In response to devildavid's comment:
In response to MattyScornD's comment:
Alright, DD. So HOW do you define "greatness"...?
While it's true that personal taste is entirely subjective, there is also such a thing as "shared taste", which more or less lend itself to a particular band's or artist's popularity.
But there are also criteria. And these criteria have been established for quite some time in the annals of rock and music criticism. You may not care for or pay attention to the critics, but like them or not, that doesn't mean their criteria is necessarily bad...it may just be different than yours. But in most cases, a cross-section of critics usually arrive at the same place.
And it's one thing to say "I like this", but it's quite another to use properly defined terms used to either support or disprove this nebulous thing we call "greatness".
So, you may decide for yourself that Led Zep's borrowings - what is properly called "artistic license" - is one criteria for establishing "greatness". Someone else may disagree as to the relevance of that particular point with the belief that it happens so often in so many genres as to be not so consequential.
At the same time, someone else may look to record sales or chart positions to measure greatness, seeing commercial activity as a more-or-less neutral arbiter of collective tastes.
Let me see if I can explain by example. I like The Beatles and Herman's Hermits. They both entertain me. But if I want to call either one great, I have to move beyond my emotional reaction to them and detach myself emotionally to really think about what each group actually created. When I do, I find that Herman's Hermits doesn't have all the qualities that The Beatles do. Part of it is talent, part ingenuity, part is performance. One group merely entertains while the other entertains and impresses.
I'm glad you brought up music critics. This harks back to a thread I started way back about critics vs. fans. And most here were very dismissive of critics, as I recall. But I think critics do have a place, but we also have to look critically at what the critics have written. Rock music criticism is much more splintered now, with fans of certain type of music specializing in writing about that music. But I agree with you that looking at all critical opinion is a valid piece of the puzzle.
I don't have the perfect formula to define greatness, so I reserve the right for anyone to question the label of greatness attached to any musical artist. I just want them to present criteria beyond personal reactions, otherwise the discussion is just about personal taste. Yes, this really isn't a good answer, but I think greatness has a meaning beyond simply taste.
Again, I believe it's primarily about defining our terms and applying those terms equitably when we go into what I call "critic's mode".
In the art world, it's been argued many times whether critics are even necessary any more. Of course, they're necessary, but less so. And the reason for this is that we can quickly (through technology) find other examples to support our case for what we like and what we don't, regardless of the critics.
However, it also means we have thousands of mediocre critics instead of a few dozen very good ones...which is fine with something as egalitarian as popular music, but more problematic with something more refined, like, say, post-modern jazz.
Even talent is problematic from a critical standpoint, because it's harder to pin down than something like production values or songwriting. In that sense, it's no wonder so much music is collaborative in nature, because each participant brings something different to the table.
Taylor Swift is undeniably talented, but she is working in a rather flattened, synthesized genre of modern pop-country music in which the bars for achievement aren't very high, and it's a bit harder to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. Now, she may very well go on to do "great" things, but I think it's yet to be seen....