Reacting to Resurfaced Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Singers

Well, well, well, it’s time to react to another hot take from Rolling Stone. Another crappy list from Rolling Stone? Not surprising. There goes my chances for working for them, as if I had any!

I was on Twitter yesterday and I saw people saying “How is Bob Dylan higher than Freddie Mercury???” and I was so confused and then I realised oh, Rolling Stone released another list and I have to talk about how rubbish it is. The fun of being a music blogger.

In this post I’ll tell you which musicians are overrated on the list, underrated on the list,  which ones shouldn’t be there at all, and who was snubbed and should have been on the list. You can find the original list here. It’s from 2010, but why not laugh at some throwback articles? I guess they make finding the date published hard because these aren’t timely articles and people getting outraged over the article is exactly what they want, more clicks and therefore more advertising revenue.

Why rankings are dumb

I think doing these top 100 lists are stupid for both guitarists and singers. There are so many different styles of guitar and so many different styles of vocals and everyone’s taste is a little different. We also have to ask ourselves what exactly are we looking for in a singer. How are we enjoying their music? Live? Just listening to the music at home? Is it just their voice? Does stage presence count? What about other skills like songwriting or playing instruments? Here’s what Rolling Stone took into account in their ranking:

“There’s something a bout [sic] a voice that’s personal…”

“…Contrary to anything you’ve heard, the ability to actually carry a tune is in no regard a disability in becoming a rock & roll singer, only a mild disadvantage.”

“…Yet there’s a certain time-tested sturdiness to the lowchops approach forged by touchstone figures like Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison and Jonathan Richman, one that helps define rock & roll singing…”

“…expressivity, surprise, soul, grain, interpretive wit, angle of vision…”

It looks like the author of this article prioritises expressiveness, soul, emotion, and how the voice carries the vision of the song. Those are understandable things to consider when you’re a music fan just listening to the music. The voice makes the song. Some things that the author doesn’t look at are stage presence and range (how high or low their voice can go and versatility).

With live music, stage presence is important because it gets the crowd excited and really makes the live show. That’s why people consider The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Queen, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Bruce Springsteen some of the best acts to see live. The lead singers interact with the crowd, dance, have signature moves, and tell a story with their performances. That’s what elevates these acts above the rest. These aren’t ordinary live shows. You can hear a good voice on the record, but you don’t see the dancing, body language, and the interaction with the crowd on the record.

Comparing two different vocalists is hard to do objectively and I didn’t study music so I won’t be able to do that. Someone may not have the best voice technically, but there are songs that just sound right when they sing it. It’s about the mood of the song. One famous example is that “These Dreams” sounded better when Nancy Wilson sang it with a cold, so that’s why she did the lead vocals and Ann didn’t. The genre of the song matters too.

Different genres require different qualities for the vocalist. I don’t think it’s fair to compare hard rock and metal to folk and country. The qualities that make a good metal voice won’t make a good folk voice.

We also have to consider different eras. I think of the eras of classic rock as building upon each other. We wouldn’t have the British Invasion and psychedelic music of the 60s without the rock and roll and blues music of the 40s and 50s. We wouldn’t have prog rock of the 70s without psychedelic rock and jazz. Heavy metal wouldn’t have existed without hard rock, prog rock, and the blues.

The eras resonate with people of all ages differently. I’m 25 and I have a harder time relating to rock music of the 50s, even though I like it, but I listened to way more stuff from the 60s and 70s so that resonates with me more and I personally would prefer that style, but with my knowledge and appreciation of rock history I know that the music of the 50s shaped my idols. Perhaps the Zoomers (people born in the late 90s/early 2000s) would prefer the music of the 80s and 90s. This all makes sense if you believe in the 30 year rule for classic rock.

Who was ranked too high

Some of the musicians on this list were ranked too high, in my opinion. So get ready for my hot takes!

  • John Lennon: Love his singing and songwriting, but I wouldn’t rank him that high as a singer.
  • Bob Dylan: Great songwriter, but his voice isn’t great. I prefer when other people sing his songs.
  • Roy Orbison: Just not a huge fan. His music isn’t my taste. I understand why people like him and why he was included on this list, but he should be lower on the list.
  • Bono: I don’t like his voice at all. It sounds like screaming. I understand why people like him, but I wouldn’t put him on my best of list.
  • Whitney Houston: Good voice, personally don’t like her music that much.
  • Neil Young: Not a huge fan. There are better voices. I’m not big on folk music.
  • George Jones: I don’t really listen to country music
  • Bjork: I don’t listen to her music, but why is she above Roger Daltrey?
  • Axl Rose: I really don’t like him. If I could listen to the instrumentals of Guns n Roses without his vocals, I’d be happy.
  • Steve Perry:  I don’t like Journey

Who was not ranked high enough

The biggest crime here were there were a lot of musicians not ranked high enough. I’m not going to do a whole analysis, but these were the ones that I felt were done dirty:

  • Freddie Mercury: Should easily be in the top 3. He was versatile. He kept going until the very end. That stage presence. Two words: Live Aid. He could do it all.
  • Steve Winwood: He had soul in his voice. Just listen to Gimme Some Lovin.
  • Chuck Berry: He had so much influence on rock and roll and should be way higher on this list.
  • Jim Morrison: Great stage presence and voice. One of a kind.
  • Buddy Holly: Really shaped rock and roll, should be higher because of his influence.
  • Eric Burdon: Soulful voice. Deserves to be higher on this list.
  • Roger Daltrey: The Who were considered one of the best bands to see live in their prime. Roger has stage presence, a great voice, and charisma. He should be much higher on the list.
  • BB King: Influential, should be higher on the list.
  • Stevie Nicks: I love her witchy stage presence. Look for that 1976 live performance of Rhiannon. It was an incantation, not just a performance. You’ll be left spellbound. A religious experience.

Who shouldn’t have been on the list

Mostly it’s because I don’t listen to these musicians and because I’d write a more classic rock focused list.

  • Bono: I don’t like his voice at all. It sounds like screaming. I understand why people like him, but I wouldn’t put him on my best of list.
  • Axl Rose: I really don’t like him. If I could listen to the instrumentals of Guns n Roses without his vocals, I’d be happy.
  • Steve Perry:  I don’t like Journey
  • Jeff Buckley: I’m more of an older classic rock specialist and I don’t listen to him.
  • James Taylor: I don’t like his music
  • Mariah Carey: She had a good range back in the 90s, but I don’t like her music.
  • Tom Waits: I’ll get hate for this, but I’m not into his music.
  • Mary J. Blige: Good voice, but I’d rather if this list was done era by era and genre by genre
  • Christina Aguilera: See what I said about Mary J. Blige.
  • Morrissey: There are way better vocalists from that time, and much less problematic ones.

Who should have been on the list

The list was missing a lot of women. Now I’m not going to shout Rolling Stone is sexist. The music industry is a bit sexist, but I’m going to be charitable and say that this list was crap and left out a lot of great vocalists, male and female.

The women I would have liked to see on the list:

  • Grace Slick: Before Ann, Stevie, and Joan, there was Grace Slick
  • Mama Cass: Her voice made The Mamas and the Papas. “If you can believe your ears” is right!
  • Joan Baez: This is a folk musician who deserves to be on this list.
  • Jinx Dawson: She was witchy before Stevie Nicks. She was metal before metal really took off.
  • Ann Wilson: She’s incredible live, definitely inspired a lot of women in rock music
  • Suzi Quatro: Badass five foot nothing bassist. She inspired The Runaways
  • Joan Jett: She may not have been the songwriter, but she made I Love Rock n Roll hers.
  • Sandy Denny: Her vocals on “Battle of Evermore”. She was the only guest vocalist on a Led Zeppelin album.
  • Kate Bush: Why is she left out? I love her high voice. Listen to Wuthering Heights and Running Up That Hill.
  • Christine McVie: Stevie Nicks gets a lot of the credit, but I think Christine McVie deserves credit too. She had some great moments like You Make Loving Fun and Don’t Stop.
  • Donna Summer: She was known as “One Take Donna”. Whether you love or hate disco, you gotta admit her voice is amazing. If we’re going to include R&B how can you forget Donna Summer?
  • Diana Ross: It’s a crime that she isn’t on this list. Without her, there would be no Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey. I thought I was going crazy, but she isn’t on this list.

Prog rock is always left out. Critics were never kind to prog rock and dismissed it as pretentious. Yes, it’s a little pretentious, but that’s what I love about it. When you look past that veil, you’ll see musicians who are at the top of their game.

  • Jon Anderson: His voice is so perfect for Yes. Reminds me a bit of Lord of the Rings.
  • Greg Lake: Was in two great bands King Crimson and ELP
  • Phil Collins: Can do both prog and pop.
  • Peter Gabriel: Not only a good singer, he had weird costumes.
  • Roger Waters: The harder, edgier voice of Pink Floyd. The brain behind the concept albums. You feel the emotion when he sings.
  • David Gilmour: His voice is so angelic and it works well with Roger Waters harsh sound.

Other musicians I think that should be included:

  • Frank Sinatra: This is the one that I saw people complaining the most about not being included.
  • Marc Bolan: He was glam rock. If you’re going to put Bowie there, also put Bolan in.
  • Paul Simon: You’re going to include Art Garfunkel, but not Paul Simon? Shady. Why didn’t they just say Simon & Garfunkel as a duo. They put the Everly Brothers as one.
  • Isaac Hayes: An R&B great that needs to be on this list.
  • Phil Lynott: Criminally underrated. Needs more appreciation.
  • Ian Gillan: That scream on “Child in Time”.
  • Steve Marriott: I know he’s not well known in America, but he had a great voice.
  • Bon Scott: I’m shocked neither AC/DC frontman was included.
  • Brian Johnson: It’s hard to replace Bon Scott, but he was the perfect person to do it. AC/DC made the right decision to keep going.
  • Roger Taylor: Those falsettos were an important part of Queen’s sound. Queen wasn’t just Freddie Mercury. Don’t diminish the other band members’ vocal contributions.
  • Ian Curtis: Perfect voice for Joy Division. You hear the emotion in his voice.
  • Paul Weller: He was the Mod Revival. Love his punk vocal style.

A better way to do this list?

Why not have a list made by readers votes. I’d be curious what the wider community thinks. Or do tiers. There was that whole tier chart trend and I think that would be a better way of ranking musicians than just doing a top 100.

What do you think of Rolling Stone’s list? Any musicians you wish were included? Anyone you thought was over or underrated on the list? Have your say in the comments section below.

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