Let’s face it: Rolling Stone magazine was always awful. I think it was them Frank Zappa was talking about when he characterized their writing as “people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, aimed at people who can’t read.” (I still miss Frank, a lot, as much for his intellect as for his music.)
RS‘s latest attempt at a “greatest” list (of singers) is a typical example: muddled, ignorant and open to ridicule.
The muddle is easy: they attempted to combine several genres of singing — rock, r&B, blues etc. — but while there may be some crossover in those particular ones, it falls completely on its face if you try to include people like Sinatra and Mel Torme, especially when it comes to ranking the singers. The muddle is also ignorant of actual vocal quality — and even worse if one tries to include “iconic” as part of it. There are singers of extraordinary quality (such as Paul Rodgers of Free/Bad Company) who don’t have iconic tonality, and “ordinary” singers of limited range (like Ozzy Osbourne) who almost define an entire genre. You can’t attempt to rank Rodgers and Ozzy against each other because they are two totally different singers, albeit in more or less similar genres of music. Now rank Rodgers against Aretha Franklin, which the hapless Stoners did. It is, as they say, to laugh. (And by the way: any compendium list of 100 singers which does not include Ian Gillan of Deep Purple or Steve Marriot of Humble Pie — to name just a couple which caught, or rather didn’t catch my eye — is fatally flawed.)
Each genre of music requires a different kind of voice, and very few singers can cross over without failing. And a singer’s inclusion in whatever genre is horribly personal, in any event. (In the “jazz crooners” club, for example, Harry Connick Jr. is an infinitely-better singer than Sinatra, but without Sinatra there would likely be no jazz crooners club. YMMV.)
So Rolling Stone should have broken up the list into genres, just for starters, with the first being the aforementioned “iconic”voices — those which defined the genre — and then some attempt at vocal quality if they’re to be ranked at all.
I’m not going to do that, at least, not today. But here’s an example of ten of my favorite Rock vocalists in no special order, just as I think of them:
Robert Plant (Zep)
Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company)
Graham Bonnet (Marbles, Rainbow)
Ann Wilson (Heart)
Ian Gillan (Deep Purple)
And just for the hell of it, ten from R&B/soul, likewise unranked:
Tina Turner (who could equally have been classified under Rock)
And both lists could change tomorrow.