Look! It's the man of the hour! Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose was feted by ConcertHotels.com as having a nearly seven octave vocal range. Getting pegged at the top spot of the website's "world's greatest singers" list was something that Axl admitted was a "flattering and humbling" experience, but he also was quick to name a bushel of vocalists (ranging from Etta James to Nazareth frontman Dan McCafferty) that he felt were better. How about we focus on how unique Axl's vocal stylings are, shall we? This enfant terrible/homme d'age moyen terrible possesses an incredible vocal range that has a melted-in bratty rock righteousness to it. Slash once proclaimed that his former bandmate's voice was essentially 'the sound that a tape player makes when the cassette finally dies and the tape gets ripped out, but in tune.'
Look, Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert are definitely no slouches in the vocals department, but there's only one singer that could ever truly front Queen. Freddie Mercury's dazzling vocals were versatile (how else can you have a discography with both "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love?") but also bursting with personality and panache. Loads of rock frontmen can cruise simply on having a dynamite stage persona, but Freddie Mercury could offer vocal bombast to match. Mercury would later team up with Spanish operatic soprano Montserrat Caballe for the classical/pop-opera album Barcelona.
Oh sweet mother of glam, those high notes! If you'd like to get technical, The Darkness's Justin Hawkins says his famous vocal peaks shouldn't be qualified as a falsetto. All we know is that karaoke nights are required by law to have at least one drunk dude try and fail to match Justin's vocals when knocking out "I Believe In A Thing Called Love." "Hawkins sings about sex, drugs, and Satan with the voice of a castrato," proclaimed a dead-on All Music Guide review of Permission To Land. Occasionally, over-the-top is the only reasonable setting.
This photo, from February 1, 1978, captures her first solo concert since splitting from Ike Turner.
Turner can tackle songs with raw intensity and impossible elegance. "She can squeeze passion from any line," Melissa Etheridge once told Rolling Stone.
Pour one out for Janis Joplin. The psychedelic rock firebrand gave popular music a double-barrelled blast of fearless and free singing talent. Like Tina Turner, Janis helped redefine what the world wanted/expected from female vocalists, offering up edge and danger in her live and studio offerings. She had passion for days. (Of course, if you keep in mind the number of singers that have pulled from her playbook, it'd be more accurate to suggest Janis had passion for decades.) "She tore herself apart yet on stage she was totally different. She was so unrestrained, so free, so raw and she wasn't afraid to wail," offered Florence Welch on the singing legend.
Often imitated and... well, occasionally duplicated, Neil Young has a voice that's entirely his own. The singer-songwriter's vocals will never be mistaken for something by Robert Plant or Daryl Hall, but that's a large part of the charm. Shakey's singing voice is one of authenticity. It's a tenor that packs an emotional wallop even if it sounds a smidge silly at times. When recording the Canadian all-star famine relief single "Tears Are Not Enough," producer David Foster suggested the rock legend redo a take that may have been off-key. "That's my style, man!" replied Young.
"When we first heard this raw, very young, and seemingly untrained voice, frankly nasal, as if sandpaper could sing, the effect was dramatic and electrifying," Joyce Carol Oates once remarked about Bob Dylan. She's not wrong. Dylan's gloss-free approach is the sort of thing that makes the folk figurehead a prime target for parody, but also someone millions of listeners feel like they can trust. (That said, Joni Mitchell famously declared: "Bob is not authentic at all. He>s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.")
Shakira is better known to non-Latin audiences as more of a pop performer than a rock vocalist, but the Colombian megastar's resume features loads of rock/folk work before her 2002 worldwide breakthrough. (Heck, Shakira's two post-crossover Fijacion Oral albums also fit the bill quite nicely.) The "Don't Bother" songstress has a style that boasts an unapologetic vibrato and a unique brand of immediate emotional intensity. As a child, the platinum-selling recording artist was actually criticized for her vocal style. "I never made it to the school choir because the music teacher didn't like my voice," noted Shakira in an interview. "I was pretty sad. But he was probably right, I did have a voice a bit like a goat but my dad told me to never give up and to keep going and it's paid off."
It's not witchcraft, it's just a studious dedication to her songcraft. A disciple of Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, Stevie Nicks carved out her own legacy and army of devotees with her raspy-yet-dreamy vocal approach. ("There>s not a woman that writes songs that doesn>t want to be you," Sheryl Crow once gushed to Nicks.) As both a solo act and as a member of Fleetwood Mac, Nicks showcased the art of being both mystical and vulnerable at the same time. In 1998, Nicks adopted a strict vocal coaching regimen. "Three hours before I go on-stage I do a 40-minute vocal lesson," Nicks told The New York Times. "We go on at 8, which means I have to be done at 5, so from 3 to 3:30 I do the first part and between 4:30 and 5 I do the second part; 30 minutes and then 11 minutes. By the time I walk onstage at 8 o>clock, I>m ready to do 2 hours and 40 minutes."
To put it diplomatically, Billy Corgan's vocal stylings are somewhat of an acquired taste. The Smashing Pumpkins frontman has been knocked by countless rock fans for having a voice that's been pegged as "nasal," "whiny" and "annoying." It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's definitely a distinctive voice. It's a remorseless wail that's brash, oddly theatrical and not at all interested in sounding like anything other than a Billy Corgan vocal. There's something magical about that sort of approach. Plus, how would "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" sound coming out of the mouth of a contemporary like Dave Grohl or Scott Weiland? Unsettling, right?
There were Journey frontmen before Steve Perry and there's been frontmen since, but Perry will always be remembered as the voice of the group. With good reason too. A master of everyting you could hope for from an arena rock singer, Perry's epic vocals were what made cheesy classics like "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Open Arms" come alive. "Steve Perry, a truly luminous singer, in my opinion -- a voice in a million," remarked Queen guitarist Brian May.
Boasting one of the most exquisitely strange voices in music today, Tom Waits has a vocal style that critics and journalists love to sort out a formula for. One writer suggested that the "Downtown Train" singer's voice sounded "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car." Other journos rely on descriptions like "crushed glass" vocals and observations noting how Waits "growls about booze and gargles with nails and screws."