Revisiting what Rolling Stone got wrong in best 200 singers ranking

Last year, Rolling Stone magazine produced their best 200 singers ever list. Here is what they got wrong.
Freddie Mercury of Queen
Freddie Mercury of Queen / Graham Wiltshire/GettyImages

The question is what makes a great singer? Is it someone with a ridiculous range who can sing opera and black metal both? OK, admittedly...that might make for an excellent vocalist. At the same time, music fans want to emotionally connect with the performer.

Geoff Tate, former singer for Queensrÿche, is an unquestionably fantastic singer, but few would place him on the top 10 best vocalists ever. He is almost too perfect in tone, too clear. He needs to bring us into his home a bit more. Maybe that is not his fault, however. Possibly the band's songs did not consistently cause us to swoon.

Tom Waits has an odd voice that has gotten more rugged with age. Can he sing modern pop music? Not really, but he also probably has no interest in doing so. Still, there is little doubt he is an icon whose fans love him as much as any in Rolling Stone magazine's top 200 singers ever.

Rolling Stone magazine got a lot wrong in their best 200 singers list

Waits' absence from Rolling Stone's ranking is part of what is wrong with the list. More specifically, leaving Waits out but having Leonard Cohen ranked at number 103 is a complete joke. For most of his career, Cohen has had the same low-register style - sure, it works for his tunes but is certainly not versatile - while Waits has had to ability to do many different effects with his voice.

Plus, rating Cohen but not Waits implies that Cohen's musical output is better than Waits'. There is no comparison between the overall quality of what Waits has done compared to Cohen. Cohen is a wannabe Waits.

Besides Waits, Cohen is ranked higher than elite vocalists Roger Daltrey, Aaron Neville (no, this is not a joke), and Rob Halford. How? There is no logical reason.

Another issue is that while Queen's Freddie Mercury is ranked, he isn't until number 14. Mercury has one of the most iconic voices - if not the most iconic voice - in the history of rock. That is not because he simply blends well with his group's music. His tone is fantastic, his capacity to string out notes immense, and his pitch is perfect. Mercury could sing any kind of music and be elite.

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Mercury ranks only one notch ahead of Bob Dylan. I get it. Dylan is an icon who invented electricity Newport Folk Festival, but that does not mean he has a great singing voice because he doesn't. His talents lie elsewhere. His voice is weak and wobbly and sometimes far off-pitch.

At least Rolling Stone had Sam Cooke ranked third. Many sites might have had Otis Redding higher because he is generally considered the more popular performer. He isn't a better singer than Cooke, however, and the entire point of the article was to rate the best singers.

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