As a Baby Boomer, I grew up in the '60s and '70s finishing up college in the '80s. Occasionally I like to share some nostalgia.
About My Personal List of Male Vocalists
While many of them are not classically trained, there are a number of popular music vocalists who have impressive voices. They aren't limited to a specific genre nor are they restricted to a specific decade. The 1960s and 1970s had their share.
What constitutes a great vocalist? Well, certainly vocal control, tone, vocal range, strong support for a full sound and adequate volume matter as does the phrasing and ability to convey emotion. There are other factors as well, but in the end, there is often disagreement as to which vocalists are the best as it's not a simple rating task but more a matter of what a listener finds pleasing.
There are many vocalists with a unique voice, one that is instantly recognizable and perfect for the type of material they sing. Singers such as Joe Cocker, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Robert Plant, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and others are examples. Although distinct, these won't be included as my list is merely about male voices of the time period which I feel are vocally exceptional among their peers.
I have left out a number of my favorite performers. For instance, you won't find any of the Beatles here. I enjoyed their harmonies, loved their songs, but I don't find them to be outstanding vocalists. I love Phil Collins, I enjoy his resonance, his overall tone/vocal quality, but still, I don't find his vocal abilities to be outstanding. I'm focusing on vocalists I personally find to be extraordinary in technique or range while being personally pleasing. These are in no particular order.
Where possible I have included some isolated vocals as that is the best way to really hear a singers voice rather than an instrumentally masked version of it. There are many singers with a lot of power that don't have much tone control, vocal range, and so forth.
#1 Steve Perry
Lead vocalists in many classic and heavy metal rock bands have powerful voices. It's pretty much a prerequisite for the job as they need to be able to be heard over the heavy instrumental music (guitars, keyboards, drums) as well as over a roaring crowd. In fact, a number of them also have a very respectable vocal range. Steven Tyler, David Lee Roth, and Axl Rose, for example, are very respectable vocalists.
In 1977 Steve Perry joined Journey and the band racked up a number of successful singles in the '70s, '80s, and early '90s with Perry as the lead vocalist. He had a good vocal range (ConcertHotels reports F#2-A5), plenty of power, amazing clarity, great use of vibrato, and a consistency that allowed him to sound as good in concert as he did on recorded albums. Fans never went away disappointed in the vocals. Below you can hear him performing Winds of March with Journey in 1978. You can also listen to his isolated vocals in a performance of Don't Stop Believin'.
#2 Art Garfunkel
Art Garfunkel is probably most widely known for the music he created with Paul Simon as the duo Simon & Garfunkel. They released a number of well-loved singles throughout the '60s but ultimately disbanded in 1970. Garfunkel continued solo and joined up with Simon a couple of times over the years for a few shows and limited tours.
Garfunkel is a tenor and is said to have a vocal range of G2-E5 per The Range Place.com. Hitting those high soaring notes, clarity, and vibrato is what he is known for and part of what makes him unique. You can hear him perform Bridge Over Troubled Water below or listen in to his mostly unaccompanied voice during a recording of the Sound of Silence. His vocals begin at the 8:30 mark.
#3 Michael Jackson
As a mature performer, Michael Jackson used a number of vocalizations that were characteristic of his highly individualized singing style. Many debated about his higher pitched voice; whether it was natural, whether it was chemically induced, or whether he simply used it as a part of his celebrity persona. For those interested, you can find samples of some of Michael's vocal lessons online and clips of Michael comfortably using a deeper voice/lower pitch while speaking.
Back in the 1970s though, Michael was just a kid, singing with his brothers and he was often the lead vocalist. With his high pitched, innocent voice wowing crowds. You can hear him below from 1972 singing Got To Be There. To hear young Michael's pure voice without any backup or instrumentation from that same year, listen to Ben below. Then finally, you can hear Michael performing Off The Wall in 1979 when his signature style was more developed.
#4 Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison started singing in the 1940s as a child. He became popular in the 1950s and continued his career through the decades until his death in 1988. Orbison was a baritone and had a 3-octave range. Probably what set his voice apart for most of his fans was his good use of vibrato and his ability to convey emotion, especially melancholy in his voice. Songs like Only the Lonely and Just Running Scared are great examples.
Below you can hear Orbison performing Crying, one of his biggest hits from 1962. Following that is the vocal track of Pretty Woman.
#5 Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury launched the band Queen in 1970. He was the lead singer, songwriter, and pianist for the group. His voice earned him a great deal of acclaim at the time and even more since his death.
There seems to be some dispute as to whether he was a tenor or a baritone, whether he indeed had a 4-octave vocal range, and so forth. Recent findings indicate that his vibrato was higher pitched than average and that he utilized subharmonics which employ the use of the ventricular folds (false vocal folds) along with the true vocal cords to produce his unique sound.
Below you can hear him perform Somebody to Love or his isolated vocals on We Are the Champions.
#6 Burton Cummings
Burton Cummings is a songwriter and was the lead singer of The Guess Who from 1965 to 1975. The band had a number of successful singles thanks in no small part to the distinctive and powerful voice of Cummings.
He is a baritone with a vocal range that is said to be D2 - G5. His full, rich tone included a distinctive rasp that audiences loved.
Below you can hear No Sugar Tonight from 1970 as well as his isolated vocals from No Time.
#7 Nat King Cole
Some artists, while they might be considered "easy listening" today, were also very popular. Generally speaking, artists like Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Perry Como, and others started their careers earlier and continued into the 1960s.
Nat King Cole was also quite popular at the time and he could be found on easy listening stations, R&B, as well as pop music stations. He was pitch perfect and had a smooth, velvety sound that relaxed and entranced audiences.
Below you can hear his separated vocal on Where Did Everyone Go as well a full recording of his hit Ramblin' Rose.
#8 Tom Jones
Tom Jones kicked off his solo career in 1964 and although his popularity has waxed and waned over the years he continues to have a successful career even today. He is a baritone with a bluesy sound and a great deal of power. His impressive vocal abilities have given him success with gospel, R&B, pop, country, dance, soul, and show tunes.
In the early days, Jones was reportedly a tenor although as stated above he would now be considered a baritone. The Range Place reports his vocal range as F#1-A5.
You can hear him perform one of his first hit songs, It's Not Unusual below. I have no isolated vocals to share for Tom Jones.
#9 Tony Williams
Tony Williams was the lead vocalist of The Platters for over 10 years. He had what has been described as an operatic voice. He had power and excellent vocal control. While with The Platters they experienced a number of successful singles such as Only You and The Great Pretender.
Other singers who could hit those higher notes included Smokey Robinson (and the Miracles), Eddie Kendrick (with the Temptations), and even Frankie Valli, but Tony Williams voice stands out to me.
Williams left the group after the mid-1960's and pursued a solo career. You can hear him on his own below as he performs If. I have no isolated vocals available. but I included a clip of him performing with the Platters in the late 1950's.
#10 Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers was the lead vocalist in bands such as Bad Company, Free, and others. He even did a stint with Queen long after the death of Freddie Mercury. He is said to be a tenor with an E2-G#5 vocal range. He has the power to sing over the guitars and great vocal control as well. His voice has a bit of raspiness which helps give it a bluesy quality.
Below you can here Rogers sing the song Bad Company both with instrumentation and without.
#11 Brook Benton
While I loved Otis Redding's Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay, and he would certainly be on my list of favorite vocalists if it were longer, Brook Benton won out over Redding on my list. I would say Benton's 1970 hit of Rainy Night in Georgia competes nicely with it.
Brook Benton started out in gospel but became popular in rock, pop, R&B, and soul audiences. In addition to his impressive vocals, he was also a successful songwriter. Clearly, his smooth baritone voice impressed many throughout the late '50s and the '60s. You can hear him sing It's Just A Matter of Time below. I have no isolated vocals of him to share.
#12 Lou Gramm
Lou Gramm was the original lead vocalist of the band Foreigner. The Range Place reports his vocal range as E1-A5. He reportedly did take vocal lessons through a soprano opera teacher. He is a tenor.
Power pop bands like Foreigner, Boston, and others were loved by some and hated by others. Criticized for not being pure rock, progressive, or anything else held in esteem. However, whether you loved or hated them, you had to respect the abilities of the lead vocalists of some of these '70s groups.
Below you can listen to his vocals on one of Foreigner's '70s hits, Feels Like The First Time. I've also posted isolated vocals from Cold As Ice.
#13 Brad Delp
Brad Delp first came to the attention of a wide audience when he became the lead vocalist of the band Boston. Delp was able to hit high notes with ease. He was a tenor with a reported vocal range of G#2-D6.
You can hear him performing More Than A Feeling from 1976 or listen to his isolated vocals on the same song.
#14 Gene Pitney
Gene Pitney was a singer/songwriter who made his first successful single in 1961. He was a tenor with a distinctive, plaintive quality. He could play a range of instruments and wrote successful songs for other artists such as Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, and others.
You can hear his recording of Only Love Can Break A Heart below. His sound is unique.
#15 Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke is another one of those artists that people either love or hate. For some he was too far into "pop" music, for others his smooth voice was incomparable.
He released music from 1951 to 1964 before his untimely death. Soul, gospel, and R&B were his genres. He was a tenor with a reported vocal range of A2-C#5 while other sources report a G2-C#5 range.
You can hear him perform A Change Is Gonna Come below. I've also included a clip of him performing Lovable which, although it has some instrumentation, there are no overdubs.
#16 The Beach Boys
Of course, the Beach Boys is a group, but I didn't feel there was any way I could avoid identifying this group of men in my list of top vocalists from this time period. The original membership of the group included Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine. Each member had a good voice. Brian was the high tenor with falsetto, Dennis provided bass, and Mike Love was tenor.
But it was the harmonizing that set them apart. There were many who did it well. Certainly, Doo-Wap from the 50's and early 60's was all about great harmonies (the Platters, the Drifters, and so forth) and duos like the Everly Brothers, the Righteous Brothers, and many others. But, to pick one I had to acknowledge the Beach Boys.
You can hear them perform Good Vibrations below or listen to the isolated vocals of Wouldn't It Be Nice.
#17 Dean Martin
I was just a kid in the 1960's, but Frank Sinatra did nothing for me, he was just "whiny" to me. But Dean Martin, despite my youth, had a velvety deep voice I enjoyed. Even then I knew that singing wasn't really his main gig. He acted, produced, was a comedian, and even had his own show. Yet he still made records that sold in the millions.
His baritone voice was resonant, relaxed and rich. His pitch perfect. During his career, he did pop, big band, country, jazz, and easy listening. Clearly, he was somewhat adaptable. His vocal range is reported to have been E2-C5.
Below you can hear a recording of Everybody Loves Somebody or listen to him sing Brahm's Lullaby a cappella.
#18 Bobby Kimball
In the late 1970's Toto began releasing music. Their lead singer Bobby Kimball had a full voice and could easily hit the high notes. Even with all of the instrumentation he clearly had the power (apparently due to good breathing technique) to sound clear as a bell to audiences.
Of course, at the same time, John Waite of The Babies was also impressing us with his vocal abilities and those high notes, but I could only choose one.
Below you can hear Toto performing their 1978 single Hold The Line. I also added a clip of the band doing a later song, Rosanna, without instrumental accompaniment.
#19 Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye was one of those soulful singers that created a mood with his music. He released 18 albums during the '60s, '70s, and early '80s. He was a tenor with a reported vocal range of C2-G5. He was smooth, emotive, and unafraid to use a falsetto.
You can hear him sing What's Going On from 1971 or listen to isolated vocals during a recording of I Heard It Through The Grapevine from 1968.
#20 Jay Black
Jay Black was the lead vocalist for Jay and the Americans between 1962 and 1973. His solo career continued for decades beyond that. I have no information on his vocal range, but when I heard this song years ago I was astonished at his control, the pure power, and the excellent falsetto in his voice.
For this reason, I'm including him on my list. Below, you can hear him sing Cara Mia.
Bonus Vocalist: Tim Buckley
Jeff Buckley had a biological father who was also a musician. Tim Buckley was releasing music from 1966 through 1975 when he met an untimely death.
He was a tenor with a vocal range of F#2-A5. He recorded Jazz, Folk, and Psychedelic music. Although I was not personally familiar with his music during my youth, I later uncovered him and I felt he was worthy of a place on a top male vocalists list of this time period. You can hear him below.
© 2018 Christine Mulberry
Jacqueline G Rozell on October 08, 2019:
What a wonderful, awesome list! Can't fault a single one of them, and to see the greats such as Roy Orbison, Dean Martin, Sam Cooke, on the list makes it a real Top Awards. Voices such as Roy Orbison... whenever I chance to hear him over speakers in grocery stores or anywhere, I literally stand still and sway in the aisle softly singing along. What a talent! I would add Marty Robbins to the list as well. Most think only of his Western songs, which are great, but he also had classics such as My Woman, My Wife and This Time You Gave Me A Mountain. His voice, too, had the rich deep tones that could heat the blood and chill the skin. Sam Cooke had that quality, and who could disagree with Dean Martin's vocals? Love this article!
Rachel M Johnson on September 09, 2018:
Hi Christine, I really enjoyed reading your article! In my opinion Freddie Mercury is one of the greatest vocalists of all time, and few if any artists can compete with his powerful voice. Thanks for the interesting hub!