This is a tricky list. Because it doesn't mean what you might think. It's more about people who fit the pose of what rock n' roll represents. This is why Bruce Springsteen can't make the list. He's too wholesome. Brian Wilson is too much of an introvert. Bono is only a classic annoyance. Jerry Garcia and Frank Zappa are too weird and are anti-stars. Jimi Hendrix is impossible to imitate, though some pathetically try. Johnny Rotten is too British. Joe Strummer is too socially conscious. (Paul Simonon came in at #11). David Bowie is too artsy. Paul Simon is too short. Randy Newman doesn't "rock." Van Morrison is...well, look at him. Mick Jagger is too uppity. Ozzy is too Ozzy. Dio is too metal. The Ramones are too conceptual. Eric Clapton is too country club. Kiss are too cartoony. Prince is too girly. The Beatles are too pop. Elvis is too 1950s, which may sound like a dumb reason, but the way "classic rock" has been re-written, the music doesn't even start until Let It Bleed.
I know, who's left?
Well, let's just get it on and you'll see what I mean.
10) Kurt Cobain: The live fast-die young dynamic works in Cobain's favor. Just like James Dean, he has very little work for us to judge him. And the T-shirt market has gone crazy for him. The last rock star?
9) Joe Perry: I suppose Steven Tyler could make this list, but he's the Jagger to Perry's Richards. No matter how commercial Aerosmith have been, Perry's always stood to the side brooding. His own solo career has included albums with such terrible titles as I've Got the Rock 'n' Roll's Again and Once A Rocker, Always a Rocker.
8) Mike Ness: Every once in awhile comes a rocker who for some unknown reason is given a "serious" critical nod despite the fact that his career is one pockmarked by inconsistency and an inability to get records out on time. I've no problem with Mr. Ness or Social Distortion. I like what he does, especially the guitar tones, but I also know there isn't an original bone in his catalog. But I do like Johnny Cash. I do like Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs and to combine the two in some sort of Prison Gang-Americana rock, well, I suppose it makes the music a classic daguerreotype.
7) Johnny Thunders: You don't have to be a heroin addict to make this list, but it sure helps! I know I'll be nailed to the cross for this one, but as much as I like Johnny, I can't for the life of me figure if I'm supposed to admire the quality or the quantity of his work. Neither of which is in strong supply. Unless you consider constantly recording the same songs to be both. Every one of his recordings has fault somewhere. Great moments, for sure. But why others aspire to his erratic ways completely defeats me?
6) Chris Robinson: Born ten or twenty years earlier, Chris Robinson might very well have been able to escape the criticism that he's a second or third generation rocker. But in pop music, timing is everything. What is seminal to one generation is dated to another. He's as convincing at what he does as, say, Interpol or Editors are at their chosen homage. But I still like Editors better. It's a taste thing. You (if I may assume) prefer the Black Crowes, as is your right.
5) Slash: One album. One. And it's not Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols. Take Appetite for Destruction out of the mix and you're left with "November Rain"? (OK, OK, I admit, I'll take "Civil War," I will). Somehow, when I think of Slash, I don't think of all the great music he's made. I think, there's that clown with the hat on! Doesn't he know that smoking is bad for him and he's setting a terrible example for the youth of America? (I don't care about the youth in China. I'm a bad person. I just don't.)
4) Iggy Pop: I know. Landing on this list doesn't seem to be as wonderful as it first seemed. But here is where the list takes a great turn. Iggy may be limited but he's worked with those limits in a way that makes him one of the greatest of any era. His live performances are without peer and his early records are a golden pass for any lesser work. (Fact: if you get three to five great albums out of anyone, they have done their work. Great music is often lightening and how many times can it reasonably strike?)
3) Paul Westerberg: Bob Mould of Husker Du doesn't make the list because he played his guitar too loud, whereas the Replacements got drunk and ran through a ton of covers. Westerberg has the ragged-but-right school down cold.
2) Jimmy Page: Robert Plant doesn't make the list for the same reason as Mick Jagger. Jimmy almost doesn't belong on this list. But his dark, sullen image makes him the perfect rock god. Of course, he's said to be a genial type. It's not his fault if those who chose to emulate him didn't have the musical chops to do so and, therefore, latched onto the "demonic" end of things. Page's only fault could be allowing Peter Grant and Richard Cole to represent him. Then again, maybe he feared them as much as anybody else.
1) Keith Richards: Keith Richards is generally considered Rock 'n' Roll. I certainly have no problem with that. As long as we're talking about 1964-1981 (see, I'm being generous). Which is an incredibly long streak by anyone's calculations. The fact that he was incoherent for much of this time means he had expert handlers and tasters. I do think he owes Mick Jagger an apology. For if Mick hadn't steered the ship from 1971 onward, there might not have been a legacy so well-remembered.