Though it may be second hand
It’s by no means second rate
—“Senior Service,” Elvis Costello
A short while back, I posted a list of my Top 25 Favorite Singers. As noted there, that was a list of singers from the rock, blues, soul, pop era. Also as noted in the other post’s preface, certainly Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and their ilk are deserving. However, I am the wrong guy for that job. I suspect there are plenty of lists out there for those folks.
Some commenters wondered how I could even come up with 25. The easy part was thinking of 25; the hard part ranking them. But I actually thought of 50 or 60 and knew all along (and I think mentioned) that I would post my second 25 list. The artists on this list are by no means second-hand or second-rate. But as in the first list, their singing has provided me much pleasure over the years.
- Don Henley – Imagine the Eagles songs without him. “Desperado.” “Hotel California.” A great voice that few can imitate. I tried to sing “Best of My Love” at karaoke. Big mistake. Next time – Lou Reed.
- Paul Rodgers – I profiled him just a short while ago. His is a name largely unknown to the general public. But his voice powered songs by Free and Bad Company. An unparalleled career.
- Annie Lennox (pictured above) – She burst on the scene as part of the Eurythmics. They seemed odd. They were. Although I think it was just part of their image. One of the great female rock singers of all time.
- Levon Helm – Would the Band sound like the Band were it not for him? Could anyone but a Southerner have brought the pathos to “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down?” Special nod here to Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, his equally great singing partners.
- John Fogerty – For all intents and purposes, Creedence Clearwater Revival were a Fifties band stuck in the Sixties. Fogerty had that whole southern swamp thing in his voice. How the hell does a guy raised in California sing like that and write “Proud Mary?” Springsteen worships this guy.
- Jackie Wilson – Wilson was one of the seminal singers of the Fifties. Everybody who was anybody listened to him and copied his style. Van Morrison sang “Jackie Wilson said it was Reet Petite.” Yeah.
- Bonnie Raitt – Ms. Raitt proved a long time ago she is more than just a blues singer. She can sing just about anything and break your heart. She left Cambridge long ago for the West Coast but she’s still one of ours. Oh and an excellent slide player too.
- Paul Simon – Sure, one could argue that Art Garfunkel has the better voice. But I like Simon’s. Plus I’m such a drooling fanboy that if I ever met him he’d probably have to call security to get me to stop bugging him.
- Marvin Gaye – I know, I know. He should absolutely be on the Top 25. One day I’ll reconsider both lists and maybe shift people around.
- Chuck Berry – More hero worship from yours truly. Chuck Berry is the mothafuckin’ man. If he had never existed I would have no purpose in life and be wandering in the desert searching for meaning.
- Thom Yorke – Is there any more distinctive singer? An unusual, beautiful voice. I do not listen to enough Radiohead. One day I will do a series and immerse myself in their stuff.
- Dionne Warwick – I mentioned in an earlier post that Carlos Santana said he learned how to phrase on his guitar by listening to her sing. Her Bacharach/David songs especially are classic.
- Aaron Neville – Everybody knows the Neville brothers, yes? Aaron has the purest, sweetest voice you’ve ever heard. Tell it like it is.
- Steve Winwood – At fifteen years old he was being routinely compared to Ray Charles. He still sounds great. Traffic will get their due on this site one day.
- Smokey Robinson – I don’t know if people totally get how pivotal Smokey was. He sang, he wrote, he was a Motown executive. Ahead of his time.
- Little Richard – The Beatles met Richard while he was on tour in England, well before they were a household name. You wanna know where McCartney got it from? He totally admits it.
- Jim Morrison – The Lizard King. Much of the continued mystique about The Doors is the Morrison persona, style and voice.
- James Taylor – Boy I just love this guy’s voice. Warm, distinctive. Good guitar player too. Another Boston guy, he and old chum Raitt played together at Fenway Park recently. Homecoming.
- Curtis Mayfield – Gee, Mr. Music Enthusiast. Thanks for finally getting around to him. Great singer and admired by guitarists from Hendrix to Clapton.
- Prince – What could this guy NOT do? He was a terrific singer, songwriter, arranger and guitarist. Add in one dirty mind and you have a hell of a performer.
- Dion DeMucci – Known as Dion, he killed it on every song he sang. He’s even fairly recently sung blues. As of this writing he is 78 years old and is one of the few remaining artists of the early days of rock and roll.
- Eddie Vedder – Like Michael McDonald he has that “coal cellar voice.” Deep. Manly, one might say. I remember seeing a documentary about Pearl Jam. Once those guys heard his audition tape it was pretty much all over.
- Chrissie Hynde – Again, distinctive. Ballsy, bluesy (but not a blues singer), powerful. If the guy in the song was fucking with her, you felt it. She and Ray Davies produced a kid but were too volatile together.
- Jeff Buckley – If you’ve listened to him, you know. Clichéd though it may seem, I must add “Hallelujah” to my Spotify list, if only for the three people who may not know his version.
- Peter Gabriel – If I know my readership, this guy is on everybody’s list.
Honorable mention: Koko Taylor, Ruth Brown, David Ruffin, James Brown, Justin Hayward, David Crosby, Steve Marriott, Roy Orbison.
Some of these singers from the early era of rock are featured in my Indispensable 150 series which starts here.