June 23, 2020

The Greatest Singers of All Time

Written by 
Rate this item
(430 votes)
Record Collection Record Collection

During the course of my many years of playing music on the radio & TV, writing about it in Newspapers, magazines and books as well as just listening or watching music for fun, I have collected many related items. Those of you who have looked at this website at some of the memorabilia that is posted are looking at the tip of the iceberg.

For example, when people ask me how many vinyl records do I have in my collection, I can’t give them an honest answer. Generally, my answer is over 20,000. The truth is that I don’t know since they have never actually been counted. It would take far too long.

The same goes for CDs, books and music DVDs. They are everywhere I can find a place for them. You can see a part of the records in the photo above and some of the CDs in the photo below. Those who would make the claim that I’m excessive in my collecting need only to point out how much room in my house is devoted to these items.

So, in the interest of having enough space to eat and sleep, once every decade or so, I do some purging. OK, here’s where we finally get to the subject in the title. While going through some old Rolling Stone magazines I came across the November 27, 2008 issue.

Splashed across the cover of this special issue is the headline “The 100 Greatest Singers of all Time.” It featured stories written by other singers. Robert Plant wrote about Elvis Presley, Bono wrote about Dylan, etc.

Picking the greatest in anything is difficult. Friends have been known to argue about the best of anything long through the night with no real winner. A major factor in these stalemates is that there no real criteria for selecting what is the best. It is all just opinion. And you know what they say about opinions.

Like everyone else, I have mine. I often disagree with stories written in Rolling Stone for a variety of reasons. I certainly didn’t agree with every selection made in this story, but one of the reasons I liked the article was the story written by Jonathan Lethem that led into the actual selections.

In the article entitled “What Makes a Great Singer”, Jonathon took the time to explain the reasoning behind the selections. Of course, I don’t agree with all the selections but his reasoning was excellent. Here’s a sample of what he wrote:

“For me, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith, just to mention two, are superb singers by any measure I could ever care about - expressivity, surprise, soul, grain, interpretive wit, angle of vision.”
He is so right on this. A great voice does not always make for a great singer. This is especially true in Rock music.

The two that he picked out as examples were perfect. No one has ever thought that Bob Dylan had the kind of voice that would get him selected in the first round for an all-star choir. He often sounds like he is in search of a key to sing in. It doesn’t matter.

What Bob Dylan brings to singing is much more than a pretty voice. His music and the way he presents it, can leave you in a thoughtful, emotional and sometimes even determined to change things mood. He does this with his voice. With very few exceptions, no one comes close to singing his songs as well as he does. His voice conveys the emotions, humor and a call to action that others with “sweet” voices can’t.

In the article Bono says “The reason I never bored of Bob Dylan is because there are so many of him” Dylan, like so many great Rock singers are actors in their own drama that draws the audience in like no pop singer can.

The same is true of Patti Smith. She didn’t set out to be a singer. She just read her poems. She had to be convinced to sing them. When she does, it is done with an emotional impact that is extremely rare. Just listen to her “Gloria” or “Dancing Barefoot”. Her voice can actually give you chills.

No one ever accused Lou Reed of being a great singer because of his voice quality. Yet, he was. His raw voice was his biggest asset. Can you imagine trying to sing songs like “Heroin”, “Waiting for my Man” or “Walk on the Wild Side” with Frank Sinatra’s voice?

Many of Rock’s best singers don’t have a classic “great” voice. Mick Jagger, Neil Young, and Little Richard are great examples of voices that were made for the music they performed.

This is what puzzles me about selecting someone like Whitney Houston to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Whitney had one of the greatest voices of all time, but it wasn’t a Rock voice. It is like putting Mario Lanza in the R & R Hall of Fame.

On the other hand, Pat Benatar has a great voice. Good enough to do opera. She also has many hit songs that really rock. That apparently isn’t enough.

If you are looking for distinctive female voices that are filled with emotion and drive to put on your list of all time greats look no further than Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin (finished first in the Rolling Stone list) or Etta James.

What was somewhat amazing to me about the Rolling Stone list was how far down the list you had to go to see the names like Joe Cocker (almost didn’t make it at #97), Steven Tyler (just made it at #99), B B King (#96), The Everly Brothers (#90) Roger Daltrey (#64), Rod Stewart (#59), and even Freddie Mercury could have been higher than #18.

But then again, it is their opinion. Let me know what your thoughts on the best singers and we will post them. Unless you feel that Mario Lanza should be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

IMG 0802


Leave a comment