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With “Always on My Mind” closing out s2e2 of The Newsroom, lots of my Internet nerd friends were raving about Willie Nelson. They praised his distinct voice that used behind-the-beat timing and unique phrasing. While I dig Willie Nelson on multiple levels, the surge in his popularity (in the nerd world, anyway) got me thinking about voices in popular music that I find unique. Of course there are obvious ones like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. For millions of people Elvis Presley’s voice is synonymous with rock and roll. After thinking about it for a few days, three vocalists stood out — Roy Orbison, Barry Gibb, and Freddie Mercury.
Keep in mind that I’m talking about distinct voices, not necessarily the most powerful or ones with ridiculous range (though Mercury definitely possessed crazy power and range). I’m talking about singers that are so unique that you can identify their voices after two notes and can’t imagine anyone else singing their songs (other than homages).
Roy Orbison — Depending on the song, Orbison’s voice could be ethereal or haunting (and sometimes ethereally haunting). I was always amazed by how expressive he could be while being so controlled at the same time. While I love lots of his solo stuff, hearing him in the Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care” is one of my favorites. It’s a very good song that’s made great by Orbison’s bridge.
Barry Gibb — I love the Bee Gees. While the Aussie trio’s harmonies were awesome, Barry’s voice is what made the band stand out. What makes his voice so memorable to me is that he had two distinct styles that were both fantastic. There’s the falsetto that everyone knows from songs like “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” but there’s also the deeper, breathy voice he used for “How Deep is Your Love?”
Freddie Mercury — Best. Rock. Singer. Ever.
If geneticist and sorcerers teamed together to make the perfect rock-and-roll singer, you’d have the second coming of Freddie Mercury.
So those are my picks for some of the most distinct voices in pop music. I’d love to hear about yours! Kindly use the comments section to share the voices that stand out in your head (not the voices in your head).