These are the singers that I was considering for my List of Twenty Greatest Singers, but for one reason or another they didn’t quite make the cut. These are great singers, but not the best, in my opinion; but I did struggle with several of these, and that’s why I wanted to recognize them: because on some days, these folks would be on my top twenty, and some of the top twenty would slide down a few spaces onto this list.
It should be said that while I am judging these people, they are nonetheless rock stars, who have made a career, and generally millions of dollars, performing and entertaining millions of fans. So my placing them on the B-list should really be taken with a grain of salt — a grain of salt worth millions of dollars, and gold records, and Grammy awards, and screaming fans. And, of course, this is all subjective, and so my list will still be missing people that others think are the voice of a generation, or whatever cliche you prefer.
In no particular order. No, actually, let’s make it alphabetical order so it doesn’t feel like I’m necessarily ranking them within this list.
B is for Bono. There are some things I don’t like about Bono, and U2, but it’s hard to argue with the idea that Bono is an icon of rock music, or that his singing is recognizable, or that he’s a talented singer with a great range. Is his singing unique? Not always. Are his songs coverable? Yup. Do some of them suck? Well, yeah. So he’s on the B list. But sometimes, there’s nothing better than driving by yourself and wailing off key to this song. (And this video shows some of the reasons I don’t love Bono. Look at that poor drummer. A rock drummer standing with a tambourine? How uncomfortable is that guy? I feel bad for that guy. I blame Bono for that.)
D is for David Draiman. I have never enjoyed Disturbed’s music. But I’ve often been impressed by Draiman’s voice, by the power and range he shows even while his singing style bugs the crap out of me. My wife and I heard this song on the radio a month or so ago, and we were both impressed and completely stumped as to who it was, because it didn’t sound like any band we could name, but we couldn’t believe that an unknown could pull that off. (Though it wouldn’t be the first time — see S.) And when we found out it was Disturbed, we were — well, Disturbed. Because that means that all this time, we could have been enjoying the work of a singer that talented — but instead, we had to listen to him shout “Ooo- WAHAHAHA!” So this also represents all the great singers who choose to scream instead of sing, and thus lose me.
E is for Melissa Etheridge. I could replace this with a half-dozen other women (And maybe I should do a Great Women of Rock list) who are tough to include on my top list because of their musical style not quite being rock enough or not quite my preference, but their voices being wonderful and enchanting. So for Sarah McLachlan and Annie Lennox and Joss Stone and Cyndi Lauper et al, here you are.
H is for Rob Halford. I like Judas Priest. I just don’t like them as much as Iron Maiden. And those two bands feel very, very similar to me. And I don’t like Halford’s singing as much as I like Bruce Dickinson’s. But there’s not a whole lot of difference between them, and given time, my opinion might change. So here he is, in the reserves, just waiting for Wally Pipp to have a slump. (That may be the only baseball reference I have made in 100 posts on this blog. So enjoy that.)
L is for Aaron Lewis. Staind is a great band — one of my very favorites. And if I liked Tool or Soundgarden or especially Alice in Chains a little less, Lewis would be in my top 20. But he is definitely the imitator, and Layne Staley the originator. So here he is. Though if it came down to acoustic covers, this guy might take the whole thing.
First, the best song by the band:
And here he is live, singing almost as well as my very favorite:
M is for Meatloaf. Sure, he’s cheesy — cheesier than anyone since Liberace. But have you heard this guy sing?
P is for John Popper. Didn’t make the top list because Blues Traveler is as much blues and folk as it is rock, and because part of the reason I am so impressed by John Popper is because that guy is the best goddamn harmonica player of my generation. But you know what? He’s a hell of a singer, too.
S is for Brent Smith. Shinedown blew my mind when I first heard them, entirely because I couldn’t believe anyone could sing like that. And then when I heard the band’s original music, I couldn’t believe how good they were. And if they’d been around ten years longer, or if I liked their recent albums as much as their first one, he’d be up in the top 20. For now, here he is, blowing my mind (And incidentally, making Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose song this is, sound like shit.)
S is also for Sting. Sting was on my top 20 until I remembered the Scorpions; I will always be a bigger fan of heavy metal than new wave. But Sting’s got a wonderful voice, and an amazing range, and I like a lot of his songs. So here you go. I probably should go with “Roxanne,” his most unique and recognizable performance; or “Every Breath You Take,” his most famous; but I really like this one.
W is for Weiland. Damn him for dying. Bless him for performances like this. And STP for writing this music.
So there you have it; the ones who almost but not quite made it onto my Best Singers In Rock list. As before, comments and arguments are welcome.
Tomorrow: Best Voices in Rap.