The greatest pop voices of our time. Day 6, also-rans: Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, and Tony Bennett

Rounding out the week, we have three leftovers—hardly a good term for such great singers.

Nat King Cole (1919-1965) started out as a jazz pianist; that talent, and his unforgettable smoky voice, are on display in this movie performance of “When I Fall in Love”:

Sassy!  It was only a few years ago that I discovered the incredible Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990). I don’t know of any female pop singer with anything close to her range. And doesn’t listening to this version of “Perdido” make you smile?  (Actually, Vaughan is usually classified as a jazz singer, but I couldn’t leave her out.)

To finish up, Tony Bennett (b. 1926) singing “The Good Life”. (It was a tough choice between this and his version of “Love Look Away,” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song.)

Most of the singers I’ve highlighted are not ones I grew up with, for my growing-up years coincided almost perfectly with the advent and growth of rock.   I distinctly remember the first time I heard what is seen as the flagship song of rock and roll, “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and his Comets.  The song was recorded in 1954, and I heard it in 1955 in Athens, Greece, where my father, an Army officer, was stationed.  I was just a wee tyke, playing at the house of my father’s commanding officer, General Quinn.  I heard the song come from a bedroom upstairs; it was being played by Quinn’s  14 year old daughter, Sally, and I was transfixed at the music. It was like nothing I had heard before.

Sally Quinn, of course, became a journalist, married editor Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post, and now edits the Post’s “On Faith” column.  LOL!

22 Comments

  1. sasqwatch
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Sweet choices. After a certain threshold of excellence is hit, it’s tough to quantify “better than” — the artists just all have really cool things about them that make it really worth the time to listen again.

    In Sarah Vaughan’s class are Ella (of course), Betty Carter and Cassandra Wilson (both of whom I highlighted in a previous thread), and someone I only recently started listening to, Nina Simone. A great video here of Nina set to some Aardman claymation.

  2. Michelle B
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    All splendid choices.

    Bobby Darin is in the Bennett/Sinatra group–like Bennett, (but unlike Sinatra (who talks), he sings. He has a lighter and mirthful touch to his smooth, easy-going depth than Bennett.

  3. JoeBuddha
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    First observation: This list is far too short. I agree everyone here should be on it, but I’d have put Louis Armstrong at the top. His ability to coax real music out of that raspy voice of his still amazes me. I’d also have included Ella as well, but I’m not sure she counts as pop. Louis, however, could do just about anything.

  4. agentwhim
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    I assume you’re going to be resting on the 7th day.

  5. dersk
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Ella doesn’t count as pop? She had huge hits with Chick Webb back when swing was king.

    She’s also a much more innovative singer than Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Cassandra Wilson or Betty Carter – she pretty much came up with the idea of shaping her tone to imitate particular instruments, and she pretty much made scat a thing (Louis Armstrong invented it, but she more or less perfected it).

    And Louis may have been a decent singer, but admiring him for his voice and not his horn would be like saying Washington was important because he was a surveyor.

    • JoeBuddha
      Posted February 26, 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      Actually, I agree that Pops’ horn was magic as well, but this list was about voices. And, if Ella is considered a pop singer, she’s the best in my book. King and Queen of pop music!

  6. Sven DiMilo
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Actually, Vaughan is usually classified as a jazz singer

    And for good reason! She swung and improvised just like any other jazz musician. Did you know her first records had Dizzy and Bird on them?

    Louis may have been a decent singer, but admiring him for his voice and not his horn would be like saying Washington was important because he was a surveyor.

    No, I don’t think that’s accurate. Substitute ‘general’ for ‘surveyor’. He really did pioneer the modern singing style; just ask Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, or Bing Crosby.

  7. yesmyliege
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Man, you forgot k.d. Lang.

    Not to mention Sandy Denny, although many have never heard of her. I can barely stomach 5 minutes of Karen Carpenter before I need insulin, but I could listen to Sandy all day long. Another who died much, much too soon.

  8. Heber
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I’m still waiting to see The greatest voice of all time, i.e., Luciano Pavaroti. But you might just be leaving the best for last :)

    • Filippo
      Posted February 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      My vote would be for Mario Lanza.

  9. daveau
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    “Most of the singers I’ve highlighted are not ones I grew up with, for my growing-up years coincided almost perfectly with the advent and growth of rock.”

    Not all of us swim in the mainstream. Thanks for putting all of this out there.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Concur. Why anyone should adjust his personal musical interests to conform to what is currently considered (by WHOM?) “cool” is beyond me.

  10. See Nick Overlook
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    In the past couple of years, I have developed a real fondness for the work of Lee Wiley. Not a great vocal range, but a cool, understated delivery that grabs me every time.

  11. six45ive
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    I’ve enjoyed watching some of your favourite singers over the past few days and would certainly agree with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Karen Carpenter but I’d like to add one from this side of the Atlantic that is up there amonst them. Frank Sinatra once said something along the lines of; ‘Matt Monro…..the new Frank Sinatra’!
    So here’s probably his most famous song and I challenge anybody not to feel a tingle down your spine when you listen.

  12. Jeff
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    So much great music! I have one more to add. Peggy Lee. For someone with such a deadpan delivery she still gets the point across.

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg8JPZW78Sc&w=480&h=390%5D

  13. Kevin
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Sammy Davis Jr.

    Something about the vibrancy in his voice. I still don’t understand why he wasn’t the biggest star of the Rat Pack.

    He could sing better than Sinatra and Martin, act better than Bishop and Lawford, and was an amazing dancer.

    Of course, if you want to talk about voices in popular music, you also can’t ignore Elvis. Whatever else you say about him, the man could sing. I think everyone’s bucket list should include a trip to Graceland.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 25, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Congenially recommend Elvis’s “If I Can Dream,” a musical silver lining to the dark cloud which was 1968. ” . . . Out there in the dark, is a beckoning candle….”

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted February 25, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      I still don’t understand why he wasn’t the biggest star of the Rat Pack.

      antisemitism?

      no, wait, Joey Bishop…

      hmm,What could it have been? It’s a real puzzler.

  14. Filippo
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Heartily concur with Tony Bennett’s “Love Look Away.” It very nicely complements Johnny Mathis’s “You Are Beautiful,” both hailing from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song.”

  15. Nick
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure what response this will get, but I always thought Freddie Mercury had one of the best pop voices I’ve heard.

    • Posted February 26, 2011 at 4:09 am | Permalink

      I guess that depends on how far you stretch “pop” — despite their singles chart success, I’d still consider Queen to be a rock group.

      But a damn fine singer nonetheless.

      I’ve just “discovered” Sandie Shaw. She’s got a lot more to offer than “Puppet On a String” — including a Led Zeppelin cover on her fifth — & best — album! Her voice makes even mediocre songs worth listening to.

  16. Michael Fugate
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of jazz voices – Dwight Trible might be one of the best out there now.


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