Feature Artwork by Cap Blackard
It’s been observed that pop-culture writers have a penchant for ranking anything and everything. We’re cited for spending countless hours trying to assess, sort, and file that which seems patently subjective or, far more damning, so beautiful, transcendent, or numinous as to be above slotting on a mere list. Admittedly, we can often be found guilty of peddling our opinions as objective fact. But I can’t cop to the latter charge quite so quickly. If you read through the entries to come, I guarantee you’ll find the appropriate sense of gratitude and awe as my colleagues and I struggle to, as Nick Hornby once put it, “make the ineffable effing effable.” That is, try to explain why these singers move us as they do.
No task as daunting as ranking the greatest singers of all time comes easily. Rubrics were made, remade, and subsequently trashed. Compromises were struck, concessions made, hearts broken, lifelong friendships terminated – the usual. And that age-old question reared its ugly head once more: Can a person with a terrible voice by traditional standards still be a great singer? (Big surprise, the jury’s still out among us.) Even with science weighing in and telling us that Freddie and Whitney are no-brainers, we agreed that science can’t account for everything just yet. Instead, we went with our guts, hoping, as always, that our guts don’t have shit for brains. I think Nick Hornby may have said that, too.
So, here are the 100 greatest singers of all time. Read on, and you’ll find kings and queens, divas and introverts, dancers and wallflowers, belters and growlers, storytellers and testifiers, seducers and wingmen, Simon and, well, maybe just Simon. However you’ve come to define “great,” these are the voices that continue to touch, console, inspire, and empower us. Feel free to tell us who we missed or how we blew it in the comments section, but even more importantly, find a singer on this list that you love and share the gift of their voice with someone in your life. As 2016 has shown us time and time again, the artists we lean upon won’t be with us forever. Let’s make sure their music sticks around.
Rest in peace, Mr. Cohen.