Listing the best singers ever is an impossible task. But I’m going to try anyway.
You may remember that I mentioned that I wanted to learn how to sing. Specifically, I want to learn to sing like Maynard James Keenan from tool. He, along with rappers like Dr. Dre and many others I’ve previously mentioned, shaped much of my youth. For that reason I want to sound like him. But if I had to list the greatest singers of all time, I don’t think he would make it on. He is my favorite, but he is not generally considered one of the greatest ever.
Even among the singers that are generally considered the greatest, it is impossible to pick the best and not have most people disagree with you. Then you also have to take genres into account. Are we talking about the best rock singers or the best opera singers or the best country singers?
In my case, obviously, we’ll be talking about the best rock singers. We might add pop to the mix, but personally, I don’t feel pop singers are generally very good. Anyway, let’s get started.
This list will be in no particular order, so don’t read too much into Freddie Mercury being the first name on it. That said, most do consider him perhaps the greatest singer ever. He had an incredible vocal range, he was amazing live (something many singers struggle with) and, perhaps most notably, he had a stage presence that puts him above just about anyone else. There are other singers with one of these qualities that are great, but it is very rare to have a singer who excels at everything. Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, is one of those rare people.
I know that many wouldn’t consider him among the greatest singers, but his body of work earns him a spot on this list. And, let’s be honest, he is a great singer no matter how you judge great singers. I remember when I first started getting into David Bowie’s music. I realized that I had actually heard many of his songs before. I just didn’t know they were by him. That, to me, is truly the mark of a great singer. You know his work without even knowing that you know his work.
I’m putting Chris Cornell on this list, not because he recently died, but because he is an amazing rock singer and one of my favorites growing up. I especially loved him with Soundgarden. But that’s not saying much. Everybody loved him in Soundgarden. He has, sorry had, a huge vocal range and he sings with a ton of emotion. That is very important. Moreover, he generally sounds great live as well as on studio albums.
Layne Staley was the lead singer of the grunge rock group Alice in Chains. He, like so many of his peers, died prematurely. In fact, three of the top four grunge acts had their lead singers die early. Nirvana, Alice in chains and Soundgarden all lost their singers, although the lead singer for Soundgarden, Chris Cornell (who was mentioned above), lasted a bit longer than the rest.
Layne Staley was famous for having absolute perfect pitch. It’s like he never missed a note. But more than that, he infused so much pain and suffering into his voice. It helps that he experienced all of that pain and suffering himself, but many others do that as well and they are not able to transmit that to their music. He could, and he did it better than almost anyone. For that reason he is on my list, even though many would not put him on their list of best singers.
I decided to add Stevie nicks, who was a singer with the group Fleetwood Mac, but also did a lot of solo work, because she shaped the way rock ‘n roll musicians who are women would be in the industry. She had an amazing voice and an even better stage presence, but more than anything, it was the fact that her personality led the way. She was a cult figure and still is. For this reason she definitely deserves a spot on this list, even if there are probably better female singers from a technical standpoint.
If my list were longer and had more time to think about it clearly, I would definitely add many other singers to it. But it’s not and I don’t have the time, so this is it for now. Please let me know in the comments below how much you disagree with my choices. I know it will be a lot. You should also check out my list of the best drummers of all time.