10 Favourite Vocalists

I recently decided that this site needs a lists page, so over the next few months, I’m planning to publish lists one at a time. I’m not trying to be objective with these – I regard them as a list of favourites. It’s impossible to achieve objective rankings in any music list, let alone one this broad, so consider it a list of ten vocalists I enjoy. I’m concentrating on post-1960 popular music, so I’m not considering people like Ella Fitzgerald, Luciano Pavarotti, or Frank Sinatra.

Presenting, in alphabetical order:

Sandy Denny

Fairport Convention
Denny attained prominence with Fairport Convention, fronting their ephocal 1968 and 1969 albums with her commanding yet expressive voice. After leaving Fairport Convention, she embarked on an overlooked solo career, which ended prematurely after her struggles with drugs and alcohol.

Aretha Franklin

The Queen Of Soul was a commanding vocalist, a force of nature whirling through standards like ‘Respect’. Bonus points for standing in for Luciano Pavarotti in the 1998 Grammys, and delivering ‘Nessun dorma’ (and 1998’s ‘A Rose Is Still A Rose’ was a great comeback effort).

Elizabeth Fraser

Cocteau Twins
The ethereal voice behind the Cocteau Twins, Liz Fraser gave their best work an other-worldly beauty. She was a sought after guest vocalist, with her best known performance on Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’.

Marvin Gaye

Gaye started his career in Motown as a session drummer. He became a headliner, notable for his duets with Tammi Terrell and albums like What’s Goin’ On and Let’s Get It On. Gaye had three distinct voices – according to Wikipedia, “his smooth, sweet tenor; a growling rasp; and an unreal falsetto”. He became expert at multi-tracking himself – all the vocals on ‘What’s Goin’ On’ are performed by Gaye.

Ariana Grande

Grande is the natural successor to the divas of the 1980s and 1990s, like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, who had great voices but were often stuck with sentimental and straightforward material. Grande’s effortlessly beautiful voice is never overbearing, has more upbeat material to work with, and doesn’t resort to histrionics so often.

Al Green

The Reverend Green’s voice could soar from a likeable tenor into a effortless falsetto, effortlessly beautiful, and carnal and spiritual at the same time.

John Lennon

The Beatles
All of The Beatles could sing well, but Lennon was the vocal star with his engaging voice. Paul McCartney was technically the better singer, with a bigger range, but Lennon had the ability to infuse his voice with feeling, often his sardonic wit. George Martin stated that Lennon was masterful at double tracking his vocals, a technique that sounded great on psychedelic records like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Just like his records with The Beatles, his solo career captured diverse vocal moods, from the rawness of ‘Cold Turkey’ to the smoothness of ‘Woman’.

Freddie Mercury

Queen
Mercury was a natural showman, with a rich, three octave voice and an unusual vibrato. While he was the vocal star, his Queen colleagues Brian May and Roger Taylor were also strong singers, and the three of them combined beautifully for big sounding and elaborate harmonies.

Mike Patton

Faith No More
Patton’s fearless approach to music making helped him explore the twisted potential of his voice. While he started with the rap-rock of Faith No More’s The Real Thing, Patton’s subsequent work has often ventured into the avant-garde, giving him the opportunity to experiment with his voice. He’s noted for his extreme vocal range of 6 and a half octaves. Unusually, he experienced a marked change in his voice during his recording career, dropping from an adolescent squeal on 1989’s The Real Thing to a guttural growler on 1992’s Angel Dust.

Carl Wilson

The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys had an ensemble of excellent vocalists – Brian Wilson’s falsetto and Mike Love’s bass were both features of their sound. But it was the gorgeous, pure mid-range of Carl Wilson that emerged as their strongest instrument, anchoring key songs like ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Good Vibrations’. He even made moments of the tacky late period hit ‘Kokomo’ worthwhile.

I’m sure I left out some of your favourites – feel free to send in suggestions or your own list of ten.

33 Comments

  1. Wow you cover a lot here. Never seen a Beach Boy, Mike Patton and Ariana Grande in the same list before

  2. Great list. Carl Wison is an excellent choice. That song alone gets him in… You have a great range in the list Aphoristical.

  3. I did a post (in fact two) on this topic a while back so easy to regurgitate that list. Like you, I make no claim to these being an objective ‘best,” just my personal favorites.
    1 – John Lennon
    2 – Bruce Springsteen
    3 – B.B. King
    4 – Stevie Wonder
    5 – Gregg Allman
    6 – Janis Joplin
    7 – Mick Jagger
    8 – Ray Charles
    9 – Bob Dylan
    10 – Elvis Presley

  4. Fraser has such a distinctive voice, could say that about all your picks! I half expect Sandy. Surprised Ariana Grande is on here though I remember you enjoy contemporary pop. Some of my personal favorite post-1960 male vocalists include Leonard Cohen,Johnny Cash, and Ric Ocasek(The Cars). Three females singers I appreciate are Enya, Kate Bush and Shirley Manson. On another day I might give you a different answer.

  5. Great list, and love the variety. I’ll have to think about a full list, but in terms of female vocalists have always loved Maria McKee from the short lived ill fated Lone Justice plus some solo works. Was just listening to some Janis Joplin on another blog and while not my favorite I think she had a great blues voice. Completely agree with Aretha.

    • I like Janis Joplin’s voice, although wish she had a deeper back-catalogue to experience it on. Never hear Lone Justice at all, just know the name – what are they like?

      • They came out of LA in the mid 80s – their self titled first album could be called cow punk – at the nexus of roots rock and country. Maria McKee had that classic female country voice but also could belt out the rockers. Check it out if you can. Not sure what happened – by the second album Shelter she was the only original member left and it was more mainstream / alternative rock sounding. Band broke up after that. She has put out some solo albums over the years that sadly I have not followed – might look them up now. Just think she has a really beautiful unique voice.

  6. That Marvin Gaye vocal has so many knocks and pops…..they couldn’t put up a pop screen?! Still it didn’t a dime! What a vocal

  7. A fine list of chanters, as my gran would say. I think my own list would be heavy on vocalists from the last 30 years… but let’s see, shall we.
    Sinatra
    Scott Weiland
    Mark Lanegan
    Johnny Cash
    Perry Farrell
    Neko Case
    Jim James
    Josh Homme
    Chris Goss
    Shannon Hoon

    • I don’t actually know that last two from that list, but the ones that I really like as vocalists and considered for this list are Case, Lanegan, and James.

      • Chris Goss is from Masters of Reality. He’s the only constant there. Incredible voice. Shannon Hoon was Blind Melon’s unique voice (incredible lyricist, too). If you don’t know either, I’d recommend jumping into Sunrise on the Sufferbus (Masters) and Soup (Blind Melon). Exceptional albums.

  8. Great list, especially with the very underrated Elizabeth Fraser!!! I would only add Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Nico, David Byrne, and maybe the Shangri-Las (their harmonies are what makes them so amazing, I shall lump them in as one!), but your list is comprehensive as is!

    • Pretty hard to be comprehensive with ten people, but thank you. Bowie’s a bit like Lennon – not amazing technically, but instantly recognisable and lots of charisma.

  9. Great to see Patton and Liz Fraser in there. But you have just stunned me with your Grande inclusion…

  10. Alison Moyet and Annie Lennox

  11. Always interesting what moves people . I was just enjoying some Al Green a while ago.

  12. Nice mix of vocalists – Ms. Fraser was new to me this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her on a top 10 list for me in the future!

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