Not the best, but your favorite - the artists who have meant the most to your life, who even though they aren't Bach, they make you smile when you hear their stuff.
In no order:
Def Leppard- Pop metal never sounded so good. Favorite track is "Hysteria," though really, they're all great. Proof that the lyrics don't have to be ten feet deep to stay with you for years. They totally get that melody is where it's at. There isn't one thing special about the lyrics of Photograph, but it is a soaring gorgeous rock song. That moment in Shawshank Redemption where the prisoners are looking up in awe at the speakers playing opera...that's Def Leppard for me.
Rick Springfield- One of the stranger stories in pop- a 30 year old dude being sold as a teen pinup who reluctantly was in on the joke as long as people heard his music. An underrated musician, he wrote his own stuff and won awards for his work on guitar. Forgive him for Hard to Hold. One of my first man crush's as a twelve year old, it's on the list for old time's sake.
Led Zeppellin- Robert Plant wrote the entry for Elvis Presley in Rolling Stone's Top Artists of All Time feature. He tells the story of meeting Elvis in a hotel where Jimmy Page disclosed that Plant liked to warm up for a show using Elvis songs. "Which one do you do?" asked Elvis. Plant told him the song, and on his way out of the hotel Presley stuck his head around the corner and started belting it out, with Plant joining in. He told Letterman the tears came shortly after (to hear him tell the story is a hoot- search YouTube for Robert Plant on Letterman). I think Robert Plant's voice is among the best ever in rock, and so is the music.
Survivor- I'd argue that Vital Signs was one of the greatest AOR records of the 80s. Top to bottom a great album. One of the rare cases where a lead singer replacement worked out well. One of those records that got me through high school, and I think you know exactly what I mean.
Rolling Stones- they had an eight year period or so in the 60s where it's the best rock and roll ever made.
Bruce Springsteen- I'll never forget my dad watching MTV and saying, "I sort of like that guy," which was my dad's way of saying he really liked him. And I think I know why: rough exterior with a poet's brain and heart of gold. Just like my dad.
Foo Fighters- With all apologies, glad Dave Grohl got to go out on his own. The worst part of Everlong is that it has a perfect chorus, yet they only let you hear it sparingly. It's also part of its genius.
The Cars- They just make me happy. New wavey but accesible. Rock with some cool keyboards. It never hit me that Ben Orr sang lead vocals on Just What I Needed until recently. Too busy loving that song to notice. And the fact they got an 80 something year old Vargas to paint Candy-O is pretty cool, too.
Hall and Oates- The best part of Daryl Hall is that he never sings a refrain the same way twice.
Phil Collins/Genesis: Stop it. I know it's lightweight and the consensus is he wasn't as good as Peter Gabriel. But for those of us born a few years later who didn't get the chance to see Genesis as an art band, we saw a guy who gave us In the Air Tonight on his own and Mama with Genesis. The haters can rest- Phil doesn't have much use of his hands anymore, so no drumming, and his interest in music is gone. But for fifteen years or so, a lot of pop gems that remain my favorites.
Don Henley- his voice is like an old sweater. Remember when the days were long and rolled beneath a deep blue sky. Yes, and thank you.
Fleetwood Mac- I love the diversity of three vocalists. Rumours sold millions on talent and craft alone. Stevie Nicks is my favorite one, probably, and I'm too chicken to look up to see if Sara was really written as a song for a baby she did not end up having with Don Henley. That's what it means to me, and I don't want the internet to ruin it.
Willie Nelson: We can't escape our childhood. I fought liking him for years becuase my mother listened to him and Conway and Dolly and Loretta...and to a five year old....ick! But I can't deny I have a hundred Willie songs on my ipod, and Pancho and Lefty has some melody in it that I can't deny. Always on My Mind is one of those songs everybody covered until Willie did it and now you'd look foolish singing it because it belongs to him. "If you would not have fallen..." is one of my favorite openings to a song. Ever.