When it comes to popular music... there is no "best"



Neil Peart died. RIP.

But it has sparked an online discussion about the best drummers of all time. This page gives a full rundown of the discussion.

But when it comes to popular music, there is no 'best.' Because popular music is, for the most part, not an exhibition of technical skill but an exhibition of catchy songs with a cool sound and lyrics that are meaningful to the listener.

Jimmy Hendrix may have been pretty good technically (professional guitarists have said he was) but he was probably not the best. The most technically proficient guitarist in history is probably some obscure classical guitarist that no one has ever heard of. Neil Peart certainly had technical skills as a drummer. But most likely not the best technically. Singers often spoken of as the best like Robert Plant or Bono are likewise probably not as technically skilled as a operatic virtuoso.

So, when we say that Plant or Bono or Hendrix or Peart were the 'best' we are really saying that something about the way that they sang or played touched us personally. Pop music is deeply personal.

I don't know two people that share the exact same taste in music. Even people that largely agree on genre (my wife and I both like classic rock) there are deep disagreements. Sometimes my wife and I have moments where we are reminded of the great Bill Murray line from What About Bob?, "There are two types of people in this world: those that like Neil Diamond and those that do not. My ex wife loved him." She will say, "I love the Guess Who..." and I cringe. Or I will say, "I love the Band," and she cringes. I actually have a lot of respect for Neil Diamond. But I get people that hate him. He is unbelievably talented when it comes to writing catchy songs that stay in your head. But he was also a self serious cheese ball. I get hating him and I also get loving him. Was Neil Diamond the greatest or the worst? There is no actual answer to this. The only objective measures relate to sales/listens but most people agree that there are very popular artists that are not 'the greatest' (think boy bands or Disney stars).

Like all art, there is a ton of subjectivity and culture associated with the appreciation of it. Some music reminds you of your childhood. Some of your teenage years. A particular song might remind you of the first time you fell in love or the music you listened to when your kids were young. Some lyrics might speak to your mood or life circumstances. Some styles might provide a soundtrack to the style you want to embody.

I think music is a magical thing. A gift given by God to humans. It moves us. It excites us. It entertains us. But just as the children God gives you are the best in your mind but no one else's, the particular taste you have in music is a gift to you but no one else. 

I find lists of 'best drummers' or 'best guitarists' to be fun and funny and interesting - but only in the same way that a list of cutest dogs or smartest five year olds would be fun or funny.  Someday, I would love to see a best 100 drummers of all time list and find a list of obscure studio musicians that actually had the most technical skill in history.

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