Sunday, September 03, 2006

WXPN's 885 Greatest Artists - Decision Time



There's just one week left to submit your selections for WXPN's listener survey to determine the 885 Greatest Artists of all time. Go to xpn's website to submit your top ten list which also enters you in a contest to win the complete cd catalog of each of the top three artists as voted by the listenership. Voting deadline is September 10th. Check out the xpn discussion boards which always heat up during the countdown, with real time critiques, reaction and tears as the results are revealed. Also check out xpn's staff and artist picks, and xpn's music blog.



For most music lovers, selecting ten artists as the all time greatest is a ridiculous task, and an incredibly arbitrary one at that. Station Manager Roger LeMay's goal is to get 10,000 listeners to vote their top ten in order to generate a master list of the 885 all time greatest artists which will be counted down this fall during a couple of great broadcast weeks in which the normal format is abandoned and all kinds of fun and unexpected things occur. Since the final result is all about numbers of votes, I decided to try to quantify the selection process for my top ten and next ten lists; xpn this time is allowing a next ten selection for those who find the top ten list too limiting.



Starting with my initial list of 65 artists, I first eliminated those who were too new for actual consideration. In my first arbitrary decision I deemed that both longevity of career and number of superlative albums should both be given major weight in assembling this list. Next I took the discography for each artist and threw out all of the compilations, greatest hits, and live albums, the only exceptions being live albums that were the primary source of original new material like Jackson Browne's Running on Empty. Each original album in an artist's career merited one point, regardless of quality. Next, perfect albums (all great tracks, no exceptions) were awarded ten points. Great albums (mostly great tracks but not perfect) were awarded five points.

This may seem pretty subjective at this point, but when looking at an artist's career, the great and the perfect albums are pretty ingrained in my neural net and do not in any way seem like a variable. Ironically the raw score totals came out identical for my top two: the Beatles and Stevie Wonder both totalled 153 using this method. The next arbitrary decision was that inclusion on previous top ten lists for xpn 885 countdowns should also carry weight, so an additional ten points was awarded to each artist who had a song on my top ten all time songs list and an additional ten points was awarded to each artist who had an album on my top ten all time albums list.



Finally came the really subjective part wherein there were so many artists of similar quality both on and off the list, I forced myself to add or subtract up to 15 points for intangibles, personal preference, etc. Interestingly (or not) this factor did not affect numbers one through five of the top ten. The final four of the second ten are iconic or heritage artists that just had to be included, regardless of math. So, with that all in mind, here are my picks.

1. The Beatles
2. Stevie Wonder
3. Yes
4. Genesis
5. Bruce Springsteen
6. Creedence Clearwater Revival
7. Swing Out Sister
8. The Average White Band
9. Brian Auger's Oblivion Express
10. Joni Mitchell


And the Next Ten:

11. Del Amitri
12. Steely Dan
13. Pink Floyd
14. Julia Fordham
15. Tanita Tikaram
16. Chris Rea
17. Louis Armstrong
18. Burt Bacharach
19. Ray Charles
20. Nat King Cole


Finally I should note that in version one of these picks I was certain that individual artists who had both group and solo careers should be considered cumulatively; thinking it impossible to consider John Fogerty's career without including Creedence Clearwater Revivial, and the same being true for Donald Fagen, Sting, Jerry Garcia, Mark Knopfler, Brian Wilson, Keith Emerson, and so on. However, a quick review of the xpn staff picks and the listener lists posted on the bulletin board revealed that I was in a severe minority on this point. Only one person's list lumped solo and group together in an artist pick, so back to the Excel spreadsheet I went, to separate the solo and the group careers, and the final list above is what was submitted to xpn.

Whether or not you wish to submit your own list to WXPN, please feel free to post a list here as a comment, or send me an email and I'll publish any that I receive in a future update. Photos courtesy of artist websites.

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