Although the list is about ten years old, Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers list has recently been making the rounds back through social media. No matter where you go on the internet, people are once again arguing about the validity of the list. Lists like these are ultimately pointless; even the people who write these lists probably disagree with their own rankings a week after they make them. What isn’t pointless, however, is how much fun it is to argue about who should have been ranked higher. For me, the biggest problem with the list is the glaring omissions. There are timeless, hugely influential singers that are nowhere to be found on Rolling Stone’s ranking, and these are just five of the biggest that were missing.
Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops
Many would argue that David Ruffin of The Temptations should have been ranked higher than 65, but the biggest problem for me is that Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops is nowhere to be found at all. Levi’s powerful baritone led the Four Tops to amazing success, including 6 Top 10 hits on the Pop Chart, all of which featured Levi Stubbs singing the lead vocal. Songs like “Bernadette” and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” are essential songs of the 60s, and set the bench mark for excellence in the Motown era. There will never be another Levi Stubbs, and yet he didn’t even crack the Top 100.
Essential Tracks: “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, “Bernadette”, “Ask the Lonely”, “I Believe In You And Me”
Tony Williams of The Platters
The Platters were the first black superstar vocal group, and lead tenor Tony Williams was a huge part of why they became so popular. Their influence on R&B is immeasurable, as they were among the first big doo-wop groups, and would influence a whole generation of black singers that came after. There has never been a tenor in popular music who could sing as powerfully as Williams, who would hit the highest notes in his range with the same power and sustain as the middle of his range. Notes that most could barely approach in falsetto were sung by Tony Williams with what sounded like relative ease.
Essential Tracks: “The Great Pretender”, “Only You”, “My Prayer”
Dennis Edwards of The Temptations
I’ve already written a lot about the importance of Dennis Edwards of the Temptations, who replaced David Ruffin and managed to have even more success than his predecessor. The psychedelic soul era of The Temptations might not have happened at all if not for Dennis Edwards stepping in with his perfect, gospel-tinged baritone-tenor at exactly the right time. And yet he’s nowhere to be found on the list, unlike Ruffin.
Essential Tracks: “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “Run Away Child, Running Wild”
Ronald Isley of The Isley Brothers
The Isley Brothers are a group who adjusted to the times and always managed to succeed. They started with a gospel-influenced sound in the late 1950s, adjusting to the Motown soul vibe in the mid 1960s, and then breaking out and going straight funky well into the 70s. Through all of their successes, the brilliant Ronnie Isley was their lead singer. From “Shout” to “It’s Your Thing”, Isley has always stood among the absolute best of soul, but rarely gets cited alongside singers like Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight, as he should be.
Essential Tracks: “Shout”, “Twist and Shout”, “It’s Your Thing”
Melvin Franklin of The Temptations
I may be double-dipping to include another member of The Temptations, but bass singer Melvin Franklin is one of the most criminally underrated singers in music history. Not having him on the list was never an option. Melvin is arguably the greatest bass singer of all time when it comes to popular music, with few even coming close to Blue. He was the bass singer of The Temptations from the group’s origins until he was forced to retire in 1994, holding down the low end for the group on almost every charting song they ever had. Songs like “I Can’t Get Next to You” and “Get Ready” just wouldn’t be the same without Franklin’s amazing, booming voice.
Essential Tracks: “Ol’ Man River”, “Ball of Confusion”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”
So those are the five amazing vocalist that I immediately noticed were missing from the other list. Who else did Rolling Stone forget?