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The 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time

November 18, 2008 | People

The Rolling Stone magazine blue-ribbon panel of 179 experts ranked music's finest vocalists and several wrote an article on the artists in the Top 10. 

The Top 10:

1. Aretha Franklin By Mary J. Blige
2. Ray Charles By Billy Joel
3. Elvis Presley By Robert Plant
4. Sam Cooke By Van Morrison
5. John Lennon By Jackson Browne
6. Marvin Gaye By Alicia Keys
7. Bob Dylan By Bono
8. Otis Redding By Booker T. Jones
9. Stevie Wonder By Cee-Lo
10. James Brown By Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop and Patti Smith from the expert panel put Elvis on #1, see their ballots.

Elvis Presley by Robert Plant

Born :January 8th, 1935 (died August 16th, 1977)
Key Tracks: "Mystery Train," "Hound Dog," "Suspicious Minds"
Influenced: Bono, Bruce Springsteen

There is a difference between people who sing and those who take that voice to another, otherworldly place, who create a euphoria within themselves. It's transfiguration. I know about that. And having met Elvis, I know he was a transformer.

The first Elvis song I heard was "Hound Dog." I wasn't equipped with any of the knowledge I have now, about the Big Mama Thornton version or where all that swing was coming from. I just heard this voice, and it was absolutely, totally in its own place. The voice was confident, insinuating and taking no prisoners. He had those great whoops and diving moments, those sustains that swoop down to the note like a bird of prey. I took all that in. You can hear that all over Led Zeppelin.

When I met Elvis with Zeppelin, after one of his concerts in the early Seventies, I sized him up. He wasn't quite as tall as me. But he had a singer's build. He had a good chest — that resonator. And he was driven. "Anyway You Want Me" is one of the most moving vocal performances I've ever heard. There is no touching "Jailhouse Rock" and the stuff recorded at the King Creole sessions. I can study the Sun sessions as a middle-aged guy looking back at a bloke's career and go, "Wow, what a great way to start." But I liked the modernity of the RCA stuff. "I Need Your Love Tonight" and "A Big Hunk o' Love" were so powerful — those sessions sounded like the greatest place to be on the planet.

At that meeting, Jimmy Page joked with Elvis that we never soundchecked — but if we did, all I wanted to do was sing Elvis songs. Elvis thought that was funny and asked me, "Which songs do you sing?" I told him I liked the ones with all the moods, like that great country song "Love Me" — "Treat me like a fool/Treat me mean and cruel/But love me." So when we were leaving, after a most illuminating and funny 90 minutes with the guy, I was walking down the corridor. He swung 'round the door frame, looking quite pleased with himself, and started singing that song: "Treat me like a fool. . . ." I turned around and did Elvis right back at him. We stood there, singing to each other.

By then, because of the forces around him, it was difficult for him to stretch out with more contemporary songwriters. When he died, he was 42. I'm 18 years older than that now. But he didn't have many fresh liaisons to draw on — his old pals weren't going to bring him the new gospel. I know he wanted to express more. But what he did was he made it possible for me, as a singer, to become otherworldly.


1. Mystery Train
2. Hound Dog
3. Suspicious Minds
4. Can't Help Falling in Love
5. Jailhouse Rock
6. Burning Love
7. All Shook Up
8. Kentucky Rain
9. In the Ghetto
10. Don't Be Cruel 

On the Rolling Stone magazine website you can read more on the Top 100.

Source:Rolling Stone
Steve V wrote on November 18, 2008
Nice article. We all know Robert Plant adored Elvis as did many of the 70's rockers. Its too bad Elvis was surrounded by the folks that resrticted many of these artists from gaining access to Elvis and maybe present some new musical ideas & dirction to him. The Colonel and his publishing company saw to it that would & could never happen.
bajo wrote on November 19, 2008
Totally agree with you Steve V! Things might have been different? Nice to see all those other favourite voices of mine on that list! Elvis should have been on top, though!
Sean Ryan wrote on November 19, 2008
Its a completely ridiculous list. No Freddie Mercury, George Michael, Jackie Wilson. Those 3 had greater voices than Charles, Lennon and Dylan. Mahalia Jackson's vocals were much better than Aretha's. Frank Sinatra should be in the top 10 as well. Matt Monro is also a very underrated vocalist who doesnt get enough credit. I respect Lennon's songwriting ability and his contribution to the Beatles but vocally, he wasnt that great. Harrison had a better voice than Lennon.
Ruthie wrote on November 19, 2008
It is a completely ridiculous list. The more you look at it, the more sense it doesn't make. 179 experts seem not to have a clue about the rest of the population. I could ask 25 "experts" at my favorite music store for a list & it would be completely different. What a waste of time.
John4126 wrote on November 19, 2008
Ruthie - true to form Elvis doesnt top a list and you hollar 'It's worthless'. I'm sure if Elvis came out top you would not be declaring this a waste of time. It's just 179 people's opinion. Does it really matter? Just as i would say to Sean Ryan, 'Georger Michael? You're having a laugh mate!' An opinion. Anyhow, I think the Sweets are quoted as saying that Frankin was technically a better vocalist than Elvis.
Steve V wrote on November 20, 2008
The list is just a list and its only 179 people's opinion. If you look at the issue you will see Jackie Wilson and others mentioned on these posts in the top 100. I dont really have a problem with the top 10. Yeah Sinatra should be in top 10 I agree. Matt Monro? Most people dont even know who he is. He had 1 hit in America 100 years ago. I do think Lennon was the best of The Beatles singers. His was the most unique voice of the 3 (I dont count Ringo) Harrison could not do and out & out rocker justice. When it comes down to it, I think uniqueness is what sets these singers apart from the rest. You know its Elvis, Ray Sam, Aretha, Dylan, Lennon, etc. when the record starts. I'm very happy Elvis landed in the top 3 in a Rolling Stone poll 30+ years after his death. That should mean something to the masses.
Jesse Garon Presley wrote on November 20, 2008
still a ridiculous list. Franklin is no way a better vocalist then Elvis, and by GOD she's a female singer and elvis a male singer, there's NO comparison between the two and Elvis is much better known then Franklin, powerful fact Elvis had more influence on Artists performers then and today, then Franklin ever will, ask a kid on the street " do you know who Aretha Franklin is?" they would answer no ask the same question again if they know Elvis, then they would say yes, and i truly agree with Ruthie and Sean Ryan. this list doesn't mean anything only 179 people voted, what about the rest of the world? Franklin would be for sure no nr.1 in fact she never will be.. this poll has no meaning whatsoever another powerful fact.
Jesse Garon Presley wrote on November 20, 2008
but i also agree with you Steve V for sure
ta2k wrote on November 20, 2008
I also say this list is worthless. Any singing poll that doesn't have Elvis as the best IS DEFINITELY wrong. Fact. TCB
Mark S. wrote on November 20, 2008
I don't have a problem with this list. Elvis not at #1 but #3 is fine. To each his/her own (in this case 179 experts'). Steve: don't want to get into a "Beatles"-debate on an Elvis website, but you should check out Paul McCartney's DVD “Back In The US”. That really blew me away (especially Live And Let Die; simply amazing!). Paul is extremely versatile, much more so than Lennon.
Ruthie wrote on November 20, 2008
John4126: Yes, if Elvis had been named #1, I would still say the list is worthless & a waste of time. Most polls are. However, they do get people riled up. Maybe that's the point.
Sean Ryan wrote on November 20, 2008
John 4126, no im not having a laugh when i say George Michael should be in the top 10.He can sing anything, ballads, rock, anything and proved that with his record sales and sell-out concerts.. Sinatra rated him very highly if you must know as do Mariah Carey,Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie just to name a few and for a british singer to be so successful in the US, that says it all. Steve V, No your mistaken Matt Monro didnt have 1 hit 100 years ago, in fact he is more modern that Elvis was so your history of music needs abit of improving.Anyway, its not about how many or big a person's hits were its the voice, Sinatra said Matt Monro was the greatest singer ever to come out of the UK and listening to him he was right, a brilliant distinctive voice Matt had.Not saying he should be in the top 10 but a very underrated vocalist. I guess its just my opinon on Lennon but i think the credit he gets as a singer is totally overrated.Just listening to his version of 'Stand By Me' sums it up.Very poor!!
Steve V wrote on November 20, 2008
Sean - Im not saying Matt Monro was a bad singer, Im saying he is not very well known outside of the UK. Plus, he is one of many crooners wih a very good voice, like Al Martino, Tony Bennett and many others. As for Lennon's Stand By Me, no one can touch Ben E King on that one and if you want to talk about bad versions of songs nothing was worse that Elvis' Hey Jude. Not everyone can hit a home run with every song.
Sean Ryan wrote on November 20, 2008
Steve, I think that Matt Monro had a much superior voice than Al Martino and Tony Bennett. His vocal ability had so much 'feeling' in it where others were just quite bland.Matt could deliver a song with more feeling than even Elvis could.Just listen to tracks like 'Walk Away', 'Born Free', 'Portrait Of My Love'.No one could have captured that magic that Matt did in those recordings. As for 'Stand By Me', i agree that no one can touch Ben.E. King's version but even Muhammed Ali's version was better than Lennon's. Elvis's version of 'Hey Jude' is not as bad you make it out to be but Elvis may have just like the song and didnt intend for it to be released as a single which is what Lennon did with his version of 'Stand By Me'. Lennon did bring out a few good solo recordings and without a doubt one of the greatest musicans and songwriters but ,vocally, didnt rate him one of the best singers ever.There have been so many better singers than him.
Deke Rivers 6 wrote on November 21, 2008
Yes Steve V has got it right. How tall is Robert anyway, over 6ft Elvis was 6ft straight,according to the man himself. As for Paul McCartney all he does is scream on R&R songs, Lennon was much better than McCartney at R&R "Twist And Shout" good example
Deke Rivers 6 wrote on November 21, 2008
Is this the new cover of RS, if so I must get this.Best ever pose of Elvis ever !
John4126 wrote on November 21, 2008
sean ryan - you missed my point completely. You rave over George Michael and would put him in your top 10 - i don't think he can sing for toffee and he wouldn't scrape into my top 100. It's about opinion and we really shouldnt get so worked up over these things. As for Jesse GAaron, to suggest that young people don't know who Aretha Franklin is is frankly quite offensive. What do you base that on? Your ignorance of the work the lady has done?
Sean Ryan wrote on November 21, 2008
John, you dont think George Michael can 'sing for toffee' but he has sold over 100 million records worldwide, with 12 British #1 singles, 7 British #1 albums, 10 US #1 singles, and 2 US #1 albums, is a 2-time Grammy award winner.Not too bad for someone who 'cant sing for toffee'.