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Playlist: 15 songs from the best singers in music history

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Playlist: 15 songs from the best singers in music history

Freddie Mercury of Queen was one of the most single most influential vocalists of the 20th century. Image by Getty.

Freddie Mercury of Queen was one of the most single most influential vocalists of the 20th century. Image by Getty.

Freddie Mercury of Queen was one of the most single most influential vocalists of the 20th century. Image by Getty.

Freddie Mercury of Queen was one of the most single most influential vocalists of the 20th century. Image by Getty.

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The power of an amazing voice to pull you into a song and make it timeless, no matter how simple or complex, cannot be overestimated. These tracks are great introductions to these masters of song, if you’ve never heard them, or showcases of those you already love. It’s tough to nail down just 15, but these are (and were) some of the finest voices in the business. Look for a few bonus tracks included, if you inevitably want to hear more of these voices.

1. George Michael (Wham!) – Everything She Wants


George Michael’s voice at its best, even later in his career, had the ability to send shivers down your back and color to your cheeks. One of the great male vocalists when it came to pop phrasing, Michael understood what made the voice a powerful weapon to sell even the most basic of songs. With “Everything She Wants” he demonstrated the range and ability that would power his greatest solo work, particularly in the 1987 album “Faith.”

Bonus track: “Father FIgure.”

2. Freddie Mercury (Queen) – “Love of My Life”

Mercury, the voice of Queen, was revered for his incredible range. It extended from a bass low F to soprano high F, meaning that he could range from a throaty rock growl to a pure, impossibly high voice, with the ability to belt up to tenor high F. His use of unusually quick vibrato prompted a study in 2016 and NPR even has the science to back up why we still marvel at the genius he displayed.

Bonus tracks: “Somebody to Love” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

3. Aretha Franklin – “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”


There seems no need now to explain why Franklin is on the list, if not topping it. Perhaps the most influential female singer of all time, she leaves most vocalists in the dust with her enduring talent throughout much of her life and career, performing even late in life.

Bonus Tracks: “Chain of Fools,” “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

4. Whitney Houston – “I Have Nothing”

Houston’s voice, often referred to as a technical marvel, seems to effortlessly range from rich velvety depths to her famously powerful middle section, packing powerful section of notes into just a few syllables – a style and level of power that many have tried to copy. This very difficult song has become famous for use on shows like America’s Got Talent, but Whitney makes it seem like a cake walk.

5. Michael Jackson – “Human Nature”

Jackson needs no introduction as a vocalist. Since his beginnings as a child singer with Jackson 5 (see their classic “I Want You Back), he was seen as a young master of pop technique, with a gorgeously gentle, pure tenor and falsetto combined with his famous phrasing style using breaths, gasps and interjections. Even in collaborations with other singers (such as “We Are The World”), Jackson’s voice is so distinctive that it pierces through with undeniable clarity. His sense of perfection comes through in almost every track.

Bonus Tracks: “Billie Jean,” “Man in the Mirror”

6. Stevie Wonder – “All I Do”

The Wonder himself has an endless catalog of songs that demonstrate the versatility and technique in his vocals, as well as a very recognizable sound and style all his own. With a career spanning from light pop to his more complex concept album days in the heart of soul music, he could make the simplest songs all his own (“For Once in My Life”) or attack highly complex songs with an elastic, delicious voice.

Bonus Tracks: “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” “My Cherie Amour.”

7. Nat King Cole – The Very Thought of You

This man inspired many singers, from Frank Sinatra to Ray Charles, with an incredibly velvety voice and vibrato that could bring chills to any listener. He was known for his impeccable enunciation and rich range of crooning styles that are endlessly copied even today. He also broke barriers in music at a time when segregation kept many divided, even on the airwaves.

Bonus Tracks: “Nature Boy” “Smile.”

8. Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) – “White Rabbit”

The lead singer of the psychedelic band Jefferson Airplane, Slick quickly became a ’60s icon for her haunting, powerhouse vocals and stage presence. “Rabbit” became one of the band’s best-known songs, most likely due to her bewitching performance – first low and richly nimble, then by 1:22, heart-poundingly powerful with her belting vibrato soaring above the song. This was characteristic of many of her later songs as her voice deepened.

Bonus track: “Somebody to Love”(Jefferson Airplane).

9. Marvin Gaye – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

Gaye, with his enduringly elegant and romantic voice, remains so iconic as a figure of soul and Motown that he is still often deemed the “Prince of Soul” and “Prince of Motown.” Listening to Gaye, particularly in later years when he truly blended gospel influence with the evolving soul of the ’70s into his own sound, you hear a voice that is fully developed and sweet with soulful heart, with an increased grit that rounds out every track with mature vulnerability.

Bonus Track: “What’s Going On.”

10. Ray Charles -“Georgia On My Mind”

Charles, who even cited Nat King Cole as an influence, became a legendary presence in rhythm and blues and in the music industry as a whole, possessing one of the most recognizable voices in its passion and sense of genuine emotion. His vocal runs, punctuations and drags from low to high (the trademark ripple he uses in songs, from throaty, up to a “whoop!”) feel effortless and put his own stamp on songs no matter how often they were covered by other artists. He consistently tops lists of vocalists of all time for good reason.

Bonus Tracks: “Over the Rainbow,” “You Don’t Know Me.”

11. Jim Morrison (The Doors) -“Light My Fire”

Morrison’s hypnotic voice combined with his infamously rebellious stage personality had such power that he would often have audiences clinging to the stage, with some female attendants in hysterics, by the end of the set. Morrison is regarded as one of the greatest male rock vocalists combined with his poetic songwriting for an often ghostly, raw voice rising over the band’s mystic sound.

Bonus Track: “People Are Strange.”

12. Joni Mitchell – “Both Sides Now”

Joni Mitchell’s evolution as a vocalist is unique because she was able to succeed even following the loss of her famously high, nimble folk soprano. After her voice deepened considerably with age, her album “Both Sides Now” revealed her deft transformation to a smoky, rich timbre that added a new dimension to her songs and covers. This song, originally a gorgeous song sung in her youthful, sweet voice, takes on a new and achingly poignant meaning in her deep alto.

Bonus Tracks: “A Case of You,” “California.”

13. Karen Carpenter – “We’ve Only Just Begun”

Carpenter’s sweet and unforgettable alto elevated the songs of this band into a pop culture legacy. Another vocalist lost at a young age, hers is a timeless voice with its simplicity and pure talent.

Bonus Track: “Superstar.”

14. Linda Ronstadt – “You’re No Good”

Beginning as a country singer in the 1970s, Ronstadt would go on to work with many musicians, including The Eagles in their early days, and become one of the best-selling artists worldwide. With Southwestern roots, her ability to croon with great control is combined with an irresistible belting range that suited a wide range of genres.

Bonus Track: “Blue Bayou,” “When I Grow Too Old to Dream.”

15. Ella Fitzgerald – “Cry Me A River”


Ella, famous for her many, many covers and versions of virtually every jazz standard, really could sing anything. Her mastery of the jazz style and inimitable talent could even be called a revolutionary style for female jazz vocalists for the rest of the century. Fellow singers like Peggy Lee called a standard by which all other jazz vocalists were measured at the time.

Bonus Tracks: “Summertime,” “Someone To Watch Over Me.”

Natalie Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or @NatalieH_Orion on Twitter.

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Natalie Hanson, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Arts & Entertainment Editor. Former Breaking News editor and reporter.

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Playlist: 15 songs from the best singers in music history