Arts Desk

Rolling Stone Ranks the Crooners; Time to Play Parse that Platitude!

This week, Rolling Stone fronts a totally definitive list of the 100 greatest singers of all time. (Previous totally definitive lists include the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, the 500 greatest songs of all time, and THE 100 IMMORTALS. But that's just scratching the surface.)

Besides the inherent arbitrariness of the exercise and the fact that most casual listeners could write these lists in their sleep—along with the celebrity-penned panegyrics that accompany them—what tends to bum me out about these things is the complacency involved. You dredge up a ream of archival photos, solicit a lot of free content from celebs who want to align themselves with the legacy of a given "immortal," and publish with maximum fanfare. Plus, to dig the entire list on the web, the reader has to click through ONE HUNDRED TIMES. (Surely this'll crack the totally definitive list of the "100 greatest ways to phone it in while increasing pageviews...of all time.") I mean, sheesh, at least Blender maintains a bit of irony about the whole list motif.

Still, the celeb encomia have their moments. Below are a few of the purpler, more platitudinous moments of pop pedantry. See if you can guess to which vocal titan each one corresponds.

(I'll post answers on Friday. Or you can cheat by giving pageviews to the Stone. Either way.)

  • There is a difference between people who sing and those who take that voice to another, otherworldly place, who create a euphoria within themselves.
  • You know a force from heaven. You know something that God made. And [blank] is a gift from God.
  • There's a lot going on in [blank]'s voice. A lot of pain, a lot of life but, most of all, a lot of strength.
  • [Blank]'s unhinged aggression presaged punk rock.
  • I can't compare [blank]'s voice to anything — [blank] had such an unusual breadth of influences, from Sonic Youth to Edith Piaf.


UPDATE ~10:30 a.m., 12/8/08: We have winners. Answers posted here!

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  • Steven

    If you click print you get this whole list on one page.

  • Elisabetta

    The second--Aretha Franklin

    The third--Louis Armstrong

    The fourth--Iggy Pop

  • Ted Scheinman


    The good news: since not all of your guesses are wrong, you're the current frontrunner!

    The bad news: most of your guesses are wrong.

    Luckily, you're on the right track with minimal competition. Let's see who else chimes in. Answers on Friday.

  • Dean Steve

    1. Susan Alexander, second wife of Charles Foster Kane and would-be operatic soprano; her voice took one to an otherworldly place, though that wasn't heaven.
    2. Enrico Caruso. Hands down.
    3. Kate Smith, singing "God Bless America"
    4. Perry Como. Beneath those smooth tones is a nastily aggressive person waiting to break out.
    5. The late Studs Terkel.