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 who 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 front man).

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.

The Unlikeliest of Doppelgangers: Dylan and Trump

A doppelganger in German folklore is a biologically unrelated look-alike of another; what some call a twin stranger. I wonder if Donald Trump and Bob Dylan ever met. Because, as odd as it seems on its face, these two icons share more than a few uncanny similarities in career and public perception.

I know, I know. Scores of burnt-out ex-beatnik/hippie seniors living in gentrified urban neighborhoods who can quote Dylan lyrics verbatim despise Donald Trump. And many MAGA hat-wearing ardent Trump supporters consider Dylan an incoherent mumbler of dubious talent. One would not be caught dead with the other, and both groups pride themselves on their disdain for the opposing icon. Yet the parallels between the career trajectories of Trump and Dylan run many and deep.

A key commonality between the two is that there is, well, much not to like. Dylan’s early career of acoustic folk protest songs I find tinny and much too romanticized by an accommodating rock press. His penchant for discarding those around him who no longer furthered his career ambitions was less than admirable. Trump’s insatiable ego and hunger for the spotlight drives an introvert like myself seeking a dark, quiet place.

Yet both men enjoyed a condensed period where they left a permanent, undeniable, and positive mark upon society.

In ten short years, from 1965 to 1975, Dylan created perhaps the greatest trio of albums ever with Highway 61 Revisited (’65), Blonde on Blonde (’66) and Blood on the Tracks (’75). Trump was the first president in a generation who had the audacity to break the oppressive shackles of bureaucracy, regulation, and government to liberate society’s doers, free enterprise, the middle class, employment, and economic growth. The legacy of both men will live on.

Dylan and Trump presented existential threats to the established interests where they first took root.

Dylan turned the folk music community inside out when he went electric, causing a freaked-out Pete Seeger to attempt to cut (allegedly with a hatchet) Dylan’s power during his live performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Trump roiled the traditional Republican platform when he railed against globalism and multinationalism, causing old guard stalwarts like McCain, Romney, and Bush to become the most strident members of the resist movement. Ironically, Dylan and Trump grew the brand and reach of folk music and the Republican party, respectively, yet were subjected to public attack from each group’s old guard beneficiaries.

Both men defied being pigeon-holed into convenient labels to suit the simple constructs of others. Trump is not a populist, traditional Republican, or conservative. Dylan is not a poet, protest singer, or rock star. Both are more complex than easy definitions and tags, as is the case for most individuals who leave indelible marks on history.

“Fake news” was not a foreign phenomenon to either trailblazer. Of course, Trump turned the tables on the biased media and made fake news one of the most effective planks of his campaign platform. But not many realize Dylan was subjected to similar media shenanigans; the British press would report a mass exodus of audience from concert halls during his early, controversial electric performances when the reality was only a small handful of narcissists wishing to make a scene staged a walkout. With media, some things never seem to change.

There’s a sense both icons are torn between obsessively bolstering their public personas and being willing to completely disappear from the limelight.

Dylan meticulously tailored earlier artistic moves to grow his aura; but then would disappear from the public eye for years on end. Although Trump is the embodiment of obsession of publicity, he has hinted from time to time a desire to sail off into the sunset to enjoy a life beyond the lens and Twitter. Perhaps both experience a hunger for, and subsequent exhaustion from, such global profiles.
Ultimately, Trump and Dylan are forces of individualistic creative destruction. Both tore down establishments that initially elevated them, refusing to yield to a tide of conformity. Both replaced the ruins with new edifices that evolved the status quo into their own visions. Although their critics will never accept their greatness, the rest of us would be well served to appreciate the lasting legacies of both.