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Credit: The Beatles Anthology: Everett Collection

To celebrate its 100th anniversary, showbiz trade bible Variety has compiled a list of the 100 most iconic entertainers of all time. (USA Today leaks the top 10 at the bottom of this page; Variety isn’t publishing the story until Monday, but its century-of-nostalgia site is live, here.) Topping the list are the Beatles — a surprise, perhaps, for a publication whose primary focus has been movies. The rest of the top 10 (in alphabetical order) are Louis Armstrong, Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse, and Elvis Presley.

Hmm. In terms of musical and cultural influence, of course, the Beatles, Elvis, and Armstrong deserve to be at the top of any 20th century list, but are the Beatles the most iconic? I guess it depends on how you define the word; to me, iconic suggests something essentially visual and unchanging. It’s easy to see how musicians like Satchmo and Elvis fit that description as easily as Lucy, Bogie, and the other big and small-screen stars listed here; when you think of these performers, you probably have the same mental image everyone else does. (Okay, with Presley, you may think of either the Thin Elvis, or the Fat Vegas Elvis — in which the Thin Elvis seems trapped and is trying to burst free.) The Beatles, however, mutated so often during their career — do you think of the Ed Sullivan-era moptops? The Day-Glo Sgt. Pepper quartet (as pictured)? The shaggy animated Beatles of Yellow Submarine? And if they’re icons, what do they represent? It’s not instantly clear, as it is for the others on the list. Still, I give Variety credit for making a choice that’s not as simple as it seems; after all, music isn’t even a primary focus in the pages of Variety the way movies and TV are.

What do you think of the list? Let the arguments begin.

addCredit(“The Beatles Anthology: Everett Collection”)

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