Skip to main content

Which vocalists do you instantly recognise because they just sound like no-one else in the world? People who's voices give you that shivery feeling (you know the one) when you suddenly hear them on the radio. It's more noticeable if you're not expecting to hear them, rather than playing their CDs of your own accord.

I've come up with a few of my favourites singers, who I happen to think sound have a TOTALLY unique and original style...

1. Tom Waits (absolutely unmistakable)
2. Stevie Wonder (much-imitated but no one gets close - not even the guy from Jamiroquai)
3. John Lennon
4. Joni Mitchell (particularly late-period)
5. Bob Dylan
6. Elton John
7. Michael Stipe
8. Van Morrison
9. Barry Gibb
10. James Taylor (not changed much in 30 years)

Any other suggestions?
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

posted by anselm
5. Bob Dylan
i love this man, for being one of the greatest songwriters to have ever graced the earth, but he has to have the worst voice Frowner ever!
it is sooo bad!

distinctive voices IMHO:
Smiler eddie vedder
Smiler nick drake
Smiler macy gray
Smiler joan armatrading (love that woman)
Smiler tanita tikaram
Smiler stina nordenstam

thats all i can think of @ the mo
posted by anselm
5. Bob Dylan

i love this man, for being one of the greatest songwriters to have ever graced the earth, but he has to have the worst voice ever!
it is sooo bad!
Just a reminder: it's the most distinctive vocalists I'm focussing on, not the BEST. I'm not a particularly big fan of Dylan's but he definitely is very distinct, with a few stylish vocal tricks, twists and turns of phrase which no-one else possesses.

There's been some great suggestions posted here so far, some people I've forgotten about but would definitely cite as totally unique: Elvis Costello, Eddie Vedder (who I can't stand incidentally!), Stevie Nicks, Roddy Frame.

There's also been a few names suggested who I'd strongly disagree with, like Neil Tennant (sounds too much like Al Stewart), Jeff Lynne (spent most of his time trying to copy Beatles harmonies Mad )

Cinnamon : what an incredible name you mentioned that I totally missed Red Face - the late Nick Drake. A fabulous writer and guitarist, not to mention inimitable vocalist. I thought I was his only fan!! [Sorry for the shameless plug]

Lots of fascinating and controversial opinions so far....keep them coming Smiler
Fergal Sharkey (Undertones and solo fame in the late 70's early 80's)
Nils Lofgren
Tim Finn
Nik Kershaw
Elton John
John Lennon
Paul McCartney
Donald Fagen (Steely Dan)
Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin)
Bob Dylan
Bruce Springsteen
Paul Buchanan (The Blue Nile)
Paddy McAloon (Prefab Sprout)

have to disagree with however said Roddy Frame tho'; he sounds just like Midge Ure, Justin Currie and loads of other Glasgow area vocalists (and I like all three singers I've mentioned) I guess I get some flack from any Glasgow-based frenz!
Bob, I don't know Justin Currie, but I can't hear the similarity between Roddy and Midge. I wasn't huge on Ultravox, though.

Anselm, I don't think you can copy harmonies, they just exist as a fact of nature, but you could try to copy melodies. (My Sweet Lord/He's So Fine) I don't think Jeff Lynne was trying to copy the Beatles in that respect. He was (or perhaps still is) a musical genius in his own way, and a fan of the Beatles, or at the very least of George Martin, but as this discussion is about his voice, I have to say it gave me that "feeling" when I was an adolescent.
Originally posted by Bob Memery:
[qb]have to disagree with however said Roddy Frame tho'; he sounds just like Midge Ure, Justin Currie and loads of other Glasgow area vocalists (and I like all three singers I've mentioned) I guess I get some flack from any Glasgow-based frenz![/qb]
*gives you flak* Razzer

Umm...nice to see Stevie Nicks getting a mention, although she's not totally unique since I sound exactly like her Big Grin Then again I don't think I count, being not-famous and all that.


And um...Billie Joe Armstrong, you know it's him when he sings...Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev...ummm...Matt Bellamy of Muse...*stops before she goes too far down the obscure indie path*
Originally posted by marmotgirl:
The guy from Blind Melon sounded exactly like Jon Anderson. But I wonder if that counts, since a fair amount of their material was imitating Yes.

Somebody mentioned 'Gordon Summers.' Well, I don't know who that is, but i know that Gordon SumNER can't be matched... Smiler
I can't believe no one mentioned "The Boss", Bruce Springsteen! His voice is one that is really easily recognised.

My Top 10 (give or take)

1. Steve Perry (Journey)

2. Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)

3. Steve Winwood

4. Hmmmm, out of "Steves" how about Paul McCartney. He has that rock & roll voice that always got me.

5. Lou Gramm (Foreigner)

6. Neil Young

7. Neil Finn (naturally--did you think I could leave him off??) Big Grin

8. What's that guy's name from Nickleback? Chad Kroeger? (I think). Even if you're not a fan, he does have that cool r&r voice

I just noticed that all of my choices are men, so I'll add:

Melissa Etheridge

Pat Benatar

I also notice that all of my idols are from like, 20 years ago. Or more. ((sigh)) It's hell to grow old! ((grins))

Originally posted by Sue Diego:
[qb]What about the King?...


And speaking of sheep-voices...wouldn't an Eddie Vedder/Stevie Nicks duet be too much???[/qb]
Sheep voice? *splutters, blusters*

Lou Gramm = Trevor Rabin, also of Yes. Same voice, SAMESAMESAME. But I don't, somehow, see you all rushing out to test the similarity.

And I repeat, NOBODY sounds quite like our Jon Razzer
I think that these would be my choice of distintive voices:-

Neil Young

Nils Lofgren

Bob Dylan

Paul Rodgers (Free/Bad Company) In my opinion the classic rock voice often copied but not bettered)

Kate Bush

Otis Redding

Ray Davies ( Classic English Voice and a Tim fave!)
Funnily enough, Neil Young's voice often gets confused with that of the lead singer of the band America ('Horse With No Name', 'Ventura Highway' etc). Have a listen and see what you think. Also, Kate Bush and Tori Amos' vocal styles often get confused with each other, not sure if either of them fall into the totally 'distinct' category.

Thinking back, maybe I should have titled this topic 'Most uniquely recognisable voice'. Then again, everyone's voice is unique...but the discussions are fun.
Distinctive, sending shivers down my spine, making me swoon, number one ONLY could be...

NEIL FINN Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin

Next, distinctive, with some shivers (used to be more before Neil)...

Paul McCartney Big Grin

Distinctive voices that twitch my ears the right way, and can at times, cause shivers in their delivery of song...

John Lennon
Peter Gabriel
Elvis Costello
Jimi Hendrix
Janis Joplin
Tom Petty
David Byrne
Peter Garrett
Chris Isaac
Bruce Springsteen (although when I first heard him in the late 70's, I hated his voice. It grew on me.)
Neil Young
Linda Ronstadt
Aimee Mann
Stevie Nicks
Barbra Streisand
Neil Diamond (Have you seen "Saving Silverman"? Wink
Stevie Wonder
Chrissie Hynde
Joni Mitchell
Carly Simon
James Taylor
Carol King
Sheryl Crow
David Bowie
Elton John
Paul Simon
Eric Clapton
Phil Collins
Annie Lennox
George Harrison
Ringo Starr
Kurt Cobain
Dave Grohl
Serj Tankian
Billy Joel
Bette Midler
Pat Benatar
KD Lang
Ray Charles
Peter Salette
Jackson Browne
Joe Jackson
Van Morrison
Phoebe Snow
Donald Fagen
Robert Plant
Joe Crocker
Dolly Parton
Anne Wilson
Grace Slick (Although I don't care for her politics)
Phil Keaggy
Keith Green (He was a friend of mine and I miss him terribly - RIP)
Weird Al Yankovic (Okay, so he's not great on the ears, but he's funny! - and that makes up for it)

Voices that are distinctive, that I am learning to tolerate much more...
Elvis Presley (I'm sorry)
Eddie Vedder
Tim Finn (Please forgive me. I like him much better when he harmonizes, rather than singing lead vocal. Otherwise he's fine. Sometimes it feels like he's working too hard to hit some notes and that's what repels my audio sensibilities. I DO think he's talented.)

Voices that are distinctive, that don't do anything to me, one way or the other...
Ella Fistzgerald
Diana Ross

Voices, I'm not sure how I feel about them, they are just "interesting"...
Leon Redbone
Iggi Pop

Voices that are distinctive, that I can barely tolerate...
Mick Jagger
Johnny Cash
Willie Nelson
Wayne Newton
Richard Thompson (He almost was in the bottom category, but he's moving up.... slowly)

Voices that are distinctive, that I have no tolerance for, whatsoever...
Tiny Tim
Melissa Etheridge (I used to like her, but she's gotten on my nerves - BIG TIME!. She's a female Springsteen wannabe IMHO)

If I've forgotten someone, I'll just edit and add it. (So, if you actually care, you could check back.) These are voices that, if I hear them on the radio, they stand right out and I know, that's them ; whether I like them or not.

Kim Wink
Neil Finn
Tim Finn
Elvis Costello
Phil Collins
Peter Gabriel
Neil Young
Donald Fagen
Ann Wilson
Joni Mitchell
Brian Wilson
Bob Seger
James Taylor
Paul Rodgers
Jackson Browne
Neil Diamond
Janis Joplin
John Denver
(sorry, I keep adding to this list!)

Well, since other people have mentioned artist's that are not rock....
Willie Nelson - I adore him, so laid back mellow,
beautiful song interpreter
Kris Kristofferson - Very unique, great song
Waylon Jennings - Rest in peace...
Johnny Cash - Hello?
Hmmmm, just named the Highwayman too Smiler
Kenny Rogers - C'mon!!!
Conway Twitty - "Hello Darlin..'"
George Jones - "The Possum"
Sorry, my mom has been a huge influence on my musical taste, love Country & Western.
Other non-rock:
Ella Fitzgerald - my favorite singer of all time!
Sarah Vaughn - warm, rich "Sassy"
Mel Torme - "The Velvet Fog" many more I'm sure, I could go on. Ok, back under my rock now! Smiler
Remember's not your favourite vocalists I'm looking for, it's the most DISTINCTIVE. Who can you tell INSTANTLY when you hear a snippet of radio or while flicking through the TV channels? You might not even like might even hate them - for example I don't like Steve Winwood's voice but there's no mistaking who it is when you hear him.

Here's another name, although non-UK people will be unfamiliar with it - Ian Dury.
Originally posted by Kim Goldman:
[QB]Voices that are distinctive, that I am learning to tolerate much more...
Eddie Vedder
Tim Finn (Please forgive me. I like him much better when he harmonizes, rather than singing lead vocal. Otherwise he's fine.) [QB]
I LOVED the 7 Worlds Collide version of Tim & Eddie singing. I thought that sounded like absolute GOLD. I think there is too much emphasis on Tim Finn's singing. He's a great singer and good as at Neil kicks his ass and is PURE GENIUS. OK his voice is grainey, but how much more Macy Gray - she's horrible but she's famous and respected. It's just a matter of getting used to it.

Other distinctive voices in rock?

Abby Dobson (ex Leonrado's Bride} OZ
Kevin Mitchell (Jebediah) OZ
Fran Healey (Travis) SCOT
Alex Lloyd OZ
Originally posted by Anselm:
Remember's not your favourite vocalists I'm looking for, it's the most DISTINCTIVE. Who can you tell INSTANTLY when you hear a snippet of radio...
I do happen to think all of my favourite singers have distinctive voices. I read your very first posting and you listed your favourite singers and also mentioned that we should list singers that give you a "shivery feeling". All my favourite singers do. Singers I don't like would leave me with a nauseous feeling Wink
But, sorry if I misunderstood your original questions... Smiler
Fair point, you didn't misunderstand me, I'd forgotten that I'd listed MY favourite singers originally - so you were quite right to list yours! Red Face

I'd agree that mentioning people you dislike (however distinct) would be hard to do, although there are some really distinctive voices around today who just don't grab me at all. Look at Eddie Vedder - his voice seems to polarise people: we either seem to hate it or love it - no in-betweens. Personally I can't stand him, and not a big fan of either of the Finn brothers' singing voices (Shock! Horror!). Although their voices seem to FIT their songs in the way that other people's wouldn't...sorry if I'm confusing you.....

I think it's all very subjective...if you like an artist's music you're much more likely to think that they are distinctive.

So I accept your comments completely! Smiler

LOL @ SHEEP VOICES!!!!!! I regularly impersonate Stevie Nicks as a goat...

Anyhow...I noticed a few that I haven't seen yet, which for me are pretty unmistakable...Note that I don't necessarily LIKE all of these, but I'll admit their distinctiveness.

PHIL COLLINS. It's the pronunciation.
SIMON leBON. It's this little shriekything he does at the beginning of words.
JOHNNY CASH. Low, low, low...
TOM JONES. Completely and unrepentantly cheesy.
MICHAEL JACKSON. He has a sound.
RON SEXSMITH. The tremolo.
LYLE LOVETT. The sexiest rasp in music!
ROD STEWART. When rasp goes to extremes.
BOY GEORGE. A touch off key.

I agree with many, many I've seen here, including Macy Gray, Michael Stipe, Elvis...lots and lots. (Conversely, though, maybe we should start a thread about artists you've mistaken for other artists. I've almost NEVER been able to guess Beth Orton/Indigo Girls correctly! And I've been known to mistake Travis and Wilco, Sheryl Crow and Lisa Loeb.)

Don Henley...I LOVED the duet he did with Sheryl Crow on her was cheesy and poppy, but he was FLAWLESS and PERFECT! The way my husband put it: "Don Henley is about the only guy in music who can do a power ballad without sounding like a p***y..."

Wanda Jackson sang in the mid 1950's to early 1960's. She was an early rock and roll singer in every sense of the word. She was friend of Elvis, covered the songs he covered...but did it better. Rollins Stone described her as the only singer who did not sing from her voice, but sang from a particular part of the female anatomy. She has also been described as the most dangerous singer in early rock . In short, she was a party girl with a big voice, and a big attitude. There are several websites on her. You can hear her on:
Originally posted by awamutu:
Originally posted by Ghost_Girl:
[qb] Very definitely ... David Gray!
and Neil Tennant
Paul McCartney [/qb]
neil tennant did spring to my mind for a second but i then i remembered he always reminds me of the "year of the cat" guy... [/qb]
Do you mean Badly Drawn Boy/Damon Gough?

Cos if so, its Year of the Rat Wink

I wouldn't term his voice distinctive - I prefer the term 'Annoying'.
Can't believe we're on page 3 and I've not seen one mention of Leonard Cohen. Talk about distinctive.

Also, I'd say:
David Bowie
Kate Bush
Tori Amos (I don't consider them to sound the same vocally AT ALL even though their songwriting style is similar)
I was gonna say Peter Gabriel until I remembered that I once mistook Steve Winwood for PG!
Michael Stipe
Eddie Vedder
Andrew Eldritch (Sisters of Mercy)

As for those that send a shiver:
Lennon and Gabriel. STOP.
If my list included people that most of you have mentioned, it might go on forever, so I'll reduce it to folks who haven't been noted that much (good or bad):

-Bruce Springsteen
-Dave Matthews
-Michael Jackson
-Rufus Wainwright
-Joe Strummer
-Marvin Gaye
-John Popper
-Sinead O'Connor
-Cat Power
-David Lee Roth
-Axl Rose
-Indigo Girls
-Pat Benatar
-Roger Daltrey
-James Taylor
-John Fogerty
-John Mayer
-Rob Thomas
-Phil Judd
-Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse)
-Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy)
-John Kay (Steppenwolf)
-and, of couse, I'll mention my darling Eddie, even though he's been mentioned frequently

Simon LeBon
Meat Loaf
Roy Orbison
Phil Collins
John Fogerty
Brian Wilson
Marie Fredriksson (Roxette)
Robert Palmer
Natalie Maines (Dixie Chicks)
Bob Seger


Tina Turner
Toni Childs

Distinctive/can't stand:

James Blunt


AND... I can't be bothered thinking anymore, so that'll do.

Distinctive vocals...
Well this might show my age but I've got to add:
Ritchie Neville
Scott Robinson
& Richard Breen to the list. All were in a Rap/Rock/Pop group called 5ive a few years ago and all three have distinctive voices.
Then there's {as if these haven't been mentioned before}
Neil Finn Big GrinBig GrinBig GrinBig GrinBig Grin
Paul Hester Big Grin
Phil Judd Big Grin
Tim Finn {I can hear THROUGH THE YEARS on Foxtel music channels right at this instant so I had to mention this one! Big Grin}
Can't be bothered trawling through six pages of posts, so here are some off the top of my head (apologies if already mentioned):

Tom Waits
Robert Smith (from The Cure)
Gary Numan
David Bowie
Robin Gibb
Fred Schneider (from the B52's)

I do hear a similarity between Kate Bush and Tori Amos, but Tori Amos blows Kate Bush's piano playing away.
Originally posted by Dazz:
We also discussed 'Finn and Tilbrook' in the "What Are You Listening To Now?" thread. I guess that means that even us fans have to concede the similarity!

Yeah, but Tilbrook's voice is more "mickey mouse", more cartoonish. Neil's is like no other's really. Tilbrook's voice does not make me feel the way Neil's does at all. Neil's is so soothing, and that's just one adjective out of many. Big Grin
Originally posted by NFADDICT:
Distinctive vocals...
Well this might show my age but I've got to add:
Ritchie Neville
Scott Robinson
& Richard Breen to the list. All were in a Rap/Rock/Pop group called 5ive a few years ago and all three have distinctive voices.

Haha, I was a huge Five fan back in the day! Though with hindsight I wouldn't say Rich had a distinctive voice (could agree with the other two though)...

Back to distinctive ...
Macy Gray and Shakira are both pretty unmistakable ... has anyone mentioned Bjork? Kirsten Morelle from Goldenhorse has a unique voice as well...
Simon LeBon
STEVE PERRY (Come on, people may not understand a word he is singing, but you KNOW it's him)
Imogen Heap!!!
Antony (check out the Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man film-wow!!!)

and Neil Finn, too. Though I can't help but see the similarity between him and Glenn Tilbrook after listening to Fame Is.... but I agree with Half-Full's post a loooooong time ago-Glenn's voice doesn't make me feel like Neil's does!
I admit to skipping the previous 5-6 pages (I skimmed). My 2 cents...

Elvis Costello
Eddie Vedder
Neil Young
Rod Stewart
Peter Garrett
Chris Cornell
Stevie Nicks
Jack White
Roger Daltry
Tom Petty
Mick Jagger
Anthony Keidis
Freddie Mercury (R.I.P.)
Michael Stipe
Ray Davies
John Lennon
Peter Gabriel
Jim Morrison
Chris Robinson
I skipped the previous pages & will not repeat what's already been said on this page (Lila64 took half my answers!)...

Jeff Buckley
Rhett Miller
Elizabeth Fraser
Rufus Wainwright
Tom Waits
Liam Gallagher
Grant Lee Phillips
Stephen Merritt
Stuart Staples
Jarvis Cocker
Brian Molko
Neil Finn

distinct before their clones:
Thom Yorke
Dave Matthews

not really rock:
Beth Gibbons
Tracey Thorn
Joanna Newsom
Noah & the Whale sound like Dylan, I don't think so!!!

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have backed Dylan in the past and Petty worked with him on the Traveling Will berries but that's as far as the affinity goes as far as I my ear can discern.

As Bowie once wrote "Oh hear this Robert Zimmerman I wrote this song for you, about a strange young man called Dylan with a voice like sand and glue".  There maybe many who attempt to imitate but there is only one true Dylan.
Originally Posted by awamutu:


alright, calm down, lol...i did say *maybe* i can't stand either so that might explain my mix up... there *is* someone newish out there that sounds like dylan, i just can't recall who...once i hear them again i'll be right back! lol


Perfectly calm, I await your naming of the Dyian-alike with not so baited breath.

Thought of a couple more:


Paul Stanley

David McComb (The Triffids) Such a tragic loss! I am spewing right now, because I just found out that Kylie did a cover of "Bury Me Deep In Love"!That song has more depth than the stupid little fluff pop tart could even contemplate! She should not have gone anywhere near it! She shouldn't even sing it in the shower! NO, NO, NO!!!

Well, I went for a big power walk, let off some steam, got rained on, calmed down a bit and decided to listen to the wretched thing. It's pretty bad, though it could have been worse. It could have had a dance beat!

I may have enjoyed listening to "Locomotion" with my 1st boyfriend (I was 11!) But as I grew, so did my distaste for the gal. My partner hammered the final nail when he admitted to having a better time, seeing Kylie with his ex than SE with me. No hope for some people!

OK, back to the topic at hand, before I get my butt kicked: Stevie Nicks and Dolly Parton got mentioned a few times. Stevies voice has become much deeper with age, but when you hear the song, "Silver Springs" (B-side to "Go Your Own Way") you could almost swear it was Dolly Parton.

Also Sammy Hagar (vocally speaking, the best frontman Van Halen ever had), Steve Perry and John Parr all sound/ed somewhat similar.

I don't know if Mika tries to sound like Freddie Mercury, or if he just does. I got talking to someone after Mika's Sydney show, who said that if Mika ran out of songs, he could sing any Queen song. I can't quite imagine him singing "Hammer To Fall", "Tear It Up" or "I Want It All", because he doesn't have Freddie's rip-roaring rock voice.

Some others who deserve a mention:

Angry Anderson

Agnetha Fältskog (just cut a new album after all these years!)

Originally Posted by awamutu:

if it hasn't been said already, michael huthence~

It has been said, but he was a great singer! He may not have had the greatest voice in the world, but by God, he knew how to use it! John Stevens and JD Fortune tried to imitate him, but as a great man once said, 

"There will never be another quite like you

And I miss that thing you do!"

Edited to say Michael Hutchence made his recording debut as a child, the voice of a plastic singing Santa. Imagine what one of those would be worth now!

Last edited by aFINNity

Someone mentioned Robert Smith of The Cure. I bought The Killers' CD, Sam's Town. It was cheap and I liked the single, "Read My Mind". I played it 1ce and never again, not the 1st time I've bought an album on the strength of a single and been disappointed. There are spots on that album where Brandon Flowers sounds like Robert Smith and there are songs that sound like failed attempts at ripping off The Cure.

Robert Smith did some work with Siouxsie And The Banshees early in his career, that I would like to hear.

Patrick posted:

Mr GEDDY LEE of course!

he just doesn‘t sing in his own distinctive style, he also plays bass and keyboards the same time...

Huge Rush fan. So sad that they've retired. Other distinctive vocalists:

1. Fish/Steve Hogarth - the original and the "new" lead singer of Marillion

2. Patty Griffin - sometimes folk, sometimes rock but can't believe she isn't a household name

3. Kate Bush/Tori Amos - the British/American spine-tingling vocals

4, Karen Peris - another spine-tingling female vocalist

5. Mark Knopfler - everything he signs sounds so good

6. Mary Fahl - how is she not a huge star?  What a voice ...

Well, actually, if singers have some degree of popularity (meaning more than just a hometown base), the list could be endless.  Those with distinctive voices are the ones that pull to the front in terms of sales, radio play, etc.  It's those voices that we remember and can pinpoint immediately.  A better question to ask would be, "Which distinctive voices are your favorites?"  Now, we are getting somewhere (to quote good ol' NF!)    With that being said, here goes.... Tracey Thorn, Kate Bush, Neil Finn (!), Paul Kelly, Julia Fordham, Don Henley, Michael Hutchence, Bono, Mick Hucknall, Annie Lennox, Seal...where does it end??  Thanks for asking!




Add Reply

    All times London, UK.

    ©1998-Eternity, All post content is the copyrighted work of the person who wrote it. Please don't copy, reproduce, or publish anything you see written here without the author's permission.
Link copied to your clipboard.