The Greatest Singer of All time:

I never got a chance to see Freddie live, but I did see Cornell during his peak years in a medium-sized venue. Pre Autotune. He was impressive to me. Nailed almost every note. So much power and emotion flowing through him and the audience felt it. It was electric. Fierce.
I am sure he was brilliant on his 'on' days as was Freddie. As I have stressed a number of times in the discussion, I don't doubt for a moment that Cornell/Mercury were great singers and I am a huge fan of them. That said, they were a little less brilliant live than in the studio (looking only at the vocals) imo. And I don't say that to knock them. It's just that once somebody declares a singer, any singer, the greatest without any qualifiers added, the natural counterpoint is to mention the things they could not do that some other singers could. There is really no one greatest singer.

I saw this German metal band The Ocean at a small club in Mumbai a month or so back. The vocalist could sustain fry screams for long enough that the audience started whistling/whooping and didn't lose pitch even when he crowdsurfed (he did this again in Bangalore a few days later and this time a musician friend of mine was attending and also validated my observation). It was hands down the best rock/metal show I have ever seen but how many people outside devoted metal fans would have even heard of Ocean? I sincerely believe the media cajoles if not coerces us to rave only about a few big name artists that the labels want them to push at the expense of many other talented artists. The saving grace here is at least Freddie truly was a brilliant singer and Queen was one of the all time great bands which is more than I can say about AXL or GNR which is again a media favourite and a product of assiduous promotion by Alan Niven. Vernon Reid was so much better as a guitarist than Slash so why does this dude get so much attention. Gary Moore could outshred him and outblues him both and easily and yet we are sold the notion that Slash was one of the greatest guitarists and asked to believe it.

I also saw Dio in concert when he was younger. Great voice, but IMO, Cornell was better live.
We will have to part ways on that then. I think I value vocal delivery more than stage control and charisma for sure. Jeff Buckley wasn't the most charismatic singer out there but there are so many performances out there of him again and again besting his already incredible studio cuts. To me, that does count for a lot.
 

Azure

Legend
Bade Ghulam Ali, Bhimsen Joshi, Balamurali Krishna, Arayakudi... Classical singers, all could sing 4 octaves without a falsetto. A rare vocal quality and all could sustain concerts lasting over 4 hours at over 80 years of age. They all started giving performances when they were 4-5 years old. Prodigies.
 
Bade Ghulam Ali, Bhimsen Joshi, Balamurali Krishna, Arayakudi... Classical singers, all could sing 4 octaves without a falsetto. A rare vocal quality and all could sustain concerts lasting over 4 hours at over 80 years of age. They all started giving performances when they were 4-5 years old. Prodigies.
Wow, thanks for mentioning those names. I am a fan too. Balamurali wasn't just a singer but an institution.
 

onehandbh

Legend
We will have to part ways on that then. I think I value vocal delivery more than stage control and charisma for sure. Jeff Buckley wasn't the most charismatic singer out there but there are so many performances out there of him again and again besting his already incredible studio cuts. To me, that does count for a lot.
I think I value audience connection and communication of the song's message through vocal delivery the most.

I am probably biased a bit towards Cornell because I liked his songs a little bit more. I also like the sound of his voice more as well. I saw Dio in concert right after Holy Diver came out. I'm surprised my parents let an elementary school-aged kid go to a metal concert with a general admission mosh-pit ticket. I don't think they quite knew where I was going or the kind of music it was. Being tiny, I was able to squirm may way to the front at most concerts to get right up at the stage.
 
I think I value audience connection and communication of the song's message through vocal delivery the most.

I am probably biased a bit towards Cornell because I liked his songs a little bit more. I also like the sound of his voice more as well. I saw Dio in concert right after Holy Diver came out. I'm surprised my parents let an elementary school-aged kid go to a metal concert with a general admission mosh-pit ticket. I don't think they quite knew where I was going or the kind of music it was. Being tiny, I was able to squirm may way to the front at most concerts to get right up at the stage.
I cannot say, obviously what the audience connection to Dio was like in the specific concert you attended. But in my experience, all great singers, when they are on, can have the audience eating out of their hand. I have seen Bruce, Klaus, the Ocean guy, reigning Bollywood playback queen Shreya Ghoshal and they all achieved this, so neither genre nor culture is especially a bar to it (as long as the audience assembled for the show is one that relates to the artist per se and that is usually the case in live shows). So I am not convinced that Freddie or Chris were better at establishing a connection with the audience than other great singers. They did achieve this with very large numbers of audience but that is a function of popularity which has more to do with promotion and the accessibility of the songwriting itself. If you put Diamanda Galas on prime time TV, it IS going to turn off a lot of people just based off how weird her music is. Doesn't make her less of a singer.
 

junior74

G.O.A.T.
David Bowie is slightly underrated as a singer in my ears.

Peter Gabriel is right up there with the very best. So much character.

Ian Anderson was ombeleebel, too.
 
Had to web search for that.
It was like opening a door to something new.
You should try some Indian film music, the old stuff especially which had a lot of melody and more connections to Indian classical music. It will be a good gateway to the hardcore stuff as it is not only accessible but also has some Western elements and influences to make it easier to get into.
 

BarNotchky

Semi-Pro
Bade Ghulam Ali, Bhimsen Joshi, Balamurali Krishna, Arayakudi... Classical singers, all could sing 4 octaves without a falsetto. A rare vocal quality and all could sustain concerts lasting over 4 hours at over 80 years of age. They all started giving performances when they were 4-5 years old. Prodigies.
Thanks for posting. I'm not at all familiar with these artists but am always interested in broadening my horizons. Could you point me to some of your favorite examples of their prodigal range?
 

Azure

Legend
Thanks for posting. I'm not at all familiar with these artists but am always interested in broadening my horizons. Could you point me to some of your favorite examples of their prodigal range?
I will be very happy to share, but I am finding it hard. To a ear that is not trained to listen to this type of music, a gentle introduction is necessary. I will compile a few after I consider the recommendations and share.
 

onehandbh

Legend
I cannot say, obviously what the audience connection to Dio was like in the specific concert you attended. But in my experience, all great singers, when they are on, can have the audience eating out of their hand. I have seen Bruce, Klaus, the Ocean guy, reigning Bollywood playback queen Shreya Ghoshal and they all achieved this, so neither genre nor culture is especially a bar to it (as long as the audience assembled for the show is one that relates to the artist per se and that is usually the case in live shows). So I am not convinced that Freddie or Chris were better at establishing a connection with the audience than other great singers. They did achieve this with very large numbers of audience but that is a function of popularity which has more to do with promotion and the accessibility of the songwriting itself. If you put Diamanda Galas on prime time TV, it IS going to turn off a lot of people just based off how weird her music is. Doesn't make her less of a singer.
Just to be clear, I am not claiming that Cornell is the greatest, just that for me, in the genre of rock, I personally enjoyed his performance more than most of the others.
 

onehandbh

Legend
Bade Ghulam Ali, Bhimsen Joshi, Balamurali Krishna, Arayakudi... Classical singers, all could sing 4 octaves without a falsetto. A rare vocal quality and all could sustain concerts lasting over 4 hours at over 80 years of age. They all started giving performances when they were 4-5 years old. Prodigies.
btw, love that this thread is introducting me to new music and things to listen for.

Were the high notes actually without a falsetto? Or was it a "supported" falsetto? Most untrained, non-professional singers, when they sing in falsetto, the resonance stays mostly in the head and there is too much tension from the neck on down instead of having a fuller resonance and use of the body in the sound.

My falsetto? Scraping your nails on a chalkboard would probably sound better.
 

Azure

Legend
btw, love that this thread is introducting me to new music and things to listen for.

Were the high notes actually without a falsetto? Or was it a "supported" falsetto? Most untrained, non-professional singers, when they sing in falsetto, the resonance stays mostly in the head and there is too much tension from the neck on down instead of having a fuller resonance and use of the body in the sound.

My falsetto? Scraping your nails on a chalkboard would probably sound better.
Falsetto, I believe, is an 'Operatic' feature. The quality of voice here is how long one can sustain over the octaves without a tremble in the voice.
 

junior74

G.O.A.T.
even David Bowie said he considers himself a song stylist rather than a true singer
Many "true singers" are boring in my ears. What is a "true singer", anyway?

It's very common among artists to struggle with self judgement.
 
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Just to be clear, I am not claiming that Cornell is the greatest, just that for me, in the genre of rock, I personally enjoyed his performance more than most of the others.
Yeah, that's fair enough. As I said, my earlier comments were just a push back against the extravagant premise of the thread.
 
Falsetto, I believe, is an 'Operatic' feature. The quality of voice here is how long one can sustain over the octaves without a tremble in the voice.
Opera, that is real opera and not singers like Sarah Brightman who produce an operatic sound behind a mic, does not use falsetto. Some of the soprano notes in the sixth octave may be in whistle voice but even those are quite possibly just a super head voice. The reason for that is a falsetto tone cannot be projected audibly across the hall without a mic and opera singers don't use a mic. Further, what you call a tremble in the sustain is essentially vibrato and all operatic singing has vibrato. That doesn't make it falsetto. It is possible that some Indian pedagogues use that term but that's not how it is used in Western. A falsetto is an unsupported note and therefore far more likely to not have vibrato. All opera is sung only in modal voice, at least as far as I am aware and with the possible exception of whistle register for sixth octave notes. What you are referring to about Carnatic and Hindustani singers is called a straight note, where they sustain long notes without a vibrato. Some of the older female folk rock singers do this, like Ann Wilson in How Deep It Goes. The older male rock singers from Britain as well like Gilmour, Jon Anderson, Rick Davies etc.

Broadway uses the term straight note singing but I have usually found it is just a more restrained vibrato than opera. I have only heard Idina Menzel sing true straight notes in Defying Gravity and Let It Go and those I don't like at all, to borrow another poster's expression, it's like nails to a chalkboard. Not at all like a soft but still taan in Hindustani.
 

ollinger

G.O.A.T.
Most "true singers" are boring in my ears.

It's very common among artists to struggle with self judgement
Bowie, like most pop-rock singers, was not a singer at all. He essentially spoke the lyrics, holding the occasional note a bit here and there. I think Bowie was being refreshingly honest about what he was. That you're bored by people who can actually sing suggests you have particular and limited preferences about "music."
 

onehandbh

Legend
Opera, that is real opera and not singers like Sarah Brightman who produce an operatic sound behind a mic, does not use falsetto. Some of the soprano notes in the sixth octave may be in whistle voice but even those are quite possibly just a super head voice. The reason for that is a falsetto tone cannot be projected audibly across the hall without a mic and opera singers don't use a mic. Further, what you call a tremble in the sustain is essentially vibrato and all operatic singing has vibrato. That doesn't make it falsetto. It is possible that some Indian pedagogues use that term but that's not how it is used in Western. A falsetto is an unsupported note and therefore far more likely to not have vibrato. All opera is sung only in modal voice, at least as far as I am aware and with the possible exception of whistle register for sixth octave notes. What you are referring to about Carnatic and Hindustani singers is called a straight note, where they sustain long notes without a vibrato. Some of the older female folk rock singers do this, like Ann Wilson in How Deep It Goes. The older male rock singers from Britain as well like Gilmour, Jon Anderson, Rick Davies etc.

Broadway uses the term straight note singing but I have usually found it is just a more restrained vibrato than opera. I have only heard Idina Menzel sing true straight notes in Defying Gravity and Let It Go and those I don't like at all, to borrow another poster's expression, it's like nails to a chalkboard. Not at all like a soft but still taan in Hindustani.
You are so knowledgeable about singing. Do you work in the music industry?
 

Azure

Legend
Opera, that is real opera and not singers like Sarah Brightman who produce an operatic sound behind a mic, does not use falsetto. Some of the soprano notes in the sixth octave may be in whistle voice but even those are quite possibly just a super head voice. The reason for that is a falsetto tone cannot be projected audibly across the hall without a mic and opera singers don't use a mic. Further, what you call a tremble in the sustain is essentially vibrato and all operatic singing has vibrato. That doesn't make it falsetto. It is possible that some Indian pedagogues use that term but that's not how it is used in Western. A falsetto is an unsupported note and therefore far more likely to not have vibrato. All opera is sung only in modal voice, at least as far as I am aware and with the possible exception of whistle register for sixth octave notes. What you are referring to about Carnatic and Hindustani singers is called a straight note, where they sustain long notes without a vibrato. Some of the older female folk rock singers do this, like Ann Wilson in How Deep It Goes. The older male rock singers from Britain as well like Gilmour, Jon Anderson, Rick Davies etc.

Broadway uses the term straight note singing but I have usually found it is just a more restrained vibrato than opera. I have only heard Idina Menzel sing true straight notes in Defying Gravity and Let It Go and those I don't like at all, to borrow another poster's expression, it's like nails to a chalkboard. Not at all like a soft but still taan in Hindustani.
Thanks this is indeed a very intriguing topic. I am not familiar with the opera. Again, I am more familiar with Carnatic terms in music. Yes, a high octave should have a 'shuddha' or a straight note without a dilution or even the slightest possibility of slipping into another note or even a half. That would change the Raga itself. I have seen that happening several times with lesser mortals of singer's who attempt higher octaves without the ability. Heck MS tried it once and couldn't descend on her own high octave and had to be brought down carefully by the accompanying violinist in one curated concert!
 
You are so knowledgeable about singing. Do you work in the music industry?
Nah, I can kinda sorta sing though not a professional singer. But I have a friend who is a full time musician, a very good singer and guitarist and also a guitar teacher. So he taught me all these terms, I mean, not to blindly regurgitate them but what they really mean. Back when he was less busy, I used to bother him with lots of questions about what these terms meant, ha ha.
 
Thanks this is indeed a very intriguing topic. I am not familiar with the opera. Again, I am more familiar with Carnatic terms in music. Yes, a high octave should have a 'shuddha' or a straight note without a dilution or even the slightest possibility of slipping into another note or even a half. That would change the Raga itself. I have seen that happening several times with lesser mortals of singer's who attempt higher octaves without the ability. Heck MS tried it once and couldn't descend on her own high octave and had to be brought down carefully by the accompanying violinist in one curated concert!
Correct, the disadvantage of a prominent vibrato is it veers the voice a half tone away from the original note and carnatic /hindustani requires much greater precision in pitch. Ilayaraja once said Balamurali can sing microtones. I don't even know how that is possible. The level of precision required to achieve that is unfathomable though perhaps not for a legend like him.

In Western, Annie Haslam has an amazing ability to hold straight notes with pinpoint precision and even with power. You will find the note at 6:25 interesting. It's a B5, so it's really high. She only introduces a very slight vibrato at the end of that long sustain.
 
I only have one, crappy-sounding octave.

If I use autotune can it expand my range to 4 high quality octaves?
Unfortunately no, because you run out of notes where you can even produce sound. I remember Stevie trying to vocalise in whistle voice while singing Loving You at a Minnie Riverton tribute and he just couldn't produce any sound, just ran out of range.
 

junior74

G.O.A.T.
Bowie, like most pop-rock singers, was not a singer at all. He essentially spoke the lyrics, holding the occasional note a bit here and there. I think Bowie was being refreshingly honest about what he was. That you're bored by people who can actually sing suggests you have particular and limited preferences about "music."
I thank you for your insights. I will have your words in mind the next time I have a singer in my recording studio. But what should I ask of the singer? Should I record again and again until there is absolute tonal perfection, or should I try and inspire the singer to deliver the lyric with heart and credibility? Should I sacrifice drama and feel for perfection?

Can you please inform us, what exactly is "a great singer"?

Is there "right" or "wrong" in terms of what human ears prefer? Is perhaps originality and the sound of the voice itself also instrumental in being "a great singer"? Or is technique everything?

Who "can actually sing" in your opinion?

For instance: Wild Is The Wind. Wonderfully recorded by Mathis, Nina Simone, David Bowie, George Michael, and many more...
Do you think it would be easy - or fair - to rank those versions, in terms of "great singer"-ness?
 
I thank you for your insights. I will have your words in mind the next time I have a singer in my recording studio. But what should I ask of the singer? Should I record again and again until there is absolute tonal perfection, or should I try and inspire the singer to deliver the lyric with heart and credibility? Should I sacrifice drama and feel for perfection?

Can you please inform us, what exactly is "a great singer"?

Is there "right" or "wrong" in terms of what human ears prefer? Is perhaps originality and the sound of the voice itself also instrumental in being "a great singer"? Or is technique everything?

Who "can actually sing" in your opinion?

For instance: Wild Is The Wind. Wonderfully recorded by Mathis, Nina Simone, David Bowie, George Michael, and many more...
Do you think it would be easy - or fair - to rank those versions, in terms of "great singer"-ness?
Not to mention the claim that most pop rock singers aren't really singers at all. Lol wut
 

Azure

Legend
Correct, the disadvantage of a prominent vibrato is it veers the voice a half tone away from the original note and carnatic /hindustani requires much greater precision in pitch. Ilayaraja once said Balamurali can sing microtones. I don't even know how that is possible. The level of precision required to achieve that is unfathomable though perhaps not for a legend like him.

In Western, Annie Haslam has an amazing ability to hold straight notes with pinpoint precision and even with power. You will find the note at 6:25 interesting. It's a B5, so it's really high. She only introduces a very slight vibrato at the end of that long sustain.
This was a great video share!!!
 

onehandbh

Legend
I don't know if this guy is one of the great singers...
but there is all kinds of awesomeness going on in this music video.

 
Thanks for posting. I'm not at all familiar with these artists but am always interested in broadening my horizons. Could you point me to some of your favorite examples of their prodigal range?
@Azure just shared this clip with me and I am posting this here because you have a 4 octave span right in this performance.


At 7:26 goes all the way down to a C1. Then hits a sustained C5 - not falsetto at all and probably mixed rather than a head voice C5 - from which he again descends down the octaves touching the C1 again. This is really hardcore Carnatic, but if you have the patience, do listen to the full 'alap' section from the start till around the 10 minute mark. That full section is sung in a quasi acapella mode with only a 'tanpura' (an Indian traditional string instrument somewhat like the lute or mandolin) providing sruthi (pitch).
 

BarNotchky

Semi-Pro
@Azure just shared this clip with me and I am posting this here because you have a 4 octave span right in this performance.


At 7:26 goes all the way down to a C1. Then hits a sustained C5 - not falsetto at all and probably mixed rather than a head voice C5 - from which he again descends down the octaves touching the C1 again. This is really hardcore Carnatic, but if you have the patience, do listen to the full 'alap' section from the start till around the 10 minute mark. That full section is sung in a quasi acapella mode with only a 'tanpura' (an Indian traditional string instrument somewhat like the lute or mandolin) providing sruthi (pitch).
Wow, that's impressive. Although I'm still learning how to listen to Carnatic I really do appreciate the talent and dexterity needed to do this with one's voice.
 
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