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Rachel Unthank, Flossie Malavialle, Kathryn Roberts head top 10 female singers, alternative option

Heading the 10 best female singers. Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight - Sandy Denny?

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Buy Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits album at Salut! Live's Amazon record shelf by clicking on this caption

UPDATE: scroll down the article or check Comment No 24 for a revised Top 10 ...

Of Nick Hornby's books - and I've read a few - High Fidelity is comfortably my favourite. If you've read it, too, you'll remember the lists.

He went for Top Fives or Five This/Five That. At a Facebook group called Greatest Albums of All Time and Great Music!! (yes, two exclamation marks), Damian Mitchell doubled it to give his choice of the best 10 female singers.

We all like lists, or at least most of us do, whether we agree or not with their compilers, but here is Damian's (who took care to add "and no I haven't forgotten Cher or Adele (just don't rate them in my top 10"):

1 Janis Joplin
2 Etta James
3 Amy Winehouse
4 Dusty Springfield
5 Annie Lennox
6 Tina Turner
7 Debbie Harry
8 Gladys Knight
9 Signe Toly Anderson
10 Billie Holiday

My response *(I should get out more) was this ...


If any non-classical genre allowed, I’d keep 3,4,5 and 10 from Damian’s list and nominate:
1 Sandy Denny
2 Billie Holiday
3 Amy Winehouse
4 Edith Piaf
5 June Tabor
6 Dusty Springfield
7 Annie Lennox
8 Joan Baez
9 Kate Rusby
10 Sinead O’Connor

But it’s just a series of preferences, a list I could easily change on another night.


Then the fun started.

Aretha Franklin, no one else comes close - Adrian Mason

I can't believe that Aretha Franklin is missing from the list. Anita Baker too. I would put those two in the first two positions - Nick Hamlyn

All great singers but gotta add Tina Turner, Pat Benetar, Debbie Harry -
Jim Harkins

Peggy Lee, Timi Yuro, Millie Jackson, Mavis Staples, Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Cat Power, Dolly, Emmylou, Linda, Madeleine Peyroux, Marianne Faithfull, Jeanie Robertson. And others already mentioned...Francoise Hardy, Eddi Reader, Barbara Dickson... - Les Rae

Janis Joplin was good. Ranking her over Aretha Franklin, or Gladys Knight is just ridiculous -
Jerome Walcott

We also saw - sorry, see not saw: the thread is still going strong - votes for Stevie Nicks, Maddy Prior, Kate Bush, Toyah Willcox, Suzy Quatro, Siouxsie Sioux, Carole King, Karen Carpenter, Maria Callas, Chrissie Hynde, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Rickie Lee Jones, Annie Haslam, Roberta Flack, Mahalia Jackson, Judith Durham, Whitney "by far", Barbara Streisand and er, Olivia Newton-John ...plus others I have never heard of.

There are more. But you'd lose the will to live trying to, well, list them all. And no Helen Shapiro or Lesley Gore,

Maybe Rick Soshensky had the right idea, once he'd got over his own absolutist opinion: "No Aretha? She is #1 in my opinion. And if you're going to mix in jazz with Billie Holiday, then what about Ella Fitzgerald? And Debbie Harry has about a one octave range. These lists of 'bests' are bulls***. Everybody likes what they like."

And yes, my own list has changed in mind several times* since I posted it. You can also tell me if you preferred Nick Hornby's About a Boy to High Fidelity.


* This is how I explain my own change of heart:

Lists are moveable feasts. Mine has been changed and will almost certainly change again, mainly as a result of the promptings in the comments above. There is still no room for Laura Nyro, Grace Slick, Christine Perfect, Melanie, Maggie Bell or Linda Ronstadt because I do not know/have not kept up with their work sufficiently to make a judgement. Janis Joplin never meant much to me. Mary Black and Dolores Keane were already bubbling under and don't quite make the breakthrough. But welcome Eddi Reader, Aretha Franklin and Dolores O'Riordan, with apologies to Edith Piaf, Annie Lennox and Joan Baez. Couldn't quite squeeze in an Unthank, Kathryn Roberts or Eliza Carthy

My new list:

1 Sandy Denny
2 Billie Holiday
3 Amy Winehouse
4 June Tabor
5 Aretha Franklin
6 Dusty Springfield
7 Kate Rusby
8 Sinead O’Connor
9 Dolores O’Riordan
10 Eddi Reader

Comments

Bill Taylor

Laura Nyro and Grace Slick should absolutely be included in any list of contenders. As for Annie Haslam, I'd say she belongs in a "10 worst" list...

John Crosby

Joni Mitchell
Sandy Denny
Tracy Nelson
Billie Holiday
Etta James
Grace Slick
June Tabor
Aretha Franklin
Om Kalsoum
The Supremes

Colin Randall

We are not so far apart, John!

Not sure I have heard much if anything of Anne Haslam, Bill.

John Crosby

I've always thought Tracy Nelson a better singer than Janis, whose legend seems fuelled more by her early death and larger-than-life personality.
Listening again recently to The Supremes hit singles, they are a brilliant body of work.
Om Kalthoum was just one of those iconic singers, like Billie Holiday, Cesária Évora or Piaf.

Joan Dawson

Aretha Franklin for me ...

John Crosby

Aretha's 'Don't Play That Song (You Lied)' is brilliant. https://youtu.be/PE0CVraUvFQ

Colin Randall

Too true, John. I just took a look at your link and it is sensational.

Joan Dawson

Great voice. Didn’t know she played piano

John Crosby

She does on most of her early records and also used the piano in the studio to work out catchy riffs (like the one here).

Colin Randall

My own list was as mainstream as I can be. The alternative might include an Unthank, a Carthy, Kathryn Roberts, at least three obscurish French singers and - as my favourite female pop voice - Dolores O’Riordan.

Brendan Hanrahan

Dolores - Limerick woman, of course.

Sinead O'Connor may or may not be mad as a box of frogs but the voice of a (tortured) angel doesn't even get close. Her version of On Raglan Road is seminal. Dolores Keane and Mary Black are close, too.

Jake Lark


I always thought Joplin was bloody awful. In recent years on the bluesy/jazzy side Amy Winehouse was hard to beat.

Colin Randall

She (Joplin) just passed me by, I have to admit. Nothing I heard ever really interested me, which I always out down as my problem, no one else's. Amy is on my list ...

Colin Randall

Brendan: I have always loved Mary Black though not always her choice of material. But she does Annachie Gordon superbly (as does Sinead). Dolores Keane is excellent, too; I cannot think of anyone the writer included, who performs Paul Brady's The Island better.

Paul 'Gol' Williams

Hmnn ... no mention of Melanie (Melanie Safka) whose version of Ruby Tuesday is just brilliant!

Gerry Vickers

No mention of Eddi Reader here either. Can't be many better than her for me

Stephen Blackwell

What about Maggie Bell? Best female blues-rock singer I know

Colin Randall

Eddi Reader’s Burns album was terrific, Gerry - I’ve also seen her sing some of it live - and mention of her shows again how whimsical these lists are (also in this case affected by faulty memory)

Mark Solomons

Linda Ronstadt. It's not even as if I'm a massive fan - apart from The Stone Poneys era - but I just think she has a beautiful voice. It's all very personal of course. I rate the ones you've chosen Col, and also Nina Simone, Dusty, Diana Ross and, dare I say it, Lulu (circa To Sir With Love).

Colin Randall

Just to be open about this, all the above comments with the exception off the first (Bill Taylor's) are taken from replies to my mention of this post at Facebook. I will continue to reproduce the Fcbk comments here

Pete Sixsmith

Dusty. No explanation needed

Richard Wootton


Christine Perfect?

Colin Randall

What I really like about Christine Perfect is that she reminds me of when I loved Fleetwood Mac, broadly speaking before they became an Anglo-US band and hugely popular. But I have not paid enough attention to her to have her in my list.

Colin Randall

Lists are moveable feasts. Mine has been changed and will almost certainly change again, mainly as a result of the promptings of the comments above. There is still no room for Laura Nyro, Grace Slick, Christine Perfect, Melanie, Maggie Bell or Linda Ronstadt because I do not know/have not kept up with their work sufficiently to make a judgement. Janis Joplin never meant much to me. Mary Black and Dolores Keane were already bubbling under and don't quite make the breakthrough. But welcome Eddi Reader, Aretha Franklin and Dolores O'Riordan, with apologies to Edith Piaf, Annie Lennox and Joan Baez. Couldn't quite squeeze in an Unthank, Kathryn Roberts or Eliza Carthy

My new list:

1 Sandy Denny
2 Billie Holiday
3 Amy Winehouse
4 June Tabor
5 Aretha Franklin
6 Dusty Springfield
7 Kate Rusby
8 Sinead O’Connor
9 Dolores O’Riordan
10 Eddi Reader

Bill Taylor

Colin: Annie Haslam sang with Renaissance - also a widely overrated band

Colin Randall

(Just added at Facebook)

K, let's have my non-mainstream list (actually not any less mainstream than the first one, but excluding all those in it and its amended version)
1 Rachel Unthank (The Unthanks)
2 Flossie Malavialle
3 Kathryn Roberts
4 Mary Black
5 Jain
6 Imany
7 Nina Goern (half of Cats on Trees)
8 Eliza Carthy
9 Dolores Keane
10 Nathalie Randall (my younger daughter) singing Whitney - as she does rather well - not because WH ever did much for me but because Nathalie was horrified at her omission

Stan Wilson

Colin.. I saw your post and did not see much activity . I returned and see a big response , inspiring me to weigh in . I am encouraged that unless I missed it no mention of the dreaded Celine . No one for Yoko ? I looked at the assignment as viewing an artist as total package . Some singers strong of voice (along with other attributes ). Others not as strong of voice but offering other strengths .
My List :
1 Billie Holiday
2 Ella Fitzgerald
3 Piaf
4 Maria Callas
5 Aretha
6 Mavis Staples .... She is just transcendent .
7 Kate Bush
8 Joni Mitchell
9 Amy Winehouse
10 Regina Spektor

I was stunned when I realized this list leaves me leaving out these:

11 Joan Armatrading
12 Sandy Denny
13 k.d.lang
14 Tina Turner
15 Annie Haslam
16 Dusty Springfield
17 Fiona Apple
18 Neko Case
19 Peggy Lee
20 Emmy Lou Harris

And others that feel like they should be recognized ...Rosemary Clooney, Tammy Wynette , Mary Weiss , Ronnie Spector , Patti Smith , Laurie Anderson , Sandie Shaw and Cilla Black . Bjork ? And many more . I realize I have cheated at the assignment , but the assignment was just too cruel .


Colin Randall

Yes, Stan, it's the ones you have to leave out that make the assignment seem cruel. There may be scope for a third article on those omissions, the who and the why ...

See the 'other' list: http://www.salutlive.com/2017/11/my-alternative-list.html

What gave me great pleasure in this harmless spot of inconsequential fun was a response from one of the artists I have included (private message so I don't feel able to say who, or even which list - others have 'liked' at Facebook or Twitter and that's different): 'What a fab list. I love you for this. Such exalted company.'

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