Making top 100 (or 10, or 20, or 200) lists seems to be a favorite past time of Rolling Stone, TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly, amongst other entertainment magazines. These top 100 lists have covered everything from best movies, to best albums, to best concerts, to guitarists, authors, actors, "beautiful people" , and anything else that can be categorized. More intellectual magazines have also followed this trend, as on the cusp of the last century, we have seen lists like The 100 most influentual people of the millenium and what not.
The question, of course, is what are these top 100 lists meant to measure? Are they meant to measure artistic merit, influence, how attractive\enjoyable the music\art is, or popularity? Sometimes this is spelled out, although often it is not. Rather, it just refers to a canonical list of Rock'n'Roll greatness that means nothing more then the fact that, well, the person has reached canonical rock'n'roll greatness.
I believe a lot of this attitude towards making lists comes from the Baby Boomer generation, and the fact that it grew up in an era that was media saturated, but with the media all reporting the same events. Everybody knew what was going on, and there was no doubt as to what that was. Everybody saw the pictures of hysterical girls swamping the Beatles, and no one doubted that that was one of the important things "going on". The sixties had a very clear, if somewhat unruly progression of events. Everyone knew that The Beatles were important because they broke the door open, and that Jimi Hendrix was important because he was wild and psychedelic. But less importance then the Beatles, because he came afterwords and wasn't responsible for the whole thing. Of course, the relative importance of these things was based on the idea that they were all leading to the same goal...which in the 60s, of course, was defined as personal and sexual liberation, and release from the violent system. The entire subcultural movement of the period was defined as progress in this direction.
I don't want to dismiss the importance of the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, but while millions of teenage girls were shrieking their heads off, John Coltrane was making some beautiful, challenging conceptual music and was considered a success in the jazz world for selling 500,000 copies of the album. Who is more important? Coltrane or the Beatles? Who made more beautiful music? Who is more influential? Who does the pop group of today try to emulate? Which does the music student study?
The 90s if nothing else, were the decade of choices and diversity, and where the entire country, even in its popular culture, wasn't on a single road. While many people still listened to the Beatles' albums, there was always the option to go and listen to CDs of Peruvian folk music or Bombay techno or Moscow punk. Any color you like. And all these forms of music didn't fit into a single story or idea. This music wasn't all what everyone was seeing them, telling them to end the war and enjoy themselves. It was there, in its own context.
But while thinking about questions as to whether one decades pop culture was better or more significant then anothers is a silly question, trying to apply this way of thinking to world history is quite ridiculous, and thankfully, there have been no serious attempts to do this. However, even magazines going as far as to try to guess whether Einstein or Columbus had more of an impact on world history. Apart from the fact that there is a lot of Eurocentricism involved with these lists, it is silly to say that history, even if there was one single history, is made by single people. Who is more important- Christopher Columbus, or the people who financed his voyage? Or perhaps a figure like Prince Henry the Navigator? Or the officers on his ship? The deck hand who spotted land?
Luckily, however, no one really believes top ten lists, either dealing with entertainment or serious subjects. They mostly exist because they give an easy to read and diverting description of things that people already know.
And yes, I only wrote this because I am mad about not being on Everything's Best Users