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. 😂
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stevie Wonder – Just listen to “I Am Singing” or “Ribbon in the Sky.” Stevie’s the man. He sings of joy.
- 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.
- 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.”
- Mick Jagger – Imagine the Stones with Keith Richards singing all the songs. Would you listen? I wouldn’t.
- Ray Charles – “Busted.” “Georgia on My Mind.” “What’d I Say.” “Hit the Road Jack.” Please. I owe you a series Ray.
- Bob Dylan – He practically invented the non-singer singer. But his voice is so full of feeling, so nuanced it cannot be denied.
- Elvis Presley – Listen to his first Sun recordings to hear how pure his voice was.
- Aretha Franklin – RESPECT. Rolling Stone has her at number 1. They’re probably right.
- 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.
- 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.”
- Bono – I’ve been listening to a lot of U2 lately. In fact, hearing them on the radio inspired this post
- 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.
- Tina Turner – Smoke and fire. “We never, ever do nothin’ nice and easy,” she said. Sexy.
- Rod Stewart – From his early blues days with Jeff Beck to his solo work to Faces it’s all good.
- 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.
- Elton John – Another one who can go from tender (“Your Song”) to raucous (“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”) and back again.
- Sam Cooke. He has six numbers on my Indispensable 150 list of late ’50’s/early ’60’s songs, more than any other singer.
- David Bowie – A totally unique and moving stylist. Another one who can belt it out (“Suffragette City”) or take it down (“Life on Mars”).
- Roger Daltrey – Still sounds great. He is every bit Pete Townshend’s voice.
- Tracy Chapman – A stirring, remarkable voice that cuts right through.
- Van Morrison – “She’s as sweet as …. Tupelo Honey. She’s an angel of the first degree.”
- 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.