The Greatest Singer of All time:

#53
This guy, from the first time I heard him when we were both teens, is my favorite rock vocalist. And he's still going strong as he approaches 70 this May: This vid is from a year ago.

 
#60
Where would you rate one of my favorite rock vocalists, who I might add is still touring at age 70 some 50 plus years after starting with The Guess Who?

That was wonderful. And he had a flu he said? I heard another performance of the same song from last year and he was maybe a little tired sounding but still singing beautifully.
 
#69
In popular music!

in no particular order:

Female

Whitney
Streisand
Shirley Bassey
Anne Wilson
Sarah Vaughan
Mariah Carey
Linda Ronstadt
Aretha Franklin
Celine Dion (not a fan but undeniably great pipes)


Male

Mercury
Steve Perry
Luther Vandross
Stevie Wonder
Mick Hucknall (from Simply Red)
Sinatra (need a crooner here)


Female vocal trinity in opera

Birgit Nilsson
Joan Sutherland
Monserat Caballe

Male vocal trinity in opera

Björling
Corelli
Pavarotti
 
#70
In popular music!

in no particular order:

Female

Whitney
Streisand
Shirley Bassey
Anne Wilson
Sarah Vaughan
Mariah Carey
Linda Ronstadt
Aretha Franklin
Celine Dion (not a fan but undeniably great pipes)


Male

Mercury
Steve Perry
Luther Vandross
Stevie Wonder
Mick Hucknall (from Simply Red)
Sinatra (need a crooner here)


Female vocal trinity in opera

Birgit Nilsson
Joan Sutherland
Monserat Caballe

Male vocal trinity in opera

Björling
Corelli
Pavarotti
Bjorling! Nice!
 
#78
Freddie wasn't very consistent live. He was kinda like Cornell: God like in the studio and a trifle underwhelming live. On the other hand, you have someone like Dio who could nail his tenor C all the way into his 60s, show after show. It depends what you give more weight to: studio or live. I tend to look at a singer's performance live. And when I say performance, I mean the quality of the singing, not performing as in jumping around. Singers who have rendered demanding material very well over a long career would be Dio, Russell Allen, Annie Haslam, Paul Rodgers, Stevie Wonder and many others. Engel Humperdinck doesn't really sing a demanding repertoire but his voice has held up well too. And yeah, this is just rock/pop. If I included jazz, I would absolutely go for Ella Fitzgerald
Clearly you've never seen live aid 85 o_O
Maybe every concert wasn't pristine, but when you can easily out-do studio recordings, you're great live.

Chester Bennington (as far as rock goes) deserves a mention too. RIP :(
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
#79
If you are only talking rock and roll, as frontmen, Plant and Mercury are at the top.

If you are talking across ALL genres... then there is no one right answer imo.

You've got Placido Domingo and my favorite Beniamino Gigli, and then how can you not consider Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, and while you are at it what about Jackie Evancho or Sia from down under?
Let’s not forget Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and Nat King Cole
 
#85
Clearly you've never seen live aid 85 o_O
Maybe every concert wasn't pristine, but when you can easily out-do studio recordings, you're great live.

Chester Bennington (as far as rock goes) deserves a mention too. RIP :(
Sorry exactly where did he outdo Rhapsody live vis a vis studio? Even in the good shows like Montreal he was trying to force it with too much power compared to the studio balance. That is usually a sign of lack of confidence in the execution. And as opposed to all of this, somebody like Jeff Buckley had no problem reproducing extreme rasp head voice sustains live while simultaneously playing guitar. Sorry, is there any song in Mercury's repertoire that's as demanding as Grace? Of course Freddie is ****ing great but he is not undoubtedly the greatest ever as per OP's claim and is heavily overrated.
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
#88
Before I get to my picks, if you're trying to unravel "the secrets" behind a popular (read: not classically trained) vocalist with some kind of sciency analysis or nitpicking a few technical flaws of this or that performance, chances are you're missing what really makes him/her great, and the ongoing gabfest about Mercury is a good case in point. By purely objective standards Freddie despite his fetching timbre was never a powerhouse vocalist, nor could he plumb the depths like, say, Redding or Josplin. Rather his strengths resided in his born showmanship and sheer charisma that could get the crowd to identify with his flamboyant persona (a remarkable feat, BTW, given his thinly veiled sexuality and the prevailing homophobia at the time) rather than simply cheer along with him as in most middlebrow music events that in fact serve as opportunities to relieve vent-up corporate stress. Obviously that iconic Live Aid performance is the most famous and dramatic example of Freddie's gifts as a performer extraordinaire.

Anyway in any discussion of the greatest singers I always add the disclaimer that I'm talking about candidates in Western music only, as I refuse to reinforce the narrative that such luminaries as Umm Kulthum and Bhimsen Joshi can be regarded as mere footnotes in what is supposed to be a comprehensive survey of all of the world's musical traditions. Now within those parameters, my admittedly biased answer remains Callas. The stock qualifier is to describe her as the greatest singing actress or something else along the line, often by dilettantes who like to show off their faux sophistication but also by cognoscenti who usually fail to explain why we're supposed to anatomize technique apart from the rest of her or any other performer's singing like a plastic surgeon rather than take a holistic approach which I think most would ultimately agree is the only valid one in judging any art. And the implication here is that her voice was somehow a deficient instrument that detracted rather than enhanced, which is of course belied by her near universal acclaim as the most commanding force of nature in the history of recorded opera.

This bone-chilling performance never fails to stop time for me:


(Read user Shahrdad's comment as to the origin of this recording. It almost never happened!)

Compare this to her earlier recording which is not only more vocally secure (as the typical nitpicker would put it) but also sounds more mellow and even ravishing, but there's no question which one I'd rather hear Aida sing on the stage. Who needs an immaculate voice like Tebaldi's or Sutherland's when you can bare your soul like that?

But there's one other name I can't dismiss as easily, which brings me to....

The first lady of song. Ella Fitzgerald.
Ella might have been the most technically proficient vocalist in jazz history, but Billie was the greatest singer. The difference being, Ella sang about pain, whereas Billie sang pain by allowing it to become an insoluble part of her because she lived it over and over and over. (I should add that Maria wasn't so lucky in her personal life herself, a tragic trait shared by these two titans.)

This isn't among Holiday's most famous performances and her voice which was never big to begin with had withered to the point of no return, but to me it remains one of her most sublime, recorded just a year before her untimely passing:


Despite my love for both artists nothing in Lady Ella's discography speaks as much to me as this or the rest of Lady Day's greatest hits. And let me end with one related thought. When A Fantastic Woman won the Foreign Language Film Oscar last night (you may have seen it already but if not I highly recommend it) I gave a shout-out to lead actress Daniela Vega's own performance of the famous "Ombra mai fù" which closes the film on a note of sweet defiance amid all the ugliness which preceded it. That's despite the fact that most vocal coaches would quibble with her voice which, while classically trained (her phrasing is mostly on cue), is too slight to even qualify as countertenor by typical standards. But then before going to bed I listened to all the recordings on Amazon Prime of Handel's oft-overworked aria by distinguished classical performers for comparison, and while I don't discount the possibility of having been conditioned by what I saw on the screen I can honestly say I found Vega's version more moving than that of all the marquee names except maybe for one or two (including the redoubtable Renee Fleming's).

Now I think I can point to my posting history when I say I'm a serious classical aficionado, and based on last night's experience I can say this for Billie: one could argue she's an even greater artist than Callas in that her art remains more accessible than the operatic soprano's which requires more strenuous effort to fathom from all but the most gifted listeners. Much like Vega's performance has a certain immediacy that I found lacking in most of the professional ones, Billie's intimacy perhaps in the long run outshines Maria's volcanic personality that can overwhelm us except in our most heightened awareness.

But then I think that's a false dichotomy we shouldn't trap ourselves into. An inclusive and, yes, holistic way of saying the same thing would be that Holiday is the girl next door we can always lean on in our times of weakness and vulnerability while Callas remains the goddess beyond compare who can help us transcend them. One belongs to the streets while the other resides in the heavens, and each can show us the way depending on our situation and disposition. And it's probably the latter of mine exerting its influence that I tend to look to the gods more than at my fellow brothers and sisters, which in turn explains my misanthropy even though I try to resist it.

And that concludes my dissertation on this topic. :cool:
 
#89
Before I get to my picks, if you're trying to unravel "the secrets" behind a popular (read: not classically trained) vocalist with some kind of sciency analysis or nitpicking a few technical flaws of this or that performance, chances are you're missing what really makes him/her great, and the ongoing gabfest about Mercury is a good case in point. By purely objective standards Freddie despite his fetching timbre was never a powerhouse vocalist, nor could he plumb the depths like, say, Redding or Josplin. Rather his strengths resided in his born showmanship and sheer charisma that could get the crowd to identify with his flamboyant persona (a remarkable feat, BTW, given his thinly veiled sexuality and the prevailing homophobia at the time) rather than simply cheer along with him as in most middlebrow music events that in fact serve as opportunities to relieve vent-up corporate stress. Obviously that iconic Live Aid performance is the most famous and dramatic example of Freddie's gifts as a performer extraordinaire.

Anyway in any discussion of the greatest singers I always add the disclaimer that I'm talking about candidates in Western music only, as I refuse to reinforce the narrative that such luminaries as Umm Kulthum and Bhimsen Joshi can be regarded as mere footnotes in what is supposed to be a comprehensive survey of all of the world's musical traditions. Now within those parameters, my admittedly biased answer remains Callas. The stock qualifier is to describe her as the greatest singing actress or something else along the line, often by dilettantes who like to show off their faux sophistication but also by cognoscenti who usually fail to explain why we're supposed to anatomize technique apart from the rest of her or any other performer's singing like a plastic surgeon rather than take a holistic approach which I think most would ultimately agree is the only valid one in judging any art. And the implication here is that her voice was somehow a deficient instrument that detracted rather than enhanced, which is of course belied by her near universal acclaim as the most commanding force of nature in the history of recorded opera.

This bone-chilling performance never fails to stop time for me:


(Read user Shahrdad's comment as to the origin of this recording. It almost never happened!)

Compare this to her earlier recording which is not only more vocally secure (as the typical nitpicker would put it) but also sounds more mellow and even ravishing, but there's no question which one I'd rather hear Aida sing on the stage. Who needs an immaculate voice like Tebaldi's or Sutherland's when you can bare your soul like that?

But there's one other name I can't dismiss as easily, which brings me to....



Ella might have been the most technically proficient vocalist in jazz history, but Billie was the greatest singer. The difference being, Ella sang about pain, whereas Billie sang pain by allowing it to become an insoluble part of her because she lived it over and over and over. (I should add that Maria wasn't so lucky in her personal life herself, a tragic trait shared by these two titans.)

This isn't among Holiday's most famous performances and her voice which was never big to begin with had withered to the point of no return, but to me it remains one of her most sublime, recorded just a year before her untimely passing:


Despite my love for both artists nothing in Lady Ella's discography speaks as much to me as this or the rest of Lady Day's greatest hits. And let me end with one related thought. When A Fantastic Woman won the Foreign Language Film Oscar last night (you may have seen it already but if not I highly recommend it) I gave a shout-out to lead actress Daniela Vega's own performance of the famous "Ombra mai fù" which closes the film on a note of sweet defiance amid all the ugliness which preceded it. That's despite the fact that most vocal coaches would quibble with her voice which, while classically trained (her phrasing is mostly on cue), is too slight to even qualify as countertenor by typical standards. But then before going to bed I listened to all the recordings on Amazon Prime of Handel's oft-overworked aria by distinguished classical performers for comparison, and while I don't discount the possibility of having been conditioned by what I saw on the screen I can honestly say I found Vega's version more moving than that of all the marquee names except maybe for one or two (including the redoubtable Renee Fleming's).

Now I think I can point to my posting history when I say I'm a serious classical aficionado, and based on last night's experience I can say this for Billie: one could argue she's an even greater artist than Callas in that her art remains more accessible than the operatic soprano's which requires more strenuous effort to fathom from all but the most gifted listeners. Much like Vega's performance has a certain immediacy that I found lacking in most of the professional ones, Billie's intimacy perhaps in the long run outshines Maria's volcanic personality that can overwhelm us except in our most heightened awareness.

But then I think that's a false dichotomy we shouldn't trap ourselves into. An inclusive and, yes, holistic way of saying the same thing would be that Holiday is the girl next door we can always lean on in our times of weakness and vulnerability while Callas remains the goddess beyond compare who can help us transcend them. One belongs to the streets while the other resides in the heavens, and each can show us the way depending on our situation and disposition. And it's probably the latter of mine exerting its influence that I tend to look to the gods more than at my fellow brothers and sisters, which in turn explains my misanthropy even though I try to resist it.

And that concludes my dissertation on this topic. :cool:
Well when someone takes an untenable position (untenable because there simply isn't ONE undisputed greatest ever singer), I will be forced to 'nitpick' and provide the counterpoint to the fellato fest. I am sorry that my 'gabfest' irritated you but as long as there are fanboys, I will regrettably have more opportunities to indulge in said nitpicking. I have seen Shreya Ghoshal pull off breathless sargams live. Can any rock/pop singer do that? No, because they are entirely different styles of music. There is no one greatest ever singer. I will gladly vote for Freddie as one of the greatest while maintaining that he wasn't amongst the best of all times LIVE.
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
#91
Well when someone takes an untenable position (untenable because there simply isn't ONE undisputed greatest ever singer), I will be forced to 'nitpick' and provide the counterpoint to the fellato fest. I am sorry that my 'gabfest' irritated you but as long as there are fanboys, I will regrettably have more opportunities to indulge in said nitpicking. I have seen Shreya Ghoshal pull off breathless sargams live. Can any rock/pop singer do that? No, because they are entirely different styles of music. There is no one greatest ever singer. I will gladly vote for Freddie as one of the greatest while maintaining that he wasn't amongst the best of all times LIVE.
Not sure how you got that impression. For the record I wasn't irritated at all nor was I singling you out regarding the "gabfest." If you go back and reread my post you'll see that I actually agreed with you on how tricky it is to name one greatest singer across genres and also on our unfortunate tendency to block out non-Western music. And FYI I actually fell in love with Hindustani classical music way back when I took an intro ethnomusicology course (one of the few useful things I ever did in college), and still keep MP3s of a couple ragas Puriya that knocked my socks off back then. (I was studying for my finals at the time and starting to doze off while playing this CD of exam materials on headphones at the library, but immediately sat up and listened when the ragas came on. That's how blown away I was.)

That said I'm afraid I'm not at all familiar with Ghoshal's music and I suspect neither are most posters here, so feel free to post those sargams if you feel like it. :D
 
#94
Not sure how you got that impression. For the record I wasn't irritated at all nor was I singling you out regarding the "gabfest." If you go back and reread my post you'll see that I actually agreed with you on how tricky it is to name one greatest singer across genres and also on our unfortunate tendency to block out non-Western music. And FYI I actually fell in love with Hindustani classical music way back when I took an intro ethnomusicology course (one of the few useful things I ever did in college), and still keep MP3s of a couple ragas Puriya that knocked my socks off back then. (I was studying for my finals at the time and starting to doze off while playing this CD of exam materials on headphones at the library, but immediately sat up and listened when the ragas came on. That's how blown away I was.)

That said I'm afraid I'm not at all familiar with Ghoshal's music and I suspect neither are most posters here, so feel free to post those sargams if you feel like it. :D
Well, since I was pretty much the main guy offering specific criticism of Freddie, I assumed your comment was directed at me but if it wasn't so, then it's all good. It's all good even otherwise, I don't mind if you do get irritated. ;)

Re Shreya Ghoshal, she sings film music and not Hindustani, but is well trained, so she can incorporate Hindustani techniques like sargams in some of her songs. Listen from 3:11 in the below clip, and the part from 3:40 is where she doesn't have much if any space to catch breath as she executes really rapid formations. You MAY be familiar with the meaning of 'sargasm' since you say you love Hindustani, but just in case and for the benefit of anybody else who may be interested, it's somewhat like vocalising by calling out the notes. Not something that Western singers seem to do (unless I am woefully misinformed about this), but it's there in both Hindustani (sargam) and Carnatic (swaram).



I guess you won't exactly find this blowing your socks off if you have already heard Hindustani, but by film music standards, it's a very high standard of proficiency. Even harder to believe when you get to watch it live.

Puriya Dhanashri is my favourite raag in Hindustani, probably equates to Panthuvarali in Carnatic.
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
#95
Well, since I was pretty much the main guy offering specific criticism of Freddie, I assumed your comment was directed at me but if it wasn't so, then it's all good. It's all good even otherwise, I don't mind if you do get irritated. ;)

Re Shreya Ghoshal, she sings film music and not Hindustani, but is well trained, so she can incorporate Hindustani techniques like sargams in some of her songs. Listen from 3:11 in the below clip, and the part from 3:40 is where she doesn't have much if any space to catch breath as she executes really rapid formations. You MAY be familiar with the meaning of 'sargasm' since you say you love Hindustani, but just in case and for the benefit of anybody else who may be interested, it's somewhat like vocalising by calling out the notes. Not something that Western singers seem to do (unless I am woefully misinformed about this), but it's there in both Hindustani (sargam) and Carnatic (swaram).



I guess you won't exactly find this blowing your socks off if you have already heard Hindustani, but by film music standards, it's a very high standard of proficiency. Even harder to believe when you get to watch it live.

Puriya Dhanashri is my favourite raag in Hindustani, probably equates to Panthuvarali in Carnatic.
Nobody worth taking seriously names Freddie the greatest singer ever in any context, so I took all the criticism as a given. I just wanted to point out that dismissing him or any other popular singer for his technical flaws misses the whole point of why we listen to rock & roll in the first place. In a pure technical contest even the likes of Whitney, Mariah and Celine would be no match against top-drawer voice majors at conservatories worldwide. Ditto vs. the best jazz singers in improvisation and phrasing. Rather we listen to guys and gals like Freddie because, for lack of better terms, their "normal" voice generally ensures that we can relate to them better, and gifted performers also have this stage presence that can heighten the effect. The latter is where Freddie really excelled, arguably over all other frontmen in rock history (loosely speaking) as the world witnessed in his justly celebrated Live Aid performance.

And you're right, in Western music it's rare for singers to sing out the notes rather than the text of a composition, at least not as a wholly separate practice as is the case in Indian classical music. Of course there's no direct Western equivalent of a raga, either. Speaking of which I still remember reading this funny anecdote in the textbook for that ethnomusicology class where an Indian listener tagged along with a Western friend to attend a concert performance of Handel's Messiah, and afterwards the former attendee was asked what he thought about it, at which point he replied (I'm obviously paraphrasing here), "It's nice, but rather monotonous. It's all the same raga." :p

As for that Ghoshal performance... frankly a tad too poppy for me. But that's probably because I've not been exposed to it much. :D And I can certainly see she's very proficient. I'm sure she could handle more challenging music rather comfortably when called upon.

And FYI I'm a passable dilettante at best when it comes to Indian classical tradition. Those terms I'd still need to look up before I could have any sort of intelligible conversation. :oops:

I'll leave you with something you might enjoy (yes, that's a real guy singing in the high register, obviously a countertenor):


Google "vivaldi jaroussky" if you want more superhuman feats of vocal virtuosity which I doubt even real-life castrati like Farinelli and Senesino ever surpassed. You're welcome. :cool:
 
#97
Nobody worth taking seriously names Freddie the greatest singer ever in any context, so I took all the criticism as a given. I just wanted to point out that dismissing him or any other popular singer for his technical flaws misses the whole point of why we listen to rock & roll in the first place. In a pure technical contest even the likes of Whitney, Mariah and Celine would be no match against top-drawer voice majors at conservatories worldwide. Ditto vs. the best jazz singers in improvisation and phrasing. Rather we listen to guys and gals like Freddie because, for lack of better terms, their "normal" voice generally ensures that we can relate to them better, and gifted performers also have this stage presence that can heighten the effect. The latter is where Freddie really excelled, arguably over all other frontmen in rock history (loosely speaking) as the world witnessed in his justly celebrated Live Aid performance.
Again, I wasn't writing him off or dismissing him but there happen to be singers working IN rock/pop music who have a large following, who have pushed their voice harder and who still fared better live. Dio if anything sang even more aggressively than Freddie and his voice was in fine fettle all the way into his 60s. If I am not mistaken, Freddie struggled with nodules for many years and the AIDS layoff helped him in the sense he was finally able to stay away from touring, his voice healed and he gave one of his best ever performances on Show Must Go On. How I wish he could have had the chance to render it live. My objection is only with the way the OP is framed. And as for your last sentence, well, if the topic is framed as best ENTERTAINER in music, then I would put Freddie right up there behind only maybe Michael Jackson. So it's not that I do not recognise his stage presence but if it says singing, I am going to give maximum emphasis to the singing part of it.

By the way, it's not like Whitney/Mariah/Celine are the epitome of perfection in pop either and they all had flaws in their technique which caught up with them at different stages in their career. So again, what they brought to the table in terms of the 'entertainment' quotient mattered a lot more. In the case of Celine Dion, certainly singing on the Titanic soundtrack must have helped. I suppose you could say I have a problem with unsustainable technique being advertised to the masses post which you see all these young aspirants trying to sing like Whitney on reality TV shows and which will only wreck their voice down the line. It's such a pity that Adele had to stop performing but she was using way too much chest so it's not altogether a surprise. Of course, I don't blame Celine/Whitney/Mariah for bringing their shtick and trying to get the most out of it. The belt obsession has gone so far that even a trained Broadway singer like Idina Menzel has to do it and then when she can't hit those notes live (nobody can scream out an unsupported fifth octave note over and over), has to transpose the songs down.

And you're right, in Western music it's rare for singers to sing out the notes rather than the text of a composition, at least not as a wholly separate practice as is the case in Indian classical music. Of course there's no direct Western equivalent of a raga, either. Speaking of which I still remember reading this funny anecdote in the textbook for that ethnomusicology class where an Indian listener tagged along with a Western friend to attend a concert performance of Handel's Messiah, and afterwards the former attendee was asked what he thought about it, at which point he replied (I'm obviously paraphrasing here), "It's nice, but rather monotonous. It's all the same raga." :p
I get that from my father sometimes, in fact often, and I will tell him he is not listening to the chords. But it's kinda tough to get Indians out of their melody hardwiring. I was exposed to the work of the composer Ilayaraja in my teens and he combined Indian melody with Western harmony (yes!) so brilliantly that I started accepting harmony also in my 'hardwiring' and it was that which triggered a curiosity about Western music within me.


I'll leave you with something you might enjoy (yes, that's a real guy singing in the high register, obviously a countertenor):


Google "vivaldi jaroussky" if you want more superhuman feats of vocal virtuosity which I doubt even real-life castrati like Farinelli and Senesino ever surpassed. You're welcome. :cool:
Ha, sounds interesting, will get it as soon as I can. For now, need to rush for my morning round of tennis/calorie burning.
 
#98
Ha ha, that clip was amazing. For sure I would have assumed the singer to be a mezzo/soprano had I not seen the video. Very intricate singing, must listen to more baroque.
 
Wow, best of all time? Eesh... that is very difficult. It really depends on the genre. On the women's side, for me, it is a tie between Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick. There is nobody close regardless of genre on the women's side, IMHO.

On the men's side... it's way more difficult for me. In rock, my top two would be Rob Halford and Freddie Mercury. In R&B/Soul, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Ray Charles. In pop, Michael Jackson and George Michael. Unlike the women, I just can't pick an outright winner for the men.
 
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