Brett Alan wrote:
But Sampson, we can't ever really be sure who did something first.
We absolutely can, especially as it pertains to rock 'n' roll. We have access to virtually every single record released and if we know what influence we're looking for it's not difficult to find it. This makes Influence very easy to assess, in the case of primary influence it's the one area of the all of the criteria that there shouldn't even be any debate over. Here's the first example of it on record, therefore that artist gets credit. Simple. How important that innovation is and the amount of influence you'd get for it would still need to be determined and can be argued over, but the starting point itself is pretty easy to pin down.
Well, that works--sort of--when you're talking about a very specific technical innovation, such as the first use of sitar on a rock record, or the first use of backward sounds. As you say, just listen to every record ever released (hope you don't have to, like, hold down a job or sleep), make sure you have the correct release dates, and, as ClashWho points out, ignore the possibility that someone did it in a live concert setting first.
But when you're talking about things like style, it just doesn't work. Styles don't spring full blown from the head of Zeus; they evolve. (Contrary to the implication your last post made, Sly & The Family Stone and Parliament-Funkadelic didn't spend their entire careers making James Brown soundalikes. James Brown may have invented funk, but funk changed as these other artists built on what he did.) Let's take, for example, Janet Jackson, to whom you were assigning a lot of primary influence for "the merger of hip-hop beats to melodic R&B". How do you objectively define what a hip-hop beat is and what "melodic R&B" is? Because I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that if you pick the record where you think Janet first did that, I can find a record released earlier which reasonably meets that definition. The problem is that if we could really agree on the first record which did that, it would end up being something pretty inconsequential. Because it's not just what you do; it's the way you do it that matters.
Which is why, yes, most credit for influence goes to artists who were very popular. That's not double-counting; that's acknowledging that people are influenced by what they hear. And the fact is that there will always be artists with tons of popularity but relatively little influence (hello, Sir Elton) and artists whose influence greatly transcends their limited popularity (Velvet Underground, Afrika Bambaataa).
You have Elvis Presley as the most influential rock artist of all time, even ahead of The Beatles. But I still haven't heard you mention one specific, particular thing that Elvis did which had never been done before. And I'm not sure there is any such thing. But clearly he is, if not the most influential rock artist, certainly no lower than second. I think if we followed your rules exactly as you lay them out, Elvis wouldn't be anywhere near the top, and the number one artist would be someone we've probably barely heard of, because they happened to make the first record ever with guitar, bass, and drums as the musical lineup, or something like that.
I know what you're saying and I agree to a certain extent. But we're trying to come up with something that is doable and accurate and not simply someone's impressions of what matters and where the influence should be credited. So for something that has a definite starting point that we can find it would be foolish to NOT assign the lion's share of the influence for it, because it's the invention itself that added an entirely new element to the game. But as I've repeatedly stated in the past, there's not THAT much innovation out of thin air and so you're left with a shitload of secondary influence.
Maybe I didn't explain it well, but basically the point is there's really only going to be a few significant primary influence moments (the major innovations or new stylistic approaches), then a few smaller, more narrowly defined innovations, but then the overwhelming amount of influence as a whole will be secondary in nature. That's why if you look at the influence list I did, you see guys like Presley and the Stones, who have tons of secondary influence, doing so well. Yes, guys with essentially primary influence (Berry, Brown, VU, Bam, Johnny Otis) do extremely well, as they should for being innovators, but the biggest artists who spread the most things the widest will probably prevail. The thing is, no amount of secondary influence for a SINGLE thing will be worth more than the primary influence (innovation) of that SAME thing. That's probably the best way to put it.
With Funk, the variances that Sly and George Clinton brought to the table had considerable primary influence of their own, as I stated, but they're never going to be worth quite as much as James Brown's original funk prototype simply because it's where the whole funk shebang started. Meanwhile, in your other example, Elvis has a good deal of primary influence though (rockabilly, power ballads, electric bass solos - I'm looking, but haven't found an earlier example than his in rock, if I do, I'd change that), and obviously in terms of cultural influence he's off the charts. So yeah, primary influence is the single biggest achievement you can get for anything, but there's not always much of it to go around and so the secondary influence is what ultimately will wind up affecting the rankings the most overall and as you state, the more popular artists have the built-in ability to achieve that more than most. As long as nobody discounts the greater credit for primary influence and the original innovation.
OH... and one last good thing about this debate is with people suggesting it's impossible to have every recording and so forth, isn't that the goal of all this? These lists, this site, these conversations? To discover as much music as humanly possible, to hear it all and understand how it evolved and how it all ties together? I think of all the four criteria we have, the way influence is credited offers the most opportunity to actually discover things you otherwise wouldn't hear or even look into.