Mission Impossible: Ranking the Top Ten John Hughes Films from the 1980s

By Nick Deiuliis

Sports have great dynasties: the Yankees of the 1950s, the Steelers of the 1970s, the Islanders of the 1980s, the Bulls of the 1990s, Tiger Woods during the 2000s, to name a few.

There are also dynasties in the motion picture industry. If you came of age in the 1980s (or the 1990s thanks to an older sibling), there’s a strong likelihood that John Hughes movies were a companion on your journey. Although you may not recognize his name nor face, you know his movies, from start to finish.

During the 1980s, only Steven Spielberg’s work rivaled the Hughes catalogue. John Hughes achieved a remarkable, dynastic run through the decade.

His career began writing for National Lampoon magazine. Then opportunity on the big screen came knocking.

Coming-of-age and comedy were his specialties. He was a master at capturing the culture of the ‘80s, teenage and family life, and the great American suburbs. Most of his movies took place in and around Chicago.

Acting careers were started and catapulted by Hughes films: Michael Keaton, Molly Ringwald, John Candy, Chevy Chase, Macauley Culkin, Mathew Broderick, and just about the entire Brat Pack (Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, and Ally Sheedy). He was especially close to Candy and was devastated when the actor died.

Hughes could be prickly, and he abruptly broke off all contact with Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall after the mid-1980s. He became somewhat of a recluse in the ‘90s, and we lost Hughes to a heart attack in 2009 at a too-young age of 59. But his legacy endures with his memorable films.

The best way to summarize the allure of Hughes movies: if it’s a Saturday and you start surfing through channels to get to what you’re looking for and you come across one of his films, forget about what you were planning to do for the next hour or two.

Such an extensive body of work raises an intriguing question. If one applied a clinical and scientific (ok, not really) process to Hughes films from the 1980s, what would the top-ten look like?

Well, something like this:

Honorable mention: Mr. Mom (1983)

A movie that features Michael Keaton coming into his acting prime alongside 1980s movie icon Terri Garr has to garner at least an honorable mention. Yeah, the storyline stereotypes gender roles to where it comes across as thick-headed today. But it’s a solid, funny movie. Yet it doesn’t crack the top-ten, which is an ode to the depth of Hughes’ work. Favorite line: “You don’t feed a baby chili!” Hughes didn’t direct Mr. Mom, because he wanted to film in Chicago rather than LA.

#10: Uncle Buck (1989)

John Candy…loved that guy. And who didn’t love his character Uncle Buck? Smoked like a chimney, drinker, degenerate gambler, and cruising around Chicago in that beat-up tuna-boat of a car (a Mercury). Uncle Buck was warning us about the future of helicopter parenting and obsessing over kids’ achievements with: “I don’t think I want to know a six-year-old who isn’t a dreamer, or a sillyheart. And I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously.” Favorite scene: when Uncle Buck beats up the drunken clown (Pooter the Clown) hired for the kids’ party.

#9: Weird Science (1985)

Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt come up with the ultimate computer hack to turn the tables and put the outcasts in the driver’s seat. Hughes was quite a technology visionary, giving us a look into AI before anyone knew what it stood for. Bill Paxton delivers one of the greatest roles of the 1980s as evil, big brother Chet: “Feeling queasy? How about a nice greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray?” Kelly LeBrock garnered attention from the teenage male demographic. But it almost didn’t happen. LeBrock initially turned down her role so she could spend time with Sting in the south of France.

#8: Home Alone (1990)

The blockbuster that launched young Macauley Culkin. Yes, it was released just after the conclusion of the 1980s, but close enough to be considered as a 1980s-era movie. I suspect many will rank Home Alone higher. No doubt this is a great film, and one that multiple generations can watch together during holiday get-togethers. And it gave us one of the great Hughes lines of all-time with a black-and-white gangster film young Kevin was watching on the VCR in his Windy City suburban home: “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.” Do you recall where the McAllisters were flying off to when they forgot Kevin? Paris, France. Placing Home Alone in only the eight-spot might be controversial, but read on and decide what classic gets displaced if you were to move Home Alone up in the ranking.

#7: Pretty in Pink (1986)

Perhaps the most underrated cast of all the Hughes films. Molly Ringwald in the lead role, Jon Cryer (Duckie!), Andy McCarthy, James Spader, and don’t forget Henry Dean Stanton as the dad. Song-for-song, the best movie soundtrack of the 1980s this side of Purple Rain, with an alt-rock dream lineup of INXS, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joe Jackson, OMD, and The Psychedelic Furs. Duckie was a quote machine in this movie, with the best line being his response when Andie asked him what he wanted to drink: “Oh you know, beer, scotch, juice box… whatever.” Another Hughes film centered in the greater Chicago area (but filmed in LA).

#6: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

The Steve Martin and John Candy combo created comedic gold. One of the few Hughes films that doesn’t take place around Chicago (but the script centers on the journey to get to the final Turkey Day destination of…Chicago). Favorite scene: Del (John Candy) talking his way out of paying for breakfast in Wichita by going back and forth with the waitress about a human hair in the oatmeal. Del had a great life motto: “You know, the finest line a man will walk is between success at work and success at home. I got a motto – like your work, love your wife.” Del was a salesman; do you remember what he sold? Shower curtain rings. Great movie with a heart-tugging ending for Thanksgiving Day if your crew tires of football.

#5: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Where do you even begin to break down this holiday masterpiece? The Griswold clan returns and comes close to besting the original effort. This installment of the family chronicles is dominated by Randy Quaid’s performance as Cousin Eddie. There are so many awesome one-liners in this epic that it is impossible to select a single best. I will go with when Cousin Eddie tells Clark his older boy couldn’t make it because he is “preparing for his career” in the carnival. Chevy Chase perfected the lovable loser in this film, with Clark in reflecting the worries and doubts of many middle-aged professionals back in the day.

#4: Sixteen Candles (1984)

Who didn’t love Chicago-area high schooler Samantha ‘Sam’ Baker? Big family, big upcoming wedding, and everyone forgets it’s her birthday. To top it off, she is constantly pestered by an annoying admirer (Ted) and loses her room to the visiting exchange student and her grandparents. But wait! Just when there appears to be no hope for Sam…Jake Ryan saves the day, riding in on his red Porsche (for you Jake Ryan fans, one can purchase a t-shirt of him in front of his Porshe with the words ‘yeah, you’ underneath). The iconic line of the movie is, of course, Sam with, “I Can’t Believe It. They…” (you can finish that line on your own). Many consider this movie to be Hughes’ finest. It’s up there, but not quite at the top.1

#3: National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Magic. The screenplay was written by Hughes when he repurposed his short story, “Vacation ’58”, which appeared in National Lampoon. When Vacation hit big screens (and then appeared on a new, mysterious thing called cable and on an exotic platform known as HBO), it had the ability to make multiple generations of viewers laugh, but each at different scenes. Grandparents found one cut especially funny while their adult kids or younger grandkids were laughing at entirely different scenes.

That gorgeous, green, and wood-paneled Family Truckster should be considered part of the official cast (“50 yards”). The Christie Brinkley and Chevy Chase scene at the rest stop became cinematic legend, without a single word spoken by either actor. And who among us hasn’t quoted from this movie? My favorite is from that sage foodie, Cousin Eddie, with, “I don’t know why they call this stuff hamburger helper. It does just fine by itself.” Amen to that. And a close second is John Candy’s character delivering the bad news to the Griswolds with, “Sorry folks, the park’s closed. Moose out front should’ve told you.”

#2: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

This absolute gem of a movie is in a class of its own. Exceptional character acting across the entire cast. Matt Broderick as Ferris is as good as it gets in this genre, from his dialogue to his demeanor; he came across as the King of Sophisticated Cool for suburban high school chic. And Mr. Rooney, played by Jeffrey Jones, was a superb comedy villain (I can still hear him saying, “Les Jeux Sont Faits. Translation: The Game Is Up. Your Ass Is Mine.”).

Alan Ruck was so convincing as a neurotic sidekick in his role of Cameron (who in the movie wore the jersey of Hughes’ favorite hockey player, Gordie Howe, despite the movie taking place not in Detroit but in the rival town, Chicago) that a trained psychologist would have trouble seeing through the acting. Don’t forget Jennifer Grey’s excellent performance as Ferris’ ill-intentioned sister. Another Hughes movie and another red sports car – this time a vintage Ferrari taken out on a joy ride by the parking garage attendants and then suffering a fate worse than one could imagine. This classic provided two all-time great quotes, a pair that tens of millions can instantly repeat on demand. First, Ben Stein as an econ teacher droning on with, “Bueller…? Bueller…? Bueller…?” And, of course, Ferris himself coming down the movie’s home stretch laying down a little life philosophy with, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Back then most of us didn’t realize how true that was. But we get it now, Ferris.

#1: The Breakfast Club (1985)

Nothing, and I mean nothing, sums up what high school and coming of age were like more than this movie. The Breakfast Club is on some level relatable to just about anyone who matriculated through “The Lord of the Flies” world that we call high school. You knew that kid. You had that teacher. You felt that peer pressure. That girl was in your class. That’s your school. You…were…there. This is a movie about you, not fictional characters.

The subject matter scope is vast despite the movie taking place almost exclusively in an empty high school library on a Saturday. The Club starts detention as separate individuals with nothing in common, ends the day as united group, and walks away as individuals with better perspectives. Everything they thought they knew about high school going into the day of detention was upended by late afternoon. Judd Nelson’s performance as the delinquent Bender is excellent. So many quotes to choose from. The eccentric Allyson to the jock Andrew: “You do everything everyone tells you to, and that is the problem.” Disciplinarian Mr. Vernon, in that glorious suit, saying to Bender: “Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns.” Claire lamenting, “I hate having to go along with everything my friends say.” And finally, Bender closing the movie out, reading from the Club’s assigned essay: “You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms with the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a Brain…and an Athlete…and a Basket Case…a Princess…and a Criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours…The Breakfast Club.” Cue the Simple Minds.

Hughes and his films dominated the 1980s. Don’t you forget about him.

[1] Like scores of movies from the past, many of Hughes’ films have scenes that are objectionable today. It would be remiss to not specifically mention two disturbing aspects of 16 Candles. The first was the treatment of Jake Ryan’s intoxicated girlfriend and the aftermath. It came across as creepy back then and it comes across worse today. The second is the extreme stereotyping of the exchange student. It was cringeworthy then and more so today.

The Ten Greatest Live Rock Performances

By Nick Deiuliis

In the early 1950s, legendary disc jockey Alan Freed first used the phrase ‘rock and roll’ on his Cleveland radio show.  Rock was born.  We’ve been discussing and debating it ever since.

Rock music is a contradiction.

On one hand, it is a pasted-together mosaic of musical styles; blues, country, jazz, folk, pop, gospel, and even classical.  Old things presented in new ways. Not revolutionary as much as evolutionary.

On the other hand, rock is unique and stands apart from other music. Particularly when its energy is projected on stage when performed live.

Yes, the true essence of rock is best captured live, separating it from other musical styles. And sometimes a confluence of events captures a rock performance that stands the test of time and elevates beyond the norm of other musical genres.

I’ve often thought about, after viewing or experiencing a great live rock performance: where does it rank? And what would be the ten greatest exemplars of the live rock performance? Ten gems that hit a note above all the others?

Those questions would be great fun to assess. And irresistible to try to answer.

A Highly Unscientific Approach

Before we count down the ten greatest, here are our screening criteria:

  • We’re ranking single song performances only, not complete concerts.
  • Performance films are excluded. Apologies to Talking Heads (Stop Making Sense), The Band (The Last Waltz), and Prince (Sign O the Times).  All great viewing and performance, but more cinema than live rock.  That doesn’t mean a few of the Top Ten didn’t make it into a concert DVD, but these selections are live performance first, concert film second.
  • DJs and sampling electronic music are not considered. The performer must be playing instruments or singing, live.  Sorry, Daft Punk (’06 Coachella) and Fatboy Slim (’02 Brighton Beach).
  • Super Bowl halftime show performances are not considered. They are more entertainment spectacle than live rock performance.
  • No ‘unplugged’ renditions (forgive me Nirvana and Clapton fans). You know the setup: the performers sitting on stools, surrounded by a small TV studio audience. They’re interesting when done well.  But they are purposely toned down and constructed exclusively for TV/digital media broadcasting.

Special weighting and bonus points are awarded for the following:

  • Outstanding live performances that are not widely known or don’t garner enough attention.
  • A special historical context of when or where the song was performed. Having time and place convene to transform the performance into representing something bigger.
  • Adding a visual and theatrical element to the live performance. Taking the recording and presenting it with supplemental props live can create another level of song experience.
  • Enthusiastic audience participation. Thousands of strangers connecting organically during a live rendition is a sure sign that the performance has achieved greatness.  Which means heavy weighting toward European and South American venues; audiences there are order of magnitude more passionate than American audiences.
  • Amazing live musicianship. In the end, the music matters the most. Always has and always will.

Lest I forget, there is one critical requirement to make the list: a video capturing the specific performance must be readily available for viewing.  What’s the point of including a great performance in the ranking if one cannot easily check it out on YouTube?

To start, we have two honorable mentions, beginning with Veruca Salt, “Seether” (1995; Glastonbury, UK).  What ever happened to Veruca Salt?  They looked to be the next big thing back in the 1990s, but then the Chicago-based band fell off the radar.  Watch them play “Seether” at Glastonbury in ’95 to see what might have been if they kept it going. Funny how time flies, but most of those attendees in the crowd are now well into their 50s running businesses, governments, and maybe even grandkids to and from events.

Second honorable mention goes to Gary Numan with Nine Inch Nails, “Cars” (2009; London, UK).  Numan’s “Cars” was on the first album I owned (one of those K-Tel hits albums) and I’ve adored the new wave song ever since.  Check him out making a special appearance in his hometown to play it live with Trent Reznor and band at a Nine Inch Nails show.

Here We Go: The Ten Greatest

#10: Peter Gabriel (with Paula Cole), “Come Talk to Me” (Secret World Live; 1994; Modena, Italy)

As this list unfolds, it will betray a bias I have long suffered from: favoring concert openers.  There is something magical about the moment when the recorded soundtrack stops, they cut the arena lights, and the act takes the stage. Gabriel used “Come Talk to Me” from the Us album to open his Secret World Live tour in 1993-1994. Us was created at a time of personal turmoil for Gabriel, and this song’s lyrics address his relationship strain at the time with his daughter (after Gabriel moved out of the family home and began cohabitating with actor Rosanna Arquette).

Gabriel has a long history of putting together bands with top-notch musicians and making great use of props (including himself, which trails back to his Genesis days), both of which were on display for this performance.  Gabriel emerges from a phone booth, singing into a telephone, extending the cord as he tries to connect with Paula Cole, who performed the female vocals (Sinead O’Connor provided the vocals on the album track).  A refined, beautiful performance that is both musical and theatrical.  It’s high art.

#9: Megadeth, “Symphony of Destruction” (That One Night; 2005; Buenos Aires, Argentina)

I am not into the thrash metal genre; I lean more toward the Judas Priest/Iron Maiden persuasion when it comes to heavy metal.  But the long-sober Dave Mustaine has emerged as one of metal’s underappreciated thought leaders, and his band managed one of the most awesome displays of live audience participation in rock history when they performed “Symphony” in front of a mass of rabid Argentinians.  The chanting drowns out the guitar, no small feat when it’s a Megadeth show. Repeat after me: “Megadeth, Megadeth, aguante Megadeth!”  No wonder Argentina is Dave Mustaine’s favorite place to play.  If you want another exemplar of Argentinians’ flair for live concert participation, check out AC/DC at River Platte in 2009; “Thunderstruck” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” are epic.

#8: Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” (Capitol Theater; 1985; Passaic, New Jersey).

The video of this performance essentially ignores the audience.  There are no stage props, other than SRV’s trademark hat, belt, boots, and guitar strap. And you miss none of it because it is impossible not to be transfixed on his playing and singing.  He’s in a performative trance; you could light him on fire, and he wouldn’t notice.

Vaughan is one of those true genius talents that stands out from all others; anything added alongside his live playing becomes wasteful distraction and dilution from the man and his guitar. I ranked Vaughan up there with Hendrix and EVH in the Top Ten Rock Guitarists of All-Time, and SRV may indeed have been the very best of them live.  Still can’t fathom how he simultaneously played guitar and sang like that on “Couldn’t Stand the Weather.”  One of my greatest musical regrets is not having the chance to see him work such magic live.

#7: U2, Intro / “Zoo Station” (Achtung Baby Tour; 1993; Adelaide, Australia).

I wasn’t going to construct a top ten live performance list and not include one of my favorite bands through the years (and another opening song).  I must admit being torn between one of two U2 performances to choose from, with the close runner-up being “Sunday Bloody Sunday” at Red Rocks, aka, ‘This is not a rebel song!’ But I must give the nod to the Dubliners’ early 1990s reinvention of their band and their reimagining the concert as a performance medium.

Achtung Baby was a huge creative and brand risk for U2.  They took the risk, and we reaped the reward. Then the band broke more ground by presenting the album tour as Zoo TV, an innovative digital and visual display to accompany the music.  Zoo TV managed to take the groundbreaking music of U2 found on Achtung Baby and present it in a revolutionary packaging that made it better. You hear the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’s “Television, The Drug of a Nation” being played, those massive stadium screens light up, Bono’s outline emerges from the stage, and then Edge hits the intro notes to “Zoo Station.”  Special.  Will U2’s current run of shows covering Achtung Baby at the Vegas Sphere measure up? Hope so.

#6: Metallica, “Enter Sandman” (Tushino Airfield Concert; 1991; Moscow, Russia)

Although not a rabid fan, I like Metallica and have seen them numerous times. When “Enter Sandman” first came out, it was bold and new.  And quickly became old and tired after endless radio play. But looking back, Metallica’s live performance of “Enter Sandman” outside Moscow in 1991 was mind-blowing for three reasons.

First, the size of the crowd was conservatively estimated to be somewhere in the 500,000 range (some estimates were as high as 1.6 million!). Second, that audience was pent up for too long under communism and was ready to explode when the band took the stage (another set opener, by the way; this one preceded with Metallica’s traditional playing of Ennio Morricone’s western movie score). Third, the festival (which also included AC/DC, The Black Crowes, and others) served as a symbolic tearing down of the USSR communist state and the start of a more open Russia.

The visuals of some Red Army troops participating in the crowd and other Red Army troops holding back the crowd were poignant.  James Hetfield’s lyrics of “exit light, enter night” reflected the reverse order of how Russians were feeling in 1991.  A band and song in the right place at the most historic of times. Unfortunately, a stark contrast to Russia today.

#5: Depeche Mode, “Never Let Me Down Again” (raw version: One Night in Paris; 2001; Paris, France or polished version: Tour of the Universe; 2009; Barcelona, Spain) 

I’ve enjoyed Depeche Mode for decades, but I always thought they were better in the studio and on record than they were live.  Until I saw them perform the classic “Never Let Me Down Again” toward the end of their shows.  That song has been a personal favorite from the Music for the Masses album and I consider it to be their best single.  The band performing it live further elevates the experience. You can see for yourself with two recommended versions: the Paris installment being rawer and more chaotic, or the Barcelona installment a few years later with a more polished rendition.

The song is a fan staple live for another reason: when the band extends the coda at the end of the number and Dave Gahan waves his arms in the air in unison with the audience.  It is one of the best live rock concert sights to behold, an experience that simply can’t be captured on record.

#4: Rush, Intro Medley / “Spirit of the Radio” (R30 Tour; 2004; Frankfurt, Germany)

Pound-for-pound, Rush is the most talented group in rock history, and that goes for their work in both studio and on stage. Hard to believe that three human beings could be so creative for so long.

Rush was incredibly prolific, sporting a song catalogue stretching over half a century.  So, it’s always tough for the band to construct a live setlist that checks all the boxes for all the fans.  One creative solution was when the band decided to open on the R30 tour with a video from comedian Jerry Stiller kicking off the band’s nearly seven-minute instrumental medley through a portfolio of their earlier masterpieces that included “Finding My Way”, “A Passage to Bangkok”, “Anthem”, and “Bastille Day”. Oh yeah, and then they launch right into a full rendition of “Spirit of the Radio”, the seminal Rush song.  Pure rock and roll heaven and, in my opinion, the best live opener ever.  Happy I was fortunate enough to experience it first-hand.

#3: Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil” (Altamont Speedway; 1969; Tracy, California)

People ask why I disdain the 1960s.  If I could point to one event to explain why, it would be the Rolling Stones performing “Sympathy for the Devil” at Altamont Speedway in late 1969.  Commentators often speak of it marking the end of 1960s culture.  Wrong; only the date of the performance was indicating the end of the 1960s.

Altamont marked the culmination of what 1960s culture wrought.  It wasn’t pretty. What would one expect when you combine drugged-out concertgoers, drugged-out performers, and drugged-out security attired in the vests of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels?

Jagger was assaulted by a fan before he even took the stage (he was lucky to be only punched in the head; earlier the lead singer for Jefferson Airplane was knocked out cold by ‘security’), “Sympathy for the Devil” was interrupted by violence in front of the stage, Jagger’s plea to “brothers and sisters” to calm down went unheeded, and a front row murder happened minutes later (during “Under My Thumb”).  This performance makes the list for its context of time (end of the 1960s), song (talk about lyrics fitting the moment), and history (peace-and-love generation being exposed as something quite the opposite).

#2: Black Sabbath, “Paranoid” (The End; 2017; Birmingham, UK)

For decades, music critics ignored and put down heavy metal. Which meant the pioneering work of Black Sabbath was demoted far too long. That changed with time, and in early 2017 the band wrapped up their final tour, where over its course one million people saw them perform.

The last show of the last tour was a curtain call in the industrial English city where it all began for the band: Birmingham.  Fittingly, the final song, as the encore, was “Paranoid”.  For this musical genre, it was akin to if the Beatles were to hold one last concert in Liverpool and end it with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” How Ozzy manages to sing fluidly yet be unable to speak a sentence coherently remains one of life’s mysteries.

Another mystery is how Tony Iommi can play those riffs while missing parts of his fingers. But sing and play they did during the encore “Paranoid.” And the hometown crowd in Brimingham, spanning multiple generations of fans, appreciated every word and note. Underrated and underappreciated for far too long; but better the recognition comes late than never.

#1: Queen, “Radio Ga Ga” (Wembley Live Aid; 1985; London, UK)

This should not shock any rock fan. The historical context alone would place it at the top.

Perhaps the slight surprise is with the song selected from Queen’s Live Aid set, “Radio Ga Ga”.  It came right after the truncated version of Bohemian Rhapsody, after Freddie Mercury was comfortable with the setup and fans were focused on the band. And the audience engagement with “Radio Ga Ga” was off-the-charts phenomenal.

Mercury connected directly with every human being in that stadium, from the front row to the nosebleed seats.  And the audience connected right back. Prior to the show, Queen was asked if they agreed to play Live Aid to support the cause of fighting world hunger or because it was an epic event they couldn’t afford to miss.  Freddie replied, “To answer that honestly it’s a bit of both.” Is Freddie the greatest frontman in the history of rock? If not, he is damn close.

And on that day at Wembley, Mercury set the gold standard for live performance at the biggest of moments.  Oh, and if you want another great Wembley performance, check out INXS in 1991 with the intro to the Live Baby Live concert, “Guns in the Sky”; Michael Hutchence was special and no telling what he would’ve accomplished had he lived longer.

Well, there you have it.  An authoritative (not) objective (definitely not) top ten ranking of the greatest live performances in the history of rock.  Happy viewing.

The Ten Greatest Guitarists in Rock History

I love rock music, and I love the guitar. But I can’t stand the rock press, particularly the politically debauched relics like Rolling Stone, who wouldn’t know a guitar god if impaled by a flying-V. Every time I come across one of these out-of-touch media outlets ranking musicians, songs, or albums into some nonsensical order, I have a Pavlovian response of reordering the proffered list into its proper sequence.

That habit offers an opportunity to contemplate the ten greatest guitarists of the rock era. Who? What order? And why? This is usually the part where the author will politely state: “there are no right answers here,” “your list might very well look different than mine and be perfectly defendable,” or “ranking these greats is a fools’ errand.” Hogwash: let’s partake in some controversial, judgmental fun and set the list straight!

Here are the ten greatest guitarists in the history of rock, in ascending order. Keep in mind, this a ranking of rock guitarists, not all guitarists. Many jazz guitarists, including Pittsburgh native George Benson, make rock guitar gods sound simply pedestrian.

#10 Tony Iommi

Iommi may not be the fastest or most technically gifted of guitarists. After all, he plays without the ends of two of his fingers, which were lost in a pre-Black Sabbath workplace accident in industrial Birmingham, UK. But what Iommi can claim is the establishment of an entirely new genre of rock: heavy metal. Specifically, the heavy metal sound. Copied and refined by musicians and bands all over the planet for decades, Iommi is the founding father of the sound and the mood of metal: dark, heavy, and relentless.

No Iommi? Then no Judas Priest, no Van Halen, and no Metallica. It is telling that so many guitar icons that came after Black Sabbath pay public homage to the man. Tony Iommi is the base of an entire branch of rock music lineage. Put on the album Paranoid and listen to a new sound when it was being created. The critics laughed then, and Iommi laughs now.

#9 Lindsey Buckingham

If you never saw Buckingham perform live, perhaps his name appearing on this list is a surprise. But to those that are fortunate enough to have seen him live, his name will not be a shock. The man exudes frightening prowess across six strings, much of it while singing lead vocals. From tracks like Fleetwood Mac’s fun “Second Hand News,” to the acoustic gem “Never Going Back Again,” to the boldly explorative “Tusk,” Buckingham’s work presents a wide spectrum of sonic colors.

Famous for his finger-picking technique, Buckingham represents the musical heart of an epic band. His solo work and solo performances offer an opportunity to experience him when he is at his most explorative. And the guy could write a decent lyric, having penned “Go Your Own Way” as the first lines for the historic Rumors sessions.

#8 Billy Gibbons

No one is better at slide guitar than Gibbons. Want proof? Just watch and listen to him with that Gibson and slide on “Just Got Paid Today.” Gibbons is the composer of some of the most iconic riffs in rock history, and he contributed lead vocals on more than a few of them. I love listening to an interview with Billy because the man is a walking archive of rock history. He’s been there and done that.

What is not appreciated by most rock fans is how ZZ Top’s 1983 breakthrough album, Eliminator, represented an avante garde moment for the genre. Most fans are familiar with how the band and the singles from that album helped propel music videos and MTV to greater heights. But Eliminator is first and foremost a progressive blues album; one that jumped from a legacy of classic blues-based rock into a sound that was blues blended with electronic music. When Billy Gibbons says Depeche Mode was an influence on him when making Eliminator, it is not a surprise. You can hear it in the songs from that album.

Great musicians take their cumulative body of art and style, observe to the left and right of them as to what is evolving, and then morph it all into something new and exciting. Billy Gibbons is simultaneously a classic blues guitarist and a rock innovator. That’s a sure-fire sign of greatness.

#7 Eric Clapton

You have to be something special when your early career lineage consists of playing guitar for the Yardbirds, John Mayall, Cream, and Blind Faith. Add to it a solo career that sold 280 million records and throw in Derek and the Dominos in the middle of it all, and you have one of the most impressive resumes in rock, guitarist or otherwise.

I suppose if music fans were spray painting “Clapton is God” on London walls in the 1960s, he has to find his way on this list. Yet although I like Clapton, I don’t love him as much or rank him as high as most guitarist aficionados would. The primary reason ties to the passage of time. His best work was Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs when he was with Derek and the Dominoes, and most of those songs were cowritten with others or covers. That album was released over 50 years ago.

Clapton’s solo career after Derek and the Dominoes was full of radio hits and sales successes. But the past 50 years have not produced much in the category of ground-breaking or awe inspiring. Strangely, the more successful Clapton has become over the long haul, the less he seems to stand out. But based on what he did up through 1970 alone would place him on this list.

#6 Alex Lifeson

Canadian Lifeson is the most underrated guitarist in rock. He’s complex in the studio and he’s inspiring live. There are a dozen Rush singles that have more variety and moving parts than entire albums for other acts, and the band’s guitarist is a big reason why. “Spirit of the Radio” off Permanent Waves is probably the best exemplar of Lifeson’s approach: sharp, rich, complex, diverse, and unforgettable. There’s four different songs meshed into that one single.

The beauty of Rush and Lifeson is that they offer something for everyone. You like progressive rock? 2112 is your album. You like the arena anthems? Blast “Tom Sawyer” in the car. You want introspective lyrics? Listen to “The Trees” and how it resonates today more than ever. You enjoy musical sophistication? Stream “La Villa Strangiato” through headphones and try to figure out how he plays those guitar parts. Care for some synth-rock? Give Power Windows a spin on the turntable.

Rush is such an insanely talented band that most people consider Alex Lifeson to be the least accomplished of the power trio. That’s what happens when your fellow band mates are Neal Peart on drums (and lyrics) and Geddy Lee on bass (and vocals), probably the best at their instruments in all of rock. With the passing of Peart, one of the most prolific and varied acts in rock history is likely at an end. But at least we still have that massive and impressive catalogue to fall back on.

#5 Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page sports the most accomplished resume you will find for a rock guitarist: successful session musician, Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, and host of later supergroup bands and collaborations including The Firm. His resume of riffs forms an endless loop and includes a foundation of “Heartbreaker,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Black Dog,” “Communication Breakdown,” and “Rock and Roll.” Couple to all the substantive accomplishments his unique stage performances (using a cello bow to play guitar and playing a 12-string double neck guitar) and his offstage interests (including his obsession with mysticism and buying occultist Aleister Crowley’s home in Scotland), and you have the complete guitar god.

If you want a tour de force live concert performance that projects the talents of Jimmy Page, give a listen to him playing with the Black Crowes at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. From the Led Zeppelin songs to the classic blues covers, this album is Page at his absolute live best.

He wrote the music for “Stairway to Heaven,” what most consider to be the greatest rock song of all time. He was steeped in folk music and the blues. Books have been written about his exploits, the best being Hammer of the Gods. And his peers worship him, from Eddie to Edge. Jimmy Page took a talent and turned it into the complete professional career package.

#4 Brian May

May is the smartest individual on this list of musical geniuses. He earned a degree in physics from the Imperial College London in 1968 and was then awarded a doctorate in astrophysics from the same esteemed institution in 2007. In between his physics and astrophysics diplomas, Brian May set the world ablaze with his guitar in Queen.

There are bands that do classic rock extremely well; but there is only so far one can take it before it becomes repetitive and depleted. There are other bands that do experimental and progressive rock very well; but the complexity appeals to only a small portion of the wider listening audience. Mixing the two together is typically untenable for most musicians and acts and will spell commercial disaster.

What was special about May and Queen was their ability to take the eccentric and innovative and wrap it within a hard rock package so that it appealed to the masses. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is Queen’s masterpiece on Night at the Opera and is rightly considered one of the greatest songs of the rock era. Yet the song breaks every rule of a hit rock record: it’s long, it’s operatic, it tells a strange story, and it shape shifts from piano ballad to power chord anthem. It takes uber talent to pull off the magic of composing and producing such a composition in a way where it achieves universal enjoyment. Freddie Mercury wrote and created most of it, but Brian May built and structured most of it so that it worked. What a dynamic duo.

For a hidden gem of guitar history, check out Brian May’s Star Fleet Project, an early 1980s mini-album he collaborated with Eddie Van Halen on. Would’ve loved to have been in the room or studio when that was being made.

#3 Stevie Ray Vaughn

There are those who will say SRV is technically a blues guitarist and thus should not be ranked in a rock list. Although Stevie’s roots were clearly the blues, his body of work doesn’t just fit well in the rock genre, it redefined it. Look no further than how he reset David Bowie’s image during the 1980s with the riffs on “Modern Love” and “Let’s Dance.” The greats have the ability to redefine other greats.

You don’t listen to SRV, you feel him. Give “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” a listen and you will certainly feel him. Maybe that’s the result of a kid who started playing when he was seven and who’s older brother Jimmy had a bit of musical talent of his own. Something was in the water down there in Dallas, Texas.

The most impactful aspect of Vaughn’s art was how he meshed his voice and his guitar into a singular sound; the voice and the guitar spring from the same source and share a common DNA, one a natural extension of the other. A raw, unbridled talent that has not seen its equal since his untimely death in 1990. A career of seven short years leaves one wondering what might have been had he lived longer.

#2 Jimi Hendrix

Johnny Allen Hendrix would’ve boasted an impressive resume before his solo career, backing the Isley Brothers and Little Richard on guitar. But in four short years of a solo career that spawned three classic studio albums, Jimmy Hendrix established a standard that remains non-replicable to this day.

This innovator was the definition of unconventional. He played a right-handed guitar upside down (Hendrix was ambidextrous, playing guitar and throwing baseballs left-handed but writing right-handed). Hendrix amazed in the studio. He awed audiences live with his playing and with his showmanship, from flaming guitars to the “Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock. Nuisances and problems to mortal guitarists became creative tools for Hendrix to master, with the best example being his harnessing of amplifier feedback.

Hendrix arrived in England in 1966 and immediately scared Eric Clapton off the stage when Hendrix joined Cream on stage and blew Slowhand away. He then shocked the rest of British rock royalty that included McCartney, Richards, Jagger, Beck, and Townsend, when Hendrix played his own London shows a bit later. Every guitarist loves Hendrix, yet no one can play like Hendrix. Just ask Clapton.

#1 Eddie Van Halen

There is no other plausible choice for numero uno. Edward Ludwig Van Halen put signature into signature sound. Every rock guitarist, from the professional global star to the basement amateur, measures the timeline of the rock guitar with BE and AE: Before Eddie and After Eddie. You can identify a Van Halen tune within three notes.

Van Halen was a technician, building and wiring his guitars, with the most iconic being his red, white, and black striped Frankenstrat. He was an innovator, stylistically and sonically, from finger tapping to “Eruption” to “Mean Streets” to power drills. Yet the guitar and all his innovations were not enough to allow his artistic expression to freely flow, and thus his move to keyboards in the 1980s brought an entirely new dimension to the EVH sound.

His home studio in the Hollywood Hills, 5150, had floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with tapes of his recordings. One can only hope that someone (Wolfgang, are you reading this?) takes the time to inventory and release those time capsules to a world hungry for anything that announces itself as Eddie Van Halen.

Like many talented performers, Eddie suffered from bouts of substance abuse and health issues. But one thing rang clear in sound and sight: when Eddie Van Halen held a guitar in his hands, he was the happiest man alive. I miss that guy.

The Next Ten

There you have it. With only ten spots, more than a few truly great musicians didn’t make the cut. The next ten in no particular order are: Chuck Berry for creating the art form, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow, Carlos Santana and his emotion, George Harrison and his beautiful ballads, Gary Moore with his Corridors of Power masterpiece, Edge with his sonic layering, Joe Perry and his classic riffs, Randy Rhoads as the second coming of Eddie Van Halen, Duane Allman for creating the jam band and southern rock, and Jeff Beck because he is Jeff Beck.

Rock on.

Hearing Greatness: Rael Imperial Aerosol Kid

Readers of this title fall instantly into one of two categories: those who immediately know the subject matter or those completely clueless to it. That’s because the title borrows a line from one of the more famous songs in the subject’s song catalogue. The song is “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” and the subject is the rock group Genesis.

I’ve waded into exploring/revisiting the music of Genesis these past few months. Mostly exploring, as my past experience with Genesis was mostly limited to the latter part of the Phil Collins-as-lead-singer era, from the mid-1980s and beyond. I am grateful for this recent happenstance, yet fruitful, journey. For it has awakened in me the realization of the genius of Genesis, one spanning decades. Despite considering myself a rock aficionado, I had no clue of the impressive extent of this act’s body of work.

Genesis’s uniqueness is best understood through the lens of time relative to their contemporaries. There is the exclusive subset of rock acts that are truly great bands led by talented musicians. Then there is the even smaller category of great rock bands that climbed the mountain of success twice with two different lead singers: legendary acts like Van Halen (Roth then Hagar), AC/DC (Scott then Johnson), The Doobie Brothers (Johnston then McDonald), and Black Sabbath (Osborne then Dio). Finally, there are the rare great acts that successfully evolved from one genre to another (Prince and David Bowie are two that come to mind).

Yet there is only one rock band that was great, achieved epic success with two different lead singers, and impressively evolved genres from a progressive rock band into a straight-up rock band and then into a pop/top-40 band: Genesis. Let’s explore the three acts of the Genesis journey.

The First Act: Peter Gabriel-Era and Prog Rock Trailblazers

The genesis of Genesis starts in England during the late 1960s. The group during the earlier years was comprised of supremely talented musicians: Peter Gabriel on vocals, Steve Hackett on guitar, Tony Banks on keyboards, Mike Rutherford on bass/guitar, and an underrated Phil Collins on drums. Hardcore Genesis fans typically point to this era as the most impactful, often citing the albums Foxtrot, Selling England By the Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway as three of the group’s best.

This early configuration of Genesis was all about prog rock. Poetic lyrics, expansive songs like “Supper’s Ready” (spanning twenty minutes), and extended song interludes where the members’ instrumental talents were indulged were hallmarks of Genesis during this era. Stage shows became elaborate productions with lasers, props, and slide shows. Peter Gabriel toward the end of his tenure with the band started to appear in concert in outrageous costumes and makeup, often drawing all attention to him and, in the eyes of some, detracting from the music and the rest of the band.

Worries about Gabriel stealing all the limelight were short-lived as the band had to deal with his sudden departure at the end of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour in 1975. Gabriel’s surprising decision to leave (listen to his lyrics to his solo hit “Solsbury Hill” for a sense of how he came to the decision and the aftermath) may have been a bit of a relief to other members. But the timing was painful since the band was just starting to make it and was in financial debt despite methodically growing its following.

Personally, I like this era and its albums, with each one having a couple of classic numbers. There might not be a more beautiful song in rock than “Carpet Crawlers” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (what a line: ‘you gotta get in to get out’). “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” is great off Selling England By the Pound. And “Watcher of the Skies” is a great opener on Foxtrot. But for me, the best was yet to come for Genesis, with its next incarnation going on an epic creative run that no one saw coming.

The Second Act: Phil Collins Grabs the Mic and Genesis Achieves International Success

With Peter Gabriel gone, the future of Genesis was far from certain. Phil Collins suggested going entirely instrumental, an idea that was thankfully shot down by the other members. Potential new lead singers were auditioned, with no success. Only when Collins laid down vocals for the classic song “Squonk” during the recording of A Trick of the Tail did Genesis realize its next singer was already in the band, sitting behind the drum kit (Collins does an amazing job with challenging vocals on “Squonk,” which his impressive considering it was the first song he tackled as frontman).

Turns out Phil Collins was quite the lead singer and songwriter, propelling Genesis on a dizzying arc of artistic achievement. The early Collins-led albums of A Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering were impressive for preserving the group’s special prog rock flavor from the Gabriel era while injecting a newness. Fans accepted Collins from the get-go, wanting him to succeed as an old member of a favorite band in a new role.

When legendary guitarist Steve Hackett left the band after Wind and Wuthering, Genesis did not miss a proverbial beat. The next album, And Then There Were Three, offered up the band’s first hit single, “Follow You Follow Me.” Then came a trio of successive albums that defined Genesis in more ways than one: Duke, Abacab, and Genesis. These three albums delivered international success, made the individual members famous, and set a template for how to be a successful rock group.

Duke is my favorite Genesis album. “Behind the Lines” is an all-time great opening track and the next track “Dutchess” is awesome. “Misunderstanding” and “Turn It On Again” are a pair of songs that are about as Genesis as it gets. What I like most about Duke is the ease and positivity of the music; you can listen to the music and tell this album came together organically.

Although Duke is my favorite album, Abacab is not far behind. If you want a forgotten gem of a song, check out “Keep it Dark” off Abacab. And the album Genesis will always have a special place in my heart, as it was the first Genesis album I owned and one of the first records I bought as a kid.

At the end of 1983, Genesis was at the height of its powers and sat in the top echelon of rock acts. Give me these three albums on a deserted island (with a power source, of course) and I am happy for a long while.

But nothing lasts forever, and change is life’s only constant. Truisms for all of us, including Genesis, as they exited the second era and entered the next.

The Third Act: Epic Commercial Success and Lost Edge

Turns out Phil Collins wasn’t just a solid drummer and great lead singer, but he was also a song-writing machine, churning out hit records in rapid succession. He was so prolific that he ran a hugely successful solo career in parallel with Genesis work, as if Genesis was not enough to contain his creative juices.

Amazingly, Collins was creating some of the most classic Genesis albums while he was simultaneously releasing hugely popular solo albums. The dates and lines blur in the early 1980s: the solo albums Face Value, Hello I Must Be Going, and the commercial monster No Jacket Required were being created and issued at the same time of the Genesis trilogy Duke, Abacab, and Genesis. Here’s an impressive bit of trivia: only three individuals in the history of rock succeeded in selling 100 million albums as a part of a group and another 100 million albums as a solo artist: Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, and Phil Collins.

The combination of Collins’ creative genius coupled with his workaholic mindset were the catalysts to this third, and in my opinion, least inspiring era of Genesis: the pop, top-40 era. This last act of the group ended up mirroring what Phil Collins was creating with his solo work. Made for radio airplay and MTV, catchy, and popular selling singles packaged in albums that resembled little of the band’s epic legacy. If this was the era of Genesis where you were introduced to the band (which is partly the case for me), then you risked being not just underwhelmed, but oblivious to the greatness that was visible in the rearview mirror of the band’s recent past.

The albums from this era, mainly Invisible Touch and We Can’t Dance, were quite popular and did extremely well on the charts (both albums peaked in the top-five on Billboard in the US). And each carried mega-hits including the two title tracks, “Land of Confusion,” “In Too Deep,” and “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight.” But numbers aren’t everything when it comes to music, and the third act of Genesis just doesn’t do it for me.

Normal People Doing Extraordinary Things

My recent, deeper dive took me from liking Genesis to loving them. That transition was largely driven by a better appreciation of their music, particularly from the first two eras. But there are two other intangibles I admire about Genesis.

First, this is a band that stands entirely on its music. Outside of the period where Peter Gabriel went a little, shall we say, eccentric on stage, Genesis let the music do all the talking. Imagery is captured in the lyrics and rhythms, not in the glossy shellac of the album cover (although I really like some of those covers) or outfits and hair styles of the musicians (Phil Collins dresses like most of us at the office on a casual Friday).

But another intangible was coming to see the individual members of the group as gifted, intelligent, yet hugely unassuming people. You can’t get less ‘rock star’ in attitude than Phil Collins offstage. Scores of critics lambast Collins, but he succeeded in making Genesis accessible to the masses with the most understated of front men personas. Keyboard wizard Tony Banks strikes me as someone you’d talk investing or physics with, not party all night long with. And Mike Rutherford appears an everyday guy who you sense wrestles with the same life questions most of us do.

Genesis performs this coming week in the Steel City, and I will be there. Yes, it’s tough to see Phil Collins struggling physically, a reminder that life is short and health is precious. But watching normal people doing extraordinary things while remaining normal is special. I like the sound of that. But I like the sound of Genesis even better.

Ranking the Individual Beatles

The musical consensus for years has been that the Beatles were the greatest act in the history of rock. The group’s prominence and fame eclipsed the music industry and permeate global pop culture to this day. The Beatles’ presence is so wide and deep that its four members are instantly recognizable by just their first names. Paul, John, George, and Ringo: mention those four in succession and everyone knows exactly who you are talking about.

I’ve always enjoyed and respected the Beatles’ music, although they are not my all-time favorite band. What I always loved about them was their working-class roots.

The lads from Liverpool grew up with very little in a town that is more Detroit or Pittsburgh than glitzy Manhattan or LA. These were not the kids of privilege by any stretch of the imagination, with the only member who grew up middle class being John Lennon.

What I always found intriguing is how the perceptions differ from the reality of the Beatles and their chief contemporaries, the Rolling Stones.

Most rock fans view the Rolling Stones as the gritty tough band while the Beatles are perceived as the artsy band. But the reality is the Stones hailed from the art schools and universities in and around glamorous London while the Beatles came off the hard-knock streets of Liverpool.

The Rolling Stones embraced wearing the black hat in their marketed persona while the Beatles remained true to who they were through their journey. Image through effective marketing can supersede the reality. If we know it to be true for companies, individuals, and brands, then it is certainly true for the performing arts.

Ranking the Fab Four

So, when it comes to the four members of the most influential group in the history of rock, how would one rank them individually? Well first, you need to define the criteria.

First, let’s stick to the music. We won’t delve too deeply into the cultural, political, or social views and activities of the Fab Four. If nothing else, doing so saves us the torture of having to assess the impact of Yoko.

Second, the musical contributions of each member when in the Beatles as well as their solo work will be fair game. After all, it is amazing to consider the group was only in existence for ten short years, from 1960 to 1970. An amazing amount of music was created over that decade.

But the four continued to make music beyond the 1970 breakup, with the surviving members doing so to this day. Thus, we must include the solo catalogues in the ranking.

So, how do John, Ringo, George, and Paul sort out and why? Let’s have some fun.

#1: Paul

It is not difficult to determine which member deserves the top spot; it’s not even close. Paul McCartney is from another planet.

Consider some of his signature creations for the Beatles: Paperback Writer, Helter Skelter, Can’t Buy Me Love, Penny Lane, Let It Be, Hey Jude, and Yesterday to name just a few. One could argue that the Beatles would still be the most influential group in rock history if you removed any member’s contribution from the catalogue, except for Paul’s. He is the most indispensable ingredient of the Beatles.

Yet Paul’s solo work may be more impressive than his time with the Beatles. Who doesn’t love Wings? Every time someone too young to remember the Beatles but old enough to remember AM radio hears With a Little Luck, Silly Love Songs, or Listen to What the Man Said, they are transported back to those summers riding in the back seat of the lead-gasoline powered family car with the windows down (pre-air conditioning).

My personal favorite McCartney tunes are Coming Up and Beware My Love. Best McCartney live renditions are Jet and Maybe I’m Amazed. And the guy just keeps on creating great music to this day.

#2: George

George Harrison may have been the quiet Beatle when it comes to demeanor, but his music did plenty of bold talking. I love Taxman best, because of its political statement calling out government’s appropriation of citizens’ value by excessive tax. Amen to those lyrics in 2021.

George contributed three of the most beautiful songs in the Beatles portfolio with Something, Here Comes the Sun, and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. And he was a driving force to keep the group’s horizons constantly expanding, by immersing into different cultures and musical genres.

Harrison also lays a claim to arguably the best solo album of the four members after the breakup with his eponymous All Things Must Pass. That album holds the classics of What Is Life and My Sweet Lord. It also includes my favorite George single, If Not For You.

George was also a great collaborator, with his most notable mark being the founding father of the Traveling Wilburys. Imagine the studio where Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison were putting together songs. Lightning in a bottle, captured by George and for the enjoyment of all.

#3 John

I probably rank John lower than the critics and musical experts, which only makes me more confident I got it right. Lennon was great, no doubt. But also overrated in my humble opinion.

With the Beatles, Come Together, Strawberry Fields, and Help! are probably his most widely recognizable contributions. Much of his acclaim ascribed by the music press are for his politically overt numbers. Which is fine, unless you happen to disagree with some of Lennon’s positions. And most of those critically acclaimed Beatles songs don’t have the lyrical and musical weight that stick with you once you hear them.

As a solo artist, John struck gold with Woman and my favorite, Watching the Wheels (the latter was released posthumously after his murder). But his two most heralded solo singles, Imagine and Instant Karma!, I find immensely overrated.

I particularly find Imagine ridiculous; the hypocrisy of John sitting in his Manhattan palace or English estate while crooning about hunger, war, and greed is striking. Listen to the lyrics and then compare them to the Communist Manifesto: there is a lot of overlap between the two. Yet Rolling Stone magazine declared Imagine was Lennon’s musical gift to the world and hundreds of artists covered the tune though the years. Ugh.

#4 Ringo

It is testament to the power of the Beatles that the member I rank fourth (there is no ‘last’ with the Beatles) is a damn impressive artist in his own right. Ringo did not write the Beatles songs he is most famous for; that honor went to McCartney and Lennon. But you have to love his vocals on Yellow Submarine and With a Little Help From My Friends.

Ringo’s solo work is exceptional and underrated. Photograph and It Don’t Come Easy are my favorites. And he was, like George, a master collaborator. Ringo’s All Starr Band was an embarrassment of talent riches, with a lineup boasting Dr. John, Joe Walsh, Billy Preston, the Band’s Levon Helm and Rick Danko, and Bruce Springsteen’s East Street Band’s Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons. Wish I could’ve seen that group live back in 1989.

Speaking of his All-Starr band, here is a little trivia for you: Ringo and Joe Walsh are brothers-in-laws, with each one married to a Bach sister. Wouldn’t it be fun to have Joe Walsh over for a Thanksgiving dinner?

They All Shine On

What’s so clutch about the Beatles is that no matter what your musical tastes or preferences, there is a wealth of options to enjoy. You want rock? Call up Helter Skelter or Live and Let Die on your music app. Want mellow? Give Something or If Not For You a spin on the turntable. And if you want to explore these four trailblazers in different environments, check out the Traveling Wilburys or the All-Starr Band live albums.