The 100

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)
Joe Cocker
Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company)
Cilla Black
Graham Bonnet (Marbles, Rainbow)
Stephen Stills
David Bowie
Freddie Mercury
Ann Wilson (Heart)
Ian Gillan (Deep Purple)

And just for the hell of it, ten from R&B/soul, likewise unranked:  

Otis Redding
Wilson Pickett
Aretha Franklin
Joe Tex
Tina Turner (who could equally have been classified under Rock)
Al Green
Ella Fitzgerald
Sam Moore
Lionel Ritchie
Etta James

And both lists could change tomorrow.


  1. Before I’d even clicked over to the incredibly and unforgivably clickbaity article, I knew they’d put Bob Dylan in the top ten, and John Lennon ahead of Paul McCartney. And I was right, which meant that the other 98 rankings were a joke. To add to the beclownery, as I slogged through the top 40 I noticed people like Elton John and Neil Young, but not Brad Delp. Feh.

  2. I agree that it makes no sense to combine all of these folks on one list and try to compare them to each other. But that’s what RS does and it gives the rest of us a task in coming up with a better defined list.

    Your list of 10 is very solid. A few that I especially like include Brian Johnson (AC/DC), Ronnie James Dio, Ronnie Van Zant, James Hetfield, Elvis, Tom Petty, Roger Daltrey and Rod Stewart. And don’t forget Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, Grace Slick, P!nk and Pat Benatar. Respect for Springsteen and Bono although they aren’t favorites.

    1. Agree (with you and with Kim). Pat Benatar was the first name not on his list that came to mind.

      Trying to limit it to 10 is an exercise in futility because, as Kim alluded to, it is a moving target depending on my mood today.

  3. “Top 10” or “Top 100” or “Top 11,534” lists always strike me as the worst kind of journalistic laziness. It seems like the “go to” for web sites or magazines that have empty space they need to fill.

    I envision some writer waking up with a hangover and thinking “Shit! I have an article due today! OK, well, I’ll just come up with a list of the ‘Top 10 Movies that take place in Chicago or ‘Top 13 Rock Guitarists of Finland’ or ‘Top 57 Elements of the Periodic Table’ (Tellurium didn’t make it AGAIN? BLASPHEMY!) and then go back to bed.”

  4. I actually subscribed to Rolling Stone in the mid 80’s. Helped me keep somewhat in touch with pop culture and music in the US while I was stationed in Korea beyond the Pop-40 soda straw provided by Armed Forces Radio.

    Besides, P.J. O’Rourke was writing for them at the time. His article on the annual Spring Riots in Seoul had us rolling on the floor during one mid shift, as most of us had been caught on the periphery of those festivities at one time or the other. (Important Safety Tip: Do NOT try to cross a major Seoul street while in the midst of an errant wisp of tear gas).

    Let it drop and pretty much ignored RS when I got back to the Land of the Big BX

  5. Icons…you wanna talk icons?

    Peter Gabriel?
    Mark Knopfler?
    Bryan Ferry?
    Burton Cummings?

    Most of these “Top Anything” lists are shite. Remember, Jethro Tull won the first Grammy for Heavy Metal, beating out Metallica. Fuck Rolling Stone and the Tesla they road in on.

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