My Favorite Singers – Top 25

Note that whenever I do a list I am always careful to say ‘my favorites’ as opposed to ‘the greatest.’ How the hell would I know who’s the greatest? Plus how do you even get consensus on that? It’s far too subjective.

So these are my top 25 vocalists as not only are they fantastic singers but their voices and music have provided me the most pleasure over the years. Note that this list is comprised of rock, soul, blues vocalists so I didn’t take into consideration the Sinatras, Streisands, Billie Holidays, etc.

The first singer is certainly not 25 times greater than the 25th. That’s just silly. Consider it a twenty-five way tie which I still felt the compelling need to rank. Β πŸ˜‚

  1. John Lennon – He was a great singer who could go from the raucous ‘Twist and Shout’ to the beautiful ‘Julia’ or ‘Imagine’ without losing the emotional clarity he brought to everything. Plus he’s John fucking Lennon.
  2. Bruce Springsteen – What can I say? Bruce wears his heart on his sleeve and, like Lennon, nails it every single time. “Atlantic City” has been insinuating its way into my personal Bruce Top Five for a while now.
  3. B.B. King – “I’ve got a sweet little angel, I love the way she spreads her wings.” For my money, hands down the greatest all-around bluesman of all time.
  4. Stevie Wonder – Just listen to “I Am Singing” or “Ribbon in the Sky.” Stevie’s the man. He sings of joy.
  5. Gregg Allman – There are very few blues singers in his league. And he could still do a song like ‘These Days’ and tear you up. BTW, here’s Gregg’s first released song from his posthumous album.
  6. Janis Joplin – Other women don’t even try to sing the songs she popularized because she’s too closely identified with them. It would be like me getting up to sing and play “Foxy Lady.”
  7. Mick Jagger – Imagine the Stones with Keith Richards singing all the songs. Would you listen? I wouldn’t.
  8. Ray Charles – “Busted.” “Georgia on My Mind.” “What’d I Say.” “Hit the Road Jack.” Please. I owe you a series Ray.
  9. Bob Dylan – He practically invented the non-singer singer. But his voice is so full of feeling, so nuanced it cannot be denied.
  10. Elvis Presley – Listen to his first Sun recordings to hear how pure his voice was.
  11. Aretha Franklin – RESPECT. Rolling Stone has her at numberΒ 1. They’re probably right.
  12. Paul McCartney – From Little Richard rave-ups to “Let It Be.” He should be in the top ten. Hope you keep reading my blog anyway, Paul.
  13. Karen Carpenter – A smooth-as-silk, melt-in-your-mouth voice that can make you cry. McCartney, around that time said, “the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive.”
  14. Bono – I’ve been listening to a lot of U2 lately. In fact, hearing them on the radio inspired this post
  15. Robert Plant – So great, so unique. I would have rated him higher but in the later years of Zep I found him to be shrill.
  16. Tina Turner – Smoke and fire. “We never, ever do nothin’ nice and easy,” she said. Sexy.
  17. Rod Stewart – From his early blues days with Jeff Beck to his solo work to Faces it’s all good.
  18. Otis Redding – One of the greatest, most influential soul/R&B singers ever. Expect more Otis on these pages in the not-too-distant future.
  19. Elton John – Another one who can go from tender (“Your Song”) to raucous (“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”) and back again.
  20. Sam Cooke. He has six numbers on my Indispensable 150 list of late ’50’s/early ’60’s songs, more than any other singer.
  21. David Bowie – A totally unique and moving stylist. Another one who can belt it out (“Suffragette City”) or take it down (“Life on Mars”).
  22. Roger Daltrey – Still sounds great. He is every bit Pete Townshend’s voice.
  23. Tracy Chapman – A stirring, remarkable voice that cuts right through.
  24. Van Morrison – “She’s as sweet as …. Tupelo Honey. She’s an angel of the first degree.”
  25. Freddie Mercury. Like Roy Orbison, he had a three-or-four octave range. Awesome.

That’s my list. I welcome yours. Be forewarned. It ain’t easy. This is Part 1. Part deux somewhere down the road.

This Spotify list will cost you 1 1/2 hours of your time and is, I think, totally worth it.

53 thoughts on “My Favorite Singers – Top 25

  1. Great list. The one surprise for me and so glad you have her was Tracy Chapman! She is such an incredible singer. So underrated. When I first ever heard Fast Cars, I was like Damn!! This girl can sing.


    1. Yeah, I recently did a piece on her. Anything bolded in the post links back to a post I’ve already done about that artist or his/her band. Tracy’s voice just moves me, man. I am keeping my fingers crossed she tours again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice list indeed, sir and many a favourite of mine on here too. I was listening to some Otis only recently too.
    Surprised to see Bono on here; didn’t think he’d made it over to the States


    1. I half-expected a Pearl Jam fan such as yourself to say ‘Where the fuck is Eddie Vedder?’ As to any statements I may or may not have made on your site about lack of knowledge of one Bono J. Vox, I of course attribute that to fake news and alternative facts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great list, Jim. Perhaps the only artist I would not have included is Dylan. While he undoubtedly is a great artist, I was never particularly impressed with his voice. Instead, I would have added Christina Aguilera – I know, perhaps an unexpected choice, which doesn’t seem to fit.

    It’s strictly based on Christina’s vocal abilities, which I believe are absolutely outstanding. A great example is her song “Beautiful,” which still gives me goose bumps every time I listen to it.

    Another artist whose voice I really love is Solomon Burke. I recommend listening to his version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”


    1. Yeah, I can see both the anti-Dylan and pro-Aguilera arguments. But recall my initial note where I said the list was an intersection of those whose voice I like and whom have provided me the most enjoyment over the years. Is Aguilera a great singer and “better” than Dylan in a pure singing sense? Sure. But apart from “Beautiful” and her stuff with the Stones, I don’t listen to her much. Dylan I’ve been listening to forever. It’s hard from my point of view to beat his feel. BTW, I’m speaking specifically of his “first twenty-or-so-years” voice rather than the dreadful squawk he currently has.

      As to Burke, yea he’s a good one. I’ll listen to that song. Thanks .

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Can’t fault any of these, except I don’t see the appeal of Tracy Chapman (huh?), Bono (too melodramatic for me), and maybe Dylan (he hits on all cylinders except vocals). My choices would have to include Marvin Gaye, Jim Morrison, Bryan Ferry, Steve Winwood, Greg Lake, Justin Hayward, Denny Doherty, David Crosby, Joan Baez, and Marilyn McCoo.

    Now how about a LEAST favorite singer list??


  5. Maybe Tracy’s an acquired taste, dunno. But I think she’s great. Likewise Dylan. Bono may be all that but I do love his voice. From your list I can disagree with no one although, as beautiful as her voice is, Baez in small doses for me, please. As to least favorite, I’ll pass on that one. I try to emphasize the ‘what I like’ as much as I can as opposed to the ‘what I think sucks.’ If somebody never shows up on my site, one can assume I’m not a fan. That said, the inclusion of Lou Reed on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 list is a mystery. I would say about him everything you said about Dylan. But the flattest, most monotone voice I’ve ever heard in my life.


  6. I like quite a few on your list. I mentioned Ray on the song you sent. The one name on your list that really jumps out at me is Otis Redding. He is one vocalist that never fails to move me. No matter where or when I hear him. That “personal” thing we talked about. There are SO many Doc. Billy Holiday is another. I will give you one that might surprise you. Merle Haggard. That’s all I got for ya.


    1. Otis will reappear on these pages later this year. Not quite there yet. Also, next time you’re going for a walk and can’t find something to listen to – assuming your phone now supports it – consider this Spotify list. It hangs together remarkably well for a happy accident.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s always interesting comparing the technically proficient singers with the idiosyncratic ones. I really like your list, so this is more like an appendix:

    Peter Gabriel – I like his croaky, emotional voice.

    Emmylou Harris – she’s an amazing harmony vocalist.

    Jeff Buckley – obviously didn’t get to record much, but was a bit of a vocal chameleon – lots of range and could switch from smooth croon to rasping rock.

    Mike Patton – another vocal chameleon, and according to some studies has a huge range – 6 octaves.


    1. Yeah, that’s exactly it. If it was technical proficiency, I could make a solid argument for Whitney Houston. I certainly know the first three on your list, don’t know Patton. I think it was you that did the Faith No More post? Haven’t gotten to that yet but obviously don’t know his stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, “Least Favorite” might be too controversial. As far as Lou Reed on “Rolling Stone’s” list of Top 100 singers… I don’t pay much attention to their lists! That being said, Reed’s talk-sing style, especially during the Velvets and early solo period, did influence a generation of alt-rock singers. Also, a big thumbs up for Otis Redding, maybe the most soulful voice I’ve ever heard.


    1. Yeah, I use the RS lists as a point of departure as opposed to gospel. You should see some of the lame-ohs on their guitar list. As to Reed, yes he did inspire a generation of singers and I’m not 100% sure that’s a good thing. πŸ˜€ Interesting that Velvet Underground was so influential. When Lou died, someone said that 30,000 copies of their debut album sold but each person went out and started a band. Watch these pages in the next few months for more Otis.


  9. I find that list very surprising. They are all great artists in one way or another but I wouldn’t rate most of them as singers. My first thoughts when you mention vocalists go something like: Cleo Laine, Barbara Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone. But they’re not really rock, soul or blues. I’d list Jon Anderson, Greg Lake and Annie Lennox as fitting the category reasonably well. After that I get to peripheral artists like Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez and Lana Del Rey. Only then do I get to points of agreement: Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Freddie Mercury and one or two others. I guess we use very different appreciation algorithms when it comes to singers. Vive la difference!


  10. Well, yes, you’re, I think, dividing it into people who, shall we say, have classically trained or technically proficient voices and those who, well, not so much. I get that. So for you, I think, “singer” is closer to that definition. For me, singer is someone who, well, sings. How well they sing is another question. I don’t dispute any of your choices. But I’m puzzled as to how some of the others are ones you wouldn’t consider singers. McCartney? Stevie Wonder? Otis Redding? These guys can’t sing?

    But you come around to the point I made sure to make in the post which is yes, this is all soul, rock, blues. Because that’s what I listen to. Streisand et al have better voices. But I never listen to her. Just not where I want to live. One Joplin tune does more for me than 12 Streisand albums. To quote my second-favorite singer, “I’m a rocker, baby I’m a rocker.” How you could read this blog for so long and expect most of those singers ever to show up is the real question. They’re great, but not my bag.
    (One mystery I should clear up – I love jazz but I greatly favor instrumental jazz to vocal.)

    BTW, love or hate Rolling Stone, their designation of singer fits mine and in fact I used their list to generate thought. As you say, vive la difference. But I post the RS list to show that I have not (quite yet) climbed out on a lonely branch and sawed myself off. πŸ™‚


    1. Just so I don’t give the wrong impression … I don’t listen to Cleo Laine, etc. either. It’s just that they immediately spring to mind when someone mentions great singers. Most of those on your list don’t pop into my head. I’ll give you Otis Redding (no doubt there). Stevie Wonder I’ve always thought was over-rated (and I know that’s blasphemy for many, many people). Paul McCartney wouldn’t be on my list of great singers; he was half of a great song-writing duo. Same comment applies for John Lennon.

      Ah well, you pays your money and you takes your choice, as they say.


      1. Wow, yes we are on different planets here for sure. Well if I’m ever in your area, I will buy you a pint and we can discuss this topic at greater length. May I suggest Bass ale? πŸ™‚ I have a confession to make here which is other than faintly knowing her name, I barely know who Cleo Laine is. I suspect she’s quite a bit more well-known over there than here.


        1. Cleo Laine must have been well known in the U.S. in the 80’s and 90’s at least. She starred in Broadway musicals over that period. She’s probably better known, though, for her work with Johnny Dankworth, her husband and jazz band leader. I’ll leave you to do any follow-up research if you want but she probably won’t be of much interest to you. (Think of a female Frank Sinatra and then move towards jazz a bit.)


  11. I like your list. Favorite singers are not always the best singers and who is best anyway? I have my own list of favs. too . Never been a Springsteen fan. Always thought he was totally overrated in his writing and singing. Energy is important for a jet engine, not always for a singer.
    Of course we have great jazz singers, opera singers, classic crooner singers. country and western singers. No list is all inclusive. Your list is what you like. I respect that. If I ever come up with a total list, will let you know.


    1. Your comment found its way into spam again. Other than an overzealous spam checker, I cannot explain why. Sorry we can’t share the Boss experience. I honestly feel that if he doesn’t get through to someone, they are missing a lot of great stuff and I don’t say that about everybody. Spin the ‘Nebraska’ album online sometime if you want another side of him. As mentioned, ‘Atlantic City’ has become one of his oft-covered classics over time.

      You are correct in that there are so many great singers of all types. But as to the discussion I had with Stoneyfish, I may appreciate certain singers and think they’re great. (Billie Holiday, Sinatra, e.g.) But how often do I really listen to them is the real question? Some say that George Jones is one of the greatest singers ever. Probably true but he can’t be on my list because he “should” be. But you get that I’m sure. One thing my list does do is clarify and crystallize my tastes to some extent. Love or hate the blog, people know what they’re gonna hear when they visit. 😁

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Yeah, that’s exactly it. If she was on Broadway she’s known to that crowd. Case in point – there’s a quite famous Broadway singer/actress named Betty Buckley. But outside of B’way, she’s fairly unknown. In any event, I’ll ask my stepmother about Laine. She’s up on all those types of singers. If you’re talking Sinatra/Fitzgerald/Holiday, that’s her thing. Pretty knowledgeable too (she’s 78) on certain saxophonists and some blues. Hates rock and roll and would loathe just about everyone on my list. I’ll listen to Laine on YouTube. You’re correct that she probably won’t be my cup of tea. But hey, you never know.


  13. Jim
    I’m impressed that you could even attempt to put a list together like this. It would take me weeks or months to do. Then at the end I wouldn’t be happy with some part of it. The one name that isn’t on your list but would be on mine is Ronnie Van Zant


    1. Yeah, I’m kinda surprised more bloggers didn’t take me up on this. As mentioned, it wasn’t easy but it was eminently doable. Van Zant was excellent, no question. I’ll consider him for the next 25 list. πŸ˜‚


What would you say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.