Kurt Cobain is a better singer than Aretha Franklin. Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke is a bigger lung-belter than Queen’s Freddie Mercury. And Adele doesn’t have the vocal chops to match Lorde or even sexagenarians like Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.
That’s just a sample of the truth bombs provided by a fascinating new study that tracks a collection of the world’s most famous singers and examines a talent that shows their technical proficiency above all else: their vocal range.
Charting both the lowest and highest notes committed to record, the folks over at Concert Hotels have compiled an interactive chart of the widest-spanning vocal ranges in music, “from Mariah Carey’s ear-piercing whistle to Barry White’s deep bassy growl,” with some fascinating results.
Starting with the fact that, going by his impressive range of five octaves, Axl Rose can be considered the greatest singer of all time, topping the list of over 75 recognisable singers – from Bono to Whitney Houston.
The Guns N Roses singer surprisingly beats out a tight Top 5 that includes Prince, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, the late James Brown (all with a range of four-and-a-bit octaves), and just pips the five-octave span of infamous warbler Mariah Carey, who has the distinction of having the highest recorded money note (that’s the G seven octaves up featured on ‘Emotions‘ for you music theorists). “The gravel-and-brimstone tones of Tom Waits goes further than even Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, and the similarly deep-voiced Johnny Cash.”
There’s no doubting that Rose’s vocal prowess has diminished in recent years (and that’s putting it lightly) but in his prime, Rose plumbed the depths of his voice from low (on ‘There Was A Time‘ he gets deeper than even Barry White) to wailing high (‘Ain’t It Fun‘).
The interactive chart contains plenty of other beguiling insights. According to the results, David Bowie is another surprisingly high-ranking singer, surpassing – in order – Sir Paul McCartney, Thom Yorke, Freddie Mercury, Elvis Presley and John Lennon. The gravel-and-brimstone tones of Tom Waits goes further than even Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, and the similarly deep-voiced Johnny Cash.
Plus, who’d have guessed that the late, great Lou Reed and Eminem have recorded in the exact same vocal range, same for Björk and Dolly Parton. Jeff Buckley was well-known for his angelic falsetto but he didn’t move around the as much as Tina Turner or Elton John, while at the other end of the spectrum, his inspiration Joni Mitchell comfortably stayed within the confines of the same 33 notes (from C#3 to A5).
The singing rankings also proves what most people suspected, that being a chart-busting pop star doesn’t mean having to bust your lungs, with Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry all at the bottom of the range pile.
View the full chart below, but be sure to also head over to Concert Hotels and have a play with the interactive version – which features the songs they sung the stars sung their lowest and highest notes – and make some compelling singing comparisons for yourself.