Yeah, yeah, we know. The top 20 greatest musicians of all time, in any genre. Where do we get off? Well, we'll tell you where we get off — at Accuracy Station. Our team of writers listened to thousands and thousands of hours of music for this list, digging deep into the annals of history and exploring the sounds of the entire globe. We painstakingly researched the shit out of practically all music ever made, modern and classical, popular and experimental, chart-topping and obscure. You may not agree with every artist on this list, but one thing is for certain: You're going to respect the hell out of it. -Ben Westhoff

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20. Johannes Sebastian Bach

Bach was a total badass. His name is practically synonymous with Baroque music, and by the turn of the 18th century he had become its master composer. His choir, instrument, and orchestral arrangements are painstakingly technical and well-organized, and he was a compositional powerhouse. Over his lifetime, he produced over 200 cantatas, concertos, and suites, which are still considered among the most beautifully arranged pieces of all time. Not exactly a lightweight. -Chris Walker

19. The Rolling Stones

They may have claimed “It's only rock n' roll,” but the music of the Rolling Stones helped define a generation. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the crew came to represent the edgier side of the British Invasion, serving as countercultural symbols of youthful rebellion and sexual liberation during a time of sweeping social change. By 1965 the Stones were dominating charts around the world. We owe much of today's pop-rock structures to the music they pioneered. -Chris Walker

18. Xian Xinghai

Chinese composer Xian Xinghai's 1939 epic Yellow River Cantata was written as a protest against the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. His seminal composition, it is a moving and patriotic call for solidarity. But Xinghai's legacy also includes over 300 other works, and his unique perspective on western classical traditions challenged his contemporaries to move beyond imitating European composers. In the process, he gave form to a distinctive Chinese art form that has guided generations of Eastern musicians. -Chris Walker

17. Notorious B.I.G.

The man born Christopher Wallace brought a swagger to hip-hop that other rappers today — fifteen years after his death — still can't touch. Considered by many to be the greatest MC ever, Biggie told complex and emotional stories through intricate rhymes that sounded effortless. Never contrived and never soft, he remains beloved by underground and mainstream fans alike. Just as his career was taking off, he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, the details of which are still disputed. -Chris Walker

16. Bob Marley

Reggae singer-songwriter Bob Marley has become a college-stoner icon, but in his embrace of the Rastafari movement he was as much a fighter as a lover. His political and social calls to action, which urged repatriation to Africa, are as galvanizing today as they were 40 years ago. Though he hailed from Jamaica, he remains perhaps the cultural icon of island countries and the African diaspora around the world.

-Rebecca Haithcoat

15. Madonna

When asked by Dick Clark on American Bandstand in 1983 what her dreams were, a young Madonna replied, “To rule the world.” She proceeded to do just that, releasing eleven blockbuster studio albums to date and becoming the world's top-selling female recording artist ever. The mother of reinvention, she has endlessly reworked her image and style, affecting our culture in myriad, rippling ways. Though she's sometimes criticized for following fads in her personal life, when it comes to her music the culture usually mirrors her. -Rebecca Haithcoat

14. Caetano Veloso

Branded the Bob Dylan of Brazil, Caetano Veloso co-founded Tropicalia, the progressive poetry, theater and music movement that helped define Latin America's psychedelic '60s. Alongside his fellow conspirator, Gilberto Gil, Veloso fused Bossa Nova, African rhythms, and acid-drenched acoustic guitar with a political consciousness that found him censored, banned, incarcerated and eventually exiled by the country's military dictatorship. The recipe was complex but simple: melodies as gorgeous as a Copacabana beach layered atop of a philosophical wit exposing his homeland's most gross imbalances. -Jeff Weiss

13. Fela Kuti

Raised in Lagos, schooled in London, and radicalized in L.A. at the height of the Black Panther movement, Fela Kuti pioneered Afro-Beat — a blend of James Brown, Nigerian highlife, and pan-African ideals. A decade and a half after his death, he's the subject of a Tony-nominated Broadway musical, two sons are gifted heirs to his sound, and he's a sub-Saharan icon almost on par with Mandela. Yet beyond the myth are the songs: jazzy 12-minute sagas with a timeless sense of rebellion, fearlessness, and funk. -Jeff Weiss

12. Miles Davis

Somehow in his more than forty years of recording, Miles Davis never drifted into irrelevancy. He was an intense and spiritual figure who refused to be pigeon-holed by any single style of expression. Through his trumpet playing and band leadership, he constantly sought new ways to manifest improvised performance. This rejection of the status quo put him at the forefront of major developments in jazz and rock last century – including bebop, cool jazz, fusion, and even jazz hip-hop. No one else in music can claim such a long reign as the King of Cool. -Chris Walker

11. Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday didn't write that many of her songs, but her gift, like that of an inspired classical musician, was in the interpretation. Her voice summoned that which was dramatic, urgent and necessary as if from the center of the earth. Today's politically minded performers could take inspiration from her protest music; she knew that imagery and real soul impact listeners more strongly than corny, overly-dogmatic messages. -Ben Westhoff


10. Guido D'Arezzo

Simply put, the writings of Guido D'Arezzo (above) laid the foundations for Western music. This medieval theorist of the 11th century was the dude responsible for inventing the notation we still use today. In other words, without him we wouldn't have sheet music. Oh yeah, and you know that mnemonic “do-re-mi-fa-so-la-te-do”? He invented that too. -Chris Walker

9. Robert Johnson

According to folklore, Robert Johnson made a deal with the Devil in order to gain mastery of the guitar. Hell, no matter how he got it, the Mississippian has influenced pretty much every rock musician you love. Keith Richards said he was as good as the blues can get, Eric Clapton called him the most important blues musician that ever lived, and he's considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Supposedly poisoned at the age of 27 in 1938, he never lived to enjoy public recognition nor commercial success. -Rebecca Haithcoat

8. Bob Dylan

Raised Robert Zimmerman in Hibbing, Minnesota, Bob Dylan spent a year at the University of Minnesota and joined the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. Then he did a bunch of other stuff, and nowadays performs at minor league baseball stadiums in medium-sized towns around the country. -Ben Westhoff

7. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

You know those stupid bumper stickers parents put on their cars to brag about their honor student children? Well, Mozart started writing classical compositions at age four. He performed publicly at the Salzburg University a year later. And at seven he picked up a violin and sight-read an entire piece with complete accuracy, without having ever had a violin lesson. Wolfgang Amadeus was a true child prodigy. And this is without mentioning — you know — that he went on to become one of the most highly regarded classical composers ever. -Chris Walker

6. Elvis Presley

Elvis didn't like being called a hero, nor did he enjoy the “king of rock 'n roll” moniker. Teased as a child in Tupelo, Mississippi, he became a loner, learning to play the guitar and finding inspiration in black gospel music and Memphis' bustling Beale Street blues scene. He became a leading figure in the emerging genre of rock, and eventually the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music. But he never fully shook off the shyness of his youth, and celebrity ultimately proved a fatal curse. (See also: “It's 2012. Is Elvis Still Sexy? God Yes.“) -Rebecca Haithcoat

5. Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was jazz's first superstar. Satchmo's explosive creativity defied conventions of early New Orleans jazz; he was a charismatic showman and dazzling trumpet player who was, literally, too good for his band. His performances were largely responsible for shifting the focus from the group to the soloist, and he was also quite an innovator when it came to scat. Perhaps most importantly, his acceptance by the social elite helped popularize jazz across racial and social boundaries. -Chris Walker

4. Michael Jackson

People made a lot of jokes about Michael Jackson before he died; about the way he spoke, the color of his skin, his fondness for zoo animals and children, the clothes he wore, the women he married, the names he chose for his kids, his penchant for grabbing his nuts, his sentimental streak, his plastic surgeries, and his acting talents, or lack thereof. But when he died people made fewer of those jokes. -Ben Westhoff

3. The Beatles

Precursors to the Prefab Four, aka the Monkees, the Fab Four from Liverpool started with matching haircuts. But then they began growing their hair out, and that's when shit got real. Before you knew it their hair was much longer than the establishment preferred, and the social order began to decay. Next there was a musical called Hair and then later one called Hairspray. It all got to be a little much, especially if you weren't into hair. -Ben Westhoff

2. Ludwig Van Beethoven

Considered the best composer of all time, Beethoven challenged authority by refusing to accept the cultural norms of the day. His soulful sonatas and symphonies broke the boundaries of the Classical Era — defined by technical mastery — and ushered in a new period, the Romantic Era. Being deaf didn't stop him from composing masterpieces that endure to this day in movies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. -Gabrielle Canon

1. William Hung

Truly great musical talents aren't often heard. You won't find one every year, or even every generation. In fact, whole millenniums tend to slip away without one surfacing. No, certain talents only come along once in human history, and that's the case with William Hung. He is the greatest musician of all time — in any genre — because he epitomizes our highs, our lows, and our struggles to make ourselves heard. He's history's best musician because he speaks for anyone who has ever sought a stage, because he expresses life's complexities better than anyone else. That, and because these types of lists are entirely subjective and unaccountable. -Ben Westhoff

See also: William Hung Speaks, Fresh Off Being Crowned The Greatest Musician Of All Time, In Any Genre

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