Skip to content

Singers With The Most Distinct Voices

From deep and booming to eerily ethereal, these vocalists have some of the most recognizable singing voices in music.

In 2023, Tom Waits’ debut album, Closing Time, celebrated its 50th anniversary. If you’ve ever heard a singer like Tom Waits, you know just how powerful the human voice can be. Closing Time doesn’t have his trademark gravelly bark just yet, but the soulfulness of his unique voice was already on full display. The second you put on any Tom Waits album, you immediately know it’s him. 

Closing Time
Tom Waits
2023
Jazz, Folk
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, 180 gram
Shop

Even with a one-of-a-kind voice, Tom Waits isn’t the only one who sounds like no other singer. Musicians with distinct singing styles have emerged in every genre and many of these unique talents have built entire careers around their recognizable vocals. Often imitated but never replicated, the list below features some of the most iconic singers known for their distinct voices. 

Tom Waits

Jazz, Blues, Experimental
Rain Dogs
Tom Waits
1985
Alternative Rock, Experimental
Vinyl, Album
Shop

The voice of Tom Waits has been described as being “soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car” and “Louis Armstrong and Ethel Merman meeting in hell.” If it’s hard to imagine what that sounds like, his album Rain Dogs will give you a clear idea.

Captain Beefheart

Blues Rock, Experimental
Trout Mask Replica
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
2019
Experimental, Blues Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, 180 gram
Shop

Captain Beefheart had a profound influence on Tom Waits, specifically his more experimental output that began to take shape in the 1980s. Some have compared both singers’ voices, but Captain Beefheart’s wide range and deep blues-inspired wail have an emotional resonance and eclecticism all his own. Spin Trout Mask Replica and you’ll be forever changed.

Bob Dylan

Folk, Rock
Highway 61 Revisited
Bob Dylan
2015
Folk Rock, Blues Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, Mono
Shop

When people talk about Bob Dylan, it’s usually concerning his lyricism, songwriting skills, or his unmistakable voice. Even though his vocals have been referred to as raw, coarse, and rusty throughout his career, Dylan’s singing continues to be revered for its originality and sincerity. Listen to Highway 61 Revisited for a variety of Bob Dylan’s singular approaches to singing.

Neil Young

Folk, Rock
Harvest
Neil Young
2009
Rock, Acoustic
Vinyl, Album, Reissue
Shop

Neil Young’s signature vocal style is based around his high tenor range, relaxed approach, and use of falsetto. There’s a frail vulnerability to the way Neil Young sings, which more than makes up for any technical aspects that may be lacking. After you hear Harvest for the first time, you’ll never get Neil Young’s voice out of your head.

Geddy Lee

Prog Rock
2112
Rush
2015
Prog Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue
Shop

In addition to his masterful bass playing, Geddy Lee of Rush has gained a reputation for captivating audiences with his inimitable “countertenor” vocals. His wide vocal range and unique use of his falsetto voice produces a resonant quality that you don’t hear every day. 2112 is an epic prog rock journey if you’re in the mood to hear Geddy Lee sing.


Björk

Experimental
Debut
Björk
2021
Electronic, Pop
Vinyl, Album, Reissue
Shop

As a soprano with an impressive vocal range that spans three octaves, Björk is known for her unique phrasing, ability to hit high notes, and powerfully inventive melodies. Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2023, her debut solo album — aptly titled Debut — will immerse you in Björk’s “heavenly hiccuping thing that almost defies terrestrial description.”

Kate Bush

Pop, Experimental
Hounds Of Love
Kate Bush
2018
Electronic, Rock, Pop
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, 180 gram
Shop

Kate Bush’s vocal range is even wider than Björk’s, spanning over 4 octaves. Since her 1978 debut, Kate Bush has explored each layer of her voice by jumping from register to register and utilizing unique intonations and inflections that are in no way traditional. Check out Hounds Of Love if you’re looking to experience the surreal intoxication of Kate Bush’s awe-inspiring voice.

Elizabeth Fraser

Electronic. Rock
Heaven Or Las Vegas
Cocteau Twins
2014
Electronic, Rock, Ethereal
Vinyl, Album, Reissue
Shop

As the vocalist of Cocteau Twins, Elizabeth Fraser used her otherworldly voice to craft some of the most ethereal dream pop the world has ever known. Fraser’s mix of straightforward, semi-comprehensible, and abstract “mouth music” have established her as an unparalleled singer who was once called “the woman with the most celestial voice.” Start with Heaven or Las Vegas if you’re in need of an introduction.

Nina Simone

Jazz, Blues, Soul
Wild Is The Wind
Nina Simone
2016
Soul-Jazz
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, 180 gram
Shop

Whether she was singing a softer jazz number or a heart-wrenching protest song, Nina Simone’s contralto voice was always highly expressive and sometimes unpredictable. Throughout her live and studio material, Simone’s voice vibrates and booms in a way that no other singer can emulate. Wild Is The Wind is a good option if you’re looking to experience the soulful vocals of Nina Simone. 

Eddie Vedder

Ten
Pearl Jam
2017
Alternative Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue
Shop

When it comes to distinct voices, it’s hard not to think of Eddie Vedder and his warm yet gruff baritone. Balancing sensitivity and intensity, the Pearl Jam singer has inspired countless vocalists looking to convey a heartfelt performance. As an album that many music fans claim is a 10 out of 10, you should spend some time with Pearl Jam’s Ten for some classic Eddie Vedder-isms.

Jello Biafra

Punk evokes certain sounds and images, but as the ultimate punk provocateur, Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra approached his vocal duties in a way that completely disrupted expectations. Biafra’s conviction and heavy use of vibrato helped establish the band as one of the most inventive and thought-provoking punk groups of all time. Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is a great place to start for the uninitiated.

Lemmy Kilmister

Rock
Ace Of Spades
Motörhead
2015
Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, 180 gram
Shop

Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister redefined the word raspy with his guttural vocals, which weren’t prevalent in rock and roll when the band first started. That all changed as the emerging punk and metal scenes took influence from Lemmy’s gritty vocal textures and aggressive delivery. If you listen to Ace Of Spades, you’ll understand why Lemmy continues to be idolized.

Ronnie James Dio

Heavy Metal
Holy Diver
Dio
2021
Heavy Metal
Vinyl, Album, Reissue
Shop

Ronnie James Dio is credited as one of the pioneers of the operatic style of heavy metal singing and the sheer power of his voice has earned him legions of loyal fans. Through his work with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Dio, he used his impressive melodic growl to convey a wide array of emotions. Dio’s Holy Diver is a great reference point if you’d like to hear Dio at the height of his powers. 

Keep Digging

A Listener’s Guide to Sade

A Listener’s Guide to Sade

By Jon O’Brien Despite a reclusiveness and productivity rate that makes Kate Bush resemble a fame-hungry workaholic, Sade…

×