They can make even the simplest songs sound great because of their ability to
render and deliver the music and its words clearly and soulfully. These are the top 10
best singers of all time as judged by Rolling Stone magazine.
10. James Brown
He calls himself Soul Brother Number One. James Brown was known for his
trademark vocal that featured an amazing range. He also had a scream that
sounded like a voice from within crying out for more. Brown was also more than
just his vocals. He had an awkward, beautiful dance that he branded as an African
nerve control. Whether it was ballads or uptempo, his songs always had an edge
into it. Born on May 3, 1933, Brown passed away on Christmas Day in 2006. Some
of his most famous songs are “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “The Payback,””Give It Up
or Turnit a Loose” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” He has influenced artists like
Prince, Iggy Pop, Michael Jackson, Sly Stone and George Clinton.
9. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder’s rich and clear voice evokes a joyful cry that everyone can hear.
He knew how to create an impact with his singing and his lyrics are very visual and
graphic. Such an irony for someone who is blind, but this disability is what probably
allowed him to heighten his other senses that made us see the imagery of his songs
so clearly. Some of his songs include “Superstition,” “Signed, Sealed and Delivered”
and “My Cherie Amour.” Born on May 13, 1950, he has influenced artists such as
Cee-Lo, Adam Levine and Maxwell.
8. Otis Redding
Otis Redding started out as a driver for Johnny Jenkins. During an audition for Stax
Records in Memphis, he blew everyone away with his version of “These Arms of
Mine.” The amazing thing about Redding was that he actually possessed limited
range. He couldn’t go as low or as high as other singers. What he had plenty of,
however, was emotion that only came about when he was singing. Some of his
most famous songs include “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” and “Try a Little
Tenderness.” He is a hero to the likes of Al Green, Chris Robinson and Toots
7. Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is probably music’s version of Marlon Brando in that they both dismissed
the cunning and deceit of their trade to get to the art. His voice is a combination of
cracked, yelp and howl, but it was exactly the reason why he could sing melancholic
songs without being corny and sentimental. His songs were raging and indignant
and he is considered as the Voice of a Generation. He sang “Like a Rolling Stone,”
probably the greatest song of all time. He has influenced artists like Bono, John
Lennon and Bruce Springsteen.
6. Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye had the unique combination of soft and gentle singing backed up with
his powerful voice. He sang with honesty and emotion and it seemed that every song
he delivered came straight from the heart. Everything that was happening in his life
had an effect on his singing. None better capture that than “What’s Going On?” He
also sang “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” He has influenced artists like R. Kelly,
Alicia Keys and Usher.
5. John Lennon
John Lennon’s songs were a product of his intellect and rendered by his intimate
voice. He sang “Imagine” in such a way that everyone listening to the song was
living in it, thinking and wishing exactly for what the lyrics were saying. His style
was straightforward, going directly to what he wanted to say. He gave us powerful
imageries with “Strawberry Fields Forever.” His influence on other musicians has
been profound, with artists like Bono, Jackson Browne, Liam Gallagher and Neil
Young looking up to him as a hero.
4. Sam Cooke
When you listen to the songs of Sam Cooke, you could just feel him reaching down
to his very soul. He sang gospel style, meaning it was real, clean and direct. He
did not boast of an amazing range, but the totality of his singing is still considered
as one of the best because of his phrasing and power to deliver. Some of his most
memorable renditions have been of “Bring It On Home to Me,” “A Change is Gonna
Come” and “You Send Me.” He influenced other artists, like Otis Redding, Rod
Stewart, van Morrison and Art Garfunkel.
3. Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley had a unique singing style that evoked confidence. He had the ability
to transform a song and treat even the tiniest note as his own. As a result, it would
be hard for other artists to even attempt a version of his songs. Can you imagine
anyone else singing “Hound Dog,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Jailhouse Rock” or “Love
Me Tender?” Some of the artists Presley has influenced include fellow influential
musicians themselves, like Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Led Zeppelin.
2. Ray Charles
No other singer could turn groans, whoops, grunts and yelps into actual music. He
was the epitome of an artist baring his soul through his singing. He had the most
unique voice and style, incorporating small laughs and adlibs into parts of the song.
Despite being blind, he had a gleeful style of singing that felt like he was actually
enjoying each and every performance he gave out. Some of his more memorable
songs are “What’d I Say, Pts. 1 & 2,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “I Got a Woman” and
“Georgia on My Mind.” He has influenced artists like Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Otis
Redding and van Morrison.
1. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin epitomized power and technique, blended with an honesty and
soulfulness that made her singing incomparable. Her deliveries allow listeners to
visualize what she is saying because of her clear expressions. Her songs have
remained favorites after all these years, including “Chain of Fools,” “Respect” and
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” She influenced Whitney Houston,
Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Aaron Neville and Annie Lennox.
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