News has reached these benighted shores that Rolling Stone, a magazine that earned its former journalistic reputation for its solemn coverage of a once-relevant musical genre known variously as rock & roll, rock, adult-oriented rock, alternative rock, and dinosaur rock, hath declared that, in their view, the greatest singer in the history of popular music is Aretha Franklin.
The choice, which is included in one of those fatuous and ultimately disposable lists one normally finds in golf magazines (“The Top 100 Courses You’ll Never Play!”) and travel porn (“The World’s Most Luxuriously Decorated Islands”), should be popular among those who still read the magazine. Franklin’s late-career screaming ululations have been successfully marketed as “soul,” and the highly ornamented melisma she injects into every other syllable has become the preferred performance gimmick for countless televised singing contestants. Like Bob Dylan, a gifted writer whose commercial and critical success in the 1960s and 70s unintentionally granted tacit permission to people who, like him, can’t sing in tune (Randy Newman, Elvis Costello) to become singers, Franklin’s stardom has given millions of teenaged girls in the church choir the mistaken idea that if you can shout up to a high-E above C you might as well record the results, no matter how absurd the yelling or wobbly the vibrato.
If we have the audacity, wrongheadedness, and poor taste to suggest that the alleged Queen of Soul is unworthy of occupying the throne, then, one might reasonably wonder, who is?
We make it a policy not to get involved in ranking lists of these sorts, since, basically, they’re useless, self-congratulatory exercises in self-congratulation. Is Pine Valley really a “better” golf course than Cypress Point? Was Babe Ruth a finer hitter than Ted Williams? Does it matter?
We do, however, know what we like, just as everyone does and ought to. And what we like are badasses. Meaning: folks who are a category unto themselves, rare souls whose talent and virtuosity cannot be replicated, only imitated, and never satisfactorily. Badasses come in several categories, but each share a common trait: to be any type of badass, you’ve basically got to be a badass.
People Generally Known To Be Badasses
Stevie Wonder. Tiger Woods. Christian McBride. Lewis Lapham. Wynton Marsalis. LeBron James. Cecilia Bartoli. Keith Jarrett. Hiromi. Bobby McFerrin.
People Who, For a Variety of Reasons, Don’t Get Proper Recognition of Their Badassness
John Pizzarelli. Every member of the Tierney Sutton Band. Adam Gopnik. Miguel Zenon. Hendrik Hertzberg. Rhiannon. Tom “Durrr” Dwan.
People Who Have a Chance to Eventually Have Their Badassness Recognized by People Other Than the Author
Tigran Hamasayan. Abe Lagrimas. Jon Irabagon. Nedra Wheeler. Kai Kurowsawa.
Being a badass doesn’t guarantee you fame and fortune (although it doesn’t hurt). It only ensures that you are and forever will be a badass. And that might be the loveliest honorific one ever gets.