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Top Ten Vocalists: Part Three - Number One

You've been reading, watching, listening, and debating.

You've seen the first nine of my Top Ten list - agreed and fervently disagreed.

Now you want to know who my number one is.

Here's the crazy thing - it's a tie.

I can't decide. See... I was raised in the 80s during the days of power chords, big hair, and leather spandex. But my brothers were ten years older than me and they taught me rock 'n roll starting with the music they listed to in the 70s.

So I'm stuck living in both worlds - the 70s and the 80s, which is why it's a tie.

My first #1 is Freddie Mercury

If you've been following along this isn't going to be a surprise to you. I'm into the power vocalists from the 70s, the guys with range and talent.  I've been saying you have to have more than passion or attitude to be on my list. Here's the thing... Freddie's got the complete package: attitude, performance, presence, and a voice like no other. The guy has a massive range and total control of this voice. The way he used vibrato then add a little growl is his trademark. Listen to these isolated vocal tracks from the recording of Somebody To Love. Here's the truly miraculous thing: there wasn't autotune in those days.  It was all pitch perfect.

Only Freddie Mercury could write and sing a song that blends opera and rock n roll, and then have the masses fall in love with it. Think about this for a moment. Practically the same audience that would blast out any other rocking 70s tune would still turn this song up on the radio.

Finally, check out this song - "Who Wants To Live Forever?" On the record, Brian May the guitarist sings the first verse then you can instantly tell when Freddie takes over. Listen to the passion that he slowly builds throughout the song to an explosion at the end.

But here's the thing: Freddie's awesome but he's not perfect.  In fact, I was hard pressed to find any rock vocalist that fit my high standards to be number one. That's why I have a tie.

My other #1: Axl Rose

Yeah. You read that correctly. Axl f'n Rose. The guy has that distinctive angry rock voice but he's got talent, too. He's got this weird range that's both tenor and baritone at the same time. When I first listened to Appetite For Destruction I actually thought there was two lead singers. Now I'm the first to admit that Axl is a complete asshole. But why should that keep him off my list? If anything that's a plus in rock 'n roll.

A couple video tracks here. First is one of my favorites - Paradise City. Axl's sandpaper voice scrapes out the high notes on the chorus while his rythmic melodies rock out the verses. I swear that the Axl's on beat during the first verse and Adler's off rhythm. I'm also pretty sure that Axl's singing both leads and back-up vocals on the opening chorus.

Here's Axl's baritone voice at it's best. Again, the rhythmic melodies really kick ass here. This is live in '88 at the Ritz. Slash isn't at his best in the clip, nor is the rest of the band. My guess is they are all flying high on heroin.

Here's Axl's softer side that really lets his melodies shine. It sounds nothing like the guy who sings Paradise City and Welcome To The Jungle. This is Patience off of Lies, Lies, Lies.

So here's the problem with Axl and why he wasn't a clear #1 for me. Everything after Lies, Lies, Lies was an abomination. Use Your Illusion I & II was such an overproduced bag of shit it was pathetic. Way to ruin the rawness that made Guns N Roses what it was.

So that's my top ten.

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.

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