Any “Best Whatever of All Time” list is certain to — perhaps is actually designed to — rile people up. Why is so-and-so ranked above such-and-such? How could you leave off [INSERT PERSONAL FAVORITE]? What idiots would pick so-and-so as the No. 1 of all-time? Rolling Stone’s greatest 100 singers is no different, of course, though given that initial caveat that these lists are all impossible to do without receiving criticism, really, they did a pretty solid job.
First off, the list was compiled based on votes from artists, journalists, and “industry insiders,” so the Stone staff has sort of passed the buck on any gripes. But methodology aside, it’s hard to argue with Aretha Franklin at No. 1. (You really want to tussle with the Queen of Soul?) Also, merely defining the “Greatest Singers” is from the outset a subject of great debate (even here at EW.com). Do you mean vocal ability? If so, Mariah Carey (No. 79) should be up higher and Bob Dylan (No. 7) much lower. Are we talking about emotion and lyrical interpretation? If so, the Dylan-Carey ranking is pretty spot on. Performance? Then Prince (No. 30) and Michael Jackson (No. 25) need to be up higher. (Somewhere, John Lennon is smiling that he was placed above Paul McCartney.)
All that said, off the top of my head, I think leaving off Paul Simon is a mistake, and I would’ve liked to have seen Chris Cornell, Layne Staley, or Eddie Vedder join Kurt Cobain (No. 45) in representing the fine vocal work from Seattle’s early-1990s hard rock scene. Women also seem to be underrepresented. Yes, Aretha was No. 1, but Tina Turner is the only other female in the top 20. And where’s Sarah McLaughlin? P.J. Harvey? Ann Wilson? Joan Jett? Given that votes determined the outcome here, perhaps that is indicative of an unfortunate male-centric prevailing attitude in today’s music biz.
What do you think of the list, PopWatchers? Who was left off? And what are the criteria that make a “great singer?”
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