In terms of reach, popularity and influence, the Beatles are surely the biggest band of all time. Other groups may have been more edgy and acerbic, but the Scouse quartet are unmatched when it comes to universal appeal.
Bob Dylan’s fans will cite his role in the cultural revolution of the 1960s as a reason for his Nobel Prize award. But what about the Beatles then? Think of the 1960s and your mental montage is probably soundtracked by one of their classics.
From the almost childlike innocence witnessed at the beginning of the decade to the drug-induced iconoclasm of its ending, the Beatles were front and centre, their sound surging through the masses while winning the grudging respect of the musical cognoscenti. They didn’t have to be niche or cynical to get their message across.
McCartney, as the engine room of the group, deserves due recognition.
The only three-time inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Clapton sits at the top of today’s rock family tree. The list of people he has influenced is endless, from the mid-60s when he underpinned the success of Cream and The Yardbirds, to his latest album in March 2013.
To the uniniated Clapton’s style, and appeal, might appear narrow but in fact he is a master of reinvention, as his interpretation of Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff – a record which helped introduce reggae to the masses – showed.
Clapton’s influence can be felt beyond music; a recovering drug addict, he founded the Crossroads Clinic, a rehabilitation centre, in 1998 and the facility continues to treat huge numbers of people today.
Today it’s hard to imagine the musical landscape without powerful black female artists at its summit. Beyonce, Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna are just a few of the singers adored by millions around the world.
But back in 1960, a black woman trying to achieve commercial success in the Aemrican music industry had about the same chances as an F1 driver trying to win Silverstone on a golf buggy. The country was still deeply divided on racial lines, the old Jim Crow laws casting a jagged shadow across much of the south. But Franklin took the plunge, embarking on a professional career by signing for Columbia Records.
Within 10 years she was heralded as the ‘Queen of Soul’ and her influence has been cited by a plethora of successful artists, from Whitney Houston to Annie Lennox. Today’s R&B-dominated music industry would probably not exist without her.
Aretha Franklin (Getty)
Ok, he’s not exactly edgy, but the man born Reg Dwight knows how to write a bubblegum pop song better than probably anyone else on earth.
Many millennials will remember Candle of the Wind being played on an almost endless loop by every radio station on the planet in the aftermath of Princess Diane’s death in 1997, but Elton was enjoying success long before that tragic event – and he continues to thrive long after it.
When Elton appeared on The Simpsons (a sign of his stratospheric popularity if ever there was one) he gave Homer one of his Grammy awards as a meaningless souvenir. We’re sure Elton actually values his awards far more highly than that, but the writers had a point – he has them coming out of his ears.
Physically speaking, she hasn’t exactly aged like a fine wine – the gaunt face and veiny arms suggest she may have taken her exercise regime a bit too far – but Madonna remains (in our opinion) the most creative female artist of all time.
Comparing Lada Gaga to Queen Madge, as many have tried to do, is like comparing the new Star Wars movies with the old ones – it’s simply night and day. Gaga has plenty of energy and ideas but she’ll never match her mentor for endless reinvention.
Like the Beatles, Madonna has proven it’s possible to achieve both influence and mainstream success through her constant desire to renew and revitalise. Aretha Franklin blazed a trial for women with her work, but Madonna has shown a female artist can be as dominant and powerful as any man. There can’t be a better advert for feminism anywhere on earth.