My Top 10 Favorite Voices in Music
10. Glenn Shorrock
I only know one Little River Band album – and it’s their Greatest Hits. But my brother used to play that incessantly and the record sleeve was always prominently displayed on top of the turntable that it is seared into my memory – the deep blue water with a pair of women’s legs swimming towards the right. LRB was and still is my ideal of Australia – the sun, the sea, the laid back attitude. And Shorrock’s voice is a big reason for that. I love how his voice is weathered yet strong, and on songs like “Cool Change” and “Help Is On Its Way”, it really shines. It was a bit difficult to choose between Shorrock and John Farnham (who eventually replaced him as lead singer of the band), but in the end, it’s the roughness and almost kind of weariness in Shorrock’s voice that wins over Farnham’s pristine delivery . Though Farnham’s “Please Don’t Ask Me” is a huge favorite in our house and I’m just beginning my list and already I’m conflicted.
9. Colin Hay
Here’s how amazing Colin Hay’s voice is: to this day he can still sing “Overkill” in the same key and reach that high note.
And then he can turn around and break your heart with “Waiting For My Real Life To Begin”.
8. Michael McDonald
To be honest, I cannot figure out Michael McDonald’s voice. How it can be so deep and still have that amazing falsetto? It’s a mystery. I love the Tom Johnston-era Doobie Brothers, but McDonald’s tenure was pretty special too. He brought a jazzy sophistication to the band, with songs like “Takin’ It To The Streets” and one of my favorites of all time, “What A Fool Believes”. (Also, he was a silver fox before it was even a thing, so there’s that.)
7. Bryan Adams
Okay, the cat’s out of the bag. I love Bryan Adams! I’m always concerned that he won’t reach the high notes because of the hoarseness, but he nails it every time. His gravelly voice is so distinctive that even if he’s only on backing vocals, you know immediately that it’s him. Case in point: I heard this song by Canadian band Glass Tiger on the radio one time, and after the first couple of choruses (the 2:35 mark, to be exact) I sat up because how can you miss that voice (no matter if he comes in more than halfway through the song)!
6. Paul McCartney
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love Paul McCartney. The Beatles was THE band for my brother who, being the oldest, controlled the turntable and the music we all listened to. And it’s so easy to get lost in the weight of those songs because The Beatles is probably the greatest band ever. Let’s forget about his writing for a minute and talk about how McCartney can rock out like the best of them and also sound so gentle at the same time. Is there a more perfect example than “Venus and Mars/Rock Show”? But I think the moment I really appreciated his voice was when I first heard “Calico Skies”. He sounds so tender and vulnerable, and now that Linda’s gone, the lines “I’ll hold you for as long as you like, I’ll love you for the rest of my, for the rest of my life” just break my heart.
5. John Waite
Did you know: VH1 released a list of the cheesiest songs ever, and “When I See You Smile” by Bad English came out on top? Though I genuinely love that song, its top spot did make me laugh because I see their point – it is a bit over the top. But that’s what makes it so great! Hair metal is awesome, and so is John Waite. His voice sounds both plaintive and powerful at the same time. When he sings, it’s like you just want to comfort him and tell him everything is all right. His song “Back On My Feet Again” is such a feel-good anthem for me that this is what I want to highlight:
But also, he rereleased “When I See You Smile” in 2010. It’s a stripped down version that proves how beautiful his voice is, cheesiest song be damned.
4. Don Henley
We’re getting to the heavyweights now. Don Henley has another one of those imperfect voices, but that’s exactly why it’s great. I hear a marked difference between his work with the Eagles and his solo years – not only because of the passage of time, but in the subject matter of his songs. The moment I was struck by Henley’s voice was when I first heard his album Inside Job. In songs like “My Thanksgiving” and “Everything Is Different Now”, it’s like he’s looking back at all those crazy rock and roll days and taking stock of where he is and what age has taught him.
Will you stand here in this fire with me?
Are you ready for another life?
So I bit that bullet, I took that vow
And everything is different now
On his most recent album, Cass County (a country album, no less!) Henley’s voice has changed a lot more. But it doesn’t make him sound washed out or past his prime – it’s just a voice that truthfully reflects the wisdom of a man who’s been through a lot.
But for me, his masterpiece is “The Heart Of The Matter”. The words are so powerful and the way Henley sang that song – just straight, with no histrionics – was the perfect interpretation. I can’t imagine anyone else singing it and being able to convey all the hurt and resignation and ultimately, acceptance in those lines.
3. Freddie Mercury
I hear Freddie Mercury’s voice and all I can think is, “Wow”. Operatic, soaring, and badass are other words that come to mind. Mercury makes it seem like he can do literally anything with his voice. When I say it’s perfect, it’s because it practically is. I used to think that to be a true rock and roller, a singer had to have a certain grit in his voice. But Mercury showed us that’s not always the case. He sounds as smooth as silk, but it doesn’t make him less of a rock star. Listening to him makes me feel so alive. The song I want to highlight for him is my go-to when I need a major boost. I guarantee that you will feel unstoppable after hearing it.
2. Steve Perry
Spotify is my musical best friend (as you can probably tell) and once, through some song suggestions, I landed on Steve Perry’s page. At the time I only knew a handful of his biggest hits: “Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Oh Sherrie”, and “Foolish Heart.” I didn’t know most of the songs on his page, but I couldn’t leave because I just wanted to hear his voice. I was mesmerized.
I’m very proud of Arnel Pineda (who now sings for Journey) because he really can do justice to those amazing songs. But a different Journey singer also clearly shows how special Perry’s voice is. Even if Pineda can hit those notes, he is not Steve Perry, and nobody else will ever come close. Discovering his old songs, I finally understood that expression about singing the phone book. Because I know that if that’s all he ever does, I will still want to listen to Steve Perry.
Was there ever any doubt who would be number one on this list? One eloquent fan put it so well: “Bono’s voice feels like home to me.” And it does! I wish I could have said that, because sometimes when I love something so much I can’t articulate my feelings very well and I am reduced to fangirling and gaaahh.
The first U2 song that I fell in love with was “All I Want Is You”. Do you remember that scene towards the end of Reality Bites when Winona Ryder thought that she had missed her cab to visit Ethan Hawke, but it turns out he had come back to see her? They’d been through a lot of drama so that scene needed the perfect song. Enter U2. And that was the moment they imprinted on me. If anyone asks me what my top 5 U2 songs are, I’ll always give different answers at different times because there are so damn many. But “All I Want Is You” never disappears from the list. The way it opens with Bono singing very softly like he’s holding back his feelings, then by the end he crescendoes into that “Youuuuuuu” – it’s amazing. And even now that you can hear how his voice has aged, it doesn’t matter because it lends another layer of emotion to his songs. Then of course there’s that Irish accent when he speaks, and basically what I’m saying is that all I need is to hear Bono’s voice and I’ll be all right.