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Most Distinctive Rock Voices (No Boys Allowed)

  • Feb 7, 2010
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A few "most distinctive rock voices" lists have popped up, but are comprised almost entirely of male voices, which seems odd to me. I tend to describe my music tastes as preferring shouty-girl-rock to whiny-boy-rock, largely because the vocals are often significantly more diverse and interesting.

So, my list. Criteria were: defining "rock" as primarily guitar-based music that changes between fast and slow (which led me to leave out Tracy Chapman, Joni Mitchell, and Amanda Palmer, amongst others), and distinctive voice as being more than simply a famous female vocalist.

I've also tried to put together a decent mix of the old and the new.
janis joplin
Any list like this should probably start here, male or female. Her husky voice perfectly compliments her blues-rock bands, and she may have the most famous scream in rock history.

Corin Tucker
Seminal indie rock band Sleater-Kinney is known for many things, as well it should be: driving rhythms, melodic interplay, no bassist. But its most notable attribute is lead singer Corin Tucker's piercing wail. It drives its emotion right through the listener, no compromises.

Debbie Harry is similar to Mick Jagger in a certain respect as singers. Their voices, in and of themselves, aren't terribly special. But they bring a certain swagger, an indelible way of saying "I'm a fucking rock star" to their performances.

Beth Ditto
The Gossip have moved from blues-punk to disco-rock, but the change has sounded organic largely due to Beth Ditto's voice. She can belt it out.

Kathleen Hanna
Two double threats here. First, Kathleen Hanna of classic riot grrl act Bikini Kill and electro-pop outfit Le Tigre. Hanna doesn't necessarily have a distinctive voice inherently - but her presentation makes it stand out. In Bikini Kill, like any good punk, she turns her lack of traditional singing chops into a nasal whine of rebellion.

With the much poppier Le Tigre, Hanna still turns her voice's weakness into a strength, hitting the high pitches in insanely catchy fashion.

Dusty Springfield
It would be hard to do a list like this without Springfield, especially after having Joplin at the top. Both Joplin and Springfield have husky blues-rock voices, but where Joplin wails like she's leaving everything behind after this song, Springfield brings the emotion with a restraint that always sounds like it's about to break.

Aimee Mann
Aimee Mann manages to convey a simple world-weariness and tragedy with every song.

Cat Power
I've heard Chan Marshall (aka Chan Marshall) called the model for an entire generation of female indie rock singers. This seems slightly overrated to me, but there's no denying the impression of her soulful, near-breakdown voice.

What did you think of this list?

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February 08, 2010
Love this list, Rowan, and I especially love that these singers span over the past few decades :)  I'm already imagining who I'd add to mine... Elizabeth Fraser, Bjork, Courtney Love, Shirley Manson, Gwen Stefani... I should make my own list :P  Thanks for sharing and inspiring!
February 08, 2010
I didn't include Bjork only because I'd have a hard time calling her music rock.
This list was inspired by:
created a list. August 28, 2009
All it takes is the first three words of a song from these artists to know exactly who is singing. The voices are as distinctive as the music itself.
Bob Dylan Eddie Vedder Mick Jagger Bono Neil Young
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