Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 8, 2010
POP CULTURE: Good To Be The King

In honor of Elvis Presley's 75th birthday, Jake Tapper tweeted the video below the fold, which contains so many different wonderful things in under two minutes I lost count.

There's a fair debate over who is the greatest male rock vocalist of all time (more on which below - the women are hard to rank for distinct reasons, although Janis Joplin would probably win most polls). But there's really no debate over who the most influential rock vocalist and stage performer of all time was - everyone who came after was inspired by or reacting to Elvis.

I'd thought of someday doing a longer essay on the best male rock singers of all time, but I have so many other essay ideas unwritten and so little time to write, let me offer here for now my quick top-10 ranking and a few thoughts:

1. Bono. Just an unbelievably rich, powerful, compelling, distinctive and expressive voice, and until the last few years sounded as good or better live in a huge stadium as in a studio.

2. Roger Daltrey. Nobody else could put as much into a scream as Daltrey. An absolutely primal force.

3. Jim Morrison. Would rate ahead of Daltrey except he was such an inconsistent live performer and had such a short career - his voice was already much rougher by the time of the LA Woman album. But Morrison at his best was unreal.

4. Mick Jagger. Mick's voice has been shot for almost 30 years, and it was always idiosyncratic, but for the first two decades of his career, nobody could purr like Jagger (think of Sympathy for the Devil).

5. Elvis. I don't love his Heartbreak Hotel style, but Jailhouse Rock pretty much defines rock n' roll. Interestingly, on many his slow songs Elvis was more of a traditional crooner of the Bing Crosby school.

6. Steven Tyler. Maybe controversial to rank over Plant, but the man has incredible range (and still does to this day) without being stuck in the high end of the scale. Tremendous swagger.

7. Paul McCartney. Who still sounds pretty good even today. Paul's voice is the most melodious on this list, but he could always rock out as well.

8. Van Morrison. In some ways more a crooner and bluesman than a rocker. Notice the heavy prominence of singers of Irish nationality or descent on this list.

9. Rod Stewart. OK, Rod Stewart can be a little cheesy at times (not that McCartney or Steven Tyler can't) - Van Morrison's version of Have I Told You Lately That I Love You makes Stewart's sound like a block of Velveeta - but he's still a master at that world-weary sound.

10. Robert Plant. I know some people would rate him higher, and certainly Plant has been massively influential, but too much of Plant's work was too ethereal and not emotional enough for my tastes, at least.

Honorable mentions: Roy Orbison; Springsteen, who has never had a pretty voice but until recently had as emotionally expressive vocals, even live, as anybody; Billy Joel; John Fogerty, who has a truly unique sound; Eddie Vedder; Bob Seger; Michael Hutchence; David Lee Roth; Eric Clapton. (With the possible exception of Little Richard, we've never had a black rock singer who had the kind of great voice that the R&B masters like Wilson Pickett had). UPDATE: I should have mentioned Meatloaf as an honorable mention. Fantastic voice.

Anyway, that digression aside, the Elvis clip is below the fold.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:19 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (33) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I'll post longer when I have time, but I'd have a separate list of greatest frontmen of all time and greatest vocalists of all time.

For the moment, I have sleeper that would be somewhere in my top ten vocalists - Steve Winwood, not only because of his great voice, but the *longevity* of that great voice. I don't think people really appreciate the extent of his career - consider these songs, all by Winwood:

Spencer Davis Group - "Gimme Some Lovin"
Traffic - "Empty Pages," "Dear Mr. Fantasy"
Blind Faith - "Can't Find My Way Home"
Solo Stuff - Listen to any of those 80's hits

More recently, he was amazing on the cover of Muddy Waters' "I'm Ready" with Jools Holland in 2002.

Grudgingly, in terms of vocalists, I'd have to consider Steve Perry, even though I loathe Journey, but probably not in the top ten.

FWIW - Rolling Stone's top 100 singers of all time

rollingstoneDOTcom/news/coverstory/24161972/page/33

Posted by: MVH at January 8, 2010 3:05 PM

Chris Cornell and Sammy Hagar have to be on any rock singing list. Also, Steve Perry, Boston's Brad Delp, Jon Bon Jovi, Styx's Dennis Deyoung. Like your list, but several of those guys definitely belong on an honorable mention list (especially Hagar, who has sold so many millions that I've lost count - and relax, Dave fans, I love him too, just stating facts) if Michael Hutchence is present.

I guess Lenny Kravitz would qualify as the most successful black singer, wouldn't he?

Posted by: RW at January 8, 2010 3:36 PM

I'd agree that there's a difference between frontmen and vocalists - David Lee Roth, for example, was a very good frontman, but never much of a singer.

Axl Rose is mostly thought of as a huge pain in the ass, but in his heyday I think he was one of the best hard rock/metal vocalists.

Personally, I'd have to consider people like Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Levon Helm, and Greg Allman.

Posted by: Jerry at January 8, 2010 3:37 PM

BTW, as even Led Zeppelin determined (while trying to forge a summer tour sans Plant) that Alter Bridge's Myles Kennedy is the best rock singer on the planet, at this moment. Youtube him, folks, 4 octave range & can shred a guitar.

Posted by: RW at January 8, 2010 3:39 PM

Also, two voices have defined American music and have been the most important singers in our history: Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. "I want you, I need you, I love you" is about the best vocal performance that any rock artist has put forth (go listen, it's unreal) and "In the wee small hours of the morning" is one of the best albums ever printed.

I'm in the south, so Elvis is right up there with Jesus & football......happy birthday to the king of rock and roll (cue Gary Busey from DC Cab).

Posted by: RW at January 8, 2010 3:43 PM

"I guess Lenny Kravitz would qualify as the most successful black singer, wouldn't he?"

Yes, unless you want to credit the short career of Vernon Reid.

Posted by: MVH at January 8, 2010 3:45 PM

If I'm not putting Jack Morris in the Hall of Fame, I'm not putting Sammy Hagar on a list of great rock singers, for pretty much the same reasons. Steve Perry...no thank you. I mean, I like Journey's best stuff in moderate doses, and if I was doing a top 50 he'd be in there somewhere, but...no. I'm not ranking success, but rather talent/accomplishment. I mean, John Lennon is one of the greats of rock, but his voice was just average for a successful singer.

Steve Winwood is good too, but not on the level of the people I'm talking about. I'm not sure he'd rank well ahead of somebody like Elton John.

Axl and Greg Allman may deserve a mention. Maybe Freddy Mercury as well.

If pressed, I'd take Phil Lynott over Lenny Kravitz as a vocalist. Ben Harper's really good as well.

It's debatable who the best in the business today are besides Vedder and Tyler, with most of the rest getting long in the tooth - probably Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon. Besides him and Harper there's Rob Thomas, who has a good voice, but not a great one. I recently picked up two songs by David Cook, one of the American Idol guys, and he has a really good voice.

Posted by: Crank at January 8, 2010 3:46 PM

"If I'm not putting Jack Morris in the Hall of Fame, I'm not putting Sammy Hagar on a list of great rock singers, for pretty much the same reasons."

I wouldn't either - Hagar's voice works great with VH, but I don't think he's a great -vocalist-.

"Steve Perry...no thank you. . . . I'm not ranking success, but rather talent/accomplishment. I mean, John Lennon is one of the greats of rock, but his voice was just average for a successful singer."

If you are looking at vocal talent, Steve Perry had a ton of it, and you can't pay me to listen to Journey. If you are looking at talent, you have to give him a nod. I agree on John Lennon. Rolling Stone overrates him at #5 as well.

"Steve Winwood is good too, but not on the level of the people I'm talking about. I'm not sure he'd rank well ahead of somebody like Elton John."

I'd put him way ahead of Elton John in terms of singing ability. Rolling Stone put Winwood 4-5 places above EJ. EJ has a good voice for his music, but is not a great vocalist.

"Axl and Greg Allman may deserve a mention. Maybe Freddy Mercury as well."

They are on the list somewhere. But never Meatloaf . . . I don't know how you figure that.

-------
A note about Roger Daltrey because the The Who is my all-time favorite band. I consider him a very good vocalist, but not a truly great one. Don't get me wrong - his voice is perfect for the Who, and I wouldn't replace him with anyone else. I don't think anyone could sing Won't Get Fooled Again as well as Daltrey.

Of course, what a band! You have a very good vocalist, surrounded by three other members who are in anyone's top ten list for their respective instruments.
-----------------
Another note - that Rolling Stone list didn't mention Pat Benatar - who was actually a classically trained vocalist before she ever switched to rock. I don't know how she isn't on there.

Posted by: MVH at January 8, 2010 4:09 PM

Freddy Mercury and Paul Rodgers are 2 more.

Posted by: dch at January 8, 2010 4:23 PM

MVH, truly excellent taste in music. Couldn't agree with you more on Stevie Winwood. Crank, I think you've got to spend a little more time listening to some Traffic and Blind Faith, rather than focusing on his 80's music. I suggest John Barleycorn, No Name No Face No Number, Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, Dear Mr. Fantasy, Pearly Queen, among many Traffic greats. For Blind Faith, look at Can't Find My Way Home, Well Alright, and Sea of Joy, as well as the spectacular Presence of the Lord (with Clapton at his pyrotechnic best on lead guitar). Additionally, listen to some of his older Spenser Davis group material (like I'm a Man), for a more bluesy sound. He had way more range than Elton John. In fact, comparing Stevie Winwood to Elton John is like comparing Tim Raines to Andre Dawson, it's just not close!

Also, Roy Orbison should have been on the list, rather than just honorable mention. And where is Chuck Berry?

Posted by: Paul H. at January 8, 2010 4:26 PM

Forgot to mention that I also completely agree with MVH on the Who, just an incredible band that perfectly complemented each other. And Pete Townsend wrote some tremendous lyrics (I'm One from Quadrophenia is one of my all-time favorite songs).

Posted by: Paul H. at January 8, 2010 4:29 PM

John Lennon from Liverpool deserves at least a mention I think. As does the Zimmerman boy from Minnesota. The latter especially is an acquired taste, but listen to "New Pony" from Street Legal, and "Sooner Or Later" from Blonde on Blonde. Great rock and roll singing there.

Posted by: seamus at January 8, 2010 4:31 PM

I'm not that up on the Blind Faith stuff besides Presence of the Lord, but I know Winwood's Traffic and Spenser Davis stuff. Good, but not first tier.

MVH - Hagar's not just Van Halen, with Chickenfoot he still gives you 8 solid innings and gives the band a chance to win. But he's never the star of the show.

Dylan's vocals are often effective despite his limitations, but he has no place on a great singers list.

Posted by: Crank at January 8, 2010 4:36 PM

Not even "Lay Lady Lay"...ah, but that's country. Can't really argue. Though as much can be said (effective despiteobvious limitations) for a good number of the names being mentioned. Most even. When it comes right down to it, Roy Orbison is the only truly great singer to have made a stab at rock and roll. The rest are more or less effective, and affecting, shouters.

Posted by: seamus at January 8, 2010 4:40 PM

Uh, John Lennon? Name a sub-genre in the rock 'n' roll universe that he didn't nail cold at least one time in his career. Not the best voice technically, but he could do every emotion and style.

Posted by: per14 at January 8, 2010 4:55 PM

Lennon's exclusion is even more egregious since since you have Morrison on the list whose vocal range was about equal to Derek Jeter's defensive range, circa 2007. There is nothing Morrison could do with his voice that Lennon couldn't do better. (Unless you count creepy deep whispering.)

Stevie Wonder deserves at least a mention, if not a top-10 placel. Simply because he has about a 4 octave voice. Even if one doesn't care for his style, his voice is unbelievable.

Right there with you on Bono and Daltrey as #1 and #2. Sheish, the Who were talented.

Posted by: per14 at January 8, 2010 5:02 PM

Sammy Hagar's vocal abilities, live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jt7MH9UpMU

The number of guys who could pull off "Dreams" or "Don't tell me what love can do" isn't very large.

Yes, unless you want to credit the short career of Vernon Reid.

Reid was the guitarist, Corey Glover the long-haired singer of Living Colour (and Vivid was one of my first CD purchases back in the 80s). :)

Posted by: RW at January 8, 2010 5:36 PM

"Pete Townsend wrote some tremendous lyrics (I'm One from Quadrophenia is one of my all-time favorite songs)."

I'm One is a great song, and one, unfortunately you'd never hear on the radio. Put on on desert island with one CD, and I'd probably pick Quadrophenia.

Posted by: MVH at January 8, 2010 6:40 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjB1r77JljM

For you Who fans, and Sean Penn haters. Great as the Who was, I doubt they ever did these two songs this well.

Posted by: seamus at January 8, 2010 7:44 PM

We're all a little bit petrified the Who will be an absolute embarassment at the Super Bowl, right? Townshend can't hear, and strums along on rhythm even during the Who's Next warhorses (his brother Simon, in the back, behind the amps, does all the Les Paul power chording) and Daltrey can't sing anymore. It could get ugly.

Posted by: seamus at January 8, 2010 7:49 PM

No Axl Rose or Freddy Mercury? Whoa. . .

Posted by: jp at January 9, 2010 1:03 AM

Paul Rodgers always gets a mention in this category and should. Winwood's unbelievable but very nasal. Lennon I just don't get. Freddie Mercury had a great falsetto and serious range but got a lot of help in the studio.

Lynnott's career was too short to be mentioned.

The most impressive vocalist I ever saw was Toy Caldwell of Marshall Tucker. In a small venue he can put away the mic and just bellow. It was something to see.

Posted by: spongeworthy at January 9, 2010 8:17 AM

I should say Caldwell "could" put away the mic.

Posted by: spongeworthy at January 9, 2010 8:18 AM

Seamus,

Liked the clip - I especially appreciate the live horns on the Real Me. Vedder is a huge Who fan, and I've never seen any covers done as well as PJ's. They really capture the spirit of the originals. But I certainly wouldn't favor them over the originals.

I didn't realize they were playing the Super Bowl. They will only embarrass themselves if they try to be the Who of the late-60's and 70's instead of the 2000's.

Posted by: MVH at January 9, 2010 8:35 AM

"The Real Me" might be my favorite Who song. Entwistle's bass on that song is .... well, words fail me.

Posted by: per14 at January 9, 2010 10:00 AM

Couldn't agree more about Quadrophenia, best album ever.

Spongeworthy, great call on Caldwell, I was going to throw out Ronnie Van Zant myself. Definitely need to get some southern rock in the discussion.

Posted by: Paul H. at January 9, 2010 10:04 AM

And the point of ranking them is?

Posted by: feeblemind at January 9, 2010 12:25 PM

McCartney (who was really only good good at delivering non-emotive vocals such as on Eleanor Rigby) over Lennon? Words fail me.

Billy Joel ain't a rock singer. I'm sure he'd say it himself.

This is embarrasing stuff. Stick to politics and baseball.

Posted by: John Salmon at January 9, 2010 1:36 PM

I think I have a comment awaiting the moderation.

Posted by: RW at January 11, 2010 9:21 AM

I'm with Seamus. Any list of great Rock n' Roll Singers that doesn't start with Roy Orbison is inherently flawed! Also...Steven Tyler? Not a good singer. Great performer? Sure. But he's never been a great singer.

Posted by: David at January 11, 2010 12:00 PM

RE: John Salmon "McCartney (who was really only good good at delivering non-emotive vocals such as on Eleanor Rigby)"

That's just flat out madness. Ever hear Oh Darling? I Got a Feeling? Helter Skelter???

Posted by: David at January 11, 2010 12:04 PM

Yeah John Salmon, you're crazy. Wings would have been nothing without Paul McCartney!

Posted by: Paul H. at January 11, 2010 2:23 PM

Jim Morrison could sing anything, in my view. What a great voice. Lennon was his equal, along with Stevie Wonder. Great singers, all.

Posted by: Steve at January 11, 2010 2:29 PM
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