Steve Marriott: Small Faces, Humble Pie

Defining Track: All or Nothing

Despite his small stature Steve Marriott was an absolute power house of a singer (and a damned cool dude as well), and of the sixties bands around at the same time, maybe only Stevie Winwood could hold a candle to his vocal prowess. Unfortunately for Marriott he never fulfilled his potential after leaving the Small Faces and ended up broke, playing pubs, until he died in a house fire in 1991.


Rod Stewart: The Jeff Beck Group, The Faces, solo artist

Defining Track: Maggie May

One of the biggest selling artists of all time, strangely Rod hasn’t actually made a decent record since the seventies. But WOW, some of the records he made back then are amazing, both with The Faces and his own solo career. Stewart actually replaced Steve Marriott in the Small Faces. Two of the best singers of all time, in one band. Not bad going!


Marvin Gaye: Solo artist

Defining Track: I Heard It Through The Grapevine

One of the all time greats from any era, Marvin Gaye’s career with Motown was unbelievably successful, both with his hit singles in the sixties, and his concept albums and mature sound in the seventies. He had huge hits including Let’s Get It On, What’s Going On and Sexual Healing, until he was shot dead, unbelievably, by his father in the mid eighties.

Harry Nilsson

Harry Nilsson: Solo artist

Defining Track: Without You

Nilsson was blessed with a voice with a three and a half octave range and, despite hits like Without You and Everybody’s Talking, he never achieved widespread acclaim. Known for being a hellraiser, he all but ruined his voice through years of drink and drug abuse. He died of a heart attack in 1994 at the age of 50.


Elvis Presley: Solo artist

Defining Track: You Were Always On My Mind

Where it all started. Everyone on this list owes at least a little something to Elvis. Even if he doesn’t compare vocally to some of these guys, he deserves to be on the list purely because you cannot mistake his voice for anyone else. It’s probably the most recognisable singing voice on the planet. Elvis had two distinct halves to his career, the early rock ‘n’ roll and the later Vegas years, before dying in 1977.


Steve Winwood: Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith, Traffic, solo artist

Defining Track: Gimme Some Lovin’

To be filed some where near Steve Marriott. If Rod Stewart is a Sam Cooke soundalike, then Winwood was definitely nearer to Ray Charles. You can listen to some of the Spencer Davis Group songs, and wonder how on earth a 16 year old white kid from Birmingham could sing like that. A dynamite musician as well, Winwood had huge success in the seventies and eighties as well.


Frank Sinatra: Solo artist

Defining Track: My Way

The list wouldn’t be complete without a crooner. And who better to choose than the leader of the Rat Pack, ole Blue Eyes. He was the king of cool back in the day, and feared by almost everyone due to his bad temper and links to the mafia. His singing career ran from the late thirties all the way to 1980 when he had his last hit Theme from New York, New York. Much like Elvis, his career declined, only to be reborn in the sixties, and he also acted in numerous films, including From Here To Eternity, in which he won an Oscar. He died in 1998, aged 82.


James Brown: Solo artist

Defining Track: I Feel Good

The Godfather of soul was a tour de force when it came to putting on a show. He was known for some time, usually by himself, as the hardest working man in showbiz. He also has a recording career that is the envy of most recording artists, certainly in the world of soul and funk, a style he all but pioneered with songs such as Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine and The Payback. His 1963 album Live At The Apollo is still considered one of the most influential of all time. Brown died in 2006, aged 73.


Otis Redding: Solo artist

Defining Track: Try A Little Tenderness

Otis Redding is widely regarded as the greatest soul singer of all time. Unfortunately for the world, they barely got acquainted with the man before he died in a plane crash at the age of just 26. Even still, he left quite a legacy behind, including classic albums like Otis Blue, classic songs like (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay and classic live performances like his star making turn at the Monterey Pop Festival 1967.

waits old

Tom Waits: Solo artist

Defining Track: Tom Traubert’s Blues

OK, I know this is controversial because Wait’s voice is more than a bit of a love/hate thing, but I think he is so distinctive compared with almost anyone else, that he deserves a place on this list. Coupled with his fantastic songwriting abilities (as covered by Stewart, Springsteen and The Eagles to name a few) his voice is instantly recognisable, and he has never stood still when it comes to musical innovation and evolution. Waits deserves to be regarded in the same breath as these other guys.

About thomasjford

I like Movies and Music and most things popular culture.


  1. All are definitely terrific musicians (and singers). Good list.

    • Thanks man! Any faves yourself?

      • Well. I think 3 of the 4 Beatles have always been underrated singers. Beyond that you covered the historical names pretty well. So I’ll go a bit more recent –

        Nathan Willet of The Cold War Kids


        John Paul White of The Civil Wars

        Both have such tremendous range, especially the latter.

      • Yeah the Beatles for sure. I’m guessing you didn’t include Ringo!

        The Civil Wars are pretty decent man yeah. Don’t know much Cold War Kids other than Hang Me Out To Dry (?) though

  2. Love them all & great write-ups throughout. I wouldn’t dispute any of your choices, but my list would have to include Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, David Gilmour, Stuart Adamson (Big Country), Al Green…and I’m sure there are others I can’t think of right now. I give you credit for even attempting a list like this. Well done.

    • Yeah there are a lot of greats missing, but these are personal faves and it’s only ten. I wanted to include Jim Morrison, Ray Charles, Daltrey, Plant et al but these guys won out!

  3. Terrific and very eclectic list.

  4. Glad to see James Brown on the list, what a tremendous voice.

  5. Great list, Tom!

    • Any faves yourself Karen?

      • In addition to your faves, Tom:
        Sammy Davis Jr. – “It’s Gotta Be Me”
        Al Stewart – On the Border
        Billy Joel – Vienna
        Freddie Mercury – Somebody to Love
        Barry Manilow – I Write the Songs
        Max Mutzke – Can’t Wait Until Tonight
        …and many more…

      • I’m not familiar with most of those songs Karen, apart from Freddie of course!

  6. When they named Team Canada’s hockey team for the Olympics, all the attention went to ‘who wasn’t there.’ I will therefore focus on the inclusions, not the exclusions, and say excellent rationale for the choices, especially the more controversial selections like Tom Waits!

    • Any faves yourself Stephen?

      • That’s the trick as well – as greatest ‘vocalists’ it feels like I might have a different list than if it were greatest ‘singers’ or ‘frontmen’
        I’m not the biggest Queen fan in the world, but I’d imagine Freddie would show up for me on any of the above variations!

      • Yeah it’s more of a personal preference thing. I’m not doubting Freddie Mercury or Robert Plant are probably better vocalists than Elvis or Tom Waits, but they aren’t, in my view, as pioneering or individual.

  7. Excellent list, man! I look forward to the Greatest Female Vocalists entry 🙂

    • It’s coming! It was harder to put together though because a lot of the ‘top’ female singers like Whitney are in genres that I’m not interested in. But it’s still a fairly diverse list!

      Who are your fave male and female vocalists?

  8. Fantastic list Tom. I actually saw James Brown perform once! I’ve never seen someone with so much energy!

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