I'm sure this list will bring on comments-a-plenty, but I'm also sure to surprise you on the way.
Let me set the ground rules for my list. Only those with vocal talent are on it. These aren't front men. Don't expect to see David Lee Roth, Mick Jagger, or Bruce Springsteen on my list. Just because they can shake their ass, dance around, or have a shitload of stage presence doesn't mean they can actually sing. And just because they are an amazing songwriter like John Lennon or Billy Joel doesn't mean they have a voice that transcends the ages.
These singers use their voice as an instrument. They know how to sing a phrase, turn a note, and add color. They know when to rip out lyric with power or suddenly add that magical breathiness. Most importantly, they are distinctive and instantly recognizable. You hear them and you know it. A band without them is just a bunch of musicians.
My runners-up for this list were (in no consecutive order): Jim Morrison, Axl Rose, Don Henley, Grace Slick, James LaBrie from Dream Theatre, Dio, Geoff Tate from Queensryche, and David Gilmour from Pink Floyd.
#10: P!nk. And right out of the chute I'm sure to get people to say WHAT???? Yeah, I said it. P!nk. There's got to be a woman on this list and it's not going to be Janis Joplin with her whiskey voice. Remove the fact that P!nk's a pop sensation. She's got shitload of talent, blues, power, range, and dynamic. She can cross many genres and pull all of them off. Yeah, she's known for her pop and I can't blame her for wanting the fame and fortune and everything that goes with it. You still think I'm crazy? Listen to her rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow at the Oscars. Sure, it's not rock... but it's bluesy as all hell.
#9 Eddie Vedder Eddie's voice reminds me of a string double bass that strums around in the lower range and every now and then works down the neck to surprise you with a higher note. He's able to bring emotion to a phrase without overdoing it - which is something most singers can't do. Listen to the opening notes of his song Release. At first, you'll mistake them for a low end note of a synthesizer.
#8 Roy Orbison I got to reach back to good ol' days of rock n' roll for at least one singer on my list. It's not going to be Elvis. It's not going to be one of The Beatles, either. Roy has an amazing voice and complete control of it. He has range like none other and that soft, gentle voice that makes you think everything is going to be okay. I fell in love with this song during my Blue Velvet days. Cue the candy colored clown they call the sandman.
#7 Bon Scott This guy is like an angry Bob Dylan with a range - sometimes you can't understand a word he's saying but that gravely bluesy angry voice makes you want to f'n rock. There's raw power in his voice but don't be fooled. He's not your ordinary angry hard rocker. The guy knows how to sing like a growling tenor saxophonist in a dive bar on Bourbon Street. Listen to the phrasing and rhythmic melodies he creates, entwining the lyrics in between the drum beats.
#6 Geddy Lee from Rush. Geddy doesn't have the panache like most of the singers on my list and ends up on more "best bassists" than vocalists lists. But after personally singing his stuff over the past 20 years of my life, I can attest that it's extremely challenging. Just try hitting the high notes in Temple of Syrinx or the baritone notes of Trees. Geddy makes it all look effortless while he's playing the most complicated bass licks and keyboard parts. There's a certain beauty and awe about his melodies - they are a bit odd and different but that adds to the magic that is Rush. Here's one of my favorites.
Wal Ozello is the author of Assignment 1989: The Time Travel Wars and was the lead singer of the Columbus hairband Armada. He's a resident of Upper Arlington, Ohio and a frequent customer at Colin's Coffee.