Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest singers?

by Scott

Rolling Stone recently published their list of the 100 greatest singers of all time. I have no complaints with the top 3 (Aretha, Ray and Elvis respectively) after that, it gets iffy. First of all, John Lennon is number 5. I love the Beatles and while I can certainly see Lennon being on the list somewhere, isn’t 5 a tad high? McCartney is only 11 and, for my money, he was the stronger all-around vocalist (not to mention the more influential … think of all the singers that have grown out of those ‘woos’ that were his contribution to the Beatles’ vocal sound. Granted, he ripped that off from little Richard). Now, if we were doing a list of 100 greatest vocal PERFORMANCES, Lennon’s throat shredding performance on “Twist and Shout” would certainly clock in somewhere in the top ten. But we’re not looking at that, we’re ranking it based on their overall vocal prowess aren’t we? And, quite frankly, I felt much of Lennon’s vocal work throughout his solo career to be a tad unremarkable not too mention nasally… even if the songs themselves were great. And, really, shouldn’t Marvin Gaye (#6) outrank Lennon?

I can also understand the logic of Dylan being on the list, that is as sort of representative of any sort of ‘non-traditional’ vocalist. But, again, the Top 10?

There are also those who should certainly be recognized for their overall contribution as musicians, songwriters etc. (Chuck Berry, Kurt Cobain) who, maybe, don’t necessarily rank among the top vocalist. Another example is Brian Wilson, who may have given us some of the most beautiful vocal arrangements in popular music, did not have the most distinctive voice himself (Mike Love, Carl Wilson and Al Jardine are actually the voices that most people associate with the Beach Boys).

For the most part, however, I think they managed to pick the right people but their placement deserves some questioning:

Roy Orbison (#13) should have been top 10 and his current placement behind Paul McCartney (#11) and Little Richard (#12) is unacceptable.

Smokey Robinson (#20) should have been higher, especially when you consider that he is beaten by Mick Jagger (#16) who, again, should be on the list but is more noteworthy for his abilities as a frontman and a performer.

Freddie Mercury (#18) should have been top 10… sure, Queen may have been campy… but that guy could sing frickin’ anything: Rockabilly, Opera, Hard Rock, Soul, R & B… you name it and Queen probably did a song in that style.

Johnny Cash (#21) again, should have been top 10… as Bono once proclaimed “The most male voice in all of Christendom”

Janis Joplin (#28), I’m not a huge Joplin fan but I’d still put her in the top 10.

Bruce Springsteen (#35) should have, at least, made the top 20

How Paul Rogers (# 55) beat Rod Stewart (#59) and Roger Daltrey (#61), both of whom deserved a slot in the top 20, is beyond me.

How is Joe Cocker only #97?

Mary J. Blige is only 100? I’m not saying she should have been in the top 20 even, but 100 is far too low a placing for the heir apparent to Aretha’s ‘Queen Of Soul’ title (especially when you consider Steven Tyler is 99… I mean, the guy should be on there.. but he shouldn’t beat Mary). Doubters should check out her remake/duet of U2’s “One”.

Conspicuously Absent:

Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Michael Stipe (REM), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam-sure, he spawned hundreds of DREADFUL imitations but if Cobain can be on here…) Brian Johnson (AC/DC- if Steven Tyler can be on the list so can Brian Johnson… I’m not saying near the top… maybe move Mary up and give him the 100 slot instead), Robert Smith (The Cure- a much better choice than Morrisey for the ‘mopey’ singers). Melissa Etheridge (If Bonnie Rait can be on here… why not?)

I’d probably put Axl (#64) a bit higher (top 40 at least) and I have to say that Bono’s placement (#32) is probably about right even though I would feel inclined to put him in the top 20 (although he’s probably my personal number 1… and that opinion might help to explain some of my other opinions regarding this piece).

So, my fellow music geeks, what do you guys think of the lists? (I’m going to go ahead and assume that Jason is outraged by the omission of Ray Davies and that Neil probably totally disagrees with my stance on Lennon).


Jason said...

I generally think lists like these are too silly to even worry about. They're created by committee (usually), and they are always so arbitrary.

But since you were kind enough to name-check me in the final paragraph, and since there is something irresistible about lists that makes us all want to weigh in (despite what I just said about their being silly) ... okay, Scott, you've roped me in. :)

I think Lennon was a great vocalist, and I would even rank him higher than McCartney based on consistency. Lennon always sounded good to me (even on Beatles songs and solo numbers that I didn't really like), whereas McCartney post-1968 always sounds like he's trying too hard. (Solo McCartney vocals kind of bug me, and even his voice on Let It Be and Abbey Road sounds tired and worn a lot of the time.) And in terms of influence, the overall "sardonic" quality of Lennon's delivery has surely influenced just as many rock singers as McCartney has. (You can certainly hear it in contemporary Britpop.)

The Kinks' low status in the pantheon often strikes me as as unjust, but I can't say Ray Davies' vocals are a particular standout feature of their sound. He'd be on my own personal list just because he's the lead singer of my favorite band, but actually I'm totally mellow about him not being on a list like this.

You think Chrissie Hynde deserves a place on the list? (Nice segue from Ray Davies, eh?) Oh man, I definitely disagree there -- her vocals kept me from being a Pretenders fan for years. Definitely an acquired taste, and even now I find her more tolerable than enjoyable. (She seemed like a cool chick when I saw her in concert, though ...)

But hey, on the subject of female vocalists -- where's Debbie Harry? How about at least one slot for the Kate Pierson/Cindy Wilson combo that is the heart of the B-52s?

Agh -- see what happens when I get roped into talking about these things? Curse you, Scott!!! :)

scott91777 said...

I actually like Hynde's voice myself even thought I'm not a Pretenders fan. It's a great distinctive 'touch chick' voice, and, more importantly for a list like this, a very influential voice, especially in terms of the whole 'riot grrrrl movement', definitely present in the vocals of someone like 'Karen O' of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Again, not saying she should be near the top... just on there somewhere.

Jason said...

I am not the pop music scholar that you and others are, I will admit. (Well, unless it's Beatles or Kinks, maybe ...) So I may be backwards here ... but Hynde's vocal style had always struck me as just a variation on Debbie Harry's with Blondie.

Also: What about Kate Bush? I'd say she maybe deserves a slot, as the progenitor of the that tic-laden 90s solo female sound (you can hear her in Tori Amos/Alanis Morissette/Sarah MacLachlan/Natalie Merchant/etc).

Christian said...

Is there even a single singer who emerged in the last ten years?

I'll admit I don't really feel qualified enough to comment on the vocal abilities, but that seems really unlikely.

scott91777 said...

Kate Bush is a good choice Jason! I've never been into her but I know that as far as influence is concerned she should be on there, definitely overlooked!

Also, How about Peter Gabriel? And, since I'm currently on a Police kick, where's Sting?


Well, Christina Aguilera is on there (she tends to oversing, but the girl, admittedly, has chops), as well as folks like Thom Yorke who have been around a BIT more than 10 years but are still more recent.

One problem with more recent vocalist might be that enough time has not yet passed to really evaluate their overall influence.

neilshyminsky said...

The list is easily absolved of guilt simply because it says 'greatest' - not specifically influential, or talented, or skilled. Simply 'greatest'. So who's to say?

All that said - McCartney edges Lennon slightly for me because McCartney is a fantastically able singer. His vocal range and power are remarkable, and his ability to adapt to any number of styles is also pretty unique among pop singers. Jason's comment about Lennon's sarcasm being influential isn't worth quite as much in my book simply because Dylan brought that first. (This is why Dylan deserves to be top ten for me, too - I can't even think of an indie rock act that has cited his influence.)

neilshyminsky said...

"has NOT cited his influence". Forgive me - I just got back from 8 hours on the picket-line.

Kenney said...

Maybe I'm not educated enough, but I don't see how Roy Orbison should have been higher than Little Richard. I don't get that at all.

I will agree that Freddie Mercury should have been higher. I like Queen, though I don't consider myself a fan, but just going off of Freddie's pipes he should easily be top 10.

scott91777 said...

Well, Orbison shoud have, at least, placed higher than McCartney. Probably one of the most gourgeous voices in rock. Kennedy, check out a song like "Cryin'" (not the Aerosmith song) to see what I mean.

Matt said...

Scott Walker = #1.
Was he on there?
These Rolling Stone lists are almost NEVER about actual talent -- I find they prefer to call 'most influential' 'best' so as to have as many recognizable faces on every list as possible.

plok said...

Lennon's extended mid-range makes him a delusively awesome rock vocalist -- try following his vocal lines on a guitar, very frequently you run right out of fretboard about thirty seconds in.

That said, lists like these are garbage. But how even a list like this misses placing Orbison WAY up there, it's...well, it's crazy.

Chad Nevett said...

This is one of those lists that I let slide, because it was created through a voting process, polling a whole lot of people related to music in various ways. A little rock/pop/R&B centric nonetheless, but a whole lot better than something like the recent "top 100 guitar songs" list that was just an in-house creation.