Monday, November 24, 2008

All-Time Greatest Singers

Rolling Stone magazine's latest cover story features the all-time greatest singers. Ballots were sent to scores of musicians, producers, executives, etc., including everyone from 50s country-pop darling Brenda Lee to Evanescence's Amy Lee to Rush's Geddy Lee, 70s singer-songwriter Carole King to blues legend B.B. King, the Late Show's Paul Shaffer, Rolling Stone Keith Richards (whose ballot is featured in the "Editor's" section) and, of course, self-proclaimed "g*dd*mn prince of darkness" Ozzy Osborne.

I have to confess a guilty pleasure of mine that arose when I saw the cover story. It's funny how these fleeting thoughts come and go with the brain's electricity. I first thought it interesting (but appropriate) that Bob Dylan was featured on the cover I received (there are four different covers). He is certainly known for his singing, but not for its melodious sweetness. So, right off I know "great" is going to be a broad category for these singers. I also know my guilty pleasure will not be among the top 100--too commercial, too sappy, too pretty. Nevertheless, to my delight, there at number 76 was Journey's Steve Perry--the perfect combination of nose and throat. When Perry pleads in his soaring tenor "Don't stop believin'," you think you just might make it through another night. Don't lie, you know you feel it too! For a stroll down amnesia lane, take a listen to what he does with his 7 seconds of "We Are the World" (sandwiched at the 2:30 mark between two other sweet-voiced white boys, Kenny Loggins and Daryl Hall--also, you gotta love the rawness of the Boss, no. 36). The video features a number of other vocalists who made the top 100.

So, without further adieu, here (spoiler alert) are the top 10: 10-James Brown; 9-Stevie Wonder; 8-Otis Redding; 7-Bob Dylan; 6-Marvin Gaye; 5-John Lennon; 4-Sam Cooke; 3-Elvis Presley; 2-Ray Charles; 1-Aretha Franklin. Check out the whole feature, including playlists of the best from each of the top 100.

I can't believe they left off ________! Fill in the blank. Who got robbed? Who do you say is/are the all-time greatest? What makes a "great" singer--power, technique, influence, relevance, musicality, great songs? Turn others on to some folks they may not know or have forgotten about.


robert c. pelfrey said...

I wanted to highlight no. 29 on Rolling Stone's list, Nina Simone. As the article says, "She could belt barroom blues, croon cabaret and explore jazz--sometimes on a single record." She was also a great pianist, and my estimation is that she was a very musical singer, in the vein of Sinatra, Fitzgerald, even Mariah Carey. She understood theory and could bring out notes and phrases that the average singer would miss. Check her out on youtube, itunes, etc.

Unknown said...

I don't know, I always find the "top 100 list" to be altogether too intimidating and meaningless as a genre to do much good. I know that I'm probably a bad music nut to say so, but that's just how I feel about them... Sorry, Pelf.

Anonymous said...




Billy Eckstine?

although there are people of color on the list, these four deserve at LEAST an honorable mention.

robert c. pelfrey said...

Oh, Chris, can't you professor types loosen up and play along--always looking through the critical eye? Just say James Hetfield and be done with it!

And "Anonymous" is citing some great ones here. I would put Billie Holiday in that company. Considering this list is coming from Rolling Stone, there will certainly be luminaries from other genres (jazz, opera) overlooked.

Unknown said...

Not even I could argue that Het is one of the all-time great singers. Unless you wanted to make a special supplementary metal list... And allow me my professorly critical eye! It's all i've got!

Unknown said...

I am a little disappointed that Dylan wasn't in the top 5. What always jumps out to me in lists like this is that they never include contemporary singers. I credit them for placing Amy Lee on the ballot, though it is a little puzzling to me. I would like to see where John Mayer or Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) fall on the list.

robert c. pelfrey said...

One clarification (re: Lance's comment), those mentioned in my first paragraph (like Amy Lee) were among those who GOT ballots--who voted--not necessarily those who were ON ballots (although according to Rolling Stone, some voters put themselves in the top 20). Also, I'm sure the John Mayer generation will be more present in time. Other than Christina Aguilara (no.58), not much representation of the youngsters...yet.

Paul said...

Ok, so one person I was suprised was not on the list is Buck Owens considering they put ol' Mere on there. He was revolutionary in the business and paved the way for many young country music stars. Plus, he was from Bakersfield!

If I were to add a couple, I would add Ben Harper, Jack Johnson and Mason Jennings (can't get enough Mason lately). And no, I am not a pot head. I think the lyrical content and originality of these artits would put them in the top 100; but, that is just my opinion.
I am probably in a miority for my last suggestions, but what the heck =)

robert c. pelfrey said...

Yeah, Buck was a big influence, pioneering that whole "Bakersfield Sound." Also, Ringo Starr was one of the voters, and he did a famous version of "Act Naturally." I think some of those other guys, as well as Jason Mraz and the aforementioned John Mayer,might be considered on a list a few years from now--especially Ben Harper.

Anonymous said...

I really think that a few metal singers are being left out. Rob Halford from Judas Priest, Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden. They may not be the same style but they are no doubt talented singers.

robert c. pelfrey said...

JT is right about the absence of metal singers. The "Editor's Letter" noted that someone nominated Ronnie James Dio--deservedly so, I believe. Robert Plant (#15) and Axl Rose (#64) are about as close as the list comes, yet still a far cry from "real" metal. My friend PhDumper mentioned a possible supplementary metal category. Seems those guys are like the Rodney Dangerfield of music--No Respect!

David Hyman said...

First off. OTIS AT 8????? I'm calling bullshit mamma. That is crap! crap! crap! Top 3 in any order: Aretha, Ray and Otis.

And the only white boy who should be in the top 10 is Michael McDonald. Ta dow!

Elvis, John, and Bob?????? Heh???? I love 'em but come on.

David H

David Hyman said...

Um, where's Michael McDonald? Would the 70's have had any good songs without that guy? Stunned. Numb. Cold.

Ok, ok, ok. Does me cold heart good to see Toots Hibbert on this list - even at 71. Seriously, go and listen to the track "54-46" and tell me he can't sayng.

Also, I was happy to see Bjork listed and Thom (whith an H) Yorke. There's a great duet with those two that you'd like RP "I've Seen it All."

Another troubling, unshakable issue. Is Mick Jagger a better singer than Freddy Mercury? ORLY?

Felt good to see Johnny Cash on there. I think Willie could have been higher. Man, Willie has a great voice. Love to hear him sing.

Final travesty before I head off to ITunes. Did I look at every person on the top 100 and not see Chris Cornell's name? Someone say it ain't so.


David H

robert c. pelfrey said...

Good rant, David! Felt like Jim Rome or Dennis Miller were commenting. Thanks for highlighting some of the lesser-knowns like Toots and Thom. And I'm with you on having trouble with Lennon and Dylan in the Top 10 on a singers list (though I do think Elvis deserves it). I'm a huge fan, but I just don't think they have to be in the Top 10 on EVERY list. And Michael McDonald was definitely robbed.

Unknown said...

Bob Dylan can't sing worth crap.

There, I said it.

One of the top ten greatest songwriters. Top ten influential musicians. But as a singer, he's terrible.

WECK59 said...


Jason said...

Without looking through all the names, I am one of those weirdos who actually likes Geddy Lee. It's not because he's the greatest vocalist on earth as much as that Rush was a big part of my growing up.

As a writer, Bob Dylan is a genius. As a singer, no so much. There, I said it. Sorry to offend.

Bing Crosby was da man!

Freddy Mercury was out-freaking-standing. That guy could emote like no one else. All emo wannabe's should stop singing and just listen to what a real singer sounds like. As for Queen, I understand what they're doing with Paul Rodgers. But, if he could keep his life together, I always thought George Michael could have done great things with them.

There are too many more to list, so I'll just stop here.

robert c. pelfrey said...

Meatloaf?! I didn't see THAT coming! One of the best performers ever, it's true.

George Michael really is a great singer, and a great songwriter. Twenty years ago I wouldn't have admitted it, but Listen Without Prejudice came out and I had to buy it--incredible album. He's like the Robert Downey Jr. of singers--so much wasted potential, maybe he can come back too.

Unknown said...

I will boycott this list until Rick Astley is added. He has never let you down, and we will not let him down!

Anonymous said...

I am glad that someone agreed with my Metal singers mention. But I do think that Meatloaf was a good add. He is amazing and if you watch Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny or that Go Phone commercial you will see just how amazing he is. He can take every day talk and make it musical magic.

robert c. pelfrey said...

I love it! Rick Astley (whose second coming can be heard in American Idol runner-up David Archuleta)...defending folks have certainly presented some surprises. Who could be next? I haven't seen anyone mention Barry Manilow. Or how about Gary Portnoy (anyone?), singer of the Cheers theme song (as well as Punky Brewster, but we don't talk about that one).

Hope you've all spent Thanksgiving "where everybody knows your name."

Anonymous said...

Where the hell is Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw, or James Young?

In other words, where the hell is the respect for lazer precise harmonies of STYX? These guys rivaled anything Queen ever had to offer, and in some cases maybe even went above and beyond Freddy and his boys.

robert c. pelfrey said...

Ah, Styx...another guilty pleasure. Yes, Dennis DeYoung had a superb voice. "Lady" is one of my favorite DeYoung performances. Just went of the rails a bit with the whole Kilroy Was Here concept album thing (though "Mr. Roboto" rocked!). But hey, who didn't go off the rails in the 80s?

Ahnalog said...

No Alison Krauss? Or Jose Feliciano? And, did I just miss her, or is Celine Dion not on this list? I'm not crazy about power-singers in general, but seriously. Celine is the real deal. I'm in agreement with Thomas and whoever else said Bob Dylan shouldn't be on this list.

BUT -- Good calls on Gladys Knight, Bono, and Jeff Buckley. It would have been sorely remiss to omit any of them.

robert c. pelfrey said...

I think Allison Krauss may make the list a few years from now. She's been around a long time, but she's still so young and is really beginning to branch out more. She definitely deserves to be on the list...if not now, eventually.

Regarding Bob Dylan, he should DEFINITELY be on the list! Read Bono's article on Dylan to better understand the impact he had--no longer how pretty a voice is, but how true. This opened the door for many, from Springsteen and Bono to Rich Mullins (all favorites of mine). But, I'm not sure he deserves the no.7 spot--top 20 maybe, top 50 definitely.

One huge miss--Anne Wilson from Heart! How can Annie Lennox and Stevie Nicks be on there but Anne Wilson--probably THE best female rock singer of the 70s and 80s--not be there? Big mistake.

NEW BOOK--An Untold Story: Heroism, Mysticism, and the Quest for the True Self

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." ~ Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings About the Boo...