Timeless music can be incredibly hard to define. Music is synonymous with life experience, which makes listening to it a unique experience for every listener. Vicarious yet resonant, the sound of music can evoke a wide range of emotions that can be entirely subjective, especially when watching or reading about the best concerts ever. There are many other things that stay current through time, but very few can produce as much emotion and satisfaction as music can.
No matter how many musicians you take into account, it’s highly likely that someone somewhere will end up disagreeing with your choices. So how does one define timeless music? Can an artist’s success be based solely on album sales? What about one-hit wonders or cultural icons? To reflect the diversity of the music industry, you have to take all of these factors into account.
With that in mind, we’ve put together 10 artists that have proven their worth over time, using pop culture relevance, album sales, and ‘viral’ hits to form a ranking system that accurately reflects the true definition of a classic artist.
7. Elton John
With more than fifty Top 40 hits in multiple countries, including seven consecutive hit albums that reached number one in the US, Sir Elton John is easily one of the most successful musicians of all time.
John has received five Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes, and two Academy Awards. He was knighted by the Queen of England and, with a career spanning six decades, John is the perfect candidate to kick off this list.
6. Billy Joel
Born in The Bronx in 1949, the music legend, known as Billy Joel and the “Piano Man,” has had a hit-filled career since the early 1970s. With 13 studio albums and over 160 million records sold worldwide, his career as a solo artist is as extensive as it is illustrious.
Joel has been nominated for the Grammy Awards more than 20 times, winning five in total. He is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Long Island Hall of Fame.
5. Jimi Hendrix
Officially, Jimi Hendrix’s career was incredibly short compared to most musicians, lasting only for four years in total. However, his enormous influence on popular culture and rock music is undeniable.
Inspired by American rock and roll and electric blues, Hendrix was a guitar prodigy from a young age. He was a pioneer of electronic sound, named by many as the greatest guitarist of all time, and remains a pop culture icon to this day.
Eminem is not only one of the greatest rappers of all time but, with over 220 million records sold, he is also one of the greatest musicians in history. He has won numerous awards, including 17 Billboard Music Awards and 15 Grammy Awards.
His signature rap music has often been cited as barrier-breaking, crossing racial boundaries and leading to the proliferation of rap music across the world. As a testament to his talent, Eminem is the only artist with ten consecutive number-one albums.
3. Michael Jackson
Although much of his life was shrouded in controversy, Michael Jackson was, without doubt, a great musician. Arguably one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, the “King of Pop” is the single most-awarded music artist in history.
His death was yet another controversy in a long line of accusations, legal cases, and reputation-breaking rumors. No matter what the truth of his personal life was, it’s reasonably safe to say that Jackson’s musical talent was nothing short of remarkable.
2. Elvis Presley
Much like Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley is a cultural icon in the truest sense of the word. Also known as the “King of Rock,” Presley has sold over 500 million records worldwide, making him the best-selling solo music artist of all time.
Thanks to energetic performances and provocative dancing, Presley garnered a worldwide following that endures decades after his death. He was posthumously awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom for his immense contribution to pop culture.
1. The Beatles
The Beatles are known throughout the world as a juggernaut of the music industry. Formed in Liverpool in 1960, the group consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, who were all prolific musicians in their own right.
With global record sales well above 600 million, the Beatles hold multiple chart-topping records, a wealth of notable accolades, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors for each individual band member.