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Whoa, whoa, whoa—have you ever heard such a…sound? Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the "Top 10 Unique Voices in Music."
For this list, we’re counting down the most unusual voices of music, whether they come from established pop stars or eclectic indie artists.
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#10: Joanna Newsom
She’s long been a prominent name in the indie music scene, but you may recognize this harp-playing musician as the narrator of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2014 film Inherent Vice. While Joanna’s voice draws influence from the yesteryear of folk music, it has also been described as “child like”, which makes her music stand out amongst the more modern folk artists. A widely critically acclaimed artist, Joanna is also known for her avant-garde approach to songwriting, which is complemented by her remarkable talent on the harp.
#9: David Bowie
Ok, so you perhaps you’re expecting a “space oddity” joke but the voice of this glam rocker is far from supernatural. Despite the androgynous nature of David Bowie’s musical persona, his vocals often tend to be gruff and masculine, yet he still manages to hit those high notes like few others. Just as the music takes listeners on a journey, Bowie’s voice does as well, through all of its fragility and sometimes chaotic vibratos.
#8: Joe Cocker
While some of you may only know his voice from the opening credits of The Wonder Years, we can all agree that Joe Cocker has some seriously impressive pipes. In fact, he often sounded like he was on the brink of death, but that’s what lended such an incredible amount of passion to his music. His raspy voice is addictive, and his stage presence was like no other. Whatever the case, nobody could croon like Joe Cocker.
#7: Ray Charles
As much as musicians like to go on about their self-described “soul,” here’s a visionary man that poured out everything through his unmistakable vocals. It’s one thing to WATCH Ray Charles shred the stage, but it’s quite another to close your eyes and take in the poignant sound. He adlibbed like a true master of the genre, and the rich tone of his natural gift will always be identified with classic American R&B. In 2004, Jamie Foxx famously portrayed the late singer, but not even the most remarkable imitation will ever capture the true spirit of Ray Charles.
#6: Freddie Mercury
With so many natural performers in the world, it’s not often that you’ll find someone with just the right amount of theatrics and vocal control. As the lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury thoroughly demanded attention with each and every performance, even if his natural voice wasn’t too far removed from anyone on Broadway. What made him unique, however, was the technicalities and perfection of his craft, and perhaps even the imperfections. He could produce a heightened sense of drama, yet still pull it back, all through the control of his vocal chords.
#5: Billy Corgan
By the early 90s, the sex-crazed musical stylings of glam metal were beginning to drift away, and the sound of alternative music served as an outlet for social outcasts. Paving the way for a new musical ideology was The Smashing Pumpkins, with Billy Corgan’s gothic vocals announcing the emergence of a new kind of emotional rock star. In all reality, Corgan’s vocals are synonymous with 90s rock music, and while some listeners simply loved the sound, he truly was the voice of a generation.
If you’re familiar with the films of Lars von Trier, well, then you’ve experienced the beautiful terror that encapsulates his work. With that being said, von Trier cast the Icelander singer Bjork for his 2000 film Dancer in the Dark. It’s hard to put a label on Bjork’s sound, because there’s really nothing like it and is most certainly a required taste for some. Believe it or not, she’s been on the indie scene since the 80s, as she once fronted The Sugarcubes before venturing off on a wildly successful solo career, in large part to her eclectic vocals.
#3: Michael Jackson
One day, people will discover a new artist and say, “Hey, he sounds like Justin Timberlake,” but what they really mean is “he sounds like Michael Jackson.” As the original King of Pop Music, MJ entertained us a variety of levels, for better or for worse, however no one can deny the vocal imprint he left on popular music. With his trademark adlibs, MJ created his own unique brand, and though he’s remembered as an emotional soul, songs like “Billie Jean” and “Smooth Criminal” produced a sound that was the equivalent of a musical exclamation point. In other words, his pronounced vocals created a visceral experience, whether it was a pop ballad or dance jam.
#2: Bob Dylan
Today, this man’s voice isn’t in the best shape, yet his music continues to inspire legions of fans. Ok, maybe Bob Dylan’s vocals sounded rather odd way back in the early 60s but combined with a blossoming sound and deeply insightful lyrics, the entire package effectively changed the world in which we now live. So, while it’s always cute for one to bust out their best “Bob Dylan Voice,” there’s something behind the nasally and sometimes incomprehensible sound that keeps us engaged. And given his resume, Dylan will always be a defining voice of rock and folk music whether you like it or not.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Louis Armstrong
- Jonsi Birgisson
- Eddie Vedder
- Leonard Cohen
- Neil Young
#1: Tom Waits
It’s a severe understatement to say you’ll never see this man performing at the opera. But given his thrashing style and naturally gritty voice, Tom Waits represents the long and winding road of life. You know—since it sounds like he was run over by a train and decided to sing about it. All joking aside, Waits has been releasing music since the early 70s, and there’s a reason why he remains an icon of independent music. It’s not about a vocal schtick, it’s what Tom Waits DOES with his voice and the emotion behind it.
So, do you agree with our selections? Who has your favorite unique voice in music? For more mind-blowing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.