The internet is amazing. Thanks to sites like YouTube, we can go back and re-experience classic songs from a different perspective. We can even listen to JUST the vocal tracks of the songs we spent countless hours singing along to.
I put together a list of 20 classic songs with notable vocals [in no particular order]:
#1 Don’t let me down: The Beatles
It’s hard to pick just one Beatles song for a list like this - so I picked 3. The first on the list, Don’t Let Me Down, was released as a single and recorded during the Let It Be sessions, famously performing the song during their rooftop concert, which would be their last live performance as the Beatles. Don’t Let Me Down features John’s powerful voice on leads with Paul doing the harmonies and features keyboard prodigy Billy Prseton:
#2 Wouldn’t It Be Nice: The Beach Boys
Another Super-Group of the 60’s, the Beach Boys are famous for their harmonies. Wouldn’t It Be Nice opened their iconic 1966 album Pet Sounds:
#3 Helter Skelter: The Beatles
The second Beatles track on this list, Helter Skelter features Paul belting out the powerful, driving lyrics. The track was released on the Fab 4’s 1968 iconic self-titled album, more commonly referred to as The White Album. The loud, riff-heavy Skelter is arguably the first ever Heavy Metal song; it’s heavy, it’s loud, and has with the famous “I’ve got blisters on me fingas!” from Ringo at the very end:
#4 Number of the Beast: Iron Maiden
Believe it or not, early Heavy Metal had actual singing, as opposed to the screaming and/or grunts of today’s metal. Iron Maiden was one of the original Metal bands coming out of the UK in the 70’s following the pioneers of the genre, Black Sabbath. Bruce Dickinson belts out the lyrics to Number of the Beast demonstrating amazing vocal range. Check it out:
#5 Welcome to the Jungle: Guns N Roses
Guns N Roses could have been a Rock-N-Roll mainstay, having a long, illustrious career similar to that of other American rock bands such as Aerosmith or The Eagles. But lead singer Axl Rose had to alienate members of the original line-up causing them to quit or get fired, ultimately leading what was left of GNR into obscurity, even making dedicated fans wait 10 YEARS for the abomination that was Chinese Democracy. But before that happened they managed crank out some good records including Appetite for Destruction, featuring #5 on the list: Welcome to the Jungle.
#6 Hotel California: The Eagles
The Eagles is one of the biggest American acts ever, cranking out hit after hit including #6 on the list, Hotel California. I guarantee when this tune comes on you immediately start to sing. Hotel California has a melody so catchy even The Dude feels the need to sing along.
#7 Sweet Leaf: Black Sabbath
Ozzy Osbourne is perhaps the greatest frontman of all time. When the Ozzman speaks it’s pretty hard to understand what the man is saying but when he starts to sing it all becomes clear. Black Sabbath paved the way for harder, heavier bands, pretty much inventing the Heavy Metal genre. After leaving Sabbath, Ozzy went on to have one of the most successful solo careers of all time thanks to his manager – and eventually wife – Sharon Arden (Osbourne).
#8 Sounds of Silence: Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel were a force to be reckoned with; with Paul Simon’s outstanding songwriting and Art Garfunkel’s lyrics and captivating harmonies the duo could not be stopped…until they split, anyway. A prime example of the duo’s gorgeous melodies is the classic Sounds of Silence. Hello, Darkness, my old friend…
#9 Tiny Dancer: Elton John
Sir Elton John has one of the best singing voices ever, in my opinion, and it has only gotten better with age. You could pick out any number of the English artists’ songs, really, but Tiny Dancer is a great example of John’s vocal work.
#10 Go Your Own Way: Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac has become infamous for their inner-drama involving band romances, which is probably why Go Your Own Way, from their classic album Rumours, turned out so great. Lindsey Buckingham sings lead with Stevie Nicks joining in at the choruses, speaking to each other through song to cope with the heartache.
#11 Enter Sandman: Metallica
Enter Sandman is 23 years old. Just let that sink in for a moment. Prior to Metallica’s 1991 mainstream breakthrough hit that spawned a 2-and-a-half year world tour, frontman James Hetfield never explored much of the ways of vocal work. Vocal-doubling and minor harmonies but that’s as in-depth as it ever got. But with the help of producer Bob Rock, Hetfield managed to create some incredible vocal tracks for the now-classic self-titled album, better known as the Black Album.
#12 Bohemian Rhapsody: Queen
How could I have a vocal list without Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody? Everyone loves this song. I dare you to not headbang when Brian May’s heavy guitar riffs come in at the final movement to Freddie Mercury’s masterpiece. This song features Mercury’s best vocal work, utilizing orchestral, choir-like harmonies. Rhapsody is about as good as a song can get.
#13 Because: The Beatles
The 3rd and final Beatles track on this list, Because features John doing four part harmonies with a melody that induces a sense of euphoria. This track was released in the band’s last album they recorded together, Abbey Road, in 1969. [Side note: technically, Let It Be is considered the band’s final album, being released in 1970 but was recorded before Abbey Road]
#14 Billie Jean: Michael Jackson
I couldn’t assemble a list like this without including the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. Jackson had an incredibly crystal-clear tone with an impressive range. Billie Jean is one of Jackson’s most popular songs, released on the iconic Thriller album in 1982.
#15 Ramble On: Led Zeppelin
Right up there with Ozzy, Robert Plant is one of the best frontmen ever in Rock-n-Roll history. There are many, many examples of Plant’s greatness during his time with the legendary Led Zeppelin, but Ramble On serves as a great example of Plant’s vocal talent.
#16 Lose Yourself: Eminem [NSFW Language]
Although not technically a singer, Eminem still has incredible vocals in his songs. Spitting out his rhymes in tenacious ferocity, Eminem manages to set himself apart from other hip-hop acts and has become one of the best ever within the genre. Lose Yourself encompasses Marshall Mathers’ early beginnings in Detroit. It becomes blatantly clear that the rapper revisited the mindset of a struggling hip-hop artist trying to make a name for himself when recording this track. Lose Yourself was the first single from the soundtrack to 8 Mile, which was loosely based on the artist’s life in Detroit. The track sports a relentless guitar track and an instantly recognizable piano intro.
#17 Smells Like Teen Spirit: Nirvana
Nirvana was a game-changer when they entered the music scene in the late 80’s in Seattle. Frontman Kurt Cobain never expected his band to become as big as it did, but nevertheless the pioneering grunge trio paved the way for many other bands which eventually took over the 90’s entirely. Ironically, Nirvana’s most popular song was Cobain’s least favorite; Smells Like Teen Spirit was released on the band’s mainstream breakthrough album Nevermind in 1991 and became the anthem to angst-filled teenagers everywhere.
#18 I Heard it Through the Grapevine: Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye is perhaps the most beloved R&B artists ever. His songs are still going strong even 30 years after his death. Take a listen to the soulful genius’ isolated vocal tracks for I Heard it Through the Grapevine:
#19 Under Pressure: Queen feat. David Bowie
Another Queen tune. Why? Because Freddie freaking Mercury, that’s why. We all remember Under Pressure’s instantly recognizable bass lick – no? Maybe you know it better as Vanilla Ice’s Ice, Ice Baby. If so, then shame on you. Under Pressure was one of Queen’s most popular songs and features another Rock icon David Bowie.
#20 Don’t Stop Believin’: Journey
Last, but certainly not least, is Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’. C’mon. Who doesn’t know this song? Where ever you are you, no matter where you come from, when that chorus kicks in, you’re singing right along with it. Great for any car ride, party, or, hell, anything, really. This song will never die and I’m perfectly okay with that.
Coming Soon: You’ve heard the good, now stay tuned for the bad. Next week, I’ll post a list of the worst isolated vocal tracks. Have suggestions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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