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November 20, 2023

An Open Letter to “Rolling Stone” Magazine

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Dear Contributors to Rolling Stone’s List, “The 250 Greatest Guitarists of All Time:”

On Oct. 13, your magazine published “The 250 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” When I saw that a new list was released, I was thrilled; although you had already made a less extensive list, I completely disagreed with it. The new list claimed to be more diverse in the array of artists that were considered and attempted to take a closer look at more contemporary guitarists. I was sure this new list was the result of contributors like you recognizing your mistakes and finally deciding to fix it, but I seem to have been deeply mistaken.

Somehow, you managed to make the list even worse. Listen, I am a Rolling Stone fan, which made it especially hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that music experts such as yourself — whom I look up to — managed to drop the ball so severely. Not only did I find the exclusion of certain guitarists from the list to be preposterous, but many artists’ spots on the list were almost offensive.

First, it is important to acknowledge the artists that were neglected by the list. For a list that was supposedly meant to include more contemporary artists than it had previously, it is absolutely ludicrous to me that you did not include Steve Lacy or Towa Bird. Steve Lacy is hands-down one of the greatest guitarists of this generation. Not only did he prove how talented he is in his EP Steve Lacy’s Demo, especially given the fact that its production was limited since it was recorded on his phone, but he continued to prove his guitar skills time and time again with Apollo XXI and Gemini Rights, along with his other releases. Towa Bird is a newer artist who largely gained her audience via social media, where she beautifully covered songs like “Me and Your Mama” by Childish Gambino and “Beggin’” by Måneskin. However, the extent of her abilities was illustrated best by her original songs, like “Wild Heart” and “Boomerang”. Another glaring omission was Omar Apollo, whose talent as a guitarist is what gives his music its characteristic sound, notably on tracks like “Killing Me” and “Want U Around”.

On the alternative side of things, Matt Myers of the band Houndmouth and Briston Maroney definitely should have been included. Matt Myers’s work in songs like “Darlin’” and “Black Gold” earns him a spot on this list. Likewise, Briston Maroney’s guitar skills manage to convey a nostalgic and sweet yet grungy sound. While his most popular song, “Freakin’ Out on the Interstate,” does display this trait, songs like “Fool’s Gold,” “Rollercoaster” and “Small Talk” are also clear demonstrations of his talent.

Given that the goal of this list was to be more expansive and inclusive, you were remiss not to include these budding talents representing a variety of specialties within the discipline. I was even more surprised that I was unable to find well-established masters of the craft on the list. Where, for example, is Terry Kath of Chicago? Where is Tommy Shaw of Styx, Rolling Stone? I ask you, where is Elliot Easton of The Cars, or Neal Schon of Journey? Not only did you fail to include well-established and deserving guitarists in your list, but you also left out newer artists who earned spots on this list and would have benefited your “attempt” at curating a more inclusive and diverse list.

I have not yet even mentioned the ridiculous placement of some of the guitarists you actually remembered to include in your list. Let’s start with Paul McCartney at #173 and John Lennon at #159. McCartney and Lennon are considered two of the fathers of rock ‘n’ roll. Why, then, are they at the bottom of the list? Even if their guitar skills weren’t as incredible as they had proven them to be, the sheer impact they had on the music industry should easily put them within the top half of the list at a minimum. George Harrison (#31) deserves the high spot that he has on this list, but McCartney and Lennon should be alongside him. 

Next, let’s talk about Joe Perry at #136. Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Joe Perry of “Crazy.” Joe Perry of “Angel.” Joe Perry of “Dream On.” Do not try to tell me that Joe Perry does not belong in the top 100 guitarists of all time. I will not be taking any further questions on that topic.

One thing you did right was put Keith Richards at #15. I agree with that. However, Muddy Waters was a huge inspiration for Richards. He laid the foundation that allowed Richards to thrive. As such, putting him at #84 disrespects his legacy and his responsibility for the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. Similarly, your placement of Joan Jett at #76 and Kurt Cobain at #88 hurt to read. Jett and Cobain both played significant roles in the formation of the hard rock sound and both deserve higher spots. 

As I went through the list for the first time, I was shocked to find Eric Clapton (#35), Jerry Garcia (#34) and Brian May (#33) in the 30s. They all deserved top 20 spots. One of the few aspects of the original list that was correct was Clapton’s placement at #4 and Garcia’s placement at #13. Clapton is one of my absolute favorite guitarists of all time, and to see you demote him when songs like “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight” are out there is very upsetting. He and Garcia should have stayed in their previous positions at the very least. Although Brian May had been moved up from #39 in the original list, I still wholeheartedly believe that he should be moved even higher. I should not need to explain why his role in Queen easily earned him a higher position to music experts like you.

Obviously, in order to make these changes, others would need to be moved around and taken off the list. Joni Mitchell, for example, can be moved down the list. I would argue that her songwriting is what makes her important in the music landscape, not her guitar-playing. Similarly, Ani DiFranco can be moved down; her lyricism is the most significant component of her discography. Fredrik Thordendal or Meshuggah can be taken off the list. Although it is impossible to deny that he is skilled, his playing is generic in the scheme of death metal. I also think it is important to point out that many artists share spots with their bandmates. Can you really say that these guitarists are equally talented and just happen to be in the same band? There are differences between Mike McCready and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, between Allen Collins and Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd and between Johnny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien of Radiohead. Find those differences and analyze them; tying them is a cop-out.

I am disappointed and appalled by the choices that went into this list. My hope is that when you make another list of the greatest guitarists of all time in the future, you take a more comprehensive approach. You did not deliver on your promise of greater inclusion, and it’s a true shame.

Sincerely, A Concerned Reader

Hater Tuesday is an authorless column that runs on Tuesdays and centers around critiquing media or culture.