Lists are an inane waste of time and perhaps the most obvious piece of evidence that someone doesn’t have anything new to say, but I can’t help it — I love them. Rolling Stone, having recently downsized its format to better look exactly like Blender, just named their “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” and in response, I’m just dying to weigh in with my own thoughts.
Now when it comes to “all time,” Rolling Stone seems to have forgotten that the world was invented slightly before Elvis showed up on the Ed Sullivan Show. So since neither Frank Sinatra nor Enrico Caruso appear on Rolling Stone’s list, we’ll assume that what they meant was the greatest singers of the rock era.
Before we start, let’s acknowledge that this is pretty much an impossible task. Exactly how do you compare the instrument that Aretha Franklin was born with to the one that Bob Dylan has been lugging around for the past 50 years? How many points do you get for being an entertaining front man? Can I pop Roger Daltrey up a few slots for his mesmerizing microphone hurling?
Personally, I give a lot of points for showmanship, but in my mind singing is all about conveying emotion, which means that I’ll take Kurt Cobain’s gut-wrenching screams over Patti Labelle and Michael Bolton’s stale vocal acrobatics every day of the week.
Number 1 Reason That the Rolling Stone List Sucks: Uh, dudes — where the hell is Levi Stubbs? You know the amazing leader of the Four Tops, the one that was just all over the news! Stubbs should have been in the top 20 and whoever forgot that he existed needs to be immediately shot.
1. Aretha Franklin
Aretha’s usually a consensus choice in these things, but despite the fact that she has a nuclear powered howitzer inside of her, she wouldn’t be number one on my list. She’s fantastic, but she never really surprises me. She just always sounds like Aretha, not that there’s much wrong with that. Points deducted for continually appearing in dresses that expose more up top than Dolly Parton does when she showers. Points added for once subbing on an opera tune for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti with no rehearsal.
2. Ray Charles
He’s the bomb, but he has to be faulted for some of the schmaltz that he somehow constantly seemed too fond of or at least was intent on putting up with to please a middle of the road audience. Listen to Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me” and you’ll hear both. Ray ripping up a heartbreaking vocal, while for some reason being backed up by singers straight out of the Perry Como orchestra.