Although ranking lists are common and therefore something to be ostensibly sniffed at, let’s face it: we all fall to the allure of the ad populum. We want to see what groups of other people think, either in order to justify our own positions or to maintain that the wisdom of crowds is actually the stupidity of crowds.
Or, at a more superficial but just as important level, it is like eating potato chips: non-nutritious but damned tasty. (Lists are actually less deleterious to one’s well being than the chips are, as while there may be fat in the list, there is likely no salt, so you have to bring your own grain to the assessment of the results, and the size of that chunk may be rather large.)
When I Googled “richest musicians,” the featured snippets box, that thing that sometimes shows up at the top of the results page, listed:
1. Paul McCartney
2. Andrew Llyod Webber [sic]
3. Jay Z
6. Herb Alpert
7. Dr Dre
8. Celine Dion
and while the top of the snippet indicated that the list included 17 more that were just a click away (i.e., it is a list of the top 25), I noted that the domain was “.ng,” something that I was not familiar with.
So I Googled that and discovered it is for Nigeria. I wonder if a prince who has millions of dollars that he would like to put into my bank account is in any way involved in creating the list. After all, McCartney and the others have serious money, too, so they undoubtedly hang out with that guy who needs a place to park his immense fortune and it could be that this list is simply a list that he created to keep track of his pals.
There are plenty of other sites with their versions of the “richest musicians,” including the monetary sounding “ledgernote.com,” the musical “playback.fm,” the institutional “gobanking.com” and the financially hip sounding “wealthygorilla.com.”
I don’t know if my virus protection is up to any of them, so I decided to forego additional research on that area of listed information.
The search for “best musicians of all time” brings up a bar of photos under the heading “Music Artists,” which seems like a term that might be included in an email from a Nigerian prince. I am not sure whether the placement on the page indicates a level of best-ness, but the first item (the one on the left, and as we read from left to right, perhaps the start means the foremost) is Elvis Presley, followed by Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, and then I need to click an arrow to get to the continuation of the photos (which, incidentally, are horrible and unflattering across the board): Eminem, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, and Johnny Cash. And I am not going to click again to see more. Did you notice no Beatle in that list of 16?
Going to a more reliable source, which happens to be the first result below the photos in the Google results, is that purveyor of tote bags (no, I am not going to let that go), Rolling Stone. For some reason, the listing of the top 100 musicians is from December 3, 2010. And in that list #1 is (are?) The Beatles, followed by Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles.
(Want to know what the RS list had as 100 back then? Talking Heads.)
The second site cited in the search is laweekly.com, which I initially misread as “law weekly,” perhaps going back to the ledegernote and wealthygorilla. To say nothing of the fact that when you think “wealthy musician,” somehow lawsuits tend to be involved.
Its list is from January 13, 2012, which starts to make me think that my premise is all wrong, that no one has cared about lists for about a decade. [Mac, the Stone just published a new list of the Top 500 Albums of All Time. Check inside your tote bag. -ed.]
The LA Weekly approach is somewhat different, as it is “Top 20 Musicians of All Time, In Any Genre: The Complete List.” Somehow there is a tendency to think of Little Richard and Elvis as being music from way-back-when. But the LA Weekly provides its list starting with 20 (the classic Casey Kasem countdown model), Bach (Johannes Sebastian, not just Sebastian; Skid Row somehow doesn’t make the cut). Seems like a credible list. Then if we skip to 10, there is Guido d’Arezzo (clearly the selection of a musical show-off: d’Arezzo created the hexachord system and the musical staff, two things that most of us don’t have a clue about, but let’s face it: when you’ve undoubtedly taken a musical theory class, you’ve got to do something with that knowledge).
At nine there is Robert Johnson, then Bob Dylan, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Elvis, Louis Armstrong, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Beethoven, and. . . William Hung at number one, which the person penning the rationale concludes, “and because these types of lists are entirely subjective and unaccountable.”
But speaking of accounting, I just received another request for my financial information from abroad. You’d think that requester would be more interested in the likes of McCartney than a contributor to Glorious Noise, but you never can tell.