Best Male Singers of the 20th Century

There is an interesting current discussion about the best female vocalists on CD. I have my own ideas about the best male singers (any category) of the 20th Century, but would like to hear other opinions.
I think that Frank Sinatra is the greatest male singer of any century. Long live his music.
I imagine Mr. Sinatra will have a comanding lead here. But (probaly intentionally) no category was mentioned. What about clasical (opera) singers? Anyone want to discuss Enrico Caruso vs. ?. What about comparing record sales? Is Elvis Pressly a contender because of volume of his record sales? Personally, I really like the jazz singer Johnny Hammond, especially his album with John Coltrane. Chet Baker, while I wouldn't EVER classify him as a great singer, had a distinctive way with singing jazz that was certainly unique, and very emotional. In sum, besides Hammond, I guess Francis Albert is the winner.
Well, I am sure someone will mention Belafonte, and of course there is Nat King Cole (the DCC reissues are awesome) In the "sub class" of Best singer/songwriter, I'd vote for Jacques Brel also.
Mel Torme. Mel was at least the greatest male jazz singer (with only Ella and Sarah Vaughn contending for best jazz singer overall.) Mel was also a terrific writer (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire) and arranger.
I like Louis Armstrong for Jazz, Bing Crosby for crooners, Ian Gillan for Rock, and Bob Dylan as the "Is he singin' or whinin' catagory" nominee.
Franky the boy and Van the Man (Morrison)
Well, since I started this thread I suppose I should participate. Among the "greats" I would include, by category: Opera: Feyodor Chaliapin (Russian basso), Lauritz Melchior, Paul Roberson, Enrico Caruso, Ezio Pinza, Richard Tucker, Jon Vickers, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, etc. (there are probably another dozen that deserve to be on this list). Popular: Frank Sinatra (absolutely no doubt on this one - not one of the "spectacular" voices, but without question one of the 2-3 best song stylists), Mario Lanza, Elvis Presley, Elton John, Stevie Wonder. Jazz: Mel Torme, Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing, Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau, Jon Hendricks, and my personal favorite, Mark Murphy (if you don't know his work, and like vocal jazz, you have missed one of the true greats). Blues: Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Willy McTell, BB King, Albert King, Luther Allison, etc. Rock: There are a few I like, but I'm not sure any of them belong in the "best singers" category. My short list might include David Clayton Thomas, John Fogerty, Jim Morrison, etc., but rock singing is more a matter of style, I think, than "voice" (think of Joe Cocker, for example). Folk: Paul Simon, Glen Yarborough, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan (I personally never liked his singing, but as hugely popular as he was, he probably deserves to be on this list). This list should prime the pump - now let's hear from others and see who they include!
Here's a short list: Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Hartman, (Not Johnny Hammond, John Hammond is a blues singer and son of CBS executive of the same name), Dion, Bobby Darin, Donny Hathaway, Elvis, James Taylor, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Tony Bennett, Michael Stipe, Eddie Vetter, The Byrds--just to name a few.
Gino Vanelli? Elton John? Bobby Darin? Michael Stipe? By what standards are any of these guys worthy of the honor of "Greatest Singers of the 20th Century?" Let's try to be a little more objective! Unless you want the category to be "Popular Singers of the 20th Century" or "Not Very Good Singers of the 20th Century Whom I Like Anyway."
Now, now, Michael, I deliberately did not place any categories on singers. What floats one person's boat may sink another's. I think you could make a fair disinction between great VOICES and great SINGERS. The best SINGERS are those who have the ability touch the listener emotionally, intellectually, or both. Therefore, I think it is fair to include people like Sinatra, Elton John, Steveland Morris (aka Stevie Wonder), etc. My favorite male jazz singer, Mark Murphy, is certainly no Pavarotti, but he gets inside a song and does absolutely wonderful things with the phrasing, using his voice like an instrument (something Louis Armstrong did - listen to the similarity between his vocal phrasing and the way he played his trumpet). For the rest of this thread, I'd like to see some names of lesser-known singers who deserve to be in the "great" category.
...John Fogarty during his CCR days-- love that "swamp rock", J.J. Cale (Louisiana Blues), and Buddy Guy (Chicago Blues). Country/Western isn't really my thing, but I do really like some voices-- Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Conway Twitty. It took a lot of guts to mention these last three because for some reason AudiogoN members NEVER mention C/W music. Craig.
Hey Michael, have you ever listened to any of Gino Vannelli's albums such as Storm At Sunup, Pauper In Paradise, Gist Of the Gemini, Brother to Brother, Yonder Tree,etc.. You may give him a little more credit than you did here. By no means was Gino Vannelli in the popular music vain and nor did he write and produce his music for that purpose and quite to the contrary. He was once quoted in an interview that his music was for "People who dared to dig it". If you haven't listened to any of the above albums, please do if the oppotunity arrises and if you still don't give him a little more credit, than all I can say is music is very personal and to each his respectfully own. I believe the question was "the best male singers". Mr. Campbell didn't put a limit of how many, for there are so many great singers in which I could certainly name many more, including some that have already been mentioned here. Who are your favorites, maybe I'll give a listen if I'm not totally familiar with them? Joe Lienhard
I think if we're going to throw around superlatives such as "Best Male Singer of the 20th Century," we need to have some basic standards by which to say someone qualifies. So here's a starting point: 1) Technique -- the singer displays greater overall ability from a technical standpoint than most singers of the 20th Century. 2) influence -- the singer 's style was more influential on other singers and music overall than his peers. 3) musicality -- the singer's overall musicality exceeded the thousands of other people who recorded music during the 20th Century. 4) style -- the singer's phrasing and style stand apart from those who came before him. 5) popularity -- the singer's work was acclaimed by many people. Now, to be among the "Best Male Singers of the 20th Century," a singer need not have every single one of these categories, but he should have at least a couple of them. By this standard, I'd say a few obvious nominees are the great and famous operatic singers, simply because there is little debating their technique and record of accomplishment. Jazz singers as well are easier to judge by this criteria -- Mel Torme and Frank Sinatra definitely fit. It is somewhat more subjective in the rock arena, but I'd say Paul McCartney is an obvious choice (a little more so than John Lennon in that McCartney was technically better.) Mick Jagger is not a great technical singer, but he certainly fills most of the other requirements. Elton John? I don't think anybody is trying to sing like him, nor do I think he's really contributed much to the state of the art. He is popular, of course, and has made a great deal of money, but I think critically speaking, his musical contribution is much less significant than his commercial success, unless you really want to equate "Crocodile Rock" with "Yesterday." I'd definitely agree with John Fogarty as meeting the criteria, again recognizing that in terms of pure technique, it's hard to put "Green River" up against a Mozart opera. I'd also throw Roger Daltry into the mix -- tremendously influential, innovative, musical and technically adept. Mick Jagger? I think so. There's also some blues singers who should be included in terms of influence and musicality, such as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. As for Gino Vanelli, I have to admit that "Gotta Move" was a song of his that I liked, and I recognize he's got a good set of pipes and decent technique. But unless I'm missing something, I'm not reading a lot of interviews in which people are saying, "Yeah, Gino Vanelli was a big influence and helped me figure out a style I wanted to emulate." You may personally really enjoy his work, but I don't think that qualifies him as one of the "Best Male Singers of the 20th Century." As for country, I confess I don't know much about individual singers compared to their peers, but I'd sure have to agree that Johnny Cash is one of the greats.
Louis Armstrong, his gravely voice proves forever that it is the heart & soul that makes a great vocalist, the sound is important, but secondary.Bing Crosby, for starting a new style of singing (soft,intimate vocals, thanks to recording technology). Sinatra, best all around communicator, Little Richard, Rock and Roll incarnate. Elvis, croons and rocks. Johnny Cash, because he could carry the weight, John Lennon, the coolest channel for good in history. Caruso, even through those stinky recordings he sends out such a depth of power that you cannot help but be moved. BB King, the Rolls Royce of the blues. Steve Winwood, anyone else know a better recording by a 15 (16?) year old? than Gimme Some Lovin'. Ray Charles, you can rest in peace after you have heard him live! John Lee Hooker, a living part of American history. More than honorable mention to Nat King Cole. Strange choice of the day: Robert Plant, the most charming screech ever. It is said that the true measure of musical greatness is when a musician creates a new genre.
Good post, Bmpnyc. You get the point. I'd been thinking of Little Richard and Robert Plant, too. And I think we'd have to add Roy Orbison to the list as well as Rod Stewart. You might not love all their material, but they stand out from the field in terms of contributions to the genre.
Michael, I would have to vote for Sam Cooke before Rod Stewart. Although Rod has given us some memorable moments he often gets tacky and too commercial. Sam was his biggest influence and Rod tried to emulate him. I also thought to mention Otis Redding, and Eric Burden.
Can't argue with Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, but they have an advantage over Stewart -- they didn't live long enough to cut anything really atrocious, which seems to happen to even the best of 'em. Look at McCartney. And though I like Eric Burden quite a bit, I'd say his contribution to the 20th Century is not up there with the others we've mentioned. The people who win my nod for honors beyond the Merely Good not only do great work, but do a lot of it. Burden's been around as long as Jagger, but he hasn't recorded much of anything since, what, 1971?
Well I guess most of the well known artists from Caruso to the latest contemporary artists were pretty much covered. But here is a question for one and all. WHO WAS RCA'S FIRST MAJOR POPULAR RECORDING ARTIST? Clue... he was a contemporary of Caruso and in his time was quite well known he was a trained in Bel Canto but no one above mentions him. WHO IS HE?
If no one knows the who this singer is, so noted in his time for the purity of his voice and perfect pitch, my bet is that most of the singers listed above, with the possible exceptions of Sinatra, Caruso and Elvis (as a pop icon, certainly not a singer) will be as obscure at the turn of the 22nd Century as he appears to be now. If it weren't for Mendelsohn, Bach would probably be as obscure a composer as 99% of his contemporaries. I guess everything is relative to the time we live in.
My first pick would be The Chairman, Sinatra, for his style of phrasing - the best. My other vote getters would be Justin Hayward (Moody Blues), Paul McCartney, Mel Torme, Gordon Lightfoot and (I'm cheating a little) Simon & Garfunkel, which worked together so well they often sounded as one voice.
Tubegroover, Al Jolson?, Treyhoss, I think you may enjoy Justin Hayward and Gordon Lightfoot, but "Great Singers of the 20th. Century"... I don't think so. Paul Simon would best be described as a great songwriter and Garfunkle had some truly beautiful moments, but is a little light for this list.
Cool post Bmpnyc. I vote Jeff Buckley the numero uno for his 'Grace' album. Other as yet unmentioned greats are Junior Wells (Alone and Acoustic w/Buddy Guy), Leonard Cohen (The Future), and lastly Townes Van Zandt in his elder years (Dollar Bill Blues).
Johnny Hartman has already been mentioned. He is one of the best ever. A relative new singer is Kevin Mahogany. He is a modern day Johnny Hartman. Stunning. However, no one, I mean no one, phrases a song the way Little Jimmy Scott did! Until you hear his version of "Don't Try and Change Me", you have not heard the best. This man's voice "will tear your heart out"!
No Bmpnyc it isn't Al Jolson, good guess though
Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan. After all, they won a Grammy as "Best new artist" in their day. Along the same lines, Eddie Money, Andrew Ridgeley and Falco. Freddy Mercury gets posthumous honorable mention for best overbite. William Shatner hands down for dramatic interpretation. Whoops, sorry...wrong thread.
Err..., Some of the choices for best of the twentieth century are pretty shocking! Eddie Money? John Fogarty? Let's see. Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan were picked by separate people just on their record sales and popularity alone! If you are going to go with picks like these, I will have to go with my all-time greats like Michael Franks, John Denver, Neil Sedaka, Ricky Nelson, Neil Diamond, B.J. Thomas, Barry Manilow and the Monkees. I desperately wanted to pick Kenny G, but then again, he doesn't sing, does he? On second thought, the Monkees probably didn't either.
A couple of singers come to mind, Paul Rodgers of Free and Tim Rose. While probably not the greatest I would also nominate Nick Drake.
Rayhall - my "nominees" were intended in jest. Rob and Fab were Milli Vanilli, and Eddie Mahoney (aka Money) was...well, best appreciated on a set of Bose 501's.
Thanks Timwat for the clarification. Whew! I was going to have to repost to add The Polish Prince, Bobby Vinton to my twentieth century all-star team, but now I can relax! Great speaker, that 501 was!
Rayhall; During the Viet Nam era, Woodstock days, and riots and protests in the streets, John Fogarty and his Creedence Clearwater Revival band "moved" a lot more people than any jazz singer did, IMHO. I was there. Have you ever listened to the lyrics of CCR's "Fortunate Son"?. Any one of the CCR band members was probably a mediocre muscian, but as a BAND, they were great. Further, I took SD's thread to mean "what was your favorite (or who you thought was most influential) in male music", not who, on some analytical scale YOU devised, is the absolute "best", eg I could care less about opera (or jazz) singers. And even further, I doubt that SD wants YOU to critique everyone listed on his thread. Craig.
Uhh Craig... Haven't we been down this road before? I certainly didn't criticize EVERY pick. I know who John Fogarty is also as I was alive during that era. I didn't even mention a jazz singer! And I do like music other than jazz. When the title of the thread is Best Male Singers of the 20th Century, that's an awfully high standard to reach, and when some of us pick certain artists for their popularity rather than because we LIKE them, I wonder what kind of standard we are applying. I don't hate John Fogarty. I don't know all the Creedence Clearwater Revival music but actually, I kind of liked "Proud Mary" but IMHO he is a long way from the best of the twentieth century". But hey, that's just my opinion! Anyway, my posts on this thread were not meant to be terribly serious. I seem to have a penchant for continually offending you. For that, I am sorry because the other times I have run across you on Audiogon, you seem to be an interesting, engaging cheerful kind of guy.
Yeah... Hi again Rayhall; If there was an "un-submit" button in the AudiogoN program, I might have used it re: my last post--. I guess your implied criticism of CCR struck a nerve, and I need to "rein in" my sensitivity. I find your posts articulate and interesting, and I do appreciate your apology. In some ill-defined context, I really do think CCR (not so much John Fogarty) was an important musical influence in their time-- maybe I got caught up in a flashback? Thanks, and no hard feelings. Craig
Bobby Darin, Harry Connick Jr., Nat King Cole. Also, Freddy Murcury, great voice, probably could have sung just about any style of music.
Harry Connick Jr. is an example of somebody who I think REALLY shouldn't be discussed on this post. Talk about somebody who is completely derivative. A pale -- and obnoxious, in my view -- imitation of Sinatra. I also would take issue with saying that the members of Credence Clearwater Revival were all "mediocre" individually. That's probably true for the three other than John Fogerty, but Fogerty was everything in CCR and is clearly among the best of the bunch of singers/guitarists/songwriters of his generation.
I was speaking of male singing voice, not material, or attitude of those individuals. I still think Connick Jr. has a great voice. If we want to speak of total package; attitude, material, and voice, then I will have to re-submit my list.
I could get pretty crazy about a Harry Connick Jr. pick, but I don't want to offend anyone. I don't think Sinatra was the absolute best. Among crooners, I would pick Billy Eckstine and Nat King Cole over Sinatra. But at least noone can say Sinatra wasn't unique. He had a style, a way of presenting a song which was all his own and one that he perfected over the span of his career. "Derivative" is the perfect way to describe Harry Connick Jr. as a singer. Here is another guy who is an excellent musician, great pianist, but as a singer? Could he try to sound any more like Sinatra? IMHO, you can't be considered the best, or one of the best, when you walk in someone else's very large footsteps. I often wondered what Sinatra thought of him. If I were Sinatra and probably beyond the end of my very long and esteemed career when this guy came along, I would be angry and bitter! This is all just my opinion, so don't yell at me.
Rayhall - very interesting comments. From what little I've read, Sinatra was gracious and kind to Connick. I heard the 1st time Connick performed in front of the Chairman, he totally choked, clammed the song and had to start over again, having humiliated himself in front of his Idol and Demigod. Sinatra apparently was encouraging and gentle...perhaps the way one is with inept children. Now, don't all nuke me...I'm certainly not implying Connick is either inept or immature. But I would acknowledge there is much truth in Rayhall's observation about disparity between the accolade "best" and a blatantly derivative artist. BTW, I'm going to tell the Chairman (via the 800-psychic hotline) that you're placing Nat in front of him and he may send Jimmy Hoffa after you...
Glad for the reinforcement on bashing Connick. I had the misfortune of watching this guy on TV last New Year's Eve while trying to find any news about the Y2K potential meltdown. He did "Cry Me A River" and I'm here to tell you, I was shocked at how bad he was. Totally banal and flat-footed. No feeling. All pretense. It's like he had no idea what he was singing about. To give you an idea how bad he was, my next stop in channel flipping brought me to Barry Manilow and I actually thought WELL of Barry. He had energy, power, control and projection. The material might have been dreadful, but Barry believed in it and put it across. As others have noted, a great singer has to convey the feeling of the song.
Ouch! Actually I think Connick Jr. sings more in a jazz style. But no doubt the voice sounds like an immitation of Sinatra. Maybe that's why I like his voice.
Hi Joysjane; Hey-- don't let the guys with the buckets of cold water ruin your enjoyment of Harry Connick Jr.. It's the music and the way it affects YOU that is really important. Rayhall roasted my choices of Diana Krall and John Fogerty (CCR) as great singers, so you're not alone. Michael-- glad to see that someone else thinks John Fogerty is "great". And yes, context is important. Enjoy the music you enjoy Joysjane. Cheers. Craig
.......Rayhall probably does his serious listening on a $89.00 boom box while you and I have excellent taste in both music and equipment. Cheers again. Craig
Thanks Garfish, I do enjoy Connick Jr. and will continue to, even if I was the only one who thinks he can sing. That's what living in the good ole' U. S. of A. is all about. Hey, one of the reasons I love this site are the opinions and responses. I don't take anything personal, all of our different views are what makes us all who we are, no matter how wrong everyone else is... Ha! Garfish, keep on enjoying Fogerty, CCR kicks butt. I also like Fogerty and CCR, and even enjoy his Centerfield album.
OK Craig, CAT SL-1 Ultimate, PASS Aleph 4, Vandersteen 3A Signature. My father, (same name as me) is a fairly well-known retired recording engineer who recorded a few of the people on this thread. A small sample of the artists he personally recorded were Louis Armstrong, Harry Belafonte, Mario Lanza, Duke Ellington, Perry Como, Sam Cooke, Bill Evans (the pianist), Jascha Heiffetz, Nina Simone, Sonny Rollins, Neil Sedaka, Isley Bros, The Main Ingredient, Harry Nillson, Ricky Nelson, John Denver, the Monkees and Evelyn Champagne King. That covers a lot of years and a lot of musical territory. I only say this to let you know that I have grown up with music all my life. All types: good music as well as bad music. I played the tenor sax for years. I had a well known jazz sax player as a music teacher for a while. I don't think anything I said concerning any of your picks was bordering on personal. Why do you presume to know anything about me? And why is it that you repeatedly attack me only to apologize a couple of days later. Now your doing it even when I respectfully try to register my disagreement with other people's selections. Really, it's beginning to make me wonder about you. I don't mind or care about whomever you think was the greatest singer of all time. If anything I have said previously leads you to feel that I begrudge you your right to choose anyone you want as the greatest singer of all time, I am terribly sorry. But if yours' and everyone else's selections must remain unchallenged, whether they be challenged respectfully, or in jest, simply because these are YOUR rules, I've got a big problem with that.
Everybodys opinons are their own and should be respected as such. Just explain your differences (likes and dislikes)... and move on my little grasshopper. Yours is not the final, nor the definetive, but, ain't it cool!
Hey Jousjane, Never meant to indicate my opinions are any better than anyone else's. They are just mine...
Here's a name to illustrate a point about what it takes to be a great singer: Joe Cocker. No one is ever going to label him technically superior, and many might say they don't like the sound his vocal chords make. But talk about somebody who can get into a song and remake it in his own style! Think of all the remakes he's done that have improved upon the original: "With a Little Help From My Friends," "Feelin' Alright," "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window," "Delta Lady," "The Letter." He's taken his limited range (and even more limited stage posturing) and overcome it with sheer feeling and musicality, filtered through an interpretation that can't be mistaken for anybody else.
Great post Rayhall. You really have a nice system, and BTW, I also have Vandersteen 3A sig. speakers-- so we both have good taste (at least in speakers). You certainly have have had a rich and varied life both in and around music, and I can understand now how you could be so genuinely knowledgable (to some extent, you were coming across as a pseudo-intellectual in your criticisms). I've played guitars, both acoustic and electric for about 40 years (amateur only), but my experience with music can't compare with yours. I also think you took the title of these threads much more literally than I did, eg I took them as 'favorites', and thus the clash(s). Please don't take this as an apology-- just some observations. Cheers. Craig
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