Top however many singers of all-time

I was going to respond to Rolling Stone‘s recent 200 Greatest Singers list with my own Top 40 or Top 20 or even 5, but maybe I’ll just turn it over to you. That’s right–you. Who are your favourites? Better still: why?

12 thoughts on “Top however many singers of all-time

  1. Hi Scott: Lists, and this list in particular, are pure clickbait. Singing is so subjective: it’s variables are enormous, from song to song, genre to genre, style to style, the historical moment…it’s all about taste. I won’t look at a list like this. Because taste is too personal to be quantified.

  2. Wayne, I understand the apprehension about lists in general, as the web is flooded with them, and sure, they’re used as clickbait, but for me a list is just an in: one available method to engage in a subject. So it’s not lists per se that matter, it’s what one chooses to do with it. I guess rankings/ratings are a different-though-related component of that but, again, it’s just a means in to a conversation. I don’t put much stock in actual group rankings (i.e., Rolling Stone’s, or for that matter, the recent Sight & Sound poll), but I’m interested in reading how other writers think about vocals and learning what their preferences are, which might also suggest new ways to hear or think about my own?

  3. Top However & Whatever Singers Of Sometime, here are my 13. Thought of 11 off the top of my head and here they are in the order I thought of them; then since only one was later than the ’80s I added two more from 2022, BUT, I took Scott’s “Better still: why?” to heart and am giving you the why, the reasons, but not the singers’ names! You’ll have to guess! Well, I give several away, and I’ll eventually tell you the answers, but here goes, broken into several posts.

    1. ‘s got some nuance, the voice flicking glee or contempt depending on how the light hits it; then a big sludge of mud in your face, nuance leaking out the sides; then a dart of anger; then more dripping snide glee, more nuance. A range of about 9 notes. Also, the best lyrics.

    2. My parents went away for a month and I decided to stop cutting or combing my hair. When my mom got back she looked at me and screamed. So… she don’t want a baby that looks like that. *I* don’t want a baby that looks like that. Voice like my hair if it were steel wool.

    3. Quoting myself, “But no disco artist sang with such a raging coldness… If she felt love, it wasn’t for me.”

    4. Drums have tones and drums are melody, and rappers’ voices are drums so rap is singing. BOM-pu BOM-pu, [pause] bom b-BOM-pu, see ya LATer alligator. When. You’re. Broke.

    5. Thin, reedy, delivers the outline of the melody without a lot of emotional inflection, but totally at ease. Singing is not what he’s most celebrated for.

  4. 6. Wailing heartbreak and more wailing heartbreak. Reminds me of what my memory says Andrew Sarris or someone* once said about the cast of Mean Streets, that they’re acting like there’s no tomorrow on the set.

    *Google Search isn’t helping me here.

    7. Burnished sadness and exuberant, death-defying falsetto in virtually the same breath.

    8. Grunting and gruff and hair-raising shrieks; he’s an entire rhythm section.

    9. So, he’s kind of off-hand on an old chestnut; starts talking and fooling around, and he lets singing enter the fooling around – where’s the strap? – then takes a feint at the deepest melodrama, tears lightning out of the sky instead, resets the rhythm in a hiccup, jokes some more.

    10. Noodles around and warbles in support of the other singers, tosses in some harmony, takes a deep breath, throws spears, invents goth with a fierce blank stare.

  5. 11. An imp and a brat, but his voice is a repertory company full of characters, full of terror and off-hand, backhand swipes.

    12. Her singing is as scrawny and feral as she is; she’ll stuff it in your ear, crawl up your leg, press on it, piss on it.

    13. Always part of different ensembles but her mouth brings ’em to excitement, breaks into super-fast beats, the latest in a line that goes back to the cut-up rhythms of electro and freestyle and Miami bass. She’s explaining, she’s inviting, and Google Translate can’t keep up.

  6. I feel confident about a number (say, half) of these guesses, though in some cases it’s as much to do with my awareness of your writing/tastes as with any clues you provided here (and as for the clues, I’m assuming you are not playing the trickster here, i.e., when you quote “Bodies” I take it at face value, but it helps too that Rotten is someone I expected to see on your list, so…).

    Here’s what I got:
    1. Mick Jagger – This one’s not a gimme, and I might not have guessed it if I hadn’t assumed he’d be on or near the top of your list (which is not to suggest that the description doesn’t fit). If I’m right, I agree with your last sentence, and probably always have.
    2. Johnny Rotten
    3. Donna Summer – You’re saying you aren’t the baby she loves to love?
    4. Spoonie Gee – Pegged this immediately (again, the awareness of you), but re-reading it, not so confident
    5. Lou Reed – “not what he’s most celebrated for” is funny.
    6. – Bob Marley (early) – I’m using “wailing” as a rather thin premise here, but you did write about (and turn me on to) the early Wailers recordings, so it doesn’t seem impossible?
    7. ?
    8. James Brown
    9. Elvis – Where’s the strap, indeed? But up to that line I was going to say Dylan?
    10. ? – interesting… no clues, not even “invented goth” (was tempted to say Iggy but “in support of other singers” eliminated that)
    11. Eminem
    12. Courtney Love
    13. I want to say Debbie Deb, but…?

  7. Scott, you got a number of these, though I’m not going to say which in case someone else wants to play. Also, my last two are from 2022, and as far as I know neither Courtney Love nor Debbie Deb released anything last year.

    Here’s my (still very much preliminary) Ongoing Singles playlist for 2022, if it gives you any ideas. (I mean, they’re both on there, I’m not going to lead you on a wild goose chase.)

  8. Kevin, I need to press you in some way to expand on these–what’s crazy is, there are two people on your list I’ve only vaguely even heard of (Fonda Rae and Leon Thomas–the names sound familiar, but that’s it), and a third I can’t swear I’ve heard a note by (Lefty). Poly and Cory are great.

  9. Fun with guesses:

    I immediately assumed Frank’s no. 1 was Dylan. Then I got to thinking (always a challenge, admittedly) that Scott’s right and it must be Jagger (duh!). And now I’m thoroughly confused (as per usual).

  10. “Then I got to thinking (always a challenge, admittedly) that Scott’s right…” Ha ha, but now we get to play the guessing game with your anonymous identity… Jack? Phil? Chuck? Spoonie? Courtney?

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