A Subjective List

17 April, 2012
Rat Fink

While stumbling around on the web at 3 a.m. today, I came across Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list. (“A panel of 179 experts ranked the vocalists.”) Now before I get all snarked up, I will say that I agree with many of the selections. I’d even go so far as to say I totally see the reasoning behind the #1 choice.

But a list that includes Stevie Nicks, Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin gives me pause. Great pause. Rating Roy Orbison above Freddie Mercury? More pausing. Then I realized, it’s really not about basic vocal beauty, is it? I mean, would you want Little Richard singing the Lord’s Prayer at your wedding? (Don’t answer that.)

Singers are great, in my opinion, not so much for their vocal prowess as for how they make us feel. Now don’t get me wrong; I appreciate super-human voices with technique up to there. I really like them — so much, in fact, that I wonder which of the “experts” at Rolling Stone decided that Bono should get the #32 slot, but Bobby McFerrin shouldn’t make the list at all. *scratching head*  Still, you have to go back to the overall effect.  Case in point:

There is no question, hesitation or waffling with regard to who is my #1 pick of all time. Don’t even have to think about it. From the moment I heard him sing the opening line of “Girl” (Is there anybody going to listen to my story…?), the space at the top was locked up forever. And I can’t really tell you why he’s my all-time #1. I don’t think I could find sufficient words. But if I were to give it a go, I’d tell you that his voice is so different, so expressive, so intimate…you feel like every lyric he sings is from a song you wrote and hold very dear and personal. His style is both plaintive and declaratory; tender and merciless; ragged and delicate.  Almost everyone I know can hear a recording of his voice and identify it within seconds. Add to that the fact that in 45 years of listening to him over and over and over, I have yet to hear one note sung out of tune.

In my mind, he’s just the entire package. And this from a “trained” singer in classical and jazz music. Just goes to show it’s more about what’s in your heart than anything. It is for me, anyway.

It’s an oft-mentioned adage in singer lore:  you’d much rather hear a singer who’s not necessarily technically perfect, but who can sell a song, lock and stock. The names on that list are few.

So how about you? If you had to choose one voice as your “Greatest Singer of All Time,” who would it be, and why? I covet your articulate and compendious opinions.

Aaaaaand it’s 5 a.m. Time to git bizzy. Have a dandy day, fiends. I highly recommend some Rubber Soul on your way to work this morning.

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PKPudlin
17 April, 2012 11:35 am

I was 7 when the Sound of Music came out (sure, sure – do the maff and you’ll know my age. :P). From that moment I wanted to be just like Julie Andrews. I had my mom cut my hair like hers, I smiled like her in my 2nd grade picture, I tried to sing like her, dance like her, etc. You get the picture. All these millions of years later, she is still my idol- a classy lady who has worked hard and aged gracefully, with a voice, now sadly silent, that charmed the birds from the trees. PK… Read more »

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
17 April, 2012 11:54 am

Great post. I feel neither articulate nor compendious but I agree with your summation of what makes a truly great singer. Normally I really don’t like “singers” because they have an american idolish way of concentrating on the technical aspects of what they are doing and the contrivance of that distracts me from whatever real heart the song should have had. People like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera make me want to scream “SHUTUP I DON’T CARE!!!” No one should be in awe of their own voice. The only great technical singer who impresses me is Freddie Mercury. Whos my… Read more »

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
17 April, 2012 11:58 am
Reply to  Tom Hanks

Also….60’s girl singing groups….The Ronettes…The Crystals. Thats some of my favorite singing to listen to.

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Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
17 April, 2012 8:47 pm
Reply to  Rat Fink

Awesome!..I’ve always wanted to say something boss haha.

And I very much enjoy the thought of you attacking Christina Aguilera so as to remove her eyes haha.

Here is a Fiona Apple song that I dig. To me her voice has an old fashioned smokey quality. Reminds me…very vaguely…of Billie Holiday.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NP869swP2po&feature=relmfu

I’m going to check out some Bryan Adams to hear whatchoo talkin bout.

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Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
17 April, 2012 9:04 pm
Reply to  Rat Fink

Also just realized “Lucille” was clickable. Diggin it

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RhineBolt
RhineBolt
17 April, 2012 5:34 pm

For a good number of years now I have found myself repeatedly going through my music library to listen to David Ruffin and the Temps. Now as I read through what Rolling Stones had to say about him, I find what they said is exactly what I love about him. “Ruffin sang as if every word was a plea — pain and desperation filled his lead vocals” “I Wish It Would Rain” has been my favorite song by the Temps ever since I first heard it, mainly because of how Ruffin sings it, the emotion that we feel, or how… Read more »

RhineBolt
RhineBolt
17 April, 2012 9:55 pm
Reply to  Rat Fink

You can never go wrong indeed. This world is still a “Ball of Confusion” lyrics still ring true, and “Just My Imagination” is another one of my favorites as well, just like Ruffin, I love to hear Eddie Kindricks lead the vocals for the Temps as well.

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