3. Elvis Presley
Number one for me and no one else comes close. Ignore for a second that Presley was the most beautiful human being of all time and that he was easily the most electric performer ever, Elvis in his prime could sing anything (rock, opera, metal, soul, blues, country – no problem). All the wonks will tell you he did his best work at Sun, but for me his immense '50s RCA output is so explosive that it puts everyone else to shame. It’s not just that Elvis had an amazing instrument, no one ever had so much fun putting it to use. Whirling back and forth from low to high, from raspy to angelically pretty, the only singer ever that could take any song and transform it into something that sounded like it came from somewhere else a galaxy or too away.
4. Sam Cooke
Died far too young, and wanted to be successful at the white bread Copa a little too much. Pretty much invented both Rod Stewart and Otis Redding. Who else could have gotten so much from a song as slight as "You Send Me"? When he sings “please hear my cry” in “Cupid” that’s exactly what it sounds like.
5. John Lennon
Famously hated his own voice and was constantly trying to disguise it, I find it nearly impossible to listen to anything Lennon recorded without smiling (well, with the exception of “Mother” – that song scares me to death). My personal favorites are the early ballads with the knockout bridges like “Anna” and “This Boy,” where Lennon cried out in agony for true love as wrenchingly as anyone who has ever walked the earth.
6. Marvin Gaye
Marvin should easily be second on this list. Gaye wanted to croon like Frank Sinatra, but had to settle for being the sexiest thing imaginable. Marvin was sexier clearing his throat than Madonna is during a nude photo shoot with Big Daddy Kane and Vanilla Ice. Marvin could be singing about “fish filled with mercury” in “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and women around the world would still be instantly erupting in sexual heat. Gaye’s 70s multi-layered vocal recordings are simply astounding – the man used a recording studio to turn himself into the ultimate vocal orchestra.
7. Bob Dylan
We could argue about this forever. Here he is at number 7, and without a doubt he never would have come close to making it past the audition phase of American Idol. Dylan forever changed the notion of what a singer was and could be. Once claimed that he was as good as Caruso and in his strung out, mid 60s electric period he might have been right, but Bob’s live recordings over the last 30 years have often sounded like Porky Pig unintelligibly wrestling with a foreign language. Despite the fact that he often claims to be just a song and dance man, he seems to care as little about showmanship as Miles Davis did.