MSN Presents: The World's Most Egotistical Musicians

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edited February 2009 in History of Rock
Note that the following numbers are not ranks, just the order they appeared in:
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1. Kanye West

Kanye West has questioned his own behavior in the face of awards-show losses, even dubbing himself an "a--hole" in one song. After the death of his mother, Donda West, and other recent difficulties, though, his music has taken a stark turn away from self-regard. Will it last? Watch when trophy time for "808s & Heartbreak" rolls around.
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2. Don Henley

Don Henley's problems are aired in the press: "Dirty Laundry." Someone else has a complaint about something? "Get Over It." Of course, Henley is half the brain trust of the Eagles, who couldn't get over it with critical critics in the '70s. More recently, they dissed the troubled music-retail community by making their comeback album, "Long Road Out of Eden," a Wal-Mart exclusive.
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3. Pete Townshend

"Let me tell you some more about myself," Pete Townshend once sang. The Who's leader has continued to puff himself up despite producing little new work in a decade. Meanwhile, thanks to his relentless pushing, the band's golden-era work is overexposed to a point that only "CSI" superfans (and Broadway acolytes -- remember the stage version of "Tommy") could love. And despite the deaths of rhythm-section stalwarts John Entwistle and Keith Moon, Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey continue to bill themselves as . . . the Who.
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4. Lil Wayne

With a million-plus first-week sales in for "Tha Carter III" along with huge critical acclaim, we'll accept Lil Wayne's boast of being "the best rapper in the world." (Though what does that do to pal T.I.'s claim to the "King of the South" mantle?) Still, naming his current tour I Am Music may beg a few questions. If that's the case, for instance, why bother with its string of opening acts?
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5. Robert Plant

It was such a memorable and head-spinning line that it wound up in the mouth of a movie character (Billy Crudup's Russell Hammond in "Almost Famous."). Robert Plant was so pleased with himself and the light hitting him on his Sunset Boulevard hotel balcony on during Led Zeppelin's 1975 tour that he spouted, "I am a golden god!" There exist photos of that day, but experts have been unable to determine how far Plant's tongue was buried in his cheek. Apparently much humbled in the 34 years since, he now claims that, at 60, he's "too old" to tour with a reunited Zep.
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6. Johnny Rotten

We'd never gainsay John "Johnny Rotten" Lydon's great work with the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd. (Even if his sole musical efforts these days consist of rehashing Pistols material with the band on tour.) But his appearances on reality TV? A butter ad? What does the brutally honest Lydon say when it comes to those? Maybe that's why he doesn't pursue new music 30-plus years after "God Save the Queen": Does he quietly suspect it would suck?
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7. Paul McCartney

As a British critic pointed out recently, Paul McCartney's rep is as secure as can be. But John Lennon's former songwriting partner seems bent on promoting himself as the coolest of the Beatles, lately with a boast that he was even ahead of Lennon in opposition to the Vietnam War. Paul, you really don't have to prove anything. But might you apologize for "Spies Like Us"?
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8. Noel Gallagher

Noel Gallagher of Oasis: "We're not arrogant; we just believe we're the best band in the world." Fair enough. But after two good mid-'90s albums of Slade rip-offs masquerading as tracks worthy of the Beatles (though Gallagher has admitted that if he'd been in the Beatles, he would've been George), the Britpop rulers seem to have stalled creatively. One English mag has excused this by noting that the band can still draw crowds -- like the Stones. Here we go again.
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9. Michael Jackson

"Thriller" and even "Dangerous" (the latter from an era when you dubbed yourself King of Pop and insisted MTV use the phrase -- or no video) are one thing. But naming an album "Invincible" when your stock, both musically and commercially, is rapidly sinking? Dangling your baby over a balcony? Promising a comeback any day now? Michael Jackson, where's your head at?
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10. Gene Simmons

Gene Simmons is another self-admitted (or self-proclaimed) "a--hole" -- just check the title of his last solo album. No argument. But as much fun as some of Kiss' songs may be, the band is likely to be remembered as a money machine before talk turns to the music. Kiss coffins? Now that's ego on a scale that few others can match.
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11. 50 Cent

But what's 50 Cent's excuse for issuing a challenge to Kanye West that his new album would out-debut West's "Graduation" -- then losing the bet? And then insisting that he's the true reason for Kanye's success because the world wanted less confrontational music, even as Fiddy seemed to be losing interest in his own career in sound? Did we miss the history lesson when 50 Cent invented gangsta, an all-new approach to hip-hop? Or is this guy secretly related to Gene Simmons?
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12. Axl Rose

In the 17 years since "Use Your Illusion I" and "II," Axl Rose made the idea of Guns N' Roses as a band all but moot. With all the original members, as well as their original replacements, having either quit or been fired -- Aw hell, Axl, you could've done better sales of "Chinese Democracy" if you'd made it an exclusive for strip bars! Thirteen million bucks for this? Oh yeah, and don't think we've forgotten "Get in the Ring," buddy.
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13. Garth Brooks

It was 1999, and Garth Brooks was bored. He'd sold tens of millions of albums, introducing country music to a wider audience than ever. He'd play multiple dates in the same city just to accommodate everyone who wanted to see him. But he needed a new challenge. He went rock on an album under the name Chris Gaines, "disguised" in a Prince-style wig on the cover. To cover his bases, he made sure that everyone knew it was him. Unlike Brooks' previous eight-figure sellers, "Garth Brooks In . . . the Life of Chris Gaines" topped out at around two million shipped, a windfall today but a major slip for an artist gunning to break sales records. A planned Gaines movie was scrapped.
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14. Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell was once the queen of jazz-inflected folk, with "Court and Spark" a No. 1 album so brilliant that whatever competition she had could simply listen in amazement. Then she started taking the "jazz" part really seriously, growing more oblique by the release. She made it clear that she found few other artists worthy of consideration, even putting down Prince, who worshipped her. All of that was made to seem as nothing when she broke the cardinal rule that "lyrics aren't poetry," and published the words to the 2007 "Bad Dreams Are Good" in The New Yorker.
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15. Little Richard

Little Richard is the Originator. Just ask him; he'll tell you. One of the true fathers of rock and 'n' roll, Richard Penniman has long made a schtick out of his "Shut up! Shut up!" moves. Assuring that all the attention was on him, whether making a guest presenter's shot at the Grammys or on "The Dick Cavett Show," it's actually all good. We love this 76-year-old and his music, so we got nothing here.
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16. Frank Zappa

As Frank Zappa's music got more obvious in its targets ("Catholic Girls," "Disco Boy"), the more popular he grew. Figure that. A smart guy and don't you forget it, maybe he'd planned it that way. But as he pulled in the touring audiences and larger record sales, he made sure to deliberately put down those who preferred his hilarious and groundbreaking early albums ("We're Only In in It For for the Money," for instance). Why'd ya have to do that, Frank?
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17. James Brown

Join James Brown's band. It's not just a job; it's an adventure. But first, a job, as his system of fines for missed notes and un-shined shoes reminded members. Watch the right concert footage, and you can see him counting up the dollars while looking like he's making stage motions. He also lost more than one or two great musical contributors with such antics. A lot of them returned for his 2006 funeral, though.
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