Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Jan 31, 2009
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Something a little different today, although it’s online, so to speak, so it fits the model. Rolling Stone Magazine put together a listing of what they say are the 100 Greatest Singers In History. I’ve got to tell you, I love stuff like this because it invokes pretty good memories, great discussions, and of course we all get to have our favorites and those that we don’t like. Being a former professional musician (I got paid for it, therefore I was a professional), I’d like to think that I have at least some basic knowledge on the subject.
Just to get this out of the way, though, we’re talking about rock musicians. No operatic folks are on the list, which is a shame because if one can’t get Andrea Bocelli or Sarah Brightman in a list then it’s not quite accurate. Also, any list that has Mariah Carey all the way down at #79 tells me that the list is not only not about singers, but that it’s more a list of performers who impress people who like rock than an article about true singers. And come on; no Celine Dion, no Whitney Houston, no Donna Summer,… ugh!
Obviously, I’ve already given some early commentary on this list. But let’s look at the top ten only; if you want to jump right to the entire list, you can use this link to get there.
Going in reverse order, #10 is James Brown. Most people only know the James Brown of Eddie Murphy fame, but when he started out, James Brown had a very melodic voice. Later on he decided to give that up for more histrionics, but no matter. You can’t have a discussion about vocalists in history without James Brown. This isn’t a bad pick.
At #9 on the list we have Stevie Wonder. I wrote in a review last year that Stevie Wonder is the number one pop music genius of all time, and he’s still influencing musicians of today, so there’s no gripe about this pick either.
At #8 is Otis Redding, and if I have a gripe about this pick, it’s that I just don’t see him being in the top ten. His untimely death has probably added way more credence to his importance, but when it comes to singers, there’s so many more who were not only more important, but better singers.
At #7 is Bob Dylan; here’s the big pick that lets us know it’s more about legacy than actual vocal talent. I say this while being a big time Dylan fan. Bob Dylan couldn’t sing his way past the first round of American Idol, let alone be considered a legitimate singer on any list. However, his body of work was remarkable, and he came alone at just the right time to touch upon the psyche of America. His lyrics impressed me so much that I bought his book of lyrics some years ago, just to study the composition structure of them. Top ten in importance, yes; top ten singers, no way.
At #6 is Marvin Gaye, and this is a great pick for the top ten. There were few other natural singers who could compete with Marvin Gaye, and he knew it. Marvin Gaye was so good that he’s the only performer in Motown history who didn’t have to go through “performance school”; of course, it didn’t hurt that he was married to Berry Gordy’s sister either. Still, Marvin Gaye could have made a nun give up her virginity, there was so much sex in his smooth sound. No gripes here.
At #5 is John Lennon, and once again, I have to put him on the list with Dylan; important for the times, but not all that great a singer. His range was limited, and, well, truthfully, I think he had more of an emotive voice with no real range. I can’t think of anyone else who could have brought the kind of power he did to a song like “Imagine”, but he was a great performer, and an even better man, than he was a singer.
At #4 is Sam Cooke, and I’ll say right now that the only gripe I might have here is that I could see him being at #2, except he left this world way too soon. Sam Cooke was smooth, he had range, and, well, he was just likable as a singer and as a man. Well, except for the woman who ended up killing him, I suppose, but even there,… well, we’ll probably never know the real story. Sam Cooke could make you feel good; he could make you cry; he could pretty much do anything he wanted to do with his voice, which is what makes me so impressed with him. It was his voice and one of his songs I thought about the night Barack Obama was elected president, and what it meant to me. Great pick!
At #3 is Elvis Presley, and there’s just no way anyone can gripe about this pick across the board. Elvis was the man, plain and simple, and if he’d known how to take care of himself, he’d probably still be the man right now in his 70’s. Elvis could sing, he had presence, he touched people, and mixed in the middle of a lot of fluff were some pretty good songs. Let’s face a fact here; without Elvis being exactly what he was, a big, good looking country white kid that loved to sing what at the time was termed “race music” and doing those “heinously sexy moves”, we’d have been stuck with Pat Boone’s generic style for the rest of our lives, black music might never have had the opportunity to become as prominent as it has, and music in general would have stagnated. Yes, I think he was that important.
At #2 is Ray Charles, and I love Ray Charles. Though I might not have put him at #2, he’d have definitely been in the top ten. Ray Charles did stuff with music that no one else dared to do, which makes him important, and he did it because of the music, not for any other reason. Ray Charles did jazz, and always considered himself a jazz musician. But he also did rock, pop, gospel, country, and classical, and went to the top in every single genre. Ray Charles also touched people, but oddly enough, according to his own autobiography, he never really understood why, except for the soul of the music. And man, there’s no one who could have taken that soul away. Ray Charles was truly the king of soul.
At #1 is the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin. If you’re not old enough to remember the true power of Aretha Franklin singing almost anything then I feel sorry for you. Aretha Franklin was raw power and emotion; when she went soft, you held onto your own hands because you knew the explosion of emotion was coming. The daughter of a preacher who cut her chops in church, she has earned 21 Grammy awards, was the first female inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and has the best selling gospel album in history, Amazing Grace. All that, and she’s still prominent today, singing at the inauguration of President Barack Obama just a week and a half ago. No problems with the queen being at number one.
And there you go. As I said, something different to talk about, but hey, it’s the day before the Super Bowl, so let’s have some fun here. Now, if I went through the entire top 100, there’s a lot of artists I’d throw out and replace with someone else. But for now, enjoy what’s there, and offer your own opinions; should be fun.