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Wait... Axl Rose?
May 21, 2014 12:34 PM   Subscribe

So some lunatic put together an interactive chart of the vocal ranges of the most popular musicians of the last couple of generations (based on their studio albums), and it turns out that Mariah Carey only came in second... to Axl Rose.

Mariah still has the highest note (a G7 from Emotions), but her overall range is a few notes shy of Axl's 5.5-plus octaves. Axl also had the lowest note, thanks to Chinese Democracy's There Was a Time, juuust barely beating Barry White.

The slimmest range on the chart was countryist Luke Bryan, with just barely over two octaves of range over four albums.
posted by Etrigan (139 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Chinese Democracy aside, I'd much rather listen to Axl than Mariah, although they're both entertainingly bonkers.
posted by jonmc at 12:40 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


Axl sings... lower than Barry White?
posted by ardgedee at 12:40 PM on May 21 [6 favorites]


And Axl Rose has a lower note than Barry White!
(edit: whoops, just saw that you mentioned that in the post)
posted by msbrauer at 12:41 PM on May 21


Wishing it had John McCrea or Eddie Argos, but I'm not sure how you would categorize what they do as "singing". Also, disappointed that Anthony Kiedis's one octave isn't defining the bottom of the list, either.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 12:41 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


No Rob Halford? The list has Sad Wings of FAILstiny.
posted by Renoroc at 12:42 PM on May 21 [12 favorites]


Justin Beiber may have a slightly wider range than Sam Cooke (they're both down near the bottom), but Sam Cooke proves its what you do with it more than how wide your range is.
posted by easily confused at 12:44 PM on May 21 [20 favorites]


Most interesting to me was that Bjork and Dolly Parton have identical ranges (not just identical size; actually identical).
posted by erlking at 12:45 PM on May 21 [9 favorites]


The song they use for Axl's low note is Ain't it Fun. I thought was actually sung by Michael Monroe on their Spaghetti Incident album.
posted by cazoo at 12:47 PM on May 21


I'm impressed that some singers who always impressed me with their vocal range end up not displaying as much range as some singers whose range I'd never thought about.

But I also wonder how much a long career affects a singer's chart. Voices change over time, and I know that for example my own (untrained, painful to hear) singing range has dropped a few notes since my twenties. It would be interesting to see how much of a range a vocalist can cover within a single performance, because I think this would shuffle the graph around a bit.

Also, to name that-of-whom-we-don't-speak: Auto-tune.
posted by ardgedee at 12:47 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Bowie can go lower than Johnny Cash? Huh.
posted by COBRA! at 12:47 PM on May 21


As someone who has fatefully pressed 시작 on a Gn'R song at karaoke, consider me unsurprised.
posted by Beardman at 12:47 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


two points -

1 - No Harry Nilsson

2 - Having a great range is... well... great. But if you use it for crap it's still crap. It doesn't make you a good singer any more than being able to draw a photo-realistic face makes you a good artist.


2b (somehow I remain slightly cautious of the list as it ranks Roy Orbson so comparatively low)
posted by edgeways at 12:48 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


Most interesting to me was that Bjork and Dolly Parton have identical ranges (not just identical size; actually identical).

So do Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox. Wild.
posted by the painkiller at 12:49 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


What are the black bars supposed to mean?
posted by thelonius at 12:51 PM on May 21


For the male singers, shouldn't it make a difference if you are singing in falsetto vs singing in "real" voice?

I mean, I can screech pretty high in falsetto, but I don't consider those notes part of my real range.
posted by wittgenstein at 12:52 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


Ah, they had no text in them the first time I loaded the page.
posted by thelonius at 12:52 PM on May 21


Yeah, Harry Nilsson and his 3 1/2 octave natural range are suspiciously absent from this list.
posted by stenseng at 12:53 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Got that GNR song from Chinese Democracy is horrible.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:55 PM on May 21


Also, to name that-of-whom-we-don't-speak: Auto-tune.

Yeah, they need to put an asterisk on all the results post 1990s or so, because auto-tuner can artificially extend a singer's range. Hell, just squeak off key into the damn things and it'll still come out sounding like a polished professional performance with the right dose of the effect.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:56 PM on May 21


For the male singers, shouldn't it make a difference if you are singing in falsetto vs singing in "real" voice?

I believe falsettos are not considered in the chart.
posted by Jairus at 12:57 PM on May 21


where's minnie ripperton?
posted by bruce at 12:57 PM on May 21 [11 favorites]


Axl Rose will always sound like he is strangling a cat to me, no matter what his range.
posted by Silvertree at 12:58 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


By this metric, Yngwie Malmsteen is better than Jimi Hendrix, because he can make much faster WEEDLY-WEEDLY-WEE sounds with his guitar.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:59 PM on May 21 [20 favorites]


No Klaus Nomi?
posted by Thorzdad at 12:59 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


I was wondering where Kate Bush fits on this scale. Is there a broader study/chart?
posted by Chuffy at 1:01 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


Also, doesn't (or didn't) Kate Bush have, like, an absolutely bonkers range?
posted by erlking at 1:01 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I mean, she's not popular, so I get why she's not on this list, but I'd really love to see where Diamanda Galas would sit comparatively.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:02 PM on May 21 [14 favorites]


No Freddy Mercury???
posted by savitarka at 1:02 PM on May 21 [10 favorites]


Ha, Chuffy, jinx!

So I googled "Kate Bush range" and this was the first result:

Vocal Type: Dramatic Soprano
Vocal Range: 4 octaves G2#-G6#
Vocal Pluses: Incredibly versatile, rich and emotive voice that has a dark, weighty timbre. The midrange is solid with a warmth and sweetness. The belting range is clear and robust with a fiery passion and connects seamlessly to the head voice. This part of the range is bright, resonate and has the flexibility to sound operatic, contemporary or even able to mimic birdsong. Expert control over the voice means that notes can be sustained effortlessly- with or without vibrato- and pitched perfectly.
Vocal Negatives: Unique and individual singing style is not to everyone's taste.

posted by erlking at 1:03 PM on May 21 [6 favorites]


Freddie Mercury is on the list. 11th from the top.
posted by Quack at 1:04 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Julie Andrews has got to be pretty darn close to the top as well in terms of range. They should have included Roger Waters. That would be less than a one octave range. And also, ditto on the "where is Halford", not to mention Dickinson.
posted by Ber at 1:05 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Here's the Klaus Nomi page on The Range Place... seems like somewhere short of 4 octaves.
posted by Huck500 at 1:05 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Axl Rose will always sound like he is strangling a cat to me

Yeah, but it's a buttered cat.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:06 PM on May 21 [6 favorites]


erlking: "Most interesting to me was that Bjork and Dolly Parton have identical ranges (not just identical size; actually identical)."

Now we need to get a two-album set, one with Bjork covering Dolly and the other vice versa.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:06 PM on May 21 [34 favorites]


Bob Dylan: range 1 halfstep
posted by idiopath at 1:07 PM on May 21 [10 favorites]


Can anyone link to the timestamp of There Was A Time where Axl hits the low note? I can't make it more than a minute into that song, it's.. really bad.
posted by zempf at 1:07 PM on May 21


If you want to have a look at Axl Rose's purported vocal range without having to subject yourself to any recent work, here's a link.
posted by ob at 1:10 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


He's on there, just not as high as you'd expect
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:10 PM on May 21


Now we need to get a two-album set, one with Bjork covering Dolly and the other vice versa.

. . . . . have you been reading my dream diary?
posted by erlking at 1:11 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Freddie, I mean
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:11 PM on May 21


A few I'd like to know the stats on: Ian Curtis (is he lower than Barry White?), Ozzy Osborne, Bruce Dickinson.... in particular, how do you calibrate the vocal range in heavy metal, when you have the 'growling' style of Death metal vocals, in particular? Do we treat it like falsetto, or does it count to a singer's range?
posted by LeRoienJaune at 1:11 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


No Beefheart???
posted by AJaffe at 1:12 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


Heh. The Galas link on the Range Place just says "true vocal terror"
posted by lumpenprole at 1:14 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Uh, Freddie Mercury didn't sing "All Dead, All Dead" (purported lowest note). Brian May did.
posted by monospace at 1:15 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Wait, what - no Ima Sumac???
posted by seawallrunner at 1:15 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


Was anyone else hoping for karaoke functionality so they could test their vocal range against these singers/songs?

Perhaps I'll head down to the next karaoke night and subject the locals to a (drunken) vocal experiment...
posted by comradechu at 1:18 PM on May 21


As noted, this is only based on studio records - In real life, Mariah can kick Axl's ass ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:19 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


in particular, how do you calibrate the vocal range in heavy metal, when you have the 'growling' style of Death metal vocals, in particular? Do we treat it like falsetto, or does it count to a singer's range?

The growling is still pitched.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:19 PM on May 21


Silvertree: "Axl Rose will always sound like he is strangling a cat to me, no matter what his range."

Have you ever listened to their music? "I see your sister in her sunday dress..." that's pretty dang low and not very cat-strangly.

I want to see how Mike Patton compares.
posted by symbioid at 1:21 PM on May 21 [10 favorites]


I believe falsettos are not considered in the chart.

Does it say that anywhere? I can't imagine a dude hitting near C7 without head voice.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:21 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


"erlking: "Most interesting to me was that Bjork and Dolly Parton have identical ranges (not just identical size; actually identical)."

Now we need to get a two-album set, one with Bjork covering Dolly and the other vice versa."


If only we could do that for Elvis Presley and John Lennon. Imagine Presley doing Imagine.

Edit: Also this is a cool link and perfect for Mefi (imho!)
posted by marienbad at 1:22 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


in particular, how do you calibrate the vocal range in heavy metal, when you have the 'growling' style of Death metal vocals, in particular? Do we treat it like falsetto, or does it count to a singer's range?

The growling is still pitched.


Obviously.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:25 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


And seeing Jeff Buckley sandwiched between Roger Daltrey and Bruce Springsteen is kinda strange.
posted by marienbad at 1:27 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I believe falsettos are not considered in the chart.

well, i guess smokey robinson won't be on that chart
posted by pyramid termite at 1:28 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


My bad.. Freddie's there alright. I had no doubt before I clicked that he has to be in the top 5 if not 3.
posted by savitarka at 1:28 PM on May 21


I'm not buying this Axl Rose bullshit. It's all studio tricks. I know this because I bought a bootleg CD of the Use Your Illusion sessions that apparently an engineer stole right off the board and it had a lot of Axl sitting at the piano working out November Rain. Let me tell you - he cannot sing. Like he was off key and had no range whatsoever and these are recording sessions. So, like I said, I call bullshit.
posted by spicynuts at 1:29 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


...auto-tuner can artificially extend a singer's range. Hell, just squeak off key into the damn things and it'll still come out sounding like a polished professional performance with the right dose of the effect.

I've used Melodyne for many years, and can say without any fear of doubt that one can only polish a turd so much. A crap performance will be a crap performance even if it's "technically" tuned right.

You have to hit some sort of solid note for it to pitch-correct and sound natural and professional. The best you can do with a bad performance that wavers and meanders every note is to make it either less awful (if you're willing to accept mediocrity instead of crap), or robotic (just a different mediocrity).
posted by chimaera at 1:33 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


I mean, I can screech pretty high in falsetto, but I don't consider those notes part of my real range.

I believe falsettos are not considered in the chart.

Really? How come? Some people have great falsettos and it seems like a weird thing to not include. Probably some technical thing an untrained type like myself won't know.

I'm really surprised at the placement of Iggy Pop and James Brown. I know Iggy can go pretty low, but I took the higher notes as more of a shriek. And James Brown, there's like all these shrieks and shouts and I'd have a hard time placing them on a scale personally but I suppose I can believe it.
posted by Hoopo at 1:34 PM on May 21


Where's Leonard Cohen! This chart is useless!
posted by dobbs at 1:36 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


Wow this chart is the motherlode for how to do killer karaoke.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:36 PM on May 21


Gimme some reggae.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:37 PM on May 21


Who was that artist...Diamanda Galas? Didn't she have like a 3 1/2 octave range?
posted by thelonius at 1:37 PM on May 21


Where is the all-time great David Lee Roth?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:39 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


The thing about falsetto is that it skips a bunch, so "range" is kinda misleading. Someone like Tiny Tim could sing very high and very low, but nothing in between.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:40 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


Bob Dylan: range 1 halfstep

Heh. A wise (now sadly deceased) friend once said to me is that the difference between Bob Dylan and Mariah Carey is that Dylan has a lousy voice but is a great singer; Carey has a terrific voice but is a terrible singer.

I also think it would be very interesting to see where Mike Patton and Yma Sumac fall on this chart. Bruce Dickinson, too.

Surprised at how (relatively) slim are the ranges of Björk and Smokey Robinson.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:41 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


So I googled "Kate Bush range" and this was the first result:

>>Vocal Type: Dramatic Soprano


This should have been your first clue that whoever wrote that had no earthly idea what they were talking about.


Julie Andrews has got to be pretty darn close to the top as well in terms of range.

In fact, she had a very limited range.



I call bullshit on most of this. I suffered through the execrable GNR tune that supposedly contained his extraordinarily low note, and didn't hear anything that came with a mile. Also, the absence of Yma Sumac makes the whole thing suspect.
posted by slkinsey at 1:42 PM on May 21


I don't see why the creator of this was a lunatic. I love it! But maybe that's because I reeeally love There Was A Time, and hadn't heard it mentioned in a long time.
posted by Metro Gnome at 1:42 PM on May 21


John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote a terrific piece on Axl Rose, definitely worth a read. Here's a small bit from it:

"Take "Sweet Child o' Mine," which, in my unassuming view, shares with the Wrens' "I've Made Enough Friends" the distinction of being the most perfectly achieved rock 'n' roll song of the past twenty years. It's not that you don't love it from the beginning, what with the killer riffs and the oddly antiquated-sounding chorus, yet a sword hangs over it. You think: This can't be everything. Come on—I mean, Now and then when I see her face / It takes me away to that special place? Then, around 5:04, she arrives. The song has veered minor-key by then, the clouds have begun to gather, and I never hear that awesome, intelligent solo that I don't imagine Axl's gone off somewhere at the start of it, to be by himself while his body undergoes certain changes. What I love is how when he comes back in, he comes in on top of himself ("five or six different voices that are all part of me"); he's not yet all the way finished with I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I when that fearsome timbre tears itself open. And what does she say, this Devil Woman? What does she always say, for that matter? Have you ever thought about it? I hadn't. "Sweet Child," "Paradise City," "November Rain," "Patience," they all come down to codas—Axl was a poet of the dark, unresolved coda—and to what do these codas themselves come down? Everybody needs somebody. Don't you think that you need someone? I need you. Oh, I need you. Where do we go? Where do we go now? Where do we go? I wanna go. Oh, won't you please take me home?"
posted by four panels at 1:42 PM on May 21 [16 favorites]


Beyond the falsetto is the whistle register, and that's where Mariah and Minnie ripperton hit their high notes.
posted by empath at 1:43 PM on May 21


Anything without Brad Delp (the guy from Boston) is sorely incomplete.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:43 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Falsettos are absolutely included in these ranges (whistles too).

Distinguishing between chest (regular) and head (falsetto) voice might be interesting, but there's actually not a bright line between the two, the ranges overlap in most singers (some to a greater degree than others).
posted by grog at 1:43 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


John Jeremiah Sullivan is a national treasure and every single essay in Pulphead is incredible.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:44 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


No Neil Young? I imagine his high end, wherever it is, is about a third unintentional notes.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:45 PM on May 21


I call bullshit on most of this. I suffered through the execrable GNR tune that supposedly contained his extraordinarily low note, and didn't hear anything that came with a mile. Also, the absence of Yma Sumac makes the whole thing suspect.

Here's Axl's low vocals isolated.
posted by Jairus at 1:47 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Never mind, I see it. I still think he went a lot higher on Tonight's the Night, but left blood on the tracks.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:48 PM on May 21


There's a hell of a lot of processing on that low Axl vocal...
posted by ob at 1:51 PM on May 21


From The Range Place, here's a list of Axl's significant low notes:
B♭2 ("Buick Mackane/Big Dumb Sex", "Civil War", "Patience")
A2 ("Get in the Ring")
G♯2 ("Don't Cry (Alt. Lyrics)", "Hair of the Dog", "Locomotive", "Nightrain")
G2 ("Sorry")
F♯2 ("Bad Obsession", "Mother" live, "Paradise City", "Sweet Child O' Mine")
F2 ("Black Leather")
E2 ("Locomotive", "Perfect Crime")
E♭2 ("Double Talkin' Jive", "Mother" live, "Sweet Child O'Mine" 1999 version, "You Ain't the First")
D2 ("Garden of Eden", "Sorry" live)
C♯2 ("Bad Obsession", "Dust N' Bones", "Pretty Tied Up", "Scraped", "Shackler's Revenge")
C2 ("Ain't Going Down", "Bad Apples", "Oh My God")
B1 ("Breakdown", "Don't Cry", "November Rain")
B♭1 ("Back Off Bitch")
A1 ("Get in the Ring", "(Love Is) A Bitchslap")
G♯1 ("Bad Apples", "Coma")
G1 ("So Fine")
F1 ("There Was a Time")
posted by Jairus at 2:02 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


The range on record isn't the range of the singer, it is only the range in the recordings that person has made.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:03 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Here's Axl's low vocals isolated.

Now I call double bullshit on it. If (and it's a big if) that's not created by electronic processing, it hardly constitutes pitched singing.
posted by slkinsey at 2:03 PM on May 21


I have no doubts at all about Axl's low range, but I am surprised he gets "credit" for that slaughtered muppet shriek he uses for everything else.

And Appetite for Destruction is one of my favorite albums, so I say this with love.
posted by SharkParty at 2:04 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Metro Gnome: "I don't see why the creator of this was a lunatic. I love it! But maybe that's because I reeeally love There Was A Time, and hadn't heard it mentioned in a long time."

With all the talk of James Brown, I didn't realize you were referring to the song in which Axl hits the low, and thought you meant the James Brown song.
posted by symbioid at 2:05 PM on May 21


From The Range Place, here's a list of Axl's significant low notes:

Can someone with a knowledge of his oeuvre point my attention to one of the listed notes that can actually be discerned as pitched singing?
posted by slkinsey at 2:05 PM on May 21


Can someone with a knowledge of his oeuvre point my attention to one of the listed notes that can actually be discerned as pitched singing?

The F♯2 "where do we go" backing vocals in Sweet Child O' Mine" is probably the clearest example off the top of my head.
posted by Jairus at 2:10 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I've been searching, almost unconsciously, for nearly 25 years for the proper way to describe Axl Rose's voice. It turns out "slaughtered muppet shriek" was what I was looking for. Thanks.
posted by skewed at 2:11 PM on May 21 [18 favorites]


I'd like to see a few opera singers sprinkled in here to show what real range looks like. Where would Rachele Gilmore (she of the highest note in Met history) or a countertenor like David Daniels appear on this list?
posted by thecjm at 2:12 PM on May 21


Freddie Mercury has a surprisingly low highest note. Queen has some great high notes, but those are all Roger Taylor singing them from behind the kit.
posted by thecjm at 2:14 PM on May 21


The F♯2 "where do we go" backing vocals in Sweet Child O' Mine" is probably the clearest example off the top of my head.

Okay. Good example. This is a good example of actual pitched singing. I would point out, however, that it is more than an octave higher than the claimed lowest note.

Actual pitched singing on an extreme low note, as opposed to quasi-pitched growling, sounds something like this (start at 5:07).
posted by slkinsey at 2:22 PM on May 21


I have heard Axl do extremely low (much lower than Sweet Child O' Mine) pitched singing in interviews where he's asked about his singing style. I can't find any with quick googling but that's where I'd look if I wanted to be sure about his range outside a studio.
posted by Jairus at 2:25 PM on May 21


I'd be curious about Mike Patton and Grant Lee Phillips compared to Axl.

But Axl isn't a surprise, his highs are strong because he was a church choir singer and his lows work because he knows how to take a forced, near silent low note and make it work by getting right up on the mic for proximity effect.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:33 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see a few opera singers sprinkled in here to show what real range looks like.

It depends on what you mean by "real range." If I were to take the lowest and highest notes I can possibly phonate that could be made to sound like something on a recording, I would probably go from C2 or C#2 on the bottom up to E5 or F5 on the top for around 3.5 octaves. I have, once upon a time, performed pieces that went as low as Ab2 and as high as D5 (2.5 octaves) although those were by no means by best notes. I would put my "real range" -- meaning the notes I consider well within my performing wheelhouse -- at a touch more than two octaves, and this is considered a pretty wide range for a tenor. High soprani probably have the most extensive range of operatic singers.
posted by slkinsey at 2:33 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Queen has some great high notes, but those are all Roger Taylor singing them from behind the kit.

Yup, Roger didn't have the range but he does have the highest recorded note by a male singer with a major pop/rock act ever, the opening note of "In the Lap of the Gods", and it's amazing.
posted by Cosine at 2:34 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


If you have a mic, it doesn't matter if it's a forced low growl or a "real" sung note. As long as it's reasonably accurate, it sounds like a note.

Mike Watt is another example of a male singer who does a lot of that. He'll bottom out and barely hit a low D, but it sounds like a D in context. And it can be really beautiful, actually.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:37 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


High soprani probably have the most extensive range of operatic singers.

My wife is a high soprano, though untrained. She's been in local choir stuff but nothing serious. Nonetheless, the last time someone made her sing her range note by note as it was played on the piano it ended with the pianist slamming the cover down on the keys and saying, "enough, you're making me sick." The pianist was an alto.

But really, as others have pointed out, range is nothing except in opera and show tunes. In popular music it will always be the emotion and empathy a singer can wring out of those notes. If I recall, didn't Billie Holiday have a limited range?

There was a quote about Howlin' Wolf though today I can't find it. One of his producers, maybe Sam Phillips. supposedly said, "Wolf had one of the most misbegotten voices ever visited on a human being and what he could do with that was divine."
posted by Ber at 2:42 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


He'll bottom out and barely hit a low D, but it sounds like a D in context.

Doesn't the ear tolerate lower pitches being out of tune more than it does high ones? I think that may be one of the tricks that piano tuners use, in "borrowing" cents, to make a tempered tuning where it mostly sounds in tune.
posted by thelonius at 2:44 PM on May 21


I'd like to see a few opera singers sprinkled in here to show what real range looks like. - thecjm

Yes! Der Hölle Rache from the Magic flute is said to be demanding because of the highest note. I think Sumi Jo mentioned in an interview that she had to practice for hours every day just to make that note cleanly. That's an F6, to be compared with Mariah Carey's G7. Can it really be that Mariah reaches more than an octave higher than Sumi? Maybe she's autotuned, but I still wonder what it might look like inside her throat.
posted by Herr Zebrurka at 2:47 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


First thing that jumped out at me was that Alicia Keys and Katy Perry have a very similar range; when I mentioned it to friends, I was informed that the other axis to consider is resonance: Alicia hits the notes square on and is (non-technically speaking) "nicer" to her vocal cords, meaning they'll probably last longer. Is this, uh, true?
posted by psoas at 2:47 PM on May 21


Heh. Don't get me wrong... he's one of my favorites but I couldn't help chuckling when I saw Tom Waits' name on the list. I'm pretty sure his, um, "vocal range" extends from "rumbling indicative of imminent volcanic activity" to "chirping of a hungover grasshopper".
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:25 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]




I'm a huge Nirvana fan, can someone please explain what "Low Rider" next to Kurt Cobain is referring to, because I can't think of an explanation? Did he somehow get confused with Charles Miller?
posted by entropicamericana at 3:36 PM on May 21


Silvertree: "Axl Rose will always sound like he is strangling a cat to me, no matter what his range."

According to Slash, as quoted by Rolling Stone, it's like "the sound that a tape player makes when the cassette finally dies and the tape gets ripped out, but in tune."
posted by Boxenmacher at 3:36 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see Mike Patton and Devin Townsend on this list.

I don't know about Patton, but Townsend has a C2 - F7 range according to this video.
posted by Boxenmacher at 3:41 PM on May 21


Bit of a derail, but this list is finely polished clickbait for SEO.
posted by me3dia at 3:59 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Hi Entropicamericana...
There is a soundcloud for this with an untitled intro and at 6:00 a small sample of War's "Low Rider"...
posted by calgirl at 4:01 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Is Perry Farrell on the list? Cause he should have topped it for both range and irritation factor. Been Caught Stealing makes me want to punch someone - anyone...
posted by helmutdog at 4:30 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Years ago I read an interview with a vocal coach who worked with various rock singers, and they asked her who the best singer was. She said Axl Rose, and that he had a lovely clear tenor or something like that. Presumably he sings like he does because that's the sound he wants.
posted by markr at 4:32 PM on May 21


Somehow Pat Benatar's legitimate 4.5 octave mezzo-soprano range was missed in this otherwise spectacularly accurate list.
posted by bz at 4:40 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Presumably he sings like he does because that's the sound he wants.

I knew a pretty serious musician once who really wasn't a fan of hard rock, but liked Axl a lot because he was the only male rock singer she knew of who seemed to have gotten his vocal technique from Janis Joplin. I'd never thought of that, but after that I couldn't help hearing it.

(Janis, on the other hand, supposedly had a *great* voice before she blew it the hell out with whiskey and smoking and general abuse, but there don't seem to be any decent recordings of her before '66 or so, so I don't really know.)
posted by hap_hazard at 4:50 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I amazed Chris Cornell isn't on the list. I remember in some long distant interview Axl Rose himself saying that Chris Cornell had a better range.
posted by bionic.junkie at 4:54 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Forgot about Cornell. Insane vocal range in his prime.

There was a MeFi thread but it was a few years ago. Someone played songs by metal singers for an opera teacher. She really, really wanted a young Halford as a student if I recall correctly.
posted by Ber at 5:01 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Also no Maynard James Keenan. According to the Internets he's a G1 to G5, one semitone short of David Bowie.
posted by Woodroar at 5:03 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


And range is cool and impressive, but it isn't everything. Joey Ramone had a range of about three notes but he was expressive as all hell.
posted by jonmc at 5:13 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Needs more Simon Le Bon
posted by mcstayinskool at 5:16 PM on May 21


I'm not surprised that Axl Rose has the widest range.

I am surprised that Prince's highest note was not in the song Kiss.
posted by mcstayinskool at 5:20 PM on May 21


> I am surprised that Prince's highest note was not in the song Kiss.

If falsetto is excluded then that would explain it.
posted by Dragonness at 5:28 PM on May 21


There was a MeFi thread but it was a few years ago. Someone played songs by metal singers for an opera teacher. She really, really wanted a young Halford as a student if I recall correctly.
Here it is.
posted by dfan at 5:35 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


This is quite interesting, and a nice cross-section of singers even if it doesn't have everyone I'd like to see.

Probably not opera singers, though, as that is more about ability within a short range than a wide span. If this chart is right Axl can sing the notes for all the parts - bass to soprano - in the standards operatic repertoire, which is only like D2 to G6. But singing the notes into a mic in a studio is different from singing and holding the notes with no amplification and being heard over an orchestra and chorus in a 3000 seat hall. (Which is not what Axl is trying to do, of course. He is amazing).
posted by mountmccabe at 5:36 PM on May 21


The thing about falsetto is that it skips a bunch, so "range" is kinda misleading.

That's not necessarily the case. For instance, listen to John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over." His falsetto on "somewheeeeere" is lower than his non-falsetto high note ("why don't we take off alone").
posted by John Cohen at 5:56 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Indeed. This amazing guy can take his falsetto down bellow a G2. Also, "sideways yodelling"!
posted by WaylandSmith at 6:10 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I remember searching for the term "Axl Rose vocal range" years ago in defense of the fact that I really like at least three tracks on Appetite For Destruction. I feel so vindicated now. Not to say that Axl is an amazing singer, necessarily, and there are plenty of G'n'R tracks I don't like, but he does well enough.

These comments are wonderful and make me want to pick up the guitar, or the musical saw. (I don't sing, so certain concessions have to be made.)
posted by quiet earth at 6:11 PM on May 21


Indeed. This amazing guy yt can take his falsetto down bellow a G2. Also, "sideways yodelling"!

I kind of want to hear an entire track of him meowing and making other cat sounds. He's pretty convincing.
posted by quiet earth at 6:21 PM on May 21


I was expecting to see Peter Steele somewhere on the list. I believe he had an A1 on several songs.
posted by ericales at 6:26 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I have heard Axl do extremely low (much lower than Sweet Child O' Mine) pitched singing in interviews where he's asked about his singing style. I can't find any with quick googling but that's where I'd look if I wanted to be sure about his range outside a studio.

It's at about 1:30 in this video which was already linked.
posted by John Cohen at 6:26 PM on May 21


OK, I am not a musically educated person, I don't know what all the notes mean or any of that business. So, somebody learn me up: is this just based on these singers hitting a certain note in a certain song? Like, somebody hits a high note once, so we conclude the singer can always hit that note? Because as much as I loved Lou Reed, for instance, I was always under the impression that his voice had a really limited range. Like, he mostly talk-sang in a rather low tone, and now and again he'd strain to hit a high note almost as a novelty. (He always kind of sounded like your dad, singing in the shower.) (And don't ask me how I know what your dad sounds like, singing in the shower.) His high notes on Rock & Roll always sounded strained and scratchy to me, but that was just part of the charm of the song. Roy Orbison had that really high voice, and it would seem to me like he could probably hit higher notes than Reed any day of the week... but he's charted as lower on this scale than Reed. I never liked Whitney Huston, but I always heard people babble about what great range she had and her style always seemed really show-off-y to me. ("And IIIIIIII-IIIII-IIII...") But her range doesn't like anything too special, here.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:36 PM on May 21


OK, I am not a musically educated person, I don't know what all the notes mean or any of that business. So, somebody learn me up: is this just based on these singers hitting a certain note in a certain song?
Yes.
Like, somebody hits a high note once, so we conclude the singer can always hit that note?
It's more like "Somebody hits a high note once, so we conclude that s/he hit a note that high."
posted by dfan at 6:48 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Would be interesting to see how Thurl Ravenscroft stacked up range-wise. Apparently his lowest recorded note is A1.
posted by JohnFromGR at 7:57 PM on May 21


Also, the absence of Yma Sumac makes the whole thing suspect.

Per wikipedia, "Yma Sumac recorded an extraordinarily wide vocal range of slightly over four octaves from B2 to C♯7." Video
posted by polymath at 8:09 PM on May 21


I'm disappointed that there's no "Weird Al" Yankovic. Since You've Been Gone is a good example of his range, and if you think he doesn't go that low, try Driving a Truck.

I've never found any documentation that he uses any auto-tune or electronic effects on his voice, just multi-track recording.
posted by mdeatherage at 9:26 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Is there some sort of software/website/etc. people use to figure this all out? Or is it all a matter of listening for the low/high notes and then seeing what the frequency is on a song by song basis? Because there are a lot of singers I'd love to try this out on. Not to mention my own poor singing voice...
posted by downtohisturtles at 9:59 PM on May 21


This would seem like a good case for histograms.
posted by pseudocode at 12:20 AM on May 22


Does anybody know if/how vocal range progresses with age? Anecdotally, I feel I could hit more high notes when I was younger than I do now - if there is any kind of drift, picking the maximum and minimum from two songs that may be years apart will give an inflated range.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:04 AM on May 22


Typically vocal range expands with training and both contracts and lowers with age, although neither of these things necessarily has to happen. There are singers, for example, who notably maintained wide ranges and high-lying voices into their 70s.
posted by slkinsey at 5:21 AM on May 22


I'm really fascinated with the range of Nate Reuss from fun. He doesn't have crazy lows, but he can belt wicked highs seemingly without flipping to falsetto. This E5 at the climas of "Be Calm" always gets me. I'd also be interested learning in ranges of other pop "male altos" like Steve Perry of Journey.
posted by onehalfjunco at 8:53 AM on May 22



Well, most of you have probably moved on by now, but you really should hear . . .

WP: Minnie Riperton . . . perhaps best remembered today for her ability to sing in the whistle register, in which she had rare facility.

Riperton's highest recorded note [in the studio] . . . was F7 [heard in]:
Here's a live recording of a Rotary Connection performance of "Ruby Tuesday", where she hits an F#7.

"If you can't do anything else with it, flaunt it," she says at the end.

WP: Riperton's ability to enunciate in the high registers set her apart from most other whistle-register singers.
  • Here We Go -- An embarrassingly bad song, but at 2:28 Minnie sings "here we go" in whistle register.
  • Teach Me How to Fly -- There's lots of synth and orchestral flutes on the record too, but on the out chorus in the right channel (on my machine) you can clearly hear her singing "teach me, teach me how to fly" in whistle register.
  • Love Me Now (w/ Rotary Connection). On the choruses you may not realize that high sound is a human voice until the others drop out (at 1:09) and she holds the note another ten seconds.
  • Inside My Love
  • Adventures in Paradise Check out the vocal gymnastics between 2:43 - 3:08
  • Expecting Sustained high notes and articulation at high registers throughout.
  • Only When I'm Dreaming
  • Like a Rolling Stone" (w/ Rotary Connection)
WP: She has also been credited for her ability to sustain notes in the sixth and seventh octave for long periods of time.

Heard in all of the above.

NB: Riperton died in 1979, nearly twenty years before invention of Autotune.
 

posted by Herodios at 10:06 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Huh, I thought Yma Sumac held the record, but looks like Sumac had a little more than four octaves (B2 to C♯7) while Minnie Riperton had five 1/2 octaves (D3-F#7).

Both had spectacular voices, IMHO.

Anyone know what Diva Plavalaguna's [artificial] range was (from Fifth Element)?

I happen to be listening to "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Centre of the Ultraworld" by The Orb while typing this. (It contains sampled Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You")
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 1:30 PM on May 22


Anyone know what Diva Plavalaguna's [artificial] range was (from Fifth Element)?

This sheet music (YT, with the song) for "The Diva Dance" suggests that that in bar 31 she hits a couple of G#6 and then in bar 35 starts that long glissando which goes from G2 to G5. Thus the total range is almost four octaves (G2 to G#6).

For comparison Luc Besson had wanted to use a recording of Maria Callas for the Il dolce suono part; her vocal range was only (ha!) F#3 to E6, an octave less than Diva Plavalaguna displays in that one song.

But the superhuman display is more the expressiveness, precision, clarity and agility across that wide range because as the chart in the OP shows, several human vocalists (Axl Rose, Mariah Carey, Prince) can reach that entire near-four octave range plus more.

My guess is that for the film the Il dolce suono part is minimally processed Inva Mula while the tough runs of "The Diva Dance" were digitally sampled and probably the low end of that glissando was also digitally created. But I have no idea.
posted by mountmccabe at 8:03 AM on May 23


Oops, I linked to an incorrect video for Maria Callas. That's not the right bit, though I am not sure where/if the right bit is on YouTube. Though it is on Spotify.
posted by mountmccabe at 8:11 AM on May 23


Various other singers were added to the above to make this list. Their top 5:
6 octaves, 1/2 note
Mike Patton (Eb1 to E7)

5 octaves, 4-1/2 notes
Diamanda Galás (F2 to C#8)

5 octaves, 3 notes
David Lee Roth (E1 to A6)

5 octaves, 2-1/2 notes
Axl Rose (F1 to Bb6)

5 octaves, 1 note
Nina Hagen (G#1 to Bb6)
No fun chart, though.
posted by mountmccabe at 7:22 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]


I came here to post about Patton winning.

There were plenty in this thread who called it :)
posted by symbioid at 7:34 AM on May 27


Wait, the best part...

"Justin Bieber, who previously ranked in the bottom 10, has been pushed off the list entirely."
posted by symbioid at 7:36 AM on May 27


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