Five of my favorite singers

Rolling Stone recently put out a list of “The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time”. I read through the whole thing with my siblings, and we thought there were a lot of questionable choices in it. There were a few singers I thought were too low-rated, like Michael Jackson at #86.

Far more singers were too highly rated. Bob Dylan was at #15, higher than Prince, Elvis, and Frank Sinatra. There were plenty of examples, so I don’t mean to pick on Bob Dylan, but he was probably the most misplaced out of anyone. In my opinion, he shouldn’t have even been on the list.

He is obviously one of the all-time greats of songwriting, and I don’t consider his singing bad by any means. His voice is very effective at what he needs it to do in the context of his songs. But it seems ridiculous to me to put him that high on a list about greatness specifically in singing.

Photo credit: Chris Hakkens

This was a bit of a pattern, unfortunately. It seemed like singers were often placed based on the overall quality of the music they sang in, rather than the quality of their singing specifically. Now, there’s a lot of great music out there, and many tracks would not be the same without the unique voice and performance of some singer. But that doesn’t make anyone who’s sung on a great track a great singer. A list of the greatest singers of all time should look at vocalists whose use of their instrument stands as notable on its own merits.

Singers also seemed to be picked in such a way that there would be a nearly even spread of genres across the list. This lead to what felt like too much representation from genres that place little emphasis on great singing, or even prize average singing as an aesthetic choice, such as punk or folk. I would rather see genres with a strong emphasis on vocals like soul and R&B overrepresented in the list*, because it would reflect the fact that the singing makes those genres special.

When I think of great singers from among the music I’ve listened to the most, five stand out above the rest. I don’t claim they’re the best singers of all time, or even my top five in any particular ordering, but I do consider them all great.

What do you think makes a great singer? Do you have a favorite singer or maybe a few? How objective can something like a list of “The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time” even hope to be? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​

* To be fair, the representation did begin to shift that way in the highest tiers.