September 5, 2016

"If you asked me who the greatest rock singer of all time is, I'd probably think for about one second before saying..."

"... Freddie Mercury."



Had he lived, he would have been 70 years old today.

98 comments:

Anthony said...

I'd give props to Robert Plant as to who would typify the genre, or perhaps Jagger. Mercury had a great voice but I never thought it was particularly suited to "rock".

rehajm said...

Hard to argue. I'd add McCartney, Bono, Debbie Harry to the mix. Tyler and Byrne are my personal favorites.

Kate said...

Bono is an excellent singer. His tone is beautiful. And Robert Plant typifies a great rock lead voice. I would also throw David Draiman from Disturbed into the mix.

However, looking at Freddie Mercury at wikipedia, the man had a 4 octave range including a high note above regular soprano range and a belt note beyond what many men can sing in head voice. He was an astonishing talent.

Lyle Smith said...

Another One Bites the Dust was my favorite song as a young child.

John Althouse Cohen said...

To be clear, I meant simply the greatest singer who was in a rock band. Not necessarily the singer who most captured the essence of "rock."

Joe Veenstra said...

He is also likely the greatest lead singer of a rock band who is also in need of orthodontic work. However, had it been done it might have adversely altered his voice. So thank goodness he didn't.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Queen and Freddie Mercury were/are incredible. Their voices and harmony are amazing

Here is a clip of "We are the Champions" without the music.

Bohemiam Rapsody sans music

Birkel said...

Stephen Tyler has an effortless voice, much like Freddie Mercury did. Not sure how he fits in the conversation but he is a talented singer in his own right.

Johnathan Birks said...

Great singer, but god that band got so insufferably self-indulgent I couldn't take it anymore. "Bicycle Race" was the last straw.
Johnny Rotten, Joey Ramone, Tom Verlaine and Iggy Pop had their moments.

sunsong said...

Happy Birthday Freddie! You're the best!

Char Char Binks said...

I agree, although Mercury used a lot of electronic trickery. Still, he was able to do it well, and made great use of his range, including head voice/falsetto. Even so, that wasn't actually his voice hitting the highest notes on Bohemian Rhapsody; it was Queen drummer Roger Taylor singing falsetto, because he could go higher than Freddie.

Bono has a more natural style, very different from Mercury's, and has a more limited pitch range, but uses it smoothly, both the natural tones and head voice.

The Cracker Emcee said...

Great singer, awful '70's-crap songs.

Mark said...

I don't know what is more shocking -- that he would be 70 years old or that its been 25 years since his untimely death.

Joe said...

The biggest test for me of a good rock singer is MTV unplugged.

Donald Douglas said...

Back in the day, I had a skateboard buddy who was obsessed with Queen. To this day, I'm always reminded of him, heh. Rock on people, lol.

Oh, and btw, Queen's definitely my generation. Althouse is about 10 years older than I am, so I can only partially relate when she goes all Hurdy Gurdy Man on me, lol.

Yancey Ward said...

Not many Rock singers ever had the range that Mercury had, but that isn't the real measure of greatness in the genre. However, he does measure up in one area- he is instantly recognizable by a broad range of listeners, even when he isn't singing a song he is known for.

Bob said...

"The Parsee -- the Parsee! -- gone, gone?"

Mark said...

In watching a documentary about Mercury last year, I was also fascinated to find out that Brian May was before Queen's popularity a doctoral candidate in astrophysics and today is a real-deal Ph.D. working with NASA and the scientific community.

320Busdriver said...

I'm not sure what FM was better at, singing or stagecraft. Lets just say no one did it better. I would put in a vote for Steve Perrys' old voice, or Perrys repacement Arnel Pineda. One in a million

TWW said...

Agree. I suppose Art Garfunkel isn't 'Rock'?

R.J. Chatt said...

Don't forget Billy Joel.

I loved when Freddie Mercury sat on the piano keys -- I've never seen that before.

Earnest Prole said...

Other than “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen is known for its mind-numbing 1980s stadium anthems. But if you listen in their entirety to Queen’s trilogy of albums from the seventies — Sheer Heart Attack, Night at the Opera, and Day at the Races — you’ll hear a mastery of genres as varied as English dance-hall music, hard rock, folk, and baroque rock, much like the Beatles.

JWH said...

Van Morrison.

Earnest Prole said...

Another great detail from the Queen documentary is that Middle America fell in love with Queen in the early 1980s before realizing that Freddie Mercury was gay. It reminds me that my wife’s grandmother, born in Minnesota in 1900, refused to believe that Liberace was gay.

Oso Negro said...

A love of Freddie Mercury must be one of those homosexual things.

exiledonmainstreet said...

The only Queen songs I ever really liked were "Killer Queen" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the latter has been completely ruined for me by overplaying it on the radio. That song and "More Than a Feeling" and "Hotel California" - I'm so sick of them.

Earnest Prole said...

On different days my answer to the question would be as varied as Bob Dylan, Freddie Mercury, and Van Morrison, and if you include R&B/soul, Al Green — that is, if “greatest” means most effective and not bel canto.

ndspinelli said...

Roy Orbison. Then everyone else.

Birches said...

Respect the choice. Can't argue with it, especially with Jaltcoh's clarification.

Mark said...

Bob Dylan?? A great SINGER? No matter how you might redefine and distort a question about singers to exclude actual singing in order to fit your criteria, even then Dylan was not a great singer.

Earnest Prole said...

@Mark Indeed. In Dylan's greatest songs the word talking would be more accurate than singing, and yet . . .

Laslo Spatula said...

One of my favorite Queen vocals isn't even sung by Mercury.

Roger Taylor, Drums. I'm In Love With My Car.

I am Laslo.

Earnest Prole said...

@Laslo I'm in love with "I'm in Love with My Car"

Dance...dance to the radio said...

Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen.

mockturtle said...

If you separate 'rock' from soul/R&B, then I would pick Daryl Hall. Otherwise, Al Green or Smokey Robinson.

mockturtle said...

And, for sheer uniqueness of style, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly.

mockturtle said...

If you separate 'rock' from soul/R&B, then I would pick Daryl Hall. Otherwise, Al Green or Smokey Robinson.

Gee, I guess Hall is considered 'R&B'.

Laslo Spatula said...

Socially Awkward Guy Who Makes No Eye Contact says:

It must have been cool, being a Rock Star back in the day when Rock Stars were cool.

Today Rock Star is just another term for a singer in a band. They don't have that sense of breathing a different air than everyone else.

I never understood the smashing up of hotel rooms, though. I mean, I guess being on the road can drive you crazy, but when you throw the television into the hotel swimming pool the hotel is going to charge you for the television set.

But it'd be cool to have your own jet. I flew to Wisconsin once, in Coach: it was miserable. I don't think I smelled too good, either, which seemed to upset the people sitting next to me.

I can't help it if I had diarrhea right before the flight, I was nervous and it was a Public Restroom; just using the toilet in a Public Restroom makes me nervous, before I even get to the fear-of-flying part. Or the part about visiting my grandparents who think I'm weird and probably gay.

You can be weird as a Rock Star, though: it is OK then, people accept it. It must be cool to be accepted.

I bet Jim Morrison could pee on all the girls he wanted to.

I bet Robert Plant could pee on all the girls he wanted to.

I bet David Lee Roth could pee on all the girls he wanted to.

I bet Freddie Mercury could pee on all the girls he wanted to, if he were to have actually liked girls. It makes me sad thinking of him peeing on a young boy.

Yeah.

Like no one else thinks these things.

I hope the Girl with the Blue Hair is working at McDonalds today.


I am Laslo.

Carol said...

Not my generation, but Eddie Vedder is no slouch.

Bob Ellison said...

Paul Rodgers is up there.

Quaestor said...

Whenever I hear someone opine in terms like the greatest of all time this or that — it doesn't matter — I am impelled to ask whether the claimant has given the subject as much thought as it deserves, or far too much.

Earnest Prole said...

@mockturtle

The case for Daryl Hall: "Every Time You Go Away," live: “Take it to church!” You tell me whether Hall or the saxophone hits the higher note at 6:25.

Amadeus 48 said...

David Clayton Thomas.

Lyle Smith said...

According to Wikipedia his mother Jer is still alive. She was born in 1922.

mockturtle said...

The case for Daryl Hall: "Every Time You Go Away," live: “Take it to church!” You tell me whether Hall or the saxophone hits the higher note at 6:25.

He does. :-)

Adamsunderground said...

"Tie Your Mother Down"?

That dude had issues. *Adjusts diaper*

mockturtle said...

Quaestor is right. None of us can identify the 'greatest' rock singer of all time. It's entirely subjective and genre-specific. Now if it were opera, there could be some valid choices.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

I will not argue with that opinion and this particular video is the most excellent evidence for that view.

Amadeus 48 said...

What was I thinking? Michael Mcdonald.

TWW said...

Elvis?

Limited blogger said...

Down in the city just Hoople 'n' me....

Queen was taking off, Mott the Hoople was fading away.

Freddie was the consumate rock 'n' roll frontman.

gypsy rose said...

Freddie Mercury had a huge range, a voice that could rasp with the best of them and soar into territory so sweet it made you shiver. Nevermore is a great example of those sweet tones. Another amazing singer is Jeff Buckley. So underrated. Also amazing range and gorgeous tones. If you've never heard of him, listen to his album Grace. One of the best ever.

Mark said...

None of us can identify the 'greatest' rock singer of all time. It's entirely subjective and genre-specific.

Well, you would think that singing ability would be high in determining the greatest rock singer, but apparently not according to some of the names listed here. But if we were to stick to actual ability to sing, and be objective about it, of the people listed, if we were to imagine them singing in a different genre -- pop, R&B, jazz, country, opera and other classical, including chant and other types of a cappella -- who is most likely to excel the most?

eddie willers said...

Richard Manuel.

mockturtle said...

Mark, what makes a great rock singer is not what makes a great opera singer and you know it. The question wasn't 'who was the greatest singer?'. I can't imagine Pavarotti singing R&B.

Yancey Ward said...

Just to throw more names out there that seem to be missing in the thread- Roger Daltrey, Brian Johnson, and if you want to go out to the female side, Joan Jett, Linda Ronstadt, and Janis Joplin, though the latter two are probably better thought of as solo singers.

A thing I was thinking about was this- who was the best lead singer of a really bad band, and who was the worst lead singer of really good band.

Earnest Prole said...

Freddie Mercury, Roy Orbison, Karen Carpenter, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Richard Manuel, Al Green, Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Van Morrison, Hank Williams, Mavis Staples, Wilson Pickett, Merle Haggard: A genius is the one most like himself.

Bob Ellison said...

No female names on the list yet. Annie Lennox is one of the best. Grace Slick in the early years, with no great voice, was a real rocker.

And Aretha Franklin was a rocker. Just because we think of her as something slightly different didn't mean she couldn't rock with the best. "Respect".

The greatest single note in rock singing that I know of is Paul McCartney's screamed, yet perfectly pitched word "do", as in "do you say", in the middle of "Hello, Goodbye".

William said...

Liking a rock singer for the quality of his voice is like liking an opera star for his sex appeal. Freddie Mercury's early death gives him street cred. Rock singers aren't supposed to live past seventy. It shows a lack of sincerity. The Rolling Stones are a bunch of phonies. I bet they eat organic vegetables and practice tm........Clff Edwards was the greatest ukele singer of all time. That cat really knew how to turn it up to eleven. The fast living and the booze got to him, but that's how it goes with ukele players. No one will ever sing "It's Only A Paper Moon" with more authority.

Chuck said...

Dance...dance to the radio said...
Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen.


OMG, what a great choice. Freddie Mercury might be about 50th on my own list. And so many have already been mentioned.

Van Morrison. Rod Stewart. Jim Morrison. Mick Jagger. Roger Daltrey. Robert Plant. Michael Hutchence. Burton Cummings. John Fogerty. Steve Winwood. Paul McCartney. Janice Joplin. Joni Mitchell. The vastly underrated Paul Rogers, who never had enough good songs to sing. Hell, I've got Mitch Ryder on a list above Freddie Mercury.

If we go outside of strictly rock n' roll, and start to talk about Aretha, James Brown, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, George Jones... Freddie Mercury isn't even on the first page of the leaderboard.

gypsy rose said...

The greatest single note in rock singing that I know of is Paul McCartney's screamed, yet perfectly pitched word "do", as in "do you say", in the middle of "Hello, Goodbye".

A nice choice, but sticking with Queen, I think you'd have to agree that Roger Taylor's "for meeeeeeee" perfect pitch high note from Bohemian Rhapsody is truly one of the best notes ever sustained in rock n roll history.

ellamentary said...

Would agree that overall, Freddie probably wins out, with Paul McCartney and Janis Joplin close behind. This post made me nostalgic--- not just for the days when Freddie roamed the earth, but the days when Althouse and I agreed about most things.

Bob Ellison said...

gypsy rose, I concur.

CWJ said...

John Althouse Cohen wrote -

"To be clear, I meant simply the greatest singer who was in a rock band. Not necessarily the singer who most captured the essence of 'rock.'"

So pointless, if not in fact meaningless.

Bob Ellison said...

Back then, they had to actually hit those notes. I asked a famous vocalist about fifteen years ago whether he would edit off-pitch notes in editing, and he said something like, "Don't be stupid. Everybody does that, everybody."

Word on the street is the Traveling Wilburys came up with that name when one of those great musicians playing together said "we'll bury it" [in editing].

CWJ said...

Chuck @5:20,

Indeed.

Mercury was what he was, and what he was was great. But rock?

CWJ said...

Sunsong,

You do know he's dead right.

Bob Ellison said...

By the way, Bob Dylan, man, what that guy has done with such a limited voice for so long. Your average guy on the street might have a better voice than that Dylan, but he makes gold with his voice.

That, to me, is a great rock voice. He wasn't born with great pipes, and he makes them do the greatest things.

Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache.

That whole album is fantastic.

Anthony said...

"To be clear, I meant simply the greatest singer who was in a rock band. Not necessarily the singer who most captured the essence of "rock.""

Okay. Freddie's an appropriate choice then. I'm having trouble thinking of someone with the range and control he had within the genre. I remember some documentary about the Freddie tribute concert everybody was changing octaves to be able to sing his various songs. Out of that bunch, I thought Annie Lennox and -- yes, I am actually typing this -- George Michael did the best. Michael was another one pertinent to the original question, IMO. He's got a very clear and powerful voice.

SteveR said...

There's enough variables in any definition that its pretty subjective. Clearly a very talented vocalist. The "best"? Take your pick.

Early Queen is better than the later stuff IMO.

Fabi said...

Joe Veenstra -- please search for a video (Midnight Special?) of David Palmer, the short-lived lead singer of Steely Dan. I've never seen worse teeth. He sang a mean 'Dirty Work' nonetheless.

Roughcoat said...

Jack Bruce.

mikee said...

Had he lived? Why not just say he was born 70 years ago, and lived to age 45 before succumbing to AIDS related disease? Why the attempt at theoretical immortalization?

Had Mary Joe Kopechne lived, I recall reading in the Times, she would have been thankful for the benefits to womens' health care legislated through the efforts of her killer, Ted Kennedy?. Except, of course, that he killed her.

Roughcoat said...

Everly Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, hell yeah.

Earnest Prole said...

Oh, and while we're at it, let's not forget Elvin Bishop's backup singer -- check out 3:38 and beyond if you're of the doubting proclivity.

320Busdriver said...

I'm glad Daryl Hall was brought up too. I found a new respect for H&O when I stumbled upon their live at the Troubador show on public tv. Super tight band and excellent sound production. Hall has not lost a step after all these years. Check out classics like Sara Smile, She's Gone, and Out of Touch on youtube here

320Busdriver said...

Also, if we're talking about female rock vocalists Ann Wilson sets a pretty high bar. Bonnie Raitt is another one.

Joe said...

Many singers listed here are great frontmen/frontwomen, but many aren't great vocalists. While I wouldn't say he's the best, David Gilmour is way up there. Just watch his acoustic videos; he can carry a tune.

(Then there all those singers nobody wants to talk about like Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond, and those who simply surprise, like Kid Rock.)

Joe said...

Oh, and Jon Bon Jovi. (I quickly dodge the hate.)

Gahrie said...

Strongly agree. Freddie was the man.....his greatest gift versatility. Queen is definitely one of the greatest bands of the rock era, and will hopefully endure.

surfed said...

His talent was wasted on rock n roll. He could've been one of the greatest Broadway composers.

Earnest Prole said...

Not enough chix you say?

EMD said...

Spinelli made my point. Greatest rock vocalist --- Roy Orbison.

EMD said...

Paul Heaton of The Housemartins and The Beautiful South also has quite the pipes.

High note here around 2:11.

M Jordan said...

John Lennon. I know, it's not even all that good but for me, that slightly nasal twang in a Liverpool accent is the most authentic, most iconic voice ever. Mick Jagger is a close second.

MadisonMan said...

No one has mentioned Pat Benatar, so I will.

Yancey Ward said...

MadisonMan,

I thought of her (indeed, I consider her the best female rock vocalist), but she did spend her entire career that I know of as a solo artist, so I eliminated her from my own short list of female rockers.

who-knew said...

There's lots of competition and most everyone who should get a mention has except Bonnie Raiit and, my personal pick, David Crosby.

PackerBronco said...

Roy Orbison. But Freddie Mercury was great too.

PackerBronco said...

Another voice that should be mentioned (though not as 'the best') would be Sam Cooke.

Rusty said...

Chuck Berry.
Anybody who became anything to Rock N Roll owes their success to Chuck Berry and to a lesser degree. Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

David said...

The drummer! Wow.

walter said...

Not many singers could..err..pull off..Fat Bottom Girls.

walter said...

Char Char Binks said...I agree, although Mercury used a lot of electronic trickery.
--
Like?

walter said...

Rusty said...Chuck Berry. Anybody who became anything to Rock N Roll owes their success to..
Hmm..so every talent in a genre owes their success to the alleged originators? Not so sure about that when that talent combined and expanded genres at times. BTW, most earlier rockers thought blues was "the chair".

coupe said...

"Had he lived, he would have been 70 years old today."

45 is a good age to die if you want to be "the greatest" at anything...

My first girl friend was "the greatest" at giving oral sex.

Had she lived, she would have been 62 today...

eLocke said...

Bob Ellison

Listen to the fadeout. After the modulation and the group is singing "heyla, hey helloah" Paul sings a perfectly clear "woohoo" which is G above high C iirc.

Morsie said...

Bon Scott