On his 1976 solo album, future Nick at Nite star Donny “Ralph Malph” Most warbled the following Nostradamus-like assessment: “Rock and roll is dead / But it won’t lie down.” Spooky, isn’t it, how Most, no rock genius he, so knowingly anticipated the “Rock is Dead” doomsdaying in vogue some 20 years later among record-biz and music-critic types.
So it’s with all due respect to Ralph Malph, et al., that we present this ranked assessment of the 40 Most Vital Artists in Music Today. What our highly subjective list reveals is hardly an artform eyeballing extinction; instead, odd ducks like Beck, the Wu-Tang Clan, Ani DiFrano, and DJ Shadow have helped expand not just rock’s parameters but its center, and bedrocks such as the Smashing Pumpkins, U2, and R.E.M. have taken notice. Vitality isn’t just about invention — rock’n’roll is a tradition, too, as is selling lots of records. But all the artists herein share at least one thing in common: the convention that rock has yet to exhaust its possibilities, or its pleasures.