Once, I had the good fortune of being in a session with the legendary Sting. As a huge fan of The Police, I was thrilled to hear him perform on the microphone.
The first thing he said was, “I’m sorry, guys. I’ve got a bit of a cold, but you know what? That’s how I recorded my greatest hits, so it’s probably a good thing.” Even though everybody in the room chuckled, they all nodded their heads in agreement, “Yep, the raspier the better.”
The human voice is so special because every artist has a distinct signature sound. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the raspy male voice, which comprises 90% of my favorite male singers. Here are a few of my favorite iconic male vocalists with a raspy voice.
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Alright, let’s kick off this list with my all-time favorite male singer, and maybe even artist ever, Gordon Matthew Sumner (aka Sting). You all know who I’m talking about, from his infamous falsettos on The Police’s “Roxanne” to the classy raspiness of his famous ode to America, “Englishman in New York”.
In my opinion, his raspiness reached its peak when he did a tribute record for Elton John called Two Rooms and sang “Come Down in Time,” a song written by Elton. He later released this song on the expanded edition of The Soul Cages in 2021.
It’s seriously a jaw-dropping example of male raspiness at its best. It’s probably the lowest song Sting has ever sung, and it just hits the spot with the accompanying piano. It almost sounds like he’s singing with a whiskey in his hand at 3 am. Check out the video and tell me you don’t get goosebumps.
2. Steven Tyler
Aerosmith has been producing hits since the 70s, thanks to Steven Tyler, the iconic lead singer. You can immediately recognize an Aerosmith song when you hear Tyler’s voice on the radio.
Their Get a Grip album from 1993 was the soundtrack of my high school days. I remember singing their big hit, “Crazy,” at all hours of the night. Tyler really showcases his bluesy side with the spoken intro in that song. What a cool tone!
However, their greatest song has to be “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from the Armageddon soundtrack. Tyler has a way of ending his phrases with a raspy edge, especially at the end when he hits those high notes.
3. Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel is a total phenomenon who will always be best known for his amazing ballad “In Your Eyes.” But there are tons of other incredible moments where he shows off his raspy voice throughout his career as a solo artist.
Another one of his iconic hits that I’m sure you’ve heard is the super funky “Sledgehammer.” There are so many stories, like in Daniel Lanois’s biography, about how Peter was a total night owl who would procrastinate until the last minute and then magically come up with his best takes around 3 to 4 am.
Of course, his whole production team had to suffer along with him, but hey, that’s just the way it goes. He’s one of those singers that you can always recognize right away because of his beautiful low rasp.
4. Rod Stewart
So, Rod Stewart is one of those guys you just think of when you imagine a male raspy singer, right? I mean, it sounds like he just smoked like five cigarettes before he got on the mic.
All you have to do is crank up his biggest hit. “Do ya think I’m sexy?” I mean, he literally sounds like he has laryngitis, and I love it! I’m sure that’s why it was such a huge hit.
Rod Stewart is the happy man of rock ‘n’ roll, since most of his songs are pretty uplifting. Even his hit ballad “Have I told you lately” has a certain joyful quality to it, even if the lyrics are quite melancholic. That’s part of Rod Stewart’s gift.
5. Bob Dylan
No need for an introduction here. Bob Dylan, one of the greatest male icons of all time, has a unique, poetic, raspy singing voice. It’s almost as if he’s talking instead of singing the pitches.
In a way, it reminds me of another crooner with a raspy voice, Frank Sinatra. In his later years, Sinatra hardly hit the pitches, but sang rhythms and implied certain notes. It’s pretty cool when you analyze it from a producer’s perspective.
Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is a classic that influenced many of the Americana singers we rock out to today. His raspiness was perfectly captured in “Make You Feel My Love” from the Daniel Lanois-produced multi-Grammy-winning album, “Time Out of Mind.”
The album was recorded at Daniel Lanois’s studio in New Orleans. You can feel the swampy essence of Louisiana seeping into Dylan’s vocals, making it a pretty amazing listen.
Seal Henry Samuel, better known as Seal, was one of my favorite artists when I was in high school. I first heard his song “Killer” and was blown away by the amazing video featuring him dressed all in white in a white room. Then, of course, he released his first solo album with the mega-hit “Crazy.”
“Crazy” has an incredible rasp throughout the song, especially in the verses. However, the most surprising moment of that album is the delicate ballad “Violet” that ends the tracklist.
It’s a beautiful track produced by another one of my favorite producers, Trevor Horn, which weaves together some beautiful synth pads and piano with Seal’s raspy delivery on top.
I love that song so much that I discovered a piano and vocal duet version that Seal sang in London, which brings me to tears. He eventually released it on his rare collection compilation, but the video is even more powerful. Talk about rasp!
7. John Legend
Don’t you just love how some male singers are so iconic that you can recognize them right away? John Legend is definitely one of them! I mean, who hasn’t heard his super popular song “All of Me”, which has already hit 2 trillion streams on Spotify.
But, personally, my favorite song of his has to be “Ordinary People”. His raspy voice just hits differently, you know? Especially when he belts out the chorus and ends it with that smooth “take it slow” line. It’s so bluesy and soulful.
In my opinion, John Legend is one of the coolest young crooners of our time and I’m sure he’ll be remembered as a legend.
8. Axl Rose
Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses deserves a spot on this list! He’s a unique vocalist who can rock his falsetto and high chest voice, but also surprise us with a super old-school bluesy rasp in the verses.
While his raspy side isn’t as prominent in “Welcome to the Jungle” due to the song being mostly in his higher range, it’s still awesome.
The best example of his iconic rasp can be heard in “November Rain”. It seems like all the singers on this list really unleash their raspy power when singing ballads, and “November Rain” is undeniably Guns N’ Roses’ most iconic ballad, and one of their top five hits.
Listen closely for that cool rasp when he sings “hearts” – it’s sick.
9. Roger Waters
Pink Floyd is probably my favorite rock band of all time. Everything they did is just perfection to me, and of course, a lot of credit has to go to the singer, Roger Waters. I also love that in many of their hits, his range was fairly low and raspy.
Take “Another Brick in the Wall,” for example. The line “We don’t need no education” is beautifully raspy. You can say the same for the almost Dylan-esque delivery of their other massive hit, “Wish You Were Here.”
But really, I think Roger brought out his greatest rasp on his recently released single version of “Money,” his famous song from “Dark Side of the Moon.” It’s sung almost two octaves below the original “Money” and delivered with such coolness that only he can bring. Check it out:
Okay, have you noticed that producer Daniel Lanois always teams up with male vocalists who have the coolest raspy voices ever? I mean, come on, Bono from U2 has got to have one of the most awesome raspy voices of all time, right? And he just kills it on the beautiful ballad “With or Without You” from their mega-hit album “The Joshua Tree.”
Speaking of “The Joshua Tree,” that album was produced by two of my all-time favorite producers, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, so it’s no surprise that it’s amazing. But I gotta say, when it comes to raspiness, their follow-up album “Rattle and Hum” was probably the swampiest of all their albums, and you can really hear it in Bono’s delivery.
The track “Desire” from Rattle and Hum has got to be one of the greatest raspy songs ever.
And of course, Bono is channeling Bob Dylan throughout this album, even singing a live version of “All Along the Watchtower,” which Jimi Hendrix made famous but was actually written by Dylan.
And don’t even get me started on “When Love Comes to Town,” a duet with the great B.B. King. Both of these guys just let it all out and bring some serious bluesy rasp to the table.
11. Bryan Adams
Bryan Adams, whether you love him or hate him, is definitely one of the icons with a raspy male voice. He was huge in the 80s with his hit bluesy rock ‘n’ roll song, “Summer of 69”.
But what he’s really known for, and maybe not in a good way, is that ginormous hit ballad “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” from the Robin Hood soundtrack in 1991. I don’t know if I hate him for doing that song or not, but you gotta admit, he totally nailed those vocals.
He’s got so much air and rasp when he sings the whole song, it sounds like he’s crying while drunk. But, let’s be real, that vocal was effective. It’s one of the top ten best-selling singles of all time.
12. Kenny Rogers
If you’re talking about a husky male singer, you’ve got to include a country crooner, right? Out of all the country singers, my favorite raspy voice belongs to Kenny Rogers.
Male country singing is full of testosterone, but there’s something so raw and honest about the way Kenny Rogers sings his ballads. His song “Lady” is a perfect example of this – it’s as if he’s opening up his soul and confessing all his regrets and lonely thoughts.
Another great example of his mix of rasp and tenderness is his song “She Believes in Me”, which is an ode to all of us musicians who are constantly letting down our partners.
We’re all dreamers like he sings about in that song, “thinking we can change the world with our little songs”.