08 August 2010


This one has been long in coming….

Anyone (other than me) can carry a tune and some can even show off an amazing range in the last thirty seconds of a song, but singing is another story altogether. A few months back, a friend asked me who were my favorite female and male vocalists: who would I consider to be a great vocalist? Immediately, I started scratching my head, because I really had never thought about this in any serious way. So I started compiling a list of criteria of what would make a great vocalist – in that sort of classical sense of singing, sans the rappers, screams, sprechgesang, etc… I immediately dismissed two factors: popularity and range. Popularity, generally, is the measure of corporate sponsorship, and range only indicates what notes you can hit, but that does not indicate if the singer uses his/her voice to maximum capacity. So amongst my criteria was the ability to be emotive – can the singer make me feel? Also, does the singer sell the lyrics, making them believable? And does the singer have a distinct style?

At first I felt a bit inundated: Was I considering the entire range of singers out there? Did I forget anyone? I started asking around, trying to get people’s opinion, and it was funny how no one could agree on five; I goggled a few lists, and they could not agree with one another either. But the one common trend I found is that most of these personal and media lists were not broad in scope (and some of the people included had no business being called a great vocalist – for some, entertainer would be a better term). I started then to compile my own list (sifting through my iTunes collection and the vinyls and CDs that have yet to make their way into the external hard dive), and became frustrated once again when many of the older, classic, and foreign singers were not officially available to embed from YouTube, Vimeo, or other video sources. I did not just want to compile a list of ten female and male vocalists; I wanted to be able to give you something to listen as well. (I know that YouTube is only five years old, but I think it is time that labels and artists start making back catalogues available in this VEVO revolution.) So, instead of compiling my favorite vocalists of all time, I decided on compile my favorite five female and male vocalists who are currently active and relevant to the music scene. Relevant is always the hard part; many older bands are still releasing albums, but how influential are they? Take a band like Depeche Mode; when they release, till today, people listen, both audiences and other musicians, but countless of others do not fall into this category, no matter how much I love the new music.

I want to pay some respect to the classics, which have helped develop my ear and musical taste. Amongst these vocalists are Bobby Darin, Julie London, Peggy Lee, and Dinah Washington – four incredible vocalists whose legacies continue to influence singers today. Not limiting myself to English, I would also like to include Rocio Jurado, the singer of the Spanish Chanson, in this list of classics. Her name and voice is synonymous with traditional Spanish music, full of drama and power, it is impossible not to hang on to her every word. As for the lists that follow, these artists have either established themselves or on the road to do so if they keep their heads screwed on right. Enjoy these vocalists, for they not only prove their abilities as singers, these are artists that continue to define, challenge, and redefine trends, music, and, in some cases, what it means to be great.

Les Chanteuses

Eva Amaral (of Amaral)

The namesake of the Spanish band/duo Amaral, Eva Amaral’s voice has a little of that Rocio Jurado; emotive, dramatic, and mesmerizing. Along side Juan Aguirre, they have composed everything from traditional Latin and Spanish music, dance music, pop rock, and some cutting edge indie rock. Taking most cues from the British and Euro-indie scenes, Eva Amaral, album to album, is able to recreate her vocal style, always leaving you wondering just what will come next.

Here is a live performance of “Concorde” from Amaral’s MySpace Video Page.

Amaral: Concorde en directo.

Amaral | MySpace Music Videos

Corinne Bailey Rae

What I love most about Corinne Bailey Rae is just how hard it is to pigeonhole her as a simple soul singer. With a touch of R&B, a dash of pop, and a pinch of indie rock, she composes and performs music that carries visceral power that is universal and infectious. Her angelic, quite soft, voice wisps through songs with general ease, with each note delivering the conviction of her words.

Here is the video for “Like a Star” from her debut album, from her YouTube Channel: CorinneBaileyRae. The second video is from her recent sophomore album, “The Sea,” called “Paris Nights/New York Mornings” from her MySpace Videos page.

Paris Nights/New York Mornings

Corinne Bailey Rae | MySpace Music Videos

Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes)

Working under the intriguing moniker Bat for Lashes, Natasha Khan (of Pashtun descent) has one of the most distinct sounds in music; combining threads of dream pop, folk, indie pop, and non-Western elements, her music is ambient, soothing, and introspective. And not just audiences have taken notice of her talent, but also peers, including Matt Bellamy (Muse) and Thom Yorke (Radiohead). Her voice is sheer drama – mirroring the mood of the songs, from anguish to despondency, the only comparison I always come back to when listening to her music is Kate Bush, and that says it all.

Here is the video for “Daniel” from Bat For Lashes MySpace Videos page.

Daniel - Bat For Lashes

Bat For Lashes | MySpace Music Videos

Annie Lennox

There should be no doubt that Annie Lennox is my favorite female vocalist of all time. From glam and punk influenced rock pop band The Tourists to the new wave of the early Eurythmics, from the Motown influenced later Eurythmics to the soul of her solo career, Annie Lennox’s contralto range has proven over and over to ooze as much drama as her ever-changing theatric image. Polymorphic in image as in genre, her voice is perhaps the most distinct female vocalist’s out there, morphing in style as needed for each individual song. And even when being ambiguous, as in “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These),” there is always this connectivity between her singing and the audience.

The first video is The Tourists’ “I Only Want to Be With You” from the DaveStewartOfficial YouTube Channel. The second Eurythmics signature song, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These),” while the third is their video for “Don’t Ask Me Why” from the EurythmicsVEVO YouTube Channel. The last two from her solo career: “Precious” and the amazing The Lover Speaks’ cover “No More ‘I Love You’s’” from the AnnieLennoxVEVO Youtube Channel.

Katie Melua

The Georgian born, British raised Katie Melua has mesmerized me completely recently. I have always loved the sound of her voice, even when originally she sang, “How can you make me fall apart, then break my fall with loving lies?” (“The Closest Thing to Crazy.”) Now she takes a different approach: “I’d love to kill you with a kiss…” (I’d Love To Kill You.”) With complete control of her mezzo-soprano range, she uses the entire range of her voice from beginning to end, including live, which proves the staying power of her voice.

Here are the videos for “Closest Thing to Crazy,” “It’s Only Pain,” and “A Happy Place” (I know I recently posted this one, but it is such a great song and video) from the DramaticoMusic YouTube Channel.

Les Chanteurs

Andy Bell (of Erasure)

In this synthpop revival world, I am amazed that the names Andy Bell and Vincent Clarke, a.k.a. Erasure, have not become household names, considering how they are ripped off left and right. Clarke, the musician, is the quiet presence in the duo; Bell, however, is known for his over-the-top antics on stage, what never gets the credit is his voice. Juggling Erasure with a solo career and Djings, his multi-octave range can get guttural or sing with one of the best, most controlled falsettos, even while prancing around in a dress of the globe.

Here are Erasure’s video for “Chains of Love” and “Always” (amazing background vocals, taken out in the 2009 Mix of the song for some odd reason) from the Erasure MySpace Videos page. Also, his first solo single, “Crazy,” from his MySpace Video page.

Chains Of Love (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos

Always (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos


Andy Bell | MySpace Music Videos

Matthew Bellamy (of Muse)

When I told a fellow Cure-head that I considered Matthew Bellamy the most talented individual in music, I almost got my head ripped off. But he is the total package: phenomenal songwriter, amazing producer, kick ass performer, talented pianist, rocking guitarist, and astounding singer. Sure the technical aspects of his singing are a bit rough around the edges, he still delivers what is needed from song to song, whether he is singing “Microcuts” or “Map of the Problematique.”

Here is a live performances of “Feeling Good” and “Time Is Running Out” and the video for “Undisclosed Desires” from the Muse MySpace Videos page.

Feeling Good [Live From Wembley Stadium]

MUSE | MySpace Music Videos

Time Is Running Out

MUSE | MySpace Music Videos

Undisclosed Desires

MUSE | MySpace Music Videos

Tom Chaplin (of Keane)

Easily this generation’s best vocalist, Tom Chaplin is simply the bee’s knees. You can tell he must have had a few lessons along the way to control is tenor to perfection, but what really comes across is the sincerity in his voice. As humble as his stage persona, his voice has that empathic quality that helps you relate to the song, regardless if he is waxing poetic or being blunt and to the point; I have caught many Keane-haters singing along to a song and hating themselves for it.

Here are the videos for “Bedshapped,” “Is it Any Wonder?” and “The Lovers are Losing” from the KeaneVEVO YouTube Channel.

Dave Gahan (of Depeche Mode)

Perhaps not the most obvious choice, Dave Gahan (pronounced GAN), has proven his chops as a singer, performer/front man, songwriter, and producer over the last thirty years. And when Depeche Mode releases, the world listens. Of the veteran bands of the British 80s, DM remains the most relevant, and perhaps the most influential (contested only by The Cure in that department). Gahan may not have the vocal range of other singers, but he delivers conviction like none other. Whether singing Vince Clarke’s, Martin Gore’s, Alan Wilder’s, or his own lyrics, he is able to suck you right into his world. From getting you ready to dance or rock, to sway to gospel or chill to lounge, Gahan has proven the versatility of his voice and is only second to Freddie Mercury as a front man.

Here are videos for “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Never Let Me Down Again,” “It’s No Good,” and “I Feel Loved” from Depeche Mode’s MySpace Videos page. Lastly, a solo single, “Kingdom,” from the Dave Gahan MySpace Videos page.

Just Can't Get Enough

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

Never Let Me Down Again

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

It's No Good

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

Dave Gahan - Kingdom (official music video - album version)

Dave Gahan | MySpace Video


I enjoy this love-hate releationship with (Steven) Morrissey. Introspective, witty, intelligent, and sarcastic, whether with The Smiths or now solo, his songs will either astound you with lyrical savvy, depress the hell out of you, or make you laugh. The dramatic quality of his voice just draws you into his little narratives and vignettes. And nothing is off limits: from smoking in the hopes of an early death to psychotropic drugs, The Smiths brought sophistication to post-punk, while Morrissey continues to bring a twisted, but realistic, outlook on life.

Here is the video for “Ask” (officially The Smith’s MySpace presence, but no page, but here is the direct link). And here is the video for “Something Is Squeezing My Skull” from Morrissey’s MySpace Video page.


The Smiths | MySpace Music Videos

Morrissey -Something Is Squeezing My Skull

Morrissey | MySpace Music Videos

1 comment:

  1. Expect for Annie Lennox, I had never hear of any of the other female vocalist. But, I liked Eva Amaral,even though I didn't understand a word the vocals were clearly there and I really liked Katie. Her voice is unique to anything I've heard before. She's totally going on my ipod.

    For the male vocalist they're all artist I enjoy, with Dave Gahan and the lovely Andy Bell topping my list =)