At some point, I remember reading the best voices in rock music could be compared to sushi.
The best of both are served raw, very raw.
I have always liked to feel, as well as hear, the passion in music. Combine strong lyrics with an interesting voice and it's easy to put the rest of the world on hold.
The impact of a unique voice may have been explained best by a former colleague of mine. I always placed a lot of faith in this friend's views on life. After all, we both enjoyed the intricacies and subtle humor of the James Bond films and suffered through one woeful year after another of Cleveland Indians baseball.
My friend once explained that a voice should actually be looked upon as another instrument. From that moment on, I think I listened to music much differently. To this day, I often find myself imagining what a song would be like minus the artist's voice. Try it sometime; it provides a new kind of listening experience. I call it "thinking-man's music."
"Raw" is an appropriate common denominator in the kinds of voices I often find myself drifting toward. I think the gravely, scratchy kind of voice lends itself to a more passionate experience by the listener.
Here's my five all-time favorite singers:
º 1. Rod Stewart: I am incredibly biased, of course, but I feel Rod, in his prime, possessed the most distinctive voice in music history. To this day, some of his original recordings ("Reason to Believe," "Country Comfort") still give me chills. The first time I heard him on the radio was a weekday afternoon, traveling west on U.S. 30 just outside of Mansfield, Ohio. It was late in the summer of 1971, and more than 45 years later, he's still my favorite singer by such a wide margin.
º 2. John Lennon: His sound was always so brutally honest, the only Beatle who seemed out of place during the group's shirt-and-tie, squeaky-clean days when they were at the forefront of the British Invasion. His throaty voice, with just a hint of that Liverpool accent, was always so distinctive. For the record, my favorite Lennon vocal is "Twist and Shout."
º 3. Bonnie Tyler: For someone who has always loved Rod Stewart's raspy voice, this is a natural. Tyler never achieved the same kind of U.S. acceptance as she did in Great Britain, but the lady who sounds like she gargled with razor blades will always have a key spot on my own personal play list. It's hard to top "It's a Heartache" when talking best-ever female singles.
º 4. Janis Joplin: She left us far too soon, but left behind some of the best primal screams in music history. I'm not sure which I like more, "Piece of My Heart" or "Me and Bobby McGee."
º 5. Dusty Springfield: She's often referred to as Britain's greatest pop diva and the finest white soul singer of her era. From "I Only Want to Be with You" in 1963 to "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" (with the Pet Shop Boys) in 1987, Dusty bridged all generations.
Special mention: Sam Cooke, Al Green, Stevie Nicks, Steven Tyler, Ann Wilson.