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FAQ Pantheon

What is the Pantheon of Rock 'n Soul Artists?

What do you mean by "indispensable"?

Can't you be more specific?

Is this your personal taste or your critical opinion?

Can I create my own Pantheon?

What's with the the six time periods?

What's with the six tiers?

How should I read across the time periods?

How are artists assigned to time periods?

What about artists that belong in more than one time period?

What's with the "composite" artist listings?

What about nonperformers and artists from earlier eras?

What is the Pantheon of Rock 'n Soul Artists?

The Pantheon is a two-dimensional graphic display of the performing artists of rock and soul music most indispensable (necessary or essential) to Gator. The concept derives from the ancient Roman temple dedicated to all the deities. By analogy, only those performing artists worthy of the highest admiration and devotion belong in the Pantheon. I owe the artists' Pantheon idea to Robert Hilburn, former rock critic for the Los Angeles TimesTM, who wrote occasional articles using this metaphor.

What do you mean by "indispensable"?

Literally, those artists I couldn't do without. These kinds of judgments (evaluations, assessments) can't be reduced to a formula. They are emotional, holistic, and intensely personal. Which artist's body of work would you take to the proverbial desert island if you could only choose one? Then, if you could only choose two, etc. That is just how my artist rankings got started, and it is still the essence of them.

Can't you be more specific?

My most important criteria are "artistry," "innovation," and "impact." Artistry is what's in the grooves, exemplary songs and performances, being blown away by musical excellence at all levels. Innovation is breaking the mold, creating something new and different. Impact is influence on others and the flow of music history. I don't consider popularity except as it affects influence.

Is this your personal taste or your critical opinion?

They are not all that different for me. The styles I prefer are certainly a matter of personal taste. The Pantheon is light on confessional singer-songwriters, hard rock, metal, indie rock, and gangsta rap compared with what more avid fans of those styles would include. The whole idea of the Pantheon on this site is to be provocative and inspire conversations. Please jump in: make your own lists, and comment on mine and everyone else's to rectify my biases!

Can I create my own Pantheon?

Yes. We don't have one template for replicating the whole thing at once. However, on the Artist Lists page, you'll find six partial templates, one for each time period. These templates give Cats a head start on creating their own Pantheon, one period at a time.

What's with the six time periods?

Important differences across time are obscured in single, rank-ordered lists. Every "flat" list that covers more than a year or two is actually confounding the value of the artists with the relative importance of the artists' time periods. I find it both fun and illuminating to look at artist rankings in their own, respective time frames. (I prefer to look at song and album rankings that way as well.)

Why six columns? Why these boundaries? Different structures lend themselves to the telling of different stories. There is an intrinsic interplay between assigning artists to time periods and defining the number of time periods and their boundaries. (One example is spelled out below.) I eventually honed in on these particular time periods after many years of experimenting, periodically informed by feedback from critical friends. The first two columns are the era dominated by singles rather than albums. The last two are the era that PitchforkTM covers in their "guide to the greatest songs from punk to the present."

What's with the six tiers?

Artists are ranked in tiers based on their entire career. Each tier is a group of artists more like each other (in rank) than the ones in the next group. Tier one artists are more indispensable than Tier two artists, and so on. A tiered structure permits ranking in groups of varying size instead of ranking artists one at a time. The number of artists in each tier varies depending on how many artists assigned to that time period share the same level of indispensability. Artists in the top two tiers deserve unequivocal Pantheon status. Tier three artists merit a bit of equivocation only because there are 35 artists ranked above them. As we move down to lower tiers, the "indispensable" criterion becomes relative and subject to caveats. ("Tiers of A Clown," anyone?)

Within each time period, the tier is the most important ranking. Rank order within each tier is somewhat arbitrary and less important. As examples, Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry in 1953-1961 and James Brown and the Rolling Stones in 1967-1971 could just as well be listed in the opposite order. If we had no practical limit on the width of the Pantheon presentation, I would put these pairs of artists, and many other pairs throughout the Pantheon, at the same vertical level.

How should I read across the time periods?

Although they sometimes make for interesting comparisons, no significance to the horizontal rows is intended. The rows are artifacts of presentation in a strict grid format, and indirect side-effects of how the six individual columns line up. For example, although Little Willie John is in the same horizontal row as Pink Floyd, there is no implication at all that he is of equal stature to them. Each of the six columns is a list in its own right, like the way AllMusicTM ranks albums within each artist, not across them. Each time period is its own list.

How are artists assigned to time periods?

As mentioned above, artists are ranked in tiers based on their entire career. They could be assigned either to the time period where their career started or to the time period when they made their greatest impact. There are pros and cons to both approaches. The placement of each artist is easy when based on career beginning, but the resulting column lists leave much to be desired. The placement of some artists is open to question if based on greatest impact, but the resulting column lists are more satisfying and provocative. After experimenting with both approaches I settled on the time period of greatest impact.

What about artists that belong in more than one time period?

Artists with long careers are a challenge. For example, Bob Dylan and Neil Young have carried their careers into the last time period in dramatic fashion yet have no representation there. Their positions in Tier One and Tier Two, respectively, are based on their entire careers. When a good case could be made for two or more different time periods, I took into account the other artists in each time period and attempted to find the best fit for purposes of comparison.

The borderline between the fifth and sixth columns illustrates the interplay between assigning artists to time periods and defining the time period boundaries. The borderline was determined by placement of artists that could have gone either way. Both U2 and R.E.M. (among others) had great impact in the 1980s as well as later. Taking the various alternatives into account, I decided to begin the sixth column at 1991 so that Achtung Baby and "Losing My Religion" would be included there, and so that Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet would not. I believe that resulted in the most satisfying dividing line between the fifth and sixth columns. Placing U2 in the earlier column leaves the top tier of the last column empty. Decisions like these are clearly open to debate.

What's with the "composite" artist listings?

Individual artists are often combined with groups they led or with whom they performed at one time. I give individuals prominence when I think they deserve it. For example, "Dion/Belmonts" is meant to be read, "Dion, including his work with The Belmonts." I think these composites represent individuals' contributions best without adversely affecting the groups. In particular, neither Cream nor The Velvet Underground would rank as high on its own. The early and late Drifters, two different groups that ended up sharing the same name, are a unique case.

What about nonperformers and artists from earlier eras?

Our design of the Alley site does not allow displays wider than the present six-column Pantheon. For this reason, the Nonperformers Pantheon and Forefathers Pantheon appear with other Artist Lists rather than as an integral part of the main Artist Pantheon. One benefit of keeping them separate is to remove the temptation to look horizontally across columns. I've never been able to wrap my brain around ranking producers in the same list as performers.