Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Singers of All-Time

Rolling Stone Magazine just put out their list of 100 Greatest singers of all-time.

There were a few names on the list that I didn't expect to see, and of course there were a boatload of names that were left off.

I don't usually pay much attention to these "greatest" lists from entertainment magazines... most are not put together by people who really know music. Spin magazine, and others have put out some really wacky lists over the years... Greatest Bands, Greatest albums, etc. Several years back, I recall a 50 or 100 Greatest Bands list that included groups that weren't even "Bands" at all (like singing groups and Rap groups... WTH?!!!)... while actual bands, like Earth Wind and Fire, for example, didn't even make the list at all...this is despite the fact that EW&F is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame... and had been inducted at the time that the list came out.
That's when I realized how much of a joke these lists can be.

But this list was actually not all that bad... (as compared to most of the others I have seen). I'd give this list a 5 on a scale of 1-10 (believe me, that's an improvement). I saw a few artists listed who were not really great "singers" at all. And I saw great singers listed far too low. I think Rolling Stone Magazines use of "singer" is a misnomer.

I don't think it's really possible to make a good list of Greatest Singers.. because singing talent is so relative... it depends on the perception, interpretation, and the individual tastes of the person listening. There's really no good objective way to measure who should be placed in a particular slot. And can you really ignore the great Jazz singers? No Sarah Vaughn? No Billie Holiday? That alone may be enough to invalidate the credibility of the whole list. Can you really ignore Gospel? I would argue that Mahalia Jackson easily belongs in the top 10.

What about Classical? I know Rolling Stone focuses on popular music... but Classical once dominated. Afterall, the list refers to the Greatest of "all time". Classical may be a stretch.... but not Jazz. Jazz isn't so mainstream now, but it was once the dominant music in America... so can you really casually pass over an entire genre and then call it a list of the greatest singers of "all-time"?

They also seem to focus on soloists... fine, but it skips over some great lead singers... (but notice how they tried to slide Frankie Valli in there... a group lead, as well as the Everly Brothers). Interesting. These kinds of mistakes and oversights tell me that the folks who put this together don't really know who the great singers are. If you include Frankie Valli - well... it means all bets are off.... because then you have to add Little Anthony, Frankie Lymon, Dion DiMucci, Eugene Record, Russell Thompkins, David Ruffin, Levi Stubbs, and the list could go on and on. They also shaped American music.

But moving on....

Here are the top 3 for a teaser.

1 | Aretha Franklin by Mary J. Blige

2 | Ray Charles by Billy Joel

3 | Elvis Presley by Robert Plant

See the full list here.

I wouldn't call this a list of Greatest singers. Perhaps a list of Greatest performers or entertainers might be more appropriate. The popular magazines always end up doing this... because they don't follow criteria that are the most objective; criteria which could provide the best results...

At least Etta James and Dusty Springfield made the list... those were some of the pleasant surprises for me. But then I see no Nancy Wilson, or Bessie Smith... and i'm left scratching my head again.

Perhaps a 100 list just isn't enough space. But even if it were a list of 200, I doubt if they could fill the extra space with picks that make sense.

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