314: The GOATs (GOMTs)

There’s this 15-year old kid who enjoys pompously preaching NBA to me. He’s as cockily passionate as only a 15-year old can be (“I was so much older then”) about why Steph Curry is Unquestionably the GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time. Or maybe it was LeBron James who is UNQUESTIONABLY the GOAT. Or Michael Jordan. Or Luka. Or Giannis. It changes from week to week, his concept of “all time”.

I don’t do “all time”, merely “my time”, which is getting more and more weighty as the years roll by. I’ve followed some fine players over the years, starting with Oscar Robertson.

But this 15-year old gloats in his GOATness, while I mire in shades of grey–different eras, different positions.

And different ages. I use the superlative less and less frequently as the years go by. And ‘The Greatest’ anything? Never. Well, hardly ever. I might say Kurt Elling is the GOAT of male jazz singers, because I’m at least passingly familiar with all the contenders. More frequently, I’ll speak of ‘my favorites’.

But if this smart aleck kid knows enough to know who are the GOATs of the NBA, I should be able to do so for music, no? Remember the very true truism that “Inside every grown man there’s a teenager screaming ‘WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED?”? I’ll show him!

Here come not The GOATs, but The GOMTs, the Greatest Of My Times. Catchy, isn’t it?


Definitions–This isn’t a DIA (Desert Island Artists) list. That’s a wholly different category. That’s who you can listen to endlessly. The Emerson String Quartet playing Art of the Fugue.
Nor is it a AIEAAO (Artist I Esteem Above All Others) list.
“John Wesley Harding” would be on the latter, but most definitely not on the former.

And it certainly isn’t Favorites. I listen to James Taylor more than to Joni Mitchell, because I like him a lot and I don’t so much like her. I’m the first to admit that she ranks higher than him on the Greatness scale—the scope, the craftsmanship, the overly-obvious impact.

So what’s my GOMTs elevator pitch to a Martian regarding Post-WWII Popular Music? Who do I hit him with? He’s not even writing this down, keep it short.

Prerequisite–Great is only open to creative artists, not performers. I can name perhaps half a dozen performing artists from the 19th century. Performance is transitory. A creation changes things.

Capacity–Before starting, I asked myself what number sounds reasonable. Three is too stringent. Twenty is setting the bar too low. I compromised on 6 to 10.

Scope–Music in which I feel I’m knowledgeable enough to express a sufficiently informed opinion.

Expectations–I’d be mighty surprised if anyone on earth agrees with me. I think an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters wouldn’t even get it.


  • Life-changing music with indelible content.
  • Passionate, going singularly high or singularly deep.
  • Impactful, has significantly enriched the world around it.
  • Rarified. Beyond very, very good. Beyond excellent. Great.

Rules—There are blatant violations of these criteria below. It’s my blog, and I get to make up the rules as I go along. So there.

And here they are.


  1. The Beatles
  2. Bob Dylan
  3. Brian Wilson
  4. Laura Nyro
  5. Bill Evans
  6. Miles Davis
  7. Arvo Pärt
  8. Antonio Carlos Jobim

The Selection Process

The Beatles and Dylan I think don’t require much defense. Here’s what I’ve written about The Beatles. Here I discussed why I think Dylan very much deserved the Nobel and any other prize they can think of.

I considered The Band. They’re good enough, but 2.5 albums over 3 years doesn’t qualify for a ‘corpus’.

Laura Nyro’s significant recordings aren’t much more extensive than that, but I’m including live bootlegs. Was she impactful? Many artists were influenced directly, but a whole era was impacted indirectly. She was the first to do so many things, a true innovator. At her best, her music is utter magic.

So why isn’t Joni Mitchell here? She almost made it. Her body of work is certainly impressive.
Same for Paul Simon. Why? (Remember, we’re in an elevator with a Martian, the list is very short, the bar ridiculously high.) Would the world be a different place without ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ or ‘Clouds’? No, I don’t think so. Would the world be a different place without ‘Day in the Life’ or ‘Like a Rolling Stone’? I think it would be.

Brian Wilson. When I listen to Pet Sounds, I feel elevated. I know of no artist in the 20th or 21st century who has made such beautiful music.

Bill Evans. From ‘Live at the Village Gate’ to ‘Nardis’ with the last trio. Quiet, reserved music that enlarges the universe.

Miles is included with some reservations–his limited chops, his later phases. But the sum of the music that he catalyzed buys him a ticket.

And there are two that are a bit of a copout for me because they come from musical worlds over which I lack any sense of mastery. But Arvo Pärt makes me see God, and Jobim makes me happy to be alive, so welcome aboard guys.

Two others I regret not including. Brad Mehldau ticks all the boxes except for life-changing. In my mind I seat him next to Joni—an enormous, variegated output of finely-wrought, serious music spanning decades. Just not life-changing.

And finally, Maria Schneider. Too cerulean? Can there be such a thing?

Anyway, there you have it folks. I promise not to wear a plunging-neckline backless almost-transparent red dress made of genetically-engineered ostrich feathers on the red carpet for the awards ceremony.

I’ll be happy to see your comments, your lists, your hysterical reactions, whatever, on the Jeff Meshel’s World Facebook page or in Comments here. Let me know just how outraged you are by my choices.