Back in 2004, Rolling Stone assembled an expert panel of musicians, industry figures and critics to pick the 50 greatest artists of all time. We called these artists "The Immortals." A year later, our panelists expanded the roster to 100 all-time great artists, which you can read right here. But time stands still for no list, and when we look around us today we see a whole galaxy of other stars who belong in the Immortals conversation. Click through for 14 currently active (or relatively recently defunct) artists who we think will stand the test of time — the kind of acts whose names we wouldn't be surprised to see on a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot at some point down the road when they become eligible. Meet the New Immortals.
If Taylor Swift stopped producing hits right now, at 23, she could tour a killer oldies show for the rest of her life. Her catalog is already jam-packed with acoustic gems ("Fifteen," "Mean"), country-pop relationship anthems ("Sparks Fly," "The Story of Us") and stadium-size epics ("I Knew You Were Trouble," "State of Grace"). Swift grew up obsessed with the Dixie Chicks on a Christmas tree farm in rural Pennsylvania; she started writing songs at 14 before moving to Tennessee. It didn't take her long to conquer the Nashville machine — or to break out of it. She's sold more than 25 million albums, recently dominating the pop charts with her dubstep smackdown "I Knew You Were Trouble" and the bubblegum stomper "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." No matter what she does musically, Swift has chronicled growing up and navigating tricky relationships better than anyone else in the 2000s. "I know general things about love," she told Rolling Stone last year. "How to treat people well, what you deserve and when to walk away. Other than that, love is a complete mystery — and that's why I like to write about it."
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Back in 2000, when Kanye West was an up-and-coming producer from Chicago with a name that people kept mispronouncing (if they knew it at all), virtually no one expected him to become a superstar. No one, that is, except Kanye West. He pursued his vision until it became a reality — placing several beats on Jay-Z's 2001 LP The Blueprint, then stepping into the spotlight with his brilliant debut, 2004's The College Dropout. He could have settled into a comfortable career from there, but Kanye has never been one to settle. His music got even more ambitious with each release, even as his lyrics got more searingly honest, peaking with 2010's complicated masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Once he was an outsider; today, it's just about impossible to imagine our world without him.
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Few debut rock albums make an impact on the level of Arcade Fire's 2004 LP, Funeral. They were a largely unknown Canadian indie band when it came out, but their music was big enough to fill arenas. Centered around frontman Win Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne, the band links the naked emotion of Bruce Springsteen's best work with the stadium-shaking ambition of U2 circa The Joshua Tree. Within a year of Funeral's release, they were sharing the stage with David Bowie and headlining festivals around the world. They've only gone bigger from there, winning an Album of the Year Grammy in 2011 for their third disc, The Suburbs, and selling more tickets than almost any other rock band that formed in the 21st century. They're currently reported to be working on their next disc — far and away the most anticipated rock release of 2013.
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- 100 Best Songs of the 2000s: Arcade Fire, 'Rebellion (Lies)'
Not many bands could have survived the crushing success that Pearl Jam had on their debut album, Ten. The 1991 disc catapulted them from an unknown Seattle grunge outfit to MTV and radio gods, selling millions of records along the way and turning Eddie Vedder into an icon of his generation. Living up to that initial burst of success would have been impossible, so the band didn't even try. They stopped making videos, refused to tour with Ticketmaster, shied away from the media and did everything they could to scale back. They focused all their efforts instead on making great rock records and building one of the most devoted cult audiences in rock — and keeping their fans satisfied with marathon concerts whose set lists varied wildly from night to night. Pearl Jam might not ever land another "Jeremy" on the charts, but more than two decades after Ten, they can still instantly sell out any arena in the country.
In 2006, 20-year-old NYU dropout Stefani Angelina Germanotta changed her name to Lady Gaga and began her plot to take over the world. It only took about three years. In that time, she brought her Madonna-inspired dance songs from downtown Manhattan's cramped Bitter End to a multiple-night stand at Madison Square Garden. It was easy to dismiss her first big single, "Just Dance," as a pop trifle — but the hits kept coming at a dizzying pace ("Poker Face," "Paparazzi," "Bad Romance," "Edge of Glory"), each one more impressive than the last. Gaga also understands the 24/7 media culture better than any of her peers: she treats the whole world as a stage, posing in outrageously freaky costumes everywhere she goes, from the airport to the Grammys. By preaching the gospel of tolerance and self-respect to her army of "Little Monsters," she's split the difference between Oprah Winfrey and Madonna. It's a highly potent formula that's turned her into arguably the biggest star of the new millennium, with a staggering 34,500,000 Twitter followers. Her only challenge now is finding new ways to wow her audience.
Even if Beyoncé Knowles had never done anything beyond the string of hits she recorded with Destiny's Child in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we'd still remember her as the leader of one of the greatest girl groups of all time — for "No, No, No," for "Bills, Bills, Bills," for "Say My Name" and "Independent Women" and of course for "Bootylicious." But that was just the beginning. As a solo artist, Beyoncé has soared to new heights of inspiration. Her many smash singles, from "Crazy in Love" to "Irreplaceable" to "Single Ladies," make up one of the past decade's strongest pop portfolios. More than that, though, Beyoncé herself has become an icon to countless fans — a high priestess of empowerment and unflappable attitude.
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"We want to make room for the listener," Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy told Rolling Stone in 2002. "My favorite hard rock bands — Led Zeppelin, the Stooges — they're all about space. There's a sense of the moment, a feeling that it actually happened. That's all I really aspire to." The Chicago band has undergone multiple lineups and musical evolutions in the last two decades, dabbling in barnburning country rock (1995's A.M. and 1996's Being There), layered pop experimentation (1999's Summerteeth and 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), drug-fueled noise-rock (2004's A Ghost Is Born) and laid-back Grateful Dead-style jams (2007's Sky Blue Sky) — all sounds Wilco still draws from on its more recent albums and that the band nails at its unforgettable live shows. Wilco deserves a spot on this list for Foxtrot alone, a challenging masterpiece that got the band dropped from their label, Reprise. "I don't want to be too self-congratulatory, but we've been able to do something that isn't very easy to do, and none of us take for granted," Tweedy told RS in 2009. "So if that can continue, why would you want to stop doing that?"
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Going by numbers alone, Rihanna is already written into the history books in bold ink. Her digital sales add up to 100 million — more than anyone, anywhere, ever. Her catalog of hits includes a dozen Number One smashes, from 2006's "SOS" to 2012's "Diamonds" — the same number as Madonna and the Supremes, and more than anyone else except the Beatles, Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson. But Rihanna's appeal transcends statistics. She's a star in the truest sense: a wild, larger-than-life personality you just can't look away from. Tabloid wildfires may rage all around her, but she shines bright through it all.
Green Day rose out of the San Francisco punk rock scene of the late 1980s, but from the very beginning they had global ambitions. Despite the inevitable cries of "sell-out," the three-piece band signed to a major label in 1994 and released Dookie. Within months, every high school kid in America was blasting "Longview," "Basket Case" and "Welcome to Paradise" in their bedrooms, and the band was stealing the show at Woodstock 1994. They continued to release hit records over the next decade (including the ballad "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," but in 2004, they wowed the critics with their anti-Bush rock opera American Idiot. Just as they were about to be written off as has-beens, an entirely new generation of teenagers became obsessed with the group and the album became a landmark release. Nearly a decade later, they remain one of the biggest bands on the planet.
- Photos: Green Day Through the Years
- From the Archives: Green Day and the Palace of Wisdom
- Cover Story Excerpt: Billie Joe Armstrong on the Troubled Days Before His Meltdown
"The joke was always, 'We'll take Detroit garage rock to the world," Jack White told Rolling Stone in 2002. Mission accomplished. The White Stripes' combination of raucous punk and Delta blues resonated with MTV and rock radio, and their 2003 single "Seven Nation Army" has become a worldwide soccer stadium anthem. Born on the Detroit club scene in 1997, the band hit big in the early 2000s with a fully realized aesthetic: childlike lyrics, a peppermint color scheme, an obsession with the number three and supposed family ties (White introducing drummer Meg onstage as his "big sister," when they were actually exes). But they truly thrived during their intense live gigs, where White tore up his cheapo Airline guitar and pogoed across the stage as Meg thrashed like a cavewoman. "There is something about the way I attack things and the way she attacks things," White told Rolling Stone in 2005. "When you put those dynamics together, something interesting happens." The Stripes officially called it quits in 2011 after a few years of inactivity, but White has blazed forward on his own — most recently with his excellent solo debut, 2012's Blunderbuss.
The Roots may not have technically been the first live band in hip-hop — shout-out to Stetsasonic — but hands down, they're the greatest. Drummer Ahmir Thompson (a.k.a. Questlove) and rapper Tariq Trotter (a.k.a. Black Thought) connected in the late 1980s, when they were classmates at a performing-arts high school in Philadelphia. From 1993 on, they recorded a string of acclaimed LPs with an expanded line-up that took the jazzy style of predecessors like A Tribe Called Quest in revolutionary new directions — stirring in funk, soul, psychedelia and art-rock influences as the years flew by. In 2009, after nearly 15 years of tireless touring, the Roots accepted a gig as the house band on Jimmy Fallon's new late-night show. This could have heralded a comfortable retirement — but instead they've somehow become even more prolific, releasing some of their most fearless music to date and jamming on national television with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Prince.
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The Strokes burst onto the scene in 2001 with an effortlessly distinct sound: Julian Casablancas' audible distant scowl, Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr.'s clashing double-guitar attack and an air-tight rhythm section. The band's first two albums, 2001's Is This It and 2003's Room on Fire, wrapped the youthful decadence and dive-bar realism of lower Manhattan life into contagious hooks recalling the Velvet Underground. The combination was monumental enough to open doors for a generation of rock & roll bands — including Kings of Leon, the Black Keys and many more. "Why does everything that has to be big and popular suck?" Julian Casablancas asked Rolling Stone in 2003. "We're trying to change that."
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LCD Soundsystem accomplished more in 10 years than most bands achieve in 40. Led by super-cool New York DJ James Murphy, the group made its first mark with 2002's "Losing My Edge," the hysterical, tongue-in-cheek lament of an aging hipster. The equally clever "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" scored them even more popularity, but it was their 2007 disc Sound of Silver that cemented their legacy for decades to come – with highlights ranging from the somber ("Someone Great") to the sublime ("All My Friends"). Suddenly, LCD Soundsystem were headlining theaters all over the world and hearing their songs on Gossip Girl and in major Hollywood movies. Murphy could have easily milked his newfound popularity for years to come, but instead he opted to end the band after one more album and tour. They spent all of 2011 on the road, wrapping up at a marathon Madison Square Garden farewell show that had the entire crowd dancing and singing all night.
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Phish spent the Eighties in Vermont honing their chops with some unconventional practice techniques: jamming for eight hours straight after drinking mushroom-laced hot chocolate, playing long stretches blindfolded or hitting a single note for an hour. The band let fans bootleg their actual shows freely, and by 1993 they were conquering amphitheaters around the country, even organizing their own gigantic camp-out music festivals. Phish's weirdness wouldn't work without tight songs ("Bouncing Around the Room," "You Enjoy Myself") and vast graduate-level improvisational skills: Trey Anastasio can mimic Bach, Jerry Garcia, King Crimson and John Coltrane on his guitar with ease, and the band can nail entire albums by Little Feat or the Beatles at their famous Halloween gigs. They can also get away with stunts like the Big Ball Jam. "We had huge exercise balls we threw into the audience," keyboardist Page McConnell told Rolling Stone in 2003. "You had to play rhythmically with the way your ball bounced around the room. That's how our whole career has been — stupid ideas that work."