Best Vocalists, according to moi
Rolling Stone polled a portion of music royalty to compile a list of "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time". The issue was late in arriving, so decided I put together a list of who I thought should appear beforehand, just to see how much convergence there would be. Well, heavens to Murgatroid, here are the very few we agreed upon (in a very rough most fave to less fave order):
- Kurt Cobain
- Rod Stewart
- Elvis Presley
- Karen Carpenter
- Don Henley
- James Taylor
- Paul Rodgers
- Sam Cooke
- Stevie Wonder
Nine out of a hundred.
I choose to take that as a double-edged commentary on my musical tastes. I've always warned friends, lovers, and roommates (and my wife, who's all three) that I will eventually force them to ask to stop playing something, because I love it all 'cept gangster rap and opera. And I'll even listen to the bigger hits in those genres, too.
So, here's what remains of my list. This also ended up in rough order of faves near the top, which surprised me that it organically flowed into three categories, 1) the stellar voices who defy genre, 2) the rockers, 3) the crooners, with one little leftover.
- Nat King Cole: A voice for the ages. There's not enough hyperbole to fawn about this guy.
- Stephen Stills: I think this guy doesn't get the accolades he deserves (for his guitar chops, either) because, according to what I've read, he's a real arrogant prick who knows how talented he is. Sad that it would diminish that. I'm happy I've never met him so I can enjoy his amazing purr of a voice (and that guitar!).
- Maria McKee: I'll listen to this babe sing even a barely average song. My complete collection of her work thus far proves that in spades. She has some great songs there, but too many aren't worthy of her pipes. I'd love to see her do two albums: 1) a covers disc, 2) a disc of new songs written by big deal songsmiths, like "Show Me Heaven" that she did for that stupid race car movie.
- John Denver: I saw him on his last Denver show; man his voice had continued to grow. Overexposure and a weird public backlash expecting him to somehow be better than a mere human really seems to have eclipsed his music. But, damn it's good stuff. Like he sings about sunshine, his songs can make me cry.
- Dwight Yoakam: Trying to pick one performance that showcases how wonderful his voice is is nearly an exercise in futility .. just pick one! Any one! But if you have to pick just one, try that note he holds on the word "eternally" in "Johnson's Love." If you don't get goosebumps, call your doctor soon.
- Elvis Costello: Elvis can do it all. Try "Brilliant Mistake" on for size to hear for yourself.
- Rickie Lee Jones: To me, this woman is the style and phrasing master of the universe. Hope they have her complete works on the shelves in Heaven. (Presuming, of course.)
- David Gilmore: The nice voice of Pink Floyd. C'mon, you know you love him, too.
- Billy Joel: This is the one of the two guys where it amazes me he's not on the Rolling Stone list. Haven't these folks heard "Until the Night"? Sheesh.
- Alana Davis: She may be too young and fresh - and not widely popular enough - to be on this list. But her voice haunts me. Gawd it's wonderful.
- Gerry Rafferty: If you haven't really listened to how good this guy is, it's probably because the sheer vibrancy of his songs overshadows him. Try "Whatever's Written in Your Heart".
- Linda Ronstadt: This is the other guy who should be on this list. People sure have short memories. But, then again, these are mostly rock stars who did the list.
- Don Fagen: Mr. Steely Dan hisownself. I played "Deacon Blues" when I saw this omission. Was "I want a name when I lose" a self-fulfilling prophecy here?
- Dean Martin: If you've heard him, this probably needs no explanation. If you haven't, then you're just young. I bet he was in the rat pack so Sinatra could keep an eye on him. Or maybe it was that mafia "keep your enemies closer" thing. Best of that generation. My only quibble is the arrangements in his songs are sometimes corny and not as timeless as Sinatra's. That said, I still prefer his voice over Sinatra's.
- Bing Crosby: Like Dean, you know if you know.
- Bob Seger: Who doesn't love themselves some Seger? He's such a part of the fabric of rock as a whole, maybe it didn't occur to anyone to include him anymore than people think of air when they breathe. Then again, it could be jealousy.
- Chrissie Hynde - Her performance on "Show Me" still moves me to goosebumps and sometimes still mists me up. Probably not a better song about how you feel when you have a baby.
- David Hidalgo (of Los Lobos): Smooth. Laid back. Sells the song. Most of the guys in Los Lobos are good at the mic, but I think Mr. Hidalgo is their gem.
- Terry Reid: The biggest "shoulda been a contender" of all time. Go listen to samples and wonder why.
- Micheal McDonald: So unique, you can pick him out of Steely Dan background vocals. If you know how Steely Dan does things, that's a statement unto itself.
- Tom Johnston (of the Doobie Brothers): "China Grove"? "Listen to the Music"? Beuller? Bueller? Who doesn't know and love this guy's distinctive howl?
- Dave Peverett ("Lonesome Dave") (of Foghat): Quintessential rock voice. Slow ride, baby.
- Burton Cummings (of the Guess Who): Like Seger and Stills, one of those great butter-on-sandpaper rock vocalists.
- Sting: Not as versatile as most here on the list, but still a unique, unmistakable sound that fits rock, jazz and stalker songs.
- Lyle Lovett: His velvety lonesome croak rides across some of the best songs ever written, backed by one of the best bands around today. He is an event unto himself.
- Cee-Lo Green (Thomas Callaway) (of Gnarls Barkely) - Might be too young and unestablished to earn a "best ever" seat right now, but he will if he keeps it up.
- Chris O'Connor (of Primitive Radio Gods): This one might be more of a personal preference than a universal contender for best among the best. Love the voice, tho.
- Charlie Rich: Another old-timer who has probably been forgotten by the music biz and remembered only by fans. If you want a sample of his powers, listen to "Nothing In The World (To Do With Me)" from his biggest album The Most Beautiful Girl.
- Darius Rucker (formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish): I think the blowfish owe their success to this guy's voice. Now he's a big country hit.
- BJ Thomas: Mr. "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head". He had a few hits, but with voice he shouldn't dominated the charts for most of his career. Rumor has it that ego and booze got in the way.
- Larry Gatlin: Amazing voice, but cocaine kept him from being bigger than he was. If talent were all it was about, he'd still be on the radio.
- Barbara Streisand: Now, how could a list of great singers not include da Babs? I wasn't surprise that it wasn't there - she's made a lot of enemies - but at least she should've been included in the selection committee. I don't think I need to praise or defend her singing; we've all heard it. And you know when it's her. There you have it.
The one non-singer (or as Mick Jagger refers to himself, a "vocalist" as compared to singer):
- Robert Smith (of The Cure): Smith doesn't sing, he ... well who really knows what he does other than him. His songs are endlessly fascinating, particularly given his vocal limitations, and I find myself actually listening to how he phrases things and what notes (if you can call them that) he hits - unlike, say, Neil Young or even Mick Jagger where I might enjoy the performance, but am not all that taken with the delivery thereof. I really should have him up in the "miracle" list, but then he deserves his own category.
And there you have it.
I do have some quibbles with some folks who did make the Rolling Stone list.
I have never liked Frank Sinatra all that much, though I understand what an influence he was. Personally, I just an not all that impressed with the basics of his voice. I think his phrasing and other stylistic quirks are original and can enjoy those. But his pipes are rather average if you ask me.
I also think Aretha is overrated. I do love some of her songs. The most famous collection of her songs (and inexplicably unavailable new) is Aretha's Gold, which - even though it's a hit's package - like Elton John's first hits set, is an entity unto itself. Still, her voice just doesn't strike me like the voices listed above do. Perhaps here's where my plebeian side shows.
My final question is how in the HELL did either Lou Reed or Neil Young get on that list?