Sunday, April 29, 2012

Musc Sunday, but just barely...Singers edition

I got so interested in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of all time when I was looking at it last week that I decided to look at some of the other music lists they've compiled through the years, so I took a tour through their list of the 100 Greatest Singers. Interesting stuff, but probably also the stuff of many disagreements among music fans.

Aretha Franklin is the number one rated singer on the list., followed by Ray Charles at number two, Elvis Presley at number 3, Sam Cooke at number 4, and John Lennon at number five. As you'll see if you read on, I'm not thrilled with all those placings. But if you have to make a ranked list, Ms. Franklin is a good choice for the top spot.

I guess when it comes to rating singers...or songs, or music, or any art form...a lot of what goes into the consideration of who or what is better than the other is mostly subjective. There are technical considerations, of course, and those are beyond me when it comes to music. I played clarinet for three years, and used to be able to plunk out a melody on a piano after I'd heard it a few times. But none of that is really musical training.

Still, I know what I like, and what moves me, when it comes to music, and I had a number of "what the hell?!" moments when I was looking through Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Singers this morning. For example, I kept wondering as I progressed through the list, where B. B. King was. Found him, finally, at number 96.

Ninety-six? That's just nuts. Well, I guess he's known more for his guitar playing than his singing - he's at number 6 on the magazine's list of Greatest Guitarists - but still, when "The Thrill Is Gone" came out when I was in junior high, the first time I heard it, I knew that was some singing right there.

But, surprises aside - and there were some good ones, too, from my point of view - it is an interesting list. I've seen six of the artists on the list perform live at one point or another: Prince (#30), Bono (#32), Neil Young (#37), Elton John (#38), Bjork (#60), and Karen Carpenter (#94). I can see why all of them made the list from my experience in hearing them live, although I've developed more of an appreciation for Bjork's singing from hearing her recorded work since the night I heard her play with the Sugarcubes, who were opening for U2 when I went to see them in Oakland, California. She isn't a conventional singer, but what she does with her voice is interesting and original. I don't know if she should be on the list of the 100 greatest singers, but she's got as much right to be on the list as some of those who are on it, I think.

As people will do, I would argue with some of the rankings on the list. Janis Joplin not there until number 28? Jim Morrison at only number 47? And, most surprisingly for me, in a good way, is Steve Perry at number 76?

I understand that the fact Steve Perry sang for Journey for so many years counted against him among some of the people compiling the list; it isn't a popular thing in some circles to even admit that you ever listened to the band. And, to be truthful, I was surprised that he made the list at all, given that handicap. But, that voice. There are a number of singers above him on the list who don't have his vocal range. The man just has a beautiful voice, and he knows how to use it.

The other pleasant surprise, although I think he should have come in higher, is Don Henley, at number 87. One word: Desperado. That might be the most achingly beautiful song I've ever heard, and it's his voice on the lead vocal that makes it that way.

The biggest names or places that I would argue with? Well - and I know there are people who will throw things at me for saying this - I really don't understand Elvis Presley's placement at number 3. Really? Yes, he always had that cult following. But his voice never did anything for me. (Not that that really means anything. A lot of people hate, and I mean purely hate Geddy Lee's singing voice, and I agree that it isn't the most beautiful voice in the world and I'm not sure I would place him in this list at all. But I enjoy listening to it.)

Also, as much as I love John Lennon's work, I would not rate him as the fifth greatest singer ever. And Mick Jagger at number 16? Yeah, no. Here again, I suspect that cult following had more to do with their placement on the list that their ability, to either sing or to move people with their phrasing or vocal technique. Lennon, I think should be on the list. Not so sure about Jagger although, again, I love some of his singing.

Another quibble, this time with Freddy Mercury, at number 18. I'd put him in the top ten, if not the top five.

I could go on for quite a while longer, dissecting the list and rearranging it according to my own tastes. Certainly, I would rate Levon Helm (at #91) higher on the list than he was placed. I think Bruce Springsteen (at #36) is about where he belongs. And I have to say that I'm not really sure why Mariah Carey (at #79) is on the list at all.

But again, all of this is really down to subjective issues, and my takes on the list, while right and valid for me, don't have anything to do with how other people see it.

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