As we all know, the Internet includes a mammoth trove of mostly useless, but often fascinating knowledge. The variety of things people have elected to commit to pixels never ceases to astound, but in reality it shouldn’t. Although it’s admittedly hard to remember this, well before the Internet came along people likewise occupied themselves and committed to memory vast stores of random facts, often sharing them with like-minded individuals, in a friendly competition of sorts.
The sheer minutiae of trivial data shared between folks on a regular basis may have reached its apotheosis in the shared experience by young people (in my experience, young males but my experience is certainly not controlling) in the accumulation of incredibly useless knowledge about popular music. To this day my wife continues to shake her head with exasperation when she hears that I’m exchanging texts with an old friend about such weighty matters as which particular Dead show was the best, or a discussion of the number of guitarists for the Yardbirds and the varying degrees of quality of bands they later formed.
Others --millions, in fact -- exchange an accumulated wealth of mostly patently pointless knowledge in discussing sports teams and games in astonishing detail. (Without weighing in directly on the merits of this pastime I’d just note that if, on average, you watch only one NFL game per week during the regular and post-season you’ve committed yourself to 60 hours or so in front of a TV set yearly, or nearly four waking days. Multiply that by 50 years of viewing and you arrive at 200 waking days, or more than half a year of your non-sleeping life, all spent sitting in front of a electronic box. If you watch two games per week...well, you can do the math).
These are all, of course, exercises in human bonding and socialization at their core, as are their modern-day chat room and social media app counterparts on the Internet. As someone with more of an interest in music than sports, I came across an interesting exercise this week in such obsessive behavior: someone has actually measured the vocal range of lead singers in pop or rock bands by reference to their recorded output, in order to determine who has the broadest vocal range.
How they went about doing this is a bit of a mystery to me. I can’t imagine spending the time going over each vocalist’s entire life’s work in order to isolate the high notes and low notes. They begin to explain it here, but some of the links they reference for their background data are now dead. (Notably the comments to the link often take severe exception to their methodology as well).
At any rate, I assumed it would be Freddie Mercury or Bowie. But imagine my surprise when it turned out to be none other than …..drumroll please….Axl Rose!
Concert Hotels put together an interactive chart examining the recorded vocal ranges of the world's greatest, and most popular, singers. Plotting the octaves successfully captured in the studio, the chart demonstrates just how far across the keyboard their pipes have spanned, listing the songs in which each vocalist has hit their lowest and highest notes.
At the top of the chart: Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose, closely followed by Mariah Carey, Prince, Steven Tyler and James Brown. At the very bottom: country singer Luke Bryan, who is just topped by Taylor Swift, Karen Carpenter, Sam Cooke and Justin Bieber.
OK, for all his (I’m sure) amazing qualities Axl probably isn’t at the top of many people’s lists when they think of their favorite vocalist (here is a rather self-effacing letter he authored after this list came out, where he admits as much). More comprehensive lists prepared around the same time frame suggest former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton has an extremely rare, six octave range, considerably broader than Rose’s. And the HuffPo article referenced above, authored by Ryan Kristobak, hastens to assure us that having an empirically demonstrable vocal range does not necessarily equate with being the “greatest singer.”
Their chart, by the way, is here. It lists the lowest and highest recorded note for each artist and the song which it appears in. Prince, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Christine Aguilara and Marvin Gaye all do very well.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the greatest disparity in vocal range is 10 octaves, as demonstrated by Tim Storms at CityWalk Studios, Branson Missouri (unfortunately there is no apparently video available demonstrating this feat). According to Guinness, Mr. Storms also holds the record for lowest vocal note, as demonstrated below:
The late, great David Bowie also ranks highly on the list of popular singers with wide vocal ranges, with his highest note purportedly reached in “Lady Grinning Soul,” from the Aladdin Sane album (this is not an official video):
However he is consistently outranked by Mariah Carey, whose sustained range spans five octaves and has been heard to go higher.
Of course all of this interesting data on vocal ranges is wholly separate from the category of vocal performances, where personal taste plays a much more subjective role. However, perusing various polls and articles some consistencies appear: Bohemian Rhapsody is nearly always included in any reader’s poll selection; there are also several subcategories to be found, ranking for Mercury performances. My personal favorite is David Bowie, Teenage Wildlife (sorry, no live videos really do it justice). I’ve omitted opera and gospel because I have little knowledge of either genre and would find it too difficult to differentiate the excellent from the very good. Admittedly, when you include all genres and styles the lists can become quite overwhelming.
So that about wraps up tonight’s offering of largely useless but entertaining Internet knowledge. But if you have a hankering for even more (!), here are 100 Totally Useless Facts for your enjoyment.