November 21, 2008

"There is a difference between people who sing and those who take that voice to another, otherworldly place, who create a euphoria within themselves."

Robert Plant, talking about Elvis, who ranks #3 on Rolling Stone's "Greatest Singers of All Time."

Of course, it's not really about all time. There aren't even any opera singers on the list. And it's based on some survey that asked various experts who were their favorite singers of the rock era. Which is kind of an annoying categorization, because #1 and #2 are not rock singers, really. And then, we aren't really even talking about singing -- are we? -- if Bob Dylan is #7. But it is interesting to read what Bono has to say about him:
There is certainly iron ore in there, and the bitter cold of Hibbing, Minnesota, blowing through that voice. It's like a knotted fist....
Or -- I don't know -- I didn't need to read that.

Meanwhile, Robert Plant is only #15, and you have to slip all the way down to #32 to get to Bono.

But it's silly to argue about such things. What's nice is that if you upload the Rhapsody software, you can choose 25 full-length songs to play for free out of the list of songs for each of the 100 singers.


TheCrankyProfessor said...

I just figured out my own viscerally positive response to Prof. Althouse. You remind me of the ineffable Tina Weymouth, c. 1984. Here at about 2:30-2:40.

Alan said...

Interesting list. I'm sort of surprised not to see Ann Heart or Chrissie Hynde. And maybe it's my young age, but I'd put Judy Collins in there instead Joni Mitchell. IIRC, It was Judy Collins' version of 'Both Sides Now' that popularized the song.

SteveR said...

I've learned to ignore those Rolling Stones lists. For one thing they love to put obscure things very high up as if to say, "you're not sophisticated enough to know or like this" when its really crap by any reasonable standard, which would be mine.

EDH said...

There is a difference between people who sing and those who take that voice to another, otherworldly place, who create a euphoria within themselves. It's transfiguration. I know about that. And having met Elvis, I know he was a transformer.

I agree with Plant's analysis of what is transformative in a singer, but not the application to Elvis.

I always thought of Elvis as a crooner who really didn't go outside of a fairly established range.

Alan said...

Oops, I meant Ann Wilson of Heart.

Jack said...

At least they got the first two right

LoafingOaf said...

Roy Orbison's my personal fave at the upper end of that list. But I scanned the list quickly to check where Morrissey ranked. Only #92? The list is rubbish, then, and I shall pay no attention to it.

Darcy said...

Ann Wilson isn't on it? Sheesh. I got tired of clicking through it...liked the names on it, but not the order. Squeal of glee when I clicked on Mercury. Wrinkled my nose at a few, but I won't name names!

I like to read people's lists.

Beth said...

I'm happy to see Aretha at the top.

And there's always a little Elvis with me. If I need lifting up, I put on a gospel mix of Elvis, Sam Cooke and the Staples. I usually have some Elvis image in my office. I'm not sure when or how this happened, but when I worked at a newspaper in Mississippi, we had Wall of Elvis. If you went on assignment, or vacation, you had to bring back something Elvis. And no matter where people went, from some Caribbean island to the Middle East, there was something Elvis.

But tonight, my iPod spun up Elvis crooning "Oh Danny Boy" and I couldn't stop it quick enough. My gosh, when he chose bad material, he could outschlock the worst of them.

Cedarford said...

I always hate those lists for who they leave out or a "ranking" far below what an artist merits considering they thought of him/her. Like?

Ranking James Taylor only #74.
Leaving out, among others:
Linda Ronstadt
Chrissie Hynde
Peter Gabriel
Ann Murray
Bob Seeger
Celine Dion
Dionne Warwick
Alicia Keyes
Pat Benetar
Judith Durham (of the Seekers)

Kudos for remembering Freddie Mercury as a hypertalented singer, not just the Queen frontman.

Also Sam Cooke for being so high.
And no kudos for Aretha Franklin, about the most overated big black woman singer ever. (Listen to her against Dinah Washington sometime)

And Althouse points to free downloads! Good point, law prof! Helping your fanbase..Been missing your great photography recently..

chickenlittle said...

Robert Plant still wins best blouses for male rockstar.

Mark O said...

There’s a certain “ping” to the voice of a great singer. This is especially true of vocalists in genres not covered by this poll. Nevertheless, Elvis has to be at the top of most everything rock and roll. Franklin was a late ‘60's curiosity, a fine gospel singer but nothing of real consequence to the art of rock and roll. Ray Charles has enjoyed a rehabilitation but he, too, was of a different stripe and crossed over into rock with a standard country-western piece or a cover. A fine musician, but rock and roll would have been the same without him.

Not so Elvis. As I suggested, the voice of a rocker is not exactly the thing that wins the audition for a chorus spot in Handel’s Messiah. So, what does it? Urgency. Relaxed tension. Total command of the musical line and a quality of immediate attraction to the voice. Bob Dylan’s voice requires attention but only because it is so unnatural for the medium. Elvis, Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Sting, to name a few, and only a few, examples. Sam Cooke and Donny Osmond have that wild crooner voice that is so alluring, but it is not rock and roll.

Dylan, James Taylor, Judy Collins all sound like folk singers working hard to be rockers. Good singers (of a sort) but not great rock singers.

What about “Love Me Tender” or “Don’t?” No one can even cover the song. It’s only Elvis. “Suspicious Minds” is a killer. Elvis wanted to be Roy and even died his hair, but Roy was more artificially operatic and while I love his work, it ain’t Elvis. He really was the King.

Darcy said...

Great thoughts, Mark O. "Love Me Tender" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" are my favorite Elvis songs. "Jailhouse Rock" is up there, too.

I think some of the people on the list are/were better musicians/songwriters than singers, but it's a nice list...still haven't clicked through it all yet.

I'd be interested to know if Steve Perry is on the list. Probably not, but his voice always impressed me as something like the "ping" mentioned.

Alan said...

Yes, Perry is on the list. I don't remember how high but up there.

Mark O said...

Steve Perry has the "ping" for certain. You're born with that. Compare and contrast Sinatra and Dean Martin. Try "Fly Me to the Moon."

Sinatra was no rocker, but he was to '40's pop what Elvis was and more. Listen to him drive the beat in "Fly Me," in contrast to the written line. Amazing. That voice.

Lennon had a thin but rocking voice that he ran through reverb at least twice to get some body to it. It's like singing in the shower, only really well channeled. Ricky Nelson sometimes did that, as well. Enhanced, not artificial.

blake said...

I'm not clicking 100 times. NFW.

LonewackoDotCom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...

I seem to recall a Rolling Stone reviewer in the 1980s referring to Steve Perry as sounding like a tortured mosquito. Guess they changed their minds.

LonewackoDotCom said...

1. The list is more or less a joke. GreggAllman is certainly a good singer, but the one who should be on lists but sometimes isn't is Duane.

2. On the topic of range, She died recently; she didn't.

3. PatBenatar is a scary, pandex-clad 80s whippet.

4. I greatly enjoy the way she sings. In addition to the emotion, there's also the r's and final t's and s's.

Revenant said...

Which is kind of an annoying categorization, because #1 and #2 are not rock singers, really

They weren't *primarily* rock singers, but they did some fantastic rock songs.

For that matter, Elvis did a lot of non-rock stuff too.

Revenant said...

I seem to recall a Rolling Stone reviewer in the 1980s referring to Steve Perry as sounding like a tortured mosquito. Guess they changed their minds.

They hated Led Zeppelin. So far as I'm concerned that ranks Rolling Stone down next to a crazy homeless guy on an inner-city bus where music criticism credibility is concerned. :)

LonewackoDotCom said...

Also, I'm absolutely positive that space could be made for her.

bearbee said...

There aren't even any opera singers on the list.

Too lazy to look at all 100.

Any jazz singers?

Ella Fitzgerald
Anita O'day
Sarah Vaughan
Nancy Wilson
Billy Holiday

Or pop singers
Johnny Mathias

marklewin said...

I scanned the list....No Frank Sinatra? Did I miss something. I am a rock and pop guy....but how can you deny Sinatra?

knox said...

I didn't need to read that.

It's a joy to read. There's this:
What's interesting is that later, as he gets older, the fist opens up, to a vulnerability

and this:
cracked voice, dirt-bowl yelp or bluesy street howl

and this:
It is a voice like smoke, from cigar to incense, where it's full of wonder and worship.

It's chock-full of the sort of cheesy gems only Bono can come up with.

rhhardin said...

Jimmy Launce (WJR Detroit) used to play Kiri te Kanawa after a hard week in the news.

Mark O said...

Under the category "Rockers with voice of angel" I think you would find Graham Nash and Don Everly. Nash makes the sound of CSN and sometimes "Y".

Original George said...

Saw Plant and Alison Kraus twice this past summer, and she blew him off the stage out the door into the street and down the road like she was entranced, possessed by some angel from beyond the beyond.

And Cranky Prof, check this T Heads

David Byrne's tour is very happening in a geekfunk way.

Darcy said...

Oh! I'm so jealous, Original George. Krause is one I'd love to hear live.

Good to hear Perry made the list.

TMink said...

Beth wrote: "And there's always a little Elvis with me."

Me too, but I think we are referring to different, um, things.

Trey (who is going to go back to doing paperwork before he gets TOO cranky and offends everyone.)

Trooper York said...

Baby boomers should get a life.

Revenant said...

Everybody's got Elvis in him.

Everyone except one person, that is!

TMink said...

"Baby boomers should get a life."

So should their youngers! 8)

I considered very few on the list to be great singers, the list was more about being an influentional singer or a great rocker.

I mean Lennon did not have a great voice, but Paul did. Al Green could sing circles around Marvin Gaye, Little Richard and Robert Plant don't have great voices at all.

Al Green, Sam Cooke, Alison Krause, now those people can flat out sing!


blake said...

Nixon! That man has no Elvis in him!

Lennon was a way better singer than McCartney.

Pastafarian said...

You know that comically incompetent list of the greatest guitar players that you linked to a few months ago, that included 25 or 30 punk acts that no one ever heard of, who used the guitar as a percussion instrument?

This list is actually more incompetently compiled than that one. That's how bad it is.

Christina Aguilera ahead of Gregg Allman; and no Ozzy Osbourne, no Chris Cornell; but it does include horrible vocalists (some great composers or lyricists, but horrible singers nonetheless) like Neil Young, John Lennon (number 5!), Bob Dylan, and Prince.

kynefski said...

I'm sort of surprised not to see Ann Heart or Chrissie Hynde.

You might also note that Hynde was excluded from their October 2002 Women in Rock issue. That's like excluding James Joyce from Men in Literature.

And while the list included plenty of white male screamers (Roger Daltrey, Axl Rose...), they left out Ian Gillan. C'mon.

Revenant said...

I think too many people are confusing generic singing ability with being a great rock singer. Luciano Pavarotti is an immensely talented and skilled singer, but that doesn't mean The Beatles or Led Zeppelin would have been better if he'd been fronting for them. There's more (and less) to being a rock singer than just hitting the right notes or exhibiting range.

It is kind of like the difference between drawing talent and the ability to draw comics and graphic novels. There are plenty of the former who stink at the latter, and vice versa.

blake said...

I'm not sure it's as applicable to drawing as it is to singing. At least, I've never seen a graphic novel where the artist didn't have fundamental drawing abilities.

Rockers can run out of breath, miss their notes, sound unpleasant, etc. I think the message and other not-exactly-singing skills are more likely to carry in the absence of actual singing skill.

At the same time, as you point out, singing skill isn't adequate to being a rock singer. One of my college buddies (who is now an established opera singer) couldn't rock out to save her life. Heh.

TMink said...

My best friend Chris and I discussed this topic with the folks standing outside our favorite watering hole as we waited for our wives to pick us up. OK, we are weenies, but aside from that:

It is difficult to get a pure singer better than Paul. Al Green bests him, and MAYBE David Crosby, but then what about Brian Wilson?

My wife hastened to add Bonnie Raitt after she picked me up, and I concur. Joni Mitchell could be a wonderful singer when she choose to, but she was out there quite a bit.


TMink said...

Chrissie Hynde was excluded from the women of rock? Whoa. I can't wrap my head around that. Who rocks harder and writes better than her?


ghytred said...

Kraus definitely beats Plant. I saw them at Austin in September; they were magical, but Kraus was so much more....

Chrssie Hynde! Yes - she belongs there too.