Monday, January 10, 2011

Who's Yours?

We were listening to Siriusly Sinatra this weekend when the announcer said Sinatra was the “greatest singer of the Twentieth Century.” Now, I truly love ol’ blue eyes. That’s why I was listening to the station in the first place. But the greatest singer? Of the entire century? Which led me to wonder, if not Frank, then who?

One could make a case for these:

Elvis – remember the term was “greatest singer,” not “greatest voice.” If you don’t think Elvis can sing, I direct you to “Love Me Tender.” Case closed.

Luciano Pavarotti – Lives the person who can listen to “Nessun Dorma” without a shiver running down the spine? Or perhaps tears in the eyes? Absolute beauty.

Ray Charles – Just the other day, I happened upon his version of “Georgia on My Mind.” Memo to everyone else in the singing industry: Don’t record this song. Mr. Charles owns it.

Tony Bennett – This one I’ve had the great joy of seeing in person. “Fly Me to the Moon” was a life-changing experience. His voice was warm brandy. Unbelievable.

Renee Fleming – It’s not just having a great voice. It’s also knowing how to control it, how to wrench every ounce of emotion out of the music. Plus, she’s so elegant!

Barbra Streisand – the lovely lady for whom the term “superstar” was coined. Stunningly beautiful voice. And a great comic actress as well. I recently saw her on Oprah. She sang the theme from “The Way We Were.” Still beautiful.

Ella Fitzgerald – I tried to come up with the quintessential Ella song to talk about, but there are so many. “Someone to Watch over Me,” “The Man I Love,” “’Round Midnight.” They’re all good. It just seems so effortless when she sings it, whether she’s doing a slow and soulful version or a quick jumpin’ scat version of the same song. Pure Ella.

Billie Holiday – And of course, Billie Holiday. I wish the recordings we have of her were better. There are some that sound great, but many of them are showing their age. Still her unmistakable smoky voice is astounding.

Linda Ronstadt – I’m adding this one just for me. This attraction began for me with the Stone Ponys. “Different Drum” was always a favorite. But her later stuff with Nelson Riddle showcases the purity of her voice. And for personal reasons, her version of “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” brings tears to my eyes no matter how many times I hear it.

Now Frank. The Chairman of the Board. Francis Albert Sinatra. It’s not just that he has a great voice, it’s the WAY he sings. He can make you feel like he’s singing right to you. And that at any moment, he’s going to walk off the stage and sweep you off your feet. The mournful sound of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” makes me cry every time I hear it. The playfulness of “Lady Is a Tramp” makes me fall in love with him. I get too hungry for dinner at eight, Frank. Pick me!

So that’s ten choices. Without meaning to I picked five men and five women. And now I realize I’ve left off Mel Torme. They don’t call him the Velvet Fog for nothin’. How many great singers were there in the Twentieth Century?

Who’s your choice?