Monday, October 23, 2006

WXPN's 885 Greatest Artists Of All Time - The Final Countdown

WXPN began their countdown of the 885 Greatest Artists of All Time, as voted on by their listeners, on October 9, 2006. It all ended this evening at 7 PM. You can see the station's final vote tally here.

The list was extremely diverse and included Mozart, Beethoven, Yo-Yo Ma, Eminem, Outkast, Jay Z, The Monkees, Abba, John Denver, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck, George Gershwin, Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Weird Al Yankovic, Def Leppard, Guns 'N Roses, Judy Garland, John Phillip Sousa, Dolly Parton and Marvin Gaye, to name more than a few, as well as all of classic rock's heavy hitters. The list offered lots of surprises including more than a few arists who I never heard of finishing in surprisingly high places on the countdown. For instance, who is Neutral Milk Hotel and why did they finish at #332?

The countdown took fifteen days to complete. The station played one song for each artist starting with number 885 through 501. Then from 500 through 101 we heard two songs from each artist. Beginning at 100 we heard three, and from 50 through 11 WXPN played four songs by each artist. Finally, beginning this morning, the top 10 greatest musical artists of all time, as selected by over 6,000 listener ballots, were counted down featuring a full hour of music for each one.

Here is how the voting worked. Your favorite artist received ten points, number two got nine points, and so on down the line. An additional ten "honorable mention" entries all received one point a piece.

Here is my original article containing my favorites sent to WXPN in August with commentary on my top 10 selections.

Here are my choices again listed here with their ranking on the WXPN survey in red.

1. The Beatles - #1. It's where they belong. According to WXPN the vote total between The Beatles and the #2. artist, Bob Dylan, wasn't even close.

2. The Beach Boys - #53. I believe their overwhelming influence on popular music should have ranked them higher but I know most voters probably don't consider influence as a criteria and voted with their hearts instead.

3. Stevie Wonder - #22. You would think I would be happy with this ranking, but I am not. One of the most talented musicians to ever grace our presence deserved a much higher placement than this.

4. Chicago - #174. Contrary to Stevie Wonder's ranking I'm actually thrilled with this one. Chicago is not the kind of band that WXPN embraces but I'm glad their listeners looked past the 80s version of the band that gave us such dreck as "You're The Inspiration" and realized that Chicago's true personality was the very cool, rocking, horn band of the 70s.

5. Jackson Browne - #37. I have never truly embraced a whole lot of singer-songwriters but Browne excels at what he does. It took awhile for him to grow on me but with songs like "Fountain Of Sorrow," "Before The Deluge" and "Running On Empty" I can't do anything but love him.

6. Billy Joel - #48. Like Chicago, Joel is not an artist WXPN favors but the public knows he was much more than a middle-of-the-road hit singles factory.

7. Michelle Shocked - #650. Shocked is not well known. After eighteen years she still has not found a mass audience but the knowledgeable WXPN listeners apparently appreciate her. I may argue that Shocked belongs much further up the list but the reality is I should just be happy she placed at all.

8. Black 47 - Failed to make the list. I knew from the outset there was absoluteley no chance of Black 47 making the list. The band has limited appeal but it's growing cult following is very loyal.

9. Blackthorn - Failed to make the list. The residual effects of having just seen this great local Philadelphia celtic-rock band live caused me to overrate them at the time I submitted my ballot. While I don't like Blackthorn any less (their currrent CD, Push & Pull, is terrific) this spot should have been reserved for someone more worthy, Crosby, Stills and Nash (& Young).

10. Mark Knopfler - Failed to make the list. Knopfler's band, Dire Straits, did make the list at number #64. However, since I believe he WAS Dire Straits, and he also currently has a great solo careeer both as a singer-songwriter and as the creator of some excellent movie soundtracks, I felt he deserved my vote more than his original band did.

My honorable mention list is as follows.

11. The Allman Brothers Band #25
12. Joan Baez #148
13. Nat King Cole #196
14. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young #34
15. The Eagles #70
16. Los Lobos #151
17. Poco #406
18. Elvis Presley #19
19. Bruce Springsteen #4
20. Steely Dan #27

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young finshed at #34 and Crosby, Stills and Nash, minus Neil Young, ranked #103, a placement I find both puzzling and unfair. I've always looked upon them as the same band with or without Young. If the votes for the two versions were added together they would have had a much higher ranking, something they deserve. There are bands out there who have had the same name throughout their entire career but changes in personnel over time greatly altered their sound. These bands have changed their personalities far more than Young's presence or absence ever had on CSN. For instance lead singer Michael McDonald's replacement of Tom Johnston in the Doobie Brothers made the band completely unrecognizeable from its original version. That wasn't the case when Young joined the original trio. Is CSN really a different band than CSN&Y. I don't think so.

Regardless, the fifteen day countdown was a lot of fun. At times it was frustrating as I found myself scratching my head over the ranking of a particular artist I never heard of, or one whose popularity I don't comprehend, but that is all part of the enjoyment. I also discovered some musical acts who I should explore further. Guitarist Bill Frizzell is one. Leonard Cohen is another.

Be sure to read Music & More by Bill Kates for a more detailed and different perspective on the the entire countdown. For a slightly warped analysis of the whole affair two WXPN fans, who apparently have never met each other, have commented on all 885 artists who made the list. Read Teenage Kicks for a good laugh.

Thank you WXPN for a great two weeks.


  1. I agree that XPN unnecessarily split hairs on considering CSN separately form CSNY and solo artists separate from their band. Knopfler & Dire Straits is a great example, but early on in my consideration of picking ten, this issue gave me pause. John Fogerty was Creedence Clearwater Revival and if you combine both you'd similarly get a higher vote total than separately. Donald Fagen & Steely Dan is another. My list looked very different in version one when I considered such artists combined. Only after reviewing the staff & artist picks did I realize that XPN was separating them and I did likewise. I'm sure if you're XPN it's hard to foresee every angle, so maybe issues like this will inform future 885 survey/countdowns. It was a great ride nonetheless, and now that it's over there will be much more work accomplished out there in radioland.

  2. EXCELLENT BLOG! Wow, I am so glad you found me so that I was able to find you. I loved this post on the radio station - fascinating to see who ranked at the top. I was a bit surprised by a few but not at all surprised by others.

    Thank you for telling me that I put Dennis instead of Carl! I had both of their photos and selected the wrong one. Great guys...sad lives.

    Hope you don't mind if I link here!

    How did you find my blog?