significantly hurt his place in history. Before all the allegations, documentaries, and news stories about his interactions with various children came to light, his accomplishments, performances, and critical reviews would have given him a serious contention for the greatest rock and pop artist of all time. With all the controversy now surrounding the life of Michael Jackson it’s my guess that his status and place in history may only continue to fall.
5) Led Zeppelin - 1231 pts.
I have noticed a small but vocal Led Zeppelin backlash over the last few years. I have heard on television shows, podcasts, and radio programs multiple times recently that Led Zeppelin is overrated. Sales suggest otherwise.
While Led Zeppelin did about as well as expected in critical acclaim, their sales numbers were staggering and they were easily in the top ten during the entire process. I believe the facts firmly show that Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham) are certainly not overrated. They are, in fact, one of the greatest musical acts of all time.
The rise of Greta Van Fleet has also brought new attention to the music of Led Zeppelin. The sound-alike newcomers have, if nothing else, brought a nostalgia back for straight forward guitar and drum driven rock and roll with soaring powerhouse vocals out front. Led Zeppelin did that better than anyone.
It also helps that members of this band are considered among the best in their particular arts. John Bonham very often sits near the top of “best drummers of all time” lists. Jimmy Page often is near the top of “best guitarist of all time” lists and Robert Plant also places highly anything singers and frontmen are ranked. Led Zeppelin had the talent, the sales, and the support to be one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.
6) Madonna - 1197 pts.
Longevity was rewarded using this formula and Madonna certainly has staying power. While many of pop music's kings and queens showed up for a moment, sold millions of albums, then disappeared again, it was acts like Madonna which have consistently been around for years that did better on this list than anyone. Madonna isn't really my thing but I can't remember too many times since I first heard "Borderline" in Junior High School that Madonna wasn't on the charts somewhere or putting on a big tour. Madonna did far better in sales and chart numbers than she did with critics, yet, she still came in at number six which should tell you just what an incredible chart success she has been.
7) Elton John - 1193 pts.
Again, this is no surprise. Critics and fans alike love Elton John. Elton John has been around for many years, released many albums, and had great chart success. Much like Madonna, he has benefited from being on the charts for so long. Elton John has also toured consistently and kept himself relevant. Elton John did equally well between album sales, chart success, and critical acclaim making him one of the most well supported and well rounded acts of anyone in this ranking.
8) AC/DC - 1190 pts.
This was a shocker to me. Apparently, I have been blissfully unaware of the popularity of AC/DC (Malcolm Young, Angus Young, Brian Johnson, Bon Scott (d.), Phil Rudd, others.) I like AC/DC, I listened to them on heavy rotation during high school. However, I never considered them any more or less important or popular than KISS or Guns N' Roses and I imagined U2 to be many times a bigger deal than them. Little did I know! I even thought I had the sales numbers wrong and went back and triple checked them. Nope, AC/DC is just THAT darn popular. They also did very well with critics which surprised me. Not that they aren't a great band but I just assumed that critics would hate the hard rocking party songs much the same way they have hated KISS. There is just something about AC/DC that works. There's just something that resonates about good old school, no frills, rock and roll.
9) Pink Floyd - 1147 pts.
This is another group whose popularity slightly surprised me. Again, I knew Pink Floyd (Nick Mason, Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Syd Barrett, David Gilmour) were a big deal, just look at how long Dark Side of the Moon stayed on the album charts, but I suppose they were a bigger deal than I imagined. I have always liked Pink Floyd... a little. Like everyone else in the world, I owned Dark Side of the Moon, but as I have grown older (and wiser) I have become a bigger fan of Pink Floyd, especially the atmospheric guitar playing of David Gilmour. Sadly, at least at the time of this article, Pink Floyd have thrown in the towel and disbanded but leaving the music world as one of the top ten musical acts of all time is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
10) Bruce Springsteen - 1130 pts.
"The Boss" rounds out the top ten. Bruce Springsteen was in the top ten from the start, his album sales are astonishingly strong even though his chart singles success was a little below others. Springsteen also did extremely well with critics too, which is no surprise. Bruce Springsteen is one of the best song writers in history and he has not only penned incredible songs for himself but others as well. I grow to love Bruce Springsteen's songs more and more as time goes by. I find myself growing into them, they carry more weight and meaning to me now than they did when I was younger. I look forward to enjoying them for years to come.
11) U2 - 1099 pts.
U2 (Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr.) have been one of the biggest bands in the world since I was in Junior High School. I have literally grown up with them. They are divisive among critics, some love them to excess others are indifferent and still others loathe them. Their real strength in this ranking comes from the fans who have bought their albums in gigantic numbers. Even though they didn't move significantly when I factored in critical acclaim they were so strong in sales and singles charts placement that they clearly were going to hold one of the top spots.
12) Prince - 1085 pts.
Prince was a mild surprise. While he ultimately ended up about where I expected, it didn't start out that way. His sales totals were significantly lower than I thought they would be mainly due to years of stagnation after his peak as a megastar in the 1980's. However, Prince made up significant ground when I factored in critical success. Prince was ranked very high in virtually every one of the dozens of critic's lists and rankings I used. It seems everyone really appreciated the skill and talent of this mega-star who, sadly, is no longer with us.
13) Aerosmith - 1078 pts.
Aerosmith (Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, Joey Kramer, others) performed slightly better than I expected. While critics were lukewarm toward them, the band were powerhouses in moving albums. Lead singer Steven Tyler is virtually a mainstream star himself appearing on numerous television shows and long being the face of the band. Longevity played a huge roll in their ranking having multiple eras where they were hugely successful stars.
14) The Eagles - 1065 pts.
The Eagles took a big tumble after factoring in critical opinion. I was disappointed in this. Prior to factoring in critical opinion The Eagles were in the top ten. I also feel like they have gotten badly short changed by critics. Don Henley is a great song writer (one of my personal favorites) and all the various members of the band (Glenn Frey (d.), Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Don Felder, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmidt) are either extremely skilled on their various instruments, songwriters, tremendous vocalists, or all of the above. The Eagles have stood the test of time and sold millions of albums and are clearly one of the greatest musical acts of all time.
15) Queen - 1049 pts.
While The Eagles suffered from critical opinion, Queen (Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon, others) were helped by it. Queen's business metrics were surprisingly lower than I expected but critics love them. How can you not? Freddie Mercury, good grief, he is otherworldly amazing. Brian May knows just when to come in with the guitar. Many of their songs are anthems and you need look no further than Live Aid when they stole the show to understand their mesmerizing power.
16) Whitney Houston - 1048 pts.
Barely falling below Queen on our list is Whitney Houston. R&B, soul, and Motown performers fell below my expectations on this list mainly due to lower album sales and chart success. However, Whitney Houston avoided this problem by having tremendous critical acclaim and numerous gigantic pop hits. Sadly, Whitney Houston died in 2012 at the age of forty-eight.
17) Metallica - 1044 pts.
The originators of thrash style heavy metal have been a huge hit with fans. Just consider this, Metallica (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammitt, Robert Trujillo, Cliff Burton (d.), Jason Newstead (f.), Dave Mustaine (f.)) made the top twenty of all time musical acts with virtually no chart success. They did have some critical acclaim but nothing overwhelming. Their ranking is due, almost in entirety, to fans buying their albums. If you want to know more about Metallica and the evolution of thrash style heavy metal, then be sure to check out our website's NoFriender Thrash Metal Show Podcast.
Check out our When It Was Cool review of Metallica in concert - here.
18) Bob Dylan - 1030 pts.
Bob Dylan is another performer who benefited greatly from critical acclaim. Dylan had strong album sales but nothing that would have put him this high on the charts. However, almost every critical list you look at raves over Bob Dylan. I have personally never been that big a fan of Dylan but I understand that I am in the minority. The critics have spoken and Bob Dylan is in the top twenty all time greatest music acts. Bob Dylan is also probably the only person on this list who has won a Nobel Prize.
19) Mariah Carey - 1028 pts.
Mariah Carey and Bob Dylan side by side on the same list. It doesn't seem right does it? Well, this demonstrates the two sides of the "Greatest of All Time" coin. While Bob Dylan's placement comes largely from his throng of critical admirers, Mariah Carey's ranking comes from her throng of fans. Mariah Carey got virtually no critical support despite having an incredible voice. She seldom appeared on any of the "best of" lists but her fans did not care and carried her into the top twenty Rock and Pop acts of all time with the most important vote of all- their money.
20) Billy Joel - 1005 pts.
Billy Joel was a case of the complete opposite happening that I expected to. I thought Billy Joel would be a darling of the hip critical set but actually the opposite was the case. He performed stronger in album sales and chart success while factoring in critical acclaim actually brought his ranking down. He had to be a big shot didn't ya?
21) Fleetwood Mac - 991 pts.
Fleetwood Mac is a powerhouse. There are so many things to love about Fleetwood Mac. Obviously, Stevie Nicks' ethereal vocals and songwriting come to mind but so do Lindsey Buckingham's melodic guitar playing, Mick Fleetwood's precision drumming, John McVie's instantly recognizable bassline, and Christine McVie's lofty vocals. So many hits have been churned out by this mega-selling group. Fleetwood Mac did surprisingly less well than I expected among critics but the fans spoke volumes with their pocketbooks.
22) Barbra Streisand - 978 pts.
I wrestled over including her on this list since she isn't really a rock and roll musician but I just couldn't separate her from the pop charts. If you choose to include her, then she actually is a little underrepresented I think since rock critics seldom mentioned her name so she received a little unfair bias if you include her. However, Streisand came up time and time again in the pop charts and rankings and because she has sold so many albums labeled in that genre she had to be included.
23) Guns-N-Roses - 965 pts.
Guns-N-Roses (Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan, Dizzy Reed, Izzy Stradlin, Steven Adler, many others) ended up about where I expected. Guns-N-Roses performed great among both the album charts and critics. Recently reformed, it is likely that Guns-N-Roses will continue to maintain their chart position. Axl Rose even recently fronted the higher ranking AC/DC for a tour. The only negative that can be said about this band is the constantly changing roster but that hasn't kept fans from supporting this hard rocking act. Check out our review of Guns N Roses in concert in 2017.
24) The Beach Boys - 963 pts.
The Beach Boys surprised me by placing this low. The Beach Boys were a giant act in the generation before I was born so I grew up thinking of them as larger than life legends but their album sales and chart performance was lower than I expected. Their influence, however, was tremendous, cited by numerous artists as inspirations. There was a significant enough degree of both sales and critical praise to place them in the top twenty-five music acts of all time.
25) Neil Diamond - 937 pts.
Much like Barbra Streisand, it is hard for me to place Neil Diamond on this list but impossible for me not to. While his music is not what I consider "Rock and Roll" he had numerous pop chart hits and massive album sales. What does surprise me most is that I expected him to be one of those acts that the critics shoved down your throat but it was actually his impressive album sales that placed him on the list while critical acclaim factored little into his ranking.
-The Next 25 -
26) Celine Dion - 936 pts.
Again, Celine Dion is not my cup of tea. She falls too close to that Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond "not really rock and roll but still on the pop charts" territory for me. That being said, she has a great voice and has sold an enormous amount of albums. She got virtually no critical support.
27) Stevie Wonder - 933 pts.
Stevie Wonder performed amazingly well and it comes as no surprise. Fans love Stevie Wonder and bought his albums in droves. He performed well on the singles charts too and critics love him. Stevie Wonder is one of the few R&B stars to escape the bias of that genre's lower than pop numbers sales with several big mainstream crossover hits.
28) Chicago - 932 pts.
I feel vindicated. I have been a Chicago fan since the 1970's and I never expected them to chart this high. I'm not going to even try to list all the members of this band over the years, there are seemingly dozens, but you know the major players: Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walt Parazaider, Terry Kath (d.), Danny Seraphine (f.), and many more. They received virtually no critical acclaim but their album sales and chart success was enormous.
29) Rod Stewart - 922 pts.
I'm actually surprised Rod Stewart finished this low. His sales were terrific but he received very little critical support, less than I expected.
30) Bee Gees - 920 pts.
The brothers Gibb (Barry, Robin, and Maurice) made a nice showing for themselves. Consider this, they had very few hits outside of the 1970's disco era and because they were, well, disco, they got virtually no critical support. In other words, though the disco era was short lived the Bee Gees ruled it and people bought lots of it.
31) Eminem - 916 pts.
Eminem will likely only go up from here. He is one of the most significant of the modern era acts. The bias against modern era acts is that the older acts have had longer to sell their albums and the acts with longevity have had more albums to sell. Eminem has been around long enough now to amass a significant number of album sales and is still active in the music business. While his biggest and most successful days are probably behind him he is still relevant in pop culture and his albums still move. He also had a significant degree of support from critics.
32) Van Halen - 914 pts.
Van Halen is one of the harder rocking acts to make the list. Van Halen enjoyed two very distinct periods of chart success, once with David Lee Roth as lead singer, the other with Sammy Hagar fronting the band. Critical success was significant due mainly to the incredible guitar skills of Eddie Van Halen.
33) Phil Collins - 913 pts.
Phil Collins placed lower than I anticipated. Collins was a monster hit maker in the 1980's into the early 1990's before falling off the charts and even retiring for a period of time. While most of Phil Collin's support came from album sales and chart success, he also had considerable critical success too. Phil Collins is also on the top 100 list again as a member of Genesis. Everyone on Earth air drums to In the Air Tonight including Mike Tyson and probably you too.
34) Nirvana - 895 pts.
Nirvana is an extremely influential band who had enormous chart success in the early to mid-1990's. Nirvana would likely have placed much higher had they had a longer run but the personal demons and ultimate death of frontman Kurt Cobain ended Nirvana. They have maintained this position through significant critical support and are likely to remain high on the list into the coming years.
35) Bon Jovi - 873 pts.
Bon Jovi is interesting in that you would obviously expect them to be on the list since they were a huge hit making machine in the 1980's. But despite long periods of inactivity and lack of critical support, Bon Jovi has still remained somehow relevant largely due to charismatic and charming frontman Jon Bon Jovi and enormous continuing album sales.
36) Taylor Swift - 871 pts.
Taylor Swift is, far and away, the most significant of the current day acts on the list. Unless something massively changes, she is probably destined for the top 25, perhaps even the top 10. Current day acts are hampered by the amount of time they have had to sell albums, the changing music industry which has moved away from album sales in general, and also lack of critical support. Taylor Swift, however, has moved massive amounts of albums and held a dominance over the pop charts. It's only up from here for Taylor Swift.
37) The Doors - 868 pts.
I personally am not a fan of The Doors but I am not surprised to find them here. They had a large amount of critical success and the late frontman Jim Morrison has a large cult following.
38) Janet Jackson - 860 pts.
Janet Jackson made the top 50 due entirely to chart performance and album sales. She was a powerhouse, hit making machine, during her peak. However, she received virtually no critical support in the lists used.
39) The Who - 851 pts.
I was shocked to see how low The Who ranked on this list. While they had tremendous critical acclaim, their album sales and chart performance fell below my expectations. Even when studying the UK charts I was surprised to find them a little below where I anticipated. Still, being in the top 50 music acts in history is a tremendous accomplishment.
40) Santana - 836 pts.
Santana is another act that performed better than I expected. Santana performed well in album sales, moderately in chart success, but best of all in critical acclaim.
41) Def Leppard - 825 pts.
Def Leppard were massively successful in the 1980's with a string of chart topping albums including the mega-selling Hysteria. While they got very little critical support, album sales, chart success, and continuous touring helped to put this band in the top 50 music acts of all time. It should be noted that despite being one of the top 50 acts of all time they are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and did not get the 10 point bonus that came with that honor. Still, even had they gotten it they would not have passed Santana.
42) The Carpenters - 821 pts.
I was just a kid when The Carpenters were a big deal. I was surprised to find out what a large selling act they were. They did strongly on the charts and got significant critical acclaim.
43) Foreigner - 817 pts.
Foreigner were a radio staple of my teenage years. They were played in heavy rotation then and even now on classic rock radio stations. Obviously, their massive ballad I Want to Know What Love Is helped place them this high. They got virtually no critical support. Again, despite being one of the fifty biggest musical acts in history they are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and did not get the ten point bonus. Had they gotten it they would have passed The Carpenters and Def Leppard on the list.
44) Journey - 815 pts.
Journey is a great, and historically under appreciated, band. They are finally getting their due with a recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Steve Perry is one of the greatest vocalist of all time and Neil Schon is a great guitarist. The When It Was Cool family saw Journey last year (now with vocalist Arnel Pineda) and they put on a great show.
45) Jay Z - 814 pts.
Jay Z and his wife Beyonce have established a pop culture empire. They are virtually everywhere you look in 2017, that's why I was surprised how low both of them placed on the all-time list. I expected their album sales to be considerably higher than what they are but I think that is more a commentary on the music industry than an indictment of them. Overall album sales were lower than expected, chart performance was lower than expected, and critical acclaim was virtually non-existent. I still expect both to only go up from here as the numbers continue to come it.
46) Backstreet Boys - 813 pts.
Backstreet's back alright? Every few years it seems there is a powerhouse boy band that pops up, sells a bazillion records, then fades into obscurity. The Backstreet Boys have shown considerably more staying power than others of their ilk. Obviously, critical support was non-existent, their ranking was obtained solely from album sales and chart success.
47) Britney Spears - 803 pts.
Britney Spears was another act that I expected to place higher. While she has kept her name in the spotlight, her album and chart success hasn't come close to matching her early fame. As you might imagine, there was zero (perhaps even negative) critical support. Her chart placement comes from the millions of albums sold and chart success.
48) Simon & Garfunkel - 800 pts.
Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters... what an amazing song. Simon and Garfunkel performed well in virtually every metric including album sales and chart success but their biggest boost came from massive critical support.
49) Bob Marley - 799 pts.
The face of Reggae music, Bob Marley's sales figures exceeded my expectations. While his singles chart success was limited he was adored by critics putting him solidly in the top 50 music acts of all time.
50) Linda Ronstadt - 792 pts.
When will I be loved? It looks like Linda Ronstadt always was. It doesn't hurt that her backing band was made up of members that eventually became The Eagles. Linda Ronstadt was a big album seller and chart topper in the 1970's.
- The Next 25 -
51) Aretha Franklin - 791 pts.
Aretha Franklin was hurt by the lower sales numbers of R&B acts but benefited greatly from longevity and critical acclaim.
52) Eric Clapton - 782 pts.
Eric Clapton performed significantly lower than I expected. Again, his critical support was great but his overall sales fell below my expectations.
53) Jimi Hendrix - 779 pts.
Jimi Hendrix is yet another act who got a big boost from critical support. His sales were also good but he wasn't a big singles chart topper. He also died very young which hurt his longevity.
54) Paul McCartney - 776 pts.
While Paul McCartney is at number one as part of The Beatles, his singles career also did very good sales figures, strong enough to place him on the chart again as a solo artist at number 54.
55) 2 Pac - 767 pts.
Far and away the biggest hardcore rap act in the rankings. 2 Pac got a big boost from critics as well and is a member of the rock and roll hall fame.
56) Lionel Richie - 755 pts.
Smooth Lionel Richie was a big chart success in the 1980's following his stint in the critically acclaimed The Commodores. Lionel Richie had massive album sales and chart success.
57) Bob Seger - 745 pts.
Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band are one of those acts that I think gets overlooked a little bit. They were constantly on the charts, their albums sold very well, and they had some critical acclaim. They did their job consistently well and that has earned them a place in the top one hundred acts of all time.
58) Genesis - 741 pts.
Phil Collins arrives on our list for the second time, this time as a member of Genesis. While they gained some critical acclaim early on it was their tremendous run as a top charting act in the 1980's that earned them enough points to make the list.
59) David Bowie - 735 pts.
I was stunned that David Bowie ranked so low on the overall list. I expected his sales and chart success to be greater than it was. I also expected his critical acclaim to be better represented. It seemed to me critics raved about him constantly but when I began to compare list after list after list, Bowie was often referenced in the middle of the pack. There are obviously huge supporters of Bowie but consistently his acclaim was milder than I anticipated.
60) James Taylor - 731 pts.
Again, I have a hard time considering James Taylor a rock and roll act but he had significant representation in album sales and some chart success. As you might imagine, he had a fair degree of critical support also.
61) John Mellencamp - 722 pts.
I like John Mellencamp a lot. I expected him to have more critical backing than he did but his chart success was good in the 1980's and he sold a ton of albums.
62) Creedence Clearwater Revival - 717 pts.
Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) is another group I expect to perform better. I had assumed their album sales were stronger than what they were since everyone I knew as a kid owned their greatest hits album. They had good sales numbers, decent chart numbers, but were lacking in critical support though John Fogerty was occasionally mentioned.
63) Rihanna - 716 pts.
Rihanna was another strong recent act that sold albums in such significant numbers that, despite lack of critical support, still managed to place in the top 100. Obviously, she was a strong performer on the charts as well.
64) Boys II Men - 715 pts.
Boys II Men managed to be the most enduring of the vocal R&B harmony groups of the 1990's. They had overwhelming chart success and sold a lot of albums in a relatively short period of time but also managed to have consistent staying power despite falling out of mainstream pop culture.
65) Lynyrd Skynyrd - 712 pts.
The face of southern rock music, Lynyrd Skynyrd were a staple of radio in the 1970's. While much of the band was killed in a plane crash in 1977, they reformed and continued as a significant touring act to this very day. They obviously haven't been hurt by having two major anthemic songs "Freebird" and "Sweet Home Alabama". They also had more critical support than I expected.
66) Rush - 709 pts.
I wasn't sure if my favorite band would make the top 100 or not but I'm proud to say that Rush made it. They had no chart success. Zero. Individually, they had tremendous critical acclaim but critics wouldn't put that all together for the band itself. Geddy Lee often topped the best bassist list. Neil Peart, more often than not, was listed as the greatest drummer of all time. Alex Lifeson often made the best guitarist list. But guess what? When it came time to give Rush their due as a group- nothing. Fans made the decision themselves by buying their albums.
67) Pearl Jam - 698 pts.
While grunge was an influential movement in the early to mid-1990's, the album sales numbers for the genre, over all, were less than you might expect. Still, the big two grunge acts made the top 100 of all time list. While clearly Nirvana ranked higher, Pearl Jam did very well for themselves and still remain a beloved act to this day.
68) R. Kelly - 697 pts.
R. Kelly was another artist who broke free of the low sales curse of the R&B genre. R. Kelly had a lot of sales and chart success though little critical acclaim.
69) Tom Petty (and the Heart Breakers) - 693 pts.
Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers have been radio staples since I was in High School. Tom Petty has had steady album sales, chart success, and a fair degree of critical support. He continues to tour to this day.
70) The Police - 692 pts.
I also expected The Police to chart higher. While they did have several radio hits and sold a sizable amount of albums they were also helped tremendously by factoring in critical support.
71) KISS - 687 pts.
I want to rock and roll all night and party everyday! When I think of ROCK AND ROLL I think of KISS. Believe it or not, KISS was actually patterned after the number one act- The Beatles. They were a group of four band members who each would write and sing and play... only with make-up, fire breathing, and pyrotechnics. God gave rock and roll to you and KISS makes the top 100 greatest acts of all time.
72) REM - 684 pts.
REM was the face of the college music scene during their heyday. They had several big charting hits, sold a considerable amount of records, and had solid critical acclaim.
73) Red Hot Chili Peppers - 676 pts.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers were a really big act during the early to mid-1990's and had a lot of chart and sales success. Critics even came around to them giving them good well rounded support to land in the top 100.
74) ZZ Top - 675 pts.
I've always felt ZZ Top were underrated. They had strong sales and sizable chart success in the 1980's. They are finally beginning to get some critical praise as well.
75) Ozzy Osbourne - 667 pts.
Rounding out the top 75 is the madman of metal and hard rock- Ozzy Osbourne. The Oz-Man cometh in at number 75. While he had no chart success to speak of, he sold lots of albums.
- The Next 25 -
76) Boston - 666 pts.
Excellent album sales. Good chart success for a short period of time. Little critical support.
77) Usher - 661 pts.
Excellent album sales. Good chart success. Cross over from R&B into mainstream. Little critical support.
78) Bryan Adams - 659 pts.
Tremendous album sales. Tremendous chart success. Some critical support.
79) Steve Miller Band - 658 pts.
Good album sales. Good chart success. Some critical support. Jumped several spots due to being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently. (Otherwise would have ranked #84)
80) Dave Matthews Band - 657 pts.
Good album sales. Good chart success. Decent critical support.
81) Motley Crue - 656 pts.
Good album sales. Chart success was not significant. Some critical support.
82) Donna Summer - 655 pts.
Great album sales. Great chart success. Some critical support.
83) N’SYNC - 650 pts.
Great album sales. Great chart success. Little to no critical support.
84) Meat Loaf - 649 pts.
Great album sales. Some chart success. No significant critical support.
85) Luther Vandross - 641 pts.
Enough album sales and chart success to break out of the R&B sales bias. Good critical support.
86) Olivia Newton-John - 640 pts.
Good album sales. Great chart success. No critical support.
87) Creed - 637 pts.
Great album sales. Great chart success. Absolutely no critical support.
88) George Michael - 632 pts.
Much lower than expected album sales. Great chart success. Less than expected critical support.
89) Marvin Gaye - 630 pts.
Good enough sales and chart performance to break out of the R&B sales bias. Great critical acclaim.
90) Green Day - 622 pts.
Good album sales. Some chart success. Great critical support.
91) Lady Gaga - 607 pts.
Great album sales. Great chart success. Some critical support. Should only go up from here.
92) Earth Wind and Fire - 595 pts.
Good album sales. Good chart performance. Some critical success.
93) Tina Turner - 594 pts.
Good album sales. Great chart success. Good longevity as an act. Some critical support.
94) Heart - 584 pts.
Good album sales. Good chart success. Some critical support. Recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gave a boost. (Would have otherwise ranked at #97)
95) The Beastie Boys - 583 pts.
Great album sales. Some chart success. Good critical support.
96) Sade - 582 pts.
Good album sales. Great chart success. Some critical support.
97) ABBA - 578 pts.
Great album sales. Some chart success. No critical support.
98) Dire Straits - 571 pts.
Great album sales. Great, though short term chart success. Good critical support.
99) Black Eyed Peas - 570 pts.
Great album sales. Great chart performance. Little critical support.
100) Beyonce - 568 pts.
Tremendous album sells. Tremendous chart success. Little critical support. Should only go up from here.
- The Rest -
Others who almost made the list: TLC - 562, Cher - 557, Nelly - 550, The Cars - 537, The Grateful Dead - 535, Kid Rock - 533, Jimmy Buffett - 526, Gloria Estefan - 522, Julio Iglesias - 508, Outkast - 506, Mary J. Blige - 505, Bruno Mars - 499, Doobie Brothers - 496, The Supremes - 496, Destiny’s Child - 494, REO Speedwagon - 494, Nickelback - 493, Linkin Park - 485, Alanis Morissette - 483, The Smashing Pumpkins - 483, Hootie and the Blowfish - 479, Toni Braxton - 477, Kanye West - 475, The Jacksons - 468, The Four Seasons - 467, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - 467, The Temptations - 465, Diana Ross - 459, Jackson Browne - 458, Sarah McLachlan - 449, Sting - 448, Styx - 448, Matchbox 20 - 447, Jewel - 445, The Monkees - 442, Stone Temple Pilots - 441, Maroon 5 - 438, New Kids on the Block - 418, Alicia Keys - 407, Pink - 390, Barry White - 380, Katy Perry - 372, Justin Bieber - 371, Lil Wayne - 367, Hall and Oates - 346, Black Sabbath - 325, Coldplay - 320, Adele - 315, Huey Lewis & The News - 300, Duran Duran - 281
List of best selling and performing music artists -
Various "Best of" Lists and Rankings used in this article -
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