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Pretty sure this is how Bill James would do it

Think of a female pop singer, any one you like. Assign her a score out of 10 on overall singing ability: strength of voice, range, interpretive ability, pleasantness of tone. Assign her a second score out of 10 on non-vocal attractiveness. If we score all the female pop stars and she-frontmen by the product of these two scores:

a) Who would rate highest?
b) Could there ever exist a 90? I think Ann Wilson had to be close in, say, the first half of 1976. Remember, you have to post a 9×9 just to get to 81. Even a list of 70-pluses would be very short.
c) Is it just me, or are there not a lot of singers around now who would break 50? Beyoncé, certainly, but she's by no means a lock for a 60. Regina Spektor? Adorable, but I can't quite tell if she's a terrific breathy-indy-cutie-school singer or just the most carefully miked singer ever. Gwen Stefani if you like that sort of thing (7½ both ways seems about right, and that's with the "tricked out for a talk show appearance" score on attractiveness, not the "wake up and see her without $500 worth of makeup" score). Zooey Deschanel starts out with a 9½ on one side, but, well...
d) Who, among artists who've had serious careers, would rate lowest? Just kidding, it's obviously Alanis Morissette.

Under applicable ground rules, modest bonus increments may be made available. Stevie Nicks might strictly be a 58 or something, but c'mon; Stevie Nicks is one of the fashion superpowers of the 20th century and can't reasonably be less than a 65. Opera singers are not eligible for this competition (in opera, there are 110s).


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Comments (84)


Neko Case. 10 for looks, and 10 for a voice that can do country to indie rock and everything in between. Then again not sure she counts if contest of Gwen Stefani/Beyonce-type pop stars.


I should really learn to use the 'preview' button. Meant 'in a contest of...'
I think Shania Twain would give Alanis a run for lowest scoring, with that awful computer enhanced voice.

So there's an interesting lesson here for the ladies: in any large group of men, there's always at least one "If you put a red wig on a Guernsey I'd propose marriage to it" guy.

For the record, Neko Case is a pretty lady, but 10s are not to be handed out like tollhouse cookies. Think of them as the equivalent of declaring DEFCON-2.

Also, the range from country to country-flavoured power pop isn't actually that huge.

Jesus, this is a good game.

I think Lady Gaga may be a one. Perhaps a two, but certainly the low single digits. That's going to be hard to beat for anybody who is actually a member of the cultural zeitgeist. But I'm not sure I can think of a really high one.

Open it up to men, though, and Peter Gabriel was an easy ninety in his prime. Easy.


Hmmm. Deborah Harry before her husband got sick was scrumptious, Susanna Hoffs is just silly cute and one time Sheena Easton appeared on my television singing Sugar Walls and I blacked out.

Six posts, and we're rating dudes on how hot they are. Well done Lord Bob.

Apparently he has a thing for giant hogweed costumes and half-shaved heads.

Deborah Harry before her husband got sick was scrumptious, Susanna Hoffs is just silly cute and one time Sheena Easton appeared on my television singing Sugar Walls and I blacked out.

And yet none of them is worth an 8 on the vocal side, surely. Can we keep our eyes on the ball here?


You're right, this IS a fun game. Anne Murray? Does that make you happy? Huh? Joan Baez? I think you should have accepted my previous list.

Well, under this scoring system, Anne Murray is probably pretty competitive with Sheena Easton.


Well, maybe you can't sing like Mavis Staples or Nina Simone or KD Lang or Geddy Lee when you look like Sheena Easton?

I would offer as proof Marianne Faithful. Her 60's photos are splendid but she didn't find her voice until much later.


Faith Hill > Sheena Easton > Anne Murray >> Lady Gaga >>>> Fergie

Guys. The point is to give TWO scores and MULTIPLY them. You're getting distracted.


Well Linda Ronstadt had a nice voice, she'd have a pretty good score. If we're nominating Faith Hill I insist on a mention for Sara Evans and that cute girl from California who sang the song about "All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun" should be in. She also covered a Keith Hampshire song, which should give her bonus points.

Deigning to acknowledge women for a moment, Emmylou Harris in her prime and Marion Raven today have both got great voices and great other parts - they both sing lousy music, but sing it well. Raven probably comes up at a 72, but some days you could convince me of an 81.


Crap, this really is tough. It's hard to see how anyone from Britney (in her prime, which is to say age 20) to Emily Haines can get above 60. Taylor Swift holds theoretical promise until she know her true vocal range and whether she can handle evening wear.


Sorry, that's until WE know these facts. Whatever Ms. Swift's limitations might be, I assume she knows the facts in these vital matters.

Half Canadian:

Sarah Mclachlan at a 60-70?
Madonna - maybe 50.
Brittney - Madonna territory.
Carol Pope - 20
Cyndi Lauper - 25 (being generous here).

The fun isn't in finding the diamonds, its in slagging the dross.


You're all missing Pat Benatar...and before you dismiss her as having jumped the shark after "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", dig again into her subsequent discography...there's much more there then you'll ever hear on recycle radio...great vocal range,even dabbled in blues for awhile...anyways she would have to be up there IMO...at least a 65-70

Olivia Newton John in her prime could give Pat Benatar a run for her money - sexier but perhaps lacking the power of PB

Some who would rate highly in some categories and fail miserably in others...

Annie Lennox - domanitrix power; freak show

Bjork - her voice is like a compelling force of nature; a bit of a flake though

Alison Krauss - an amazing BG talent with a voice that is like candy - ie too much of a good thing is not a good thing - in any case makes anyone she collaborates with (which is nearly everyone) instantly better

Darby Mills (Headpins) off the scale, power wise, perhaps not in a pleasant way - best shriek in R&R on Turn It Loud)

Please comment and carry on...


Probably belongs in a different game, but Liz Phair doing her song "Flower" has gotta be worth something somewhere ("I'll f**k you and your minions too"--WTF!?).

Agree on young Ann Wilson. I'd toss Cat Power and young Grace Slick in there as well.

And no mention of Leslie Feist?

Kevin K:

You guys are terrible at this.

(looks)*(voice) = CC female singer metric

Alanis = 6*5 = 30 (I think you are being hard on her)

Sarah Mclaughlin = 9*8 = 72 (but let's face it she has one good song)

Madonna (Age 23) = 9*5 = 45

Madonna (Age 30) = 6*6 = 36

Lily Allen = 7*5 = 35

Zooey = 10*5 = 50 (Its interesting how the math works, she needs some good songs)

Patti Smith = 2*2 = 4 (only her for comparison, since she didn't sell many records. On the other hand, I like Horses a lot more than anything else these other women produced)


Hmm. Didn't know you liked opera. As for the popsters, some people would rate the 1990s Mariah Carey a 9x9. I wouldn't, but some people would.

'70s Ronstadt is a great draft pick. Not an elite beauty but easily cute enough to be an 80-plus.

When I first saw Sarah Maclachlan I thought she was going to own the world, but there's a kind of weird, almost nightmarish masklike quality to her face, isn't there? Sounds like she is walking off with the whole Edmonton Folk Fest this year though.

Pat Benatar's a powerful singer, but she's got some kind of lagomorph skull. And most of us have sisters prettier than Cat Power (you have to rate the girls on attractiveness as if they couldn't sing, otherwise the two scores you're multiplying aren't statistically independent).

Feist is super tough to peg. Nice-looking girl, but how many points do you dock in Column B for the fact that she has roughly the vocal range of Ringo Starr? But it's still an amazing voice. Debbie Harry, though she might be the only woman I'd be tempted to assign a 10 in looks, is kind of a similar case—a unique, intelligent singer, with limitations, maybe an 85 overall on some days.


So, Whitney Houston c. 1986 is a 10 on the vocal side, and at least an 8.5 on the other scale, even if you're a tough marker. Even subtracting a few negative bonus points for... lunacy?, I'd say she wins.

Courtney Love loses.


Yeah I'm totally the 'red hair' guy in the crowd.
OK, how about Christina Agulera? 8 in the hotness (in a skanky way), and she seems to have genuine pipes. 65 to 70?
Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde (in her prime). High marks for voice, decent marks for looks. 8 and 6?
Emily Haines from Metric: 8.5 looks, but limited vocal range: 60.

Sean E:

When I first saw Sarah Maclachlan I thought she was going to own the world, but there's a kind of weird, almost nightmarish masklike quality to her face, isn't there?

Whenever I see her I think that she's someone that I should find attractive, but for some reason I just can't get there.

But Colby, if you ask a group of men to compare female singers based on hotness times vocal range, can you really be surpised when one side of the calculation gets more attention than the other? (In the spirit of which I nominate Monet Mazur.)

Ignoring the fact that all of her songs suck, realistically it's hard to argue against Mariah Carey being in the lead among those named so far.

It's not hotness times vocal range. It's attractiveness times singing ability. So it's not hard to argue against Mariah Carey at all. She is awful in almost every way imaginable.

Half Canadian:

I agree that mid-80s Whitney Houston was the highest scorer in that time, with a 90s score. (but she has not aged well). An argument could be made for Mariah Carey being in the 90s as well.

Agree that Pati Smith is in single digits.


She is awful in almost every way imaginable.

An absurd overstatement, and you are clearly in the minority on Miss Mariah. A min. 8 on the singing side. The attractiveness is certainly in the eye of the beholder (if you like skinny and/or foreign, you're not going to be in love), but how could you call her UN-attractive, even if you dock points for presentation?


It's not hotness...it's attractiveness

My apologies Colby, for confusing two such unrelated concepts.

As for vocal range, after this,

Well, under this scoring system, Anne Murray is probably pretty competitive with Sheena Easton.

I was just looking for a rationale that gives Anne Murray roughly 4 times the singing ability of Sheena.

Sean E:

Sorry - that last "Anonymous" comment was me.


I actually really like this...it guarantees that Carla Bruni gets a 20.

I was just looking for a rationale that gives Anne Murray roughly 4 times the singing ability of Sheena.

How about this rationale: it's stunningly obvious?

Great Walls of Fire:

I don't think anyone comes close to Whitney in her prime. Allison Kraus would have to rank up there, although I think her musical strength score would be more for her overall musicianship than her voice, which I find a bit too whiney.

Janis Joplin: 0 x 1 = 0


I've thought about it all day and it appears Stevie Nicks is the answer. No all-time beauty, she certainly has torque in that department and wrote some outstanding pop songs while singing them with a distinct voice.

I wouldn't have thought it to be true, but she's a pretty woman capable of writing Landslide and singing it with aplomb.

Female pop's peak career value is Stevie Nicks and her career value had sustain too. Probably the #1 overall pick unless someone is so emotionally attached to Suzi Quatro they're wearing leather pants right now.

Potential 50-plus scores that come to mind. Assume "in her prime" before all the below (attractiveness x ability):

June Carter: 6x8.5
Kate Bush: 7x8.5
Gloria Gaynor: 7x8.5
Sarah McLachlan: 7x9 (opera trained)
Christina Aguilera: 7x9 (great pipes, bad material)
Mylene Farmer: 8x8

Plus you're being too hard on Beyonce, dude.

Bjork=10x10. And the only 110 score an opera singer could possibly get is if morbid obesity was a catagory.

Crid [CridComment @ gmail]:

> Can we keep our eyes
> on the ball here?

Not fair! Do you admire Tiger Woods for hitting the ball so far or so accurately? I hate this blog comment for shamelessly mixing two unrelated qualities. Americans have enough trouble separating the beauty of music from other kinds, and here Cosh wants to muddy the waters even further. This is the vocal performance of the rock 'n roll era; does anyone give a fuck what she looks like? (Wiki says she was paid seven dollars or something. Years later she sued for a piece of the record that was in the Billboard Top 200 for over a decade, and got some satisfaction, but nobody knows how much.)

But Cosh gave us the word "lagomorph", and that makes it worthwhile. That Benatar woman creeps me out. She's got no business shaking cheeks like that for other men when her husband is standing there playing guitar right next to her. It's intrusive. A couple years ago PB did an interview in AV Club where she talked about how tough it is to work as a notalgia act alongside Styx or whatever. And you want to scream at her: "Yes! You're a middle-aged woman now! What did you think pop fame was about?!"

> Janis Joplin: 0 x 1 = 0

Dude, JJ did this. By did, I mean she wrote it. Then she arranged it, for a bunch of machozoid ne'er-do-well players. Then she engineered it (analog, 8-track probably) such that nobody could tell that it wasn't actually a live performance. And she did it as an uneducated, 24-year-old, alcoholic girl dropout. Props, OK? Has heavy metal ever had a better example of cotton-field call-and-response than what you hear in the guitar solo?


Avril Lavigne gets at least a 9*7, if you forget about sk8ter boi. That's my opinion and I won't be swayed, dammit.

Lita Ford has to be up there too. 9.5*7 at a minimum.


Seems like Sinead O'Connor ought to rate in here somehow. I'd give her an 7.5 for vocals and an 9 for being awful godamn cute, for a whopping 67.5. But then you sort of have to dock her 25 points for being an intolerable loon.


Sarah Harmer. 8*8, minus 10 for being un-iconic, plus 5 for being uncontroversially talented AND easy on the eyes.

Alex VanderWoude:

Sinead O'Connor rates at least a 9 in the vocals department with me. Plus, she's stunningly beautiful, which is probably why she shaved her hair off for so many years. So she's at LEAST an 81. Her lunacy has nothing to do with this rating system.

I think Zooey Deschanel was given an unfairly harsh assessment above. I'd rate her singing at 9 (her rendition of "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Leon Redbone is terrific), and her looks are very girl-next-door, so 7+ there. So we're at 63 at a minimum.

No fair limiting the playing field to pop singers only, Colby! Does Billie Holiday make the cut? How about Shirley Bassey?


Sade in her prime:

10 X 8.5

Half Canadian:

I've never been impressed by Janis Joplin. She sounds like someone's grandmother trying to sing rock. Very unpleasant. And regardless of the talent for song crafting (I'll grant that), she is not attractive. Today, she'd have a future as a blues singer, but definitely not mainstream (NTTAWWT).


Tina Turner:

8 X 9

Sinead actually gets overrated as a babe because of the bald thing, everybody knows that. And the idea of Lita Ford as a 9½ is hilarious; I like blonde & booby as much as the next guy but that would be generous even if you're using the truck-stop waitress scale. Where'd you guys go to man school?

On the other hand, I don't know if Sade is a 10 but I'm not going to give Thor hell for handing out a 10 in defiance of my instructions that there basically are none (no, Björk is not a 100). Sade must be awfully close, and he may even be underpricing that voice. She is suspiciously underphotographed and in general one wonders why the hell her career evaporated so quickly.

I am puzzled at the suggestion that Billie Holliday and Shirley Bassey were not pop singers. Dame Shirley was a real cutie-pie and her failure to cross over the Atlantic is another enigma of history.

Crid [CridComment@gmail]:

> one wonders why the hell
> her career evaporated so quickly.

She had no ear for tunes: Most of her songs were pulse-y, two-note phrases over unremarkable, unvarying chords. And she was a heavy smoker, which may have quickly drained her appeal in both realms.


What if you burnt some midnight oil, and worked out some league averages to better quantify the margins? An Attractiveness over Voice ratio or some such. Extra bases for timeless standards. Call it Value Over Replacement Singer.

i.e. If Blondie goes down, how much would be lost by bringing in Sheena Easton?

It's taken years to find the right context for that sentence. [again]


Thor beat me to it - the much-overlooked (at least in this young crowd) Tina Turner. Even now, well after her prime, it's hard to find a better set of legs; maybe not a great pure vocalist, but man - what a performer! I think you have to be looking at 8*8 for a 64, and maybe (are fractional scores allowed?) somewhere in the 70s.

bill needle:

For contemporary artists, I'd rate Susan Tedeschi highly, say at least an 9.5x8.5 and give similar "marks" to Fiona Apple.
The real high marks would go to jazz singers, someone like Diana Krall, though critics complain about her range. No one complains about her legs, though.
Billie Holiday probably would be at least in the mid 80s (10x8.5) during the Depression before she got on the junk. Still she sang like a 10 for a couple of decades...
Saw Sarah McLachlan at Dinwoodie (is it still called that I wonder) right when her first album came out. When she was 21 she was something to behold. But then her music got all adult-contemporary and, uh, no thanks.
As for Ann Wilson... puhlezzze. I'd say 5x8 = 40. When you sing and look like Robert Plant, that's not gonna do much for anybody.

Crid [CridComment @ gmail]:

> similar "marks" to Fiona Apple.

A audacious but thoughtful play, mister. (Before the awards show thing, anyway)


Sade is a beauty no doubt and a very sultry voice. If we're going to include Diana Krall (and she's fabulous, sings Nat King Cole better than anyone outside his immediate family) then we should mention a flood of female vocalists like Mary J Blige, Anita Baker and Roberta Flack.


Gentlemen, I submit to you Amy Winehouse, purely as a physics experiment. Let's see, that's a 9 on the vocal scale times -65,000 for attractiveness.

But potentially, if they induced a coma and put her on an IV drip of salmon oil and Flintstone vitamins for 6 months, she could be quite fetching. At least for a couple of weeks.

Is anyone out there brave enough to engage in a dark-side-of-the-moon-type theoretical exercise here?


Annie Lennox, India Arie and Dolores O'Riordan all fall somewhere between 60 and 70.

Rilo Kiley, Kate Nash, Jewel and Lily Allen are all pretty but maybe not so high on vocal range so somewhere between 50 and 60.

Half Canadian:

Well, she wasn't a pop singer, but I still think that Susan Boyle's first performance on Britain's Got Talent was in the 8-range for voice. But she's clearly in sub-Patti Smith territory with looks (though I'd rather be stuck with her on a broken elevator than Winehouse. I'm sure being in a 5-foot radius of Ms Winehouse puts you at some risk of hepatitis, while I think that Ms Boyle would be at least pleasant to talk to).

Susana Hoffs, of Bangles fame, was rather pretty, in a made-up kind of way (7?), but her vocals were clearly ordinary at best (5) - 35.

Belinda Carlisle was better looking (8), but still ordinary (5, maybe 6). - 40-48.

Any other all-girl band fronters that I'm missing?


And by Rilo Kiley, I mean Jenny Lewis of course. (Need to wake up before I start posting comments apparently).


I'd rate Maggie, Terre and Suzzy Roche about 60-65, although I'm not sure which one is which :-)

Re-reading this improbably long comment thread, I see that Ann Wilson has been mentioned up top but could we not simply take the Wilson sisters as a bloc, name them "N-ann-cy Wilson", and give them, say, 9*7?

Frankly, I always thought Nancy was the good-looking one anyway.


I'd think Bill James would go for Jewel - perhaps she's the Craig Biggio of this discussion. And how has no one brought up Shakira yet?

Well, let's be honest: it's called folk singing because it's generally easy enough for regular folk to do.

I kind of still can't believe Bruce started Kate Bush with a 7. 7, really? They put this on the side of some buses and life basically ground to a halt in London for a month.



She's also a gifted yodeller. No, that is not a euphemism.

The attractiveness of Amy Winehouse doesn't really require a lot of hypothecation. She was on TV at age 14 because she was the cutest, most telegenic girl in her theatre-school class. "Rehab" seems to me to be the single greatest female vocal performance since God knows when, though looks-wise she was already a little ravaged; again, this speaks to the Billie Holliday question whether you can be a really great singer if you haven't been knocked around a little by life. In that six-month period of peak success, Wino is somewhere from 40 to 85 depending on your relative personal weakness to blatantly Jewy girls.


How long did you have to work the line breaks to get "Jewy girls" all by itself?

Dave Himrich:

What about Duffy? Maybe 7 x 7, or am I missing something?

Can't shake the feeling that Duffy was picked out by a record company as "a blonde Winehouse, only one that will actually show up for concerts." And I'd formulated this theory before Goldfrapp (a natural 55 plus quite a few bonus auteur/fashion points) said out loud what everyone was thinking. There's a general rule that the record industry will frantically follow a successful x² with somebody who is worth more babe-column points and not quite as many singer-column points.

Paul Dubuc:

Lena Horne seems to merit consideration. She was never more than a 9 at any time, but she was the Hank Aaron of hotness, garnering an honorary 10 for maintaining ILFness into her 80s. I admit to having no clue as to her vocal acuity.

Grace Slick rates a 72 by my lights.

Paul Dubuc:

Anyone rating Winehouse an 85 would have to put Babs Streisand in the 90s, no?

Crid [CridComment @ gmail]:

> I still think that Susan Boyle's
> first performance on Britain's Got
> Talent was in the 8-range for voice

Never understood that. This supposedly revelatory moment is audio-mixed very thickly, with amazed onlookers speaking directly to the lens in full voice while she's presumed to be amazing everyone in the background. People are cheering the home run before the pitch.....

Crid [CridComment @ gmail]:

Also, someone should offer some calculations for early Carly Simon. Matrix position 1A is this melody against this photograph.


How has Lauryn Hill not been mentioned yet? Circa 1998, she's a 90.

Gavin Neil:

Crid (Aug 7, 7:51) - brilliant - glad you finally got to get to use that one!

Opera fans - who are these 10 beauties with 11 voices? I'm having trouble believing it...

Mariah can beat 81. At least one of those two categories must be a 9.5. I am also a Christina Aguilera lover, but realistically you can't give her more than an 8.5 in the looks business, so B- overall. I think Beyonce deserves more cred; if there is a 10 looks on the list right now she's it, and I can see giving her a 9 in the pipes department.

Which is the real issue - to top 90, you basically need a 10 in one category and still a nine+ in the other (yes, technically you sneak on with 9.5^2). So how many 10 lookers are in the business? Once we know who they are, we can argue whether their voices are good enough for a 9.

I concede my attractiveness marks were meant to err on the conservative side. I was quibbling with your "none over 50" thesis, so I thought it best.

How has Lauryn Hill not been mentioned yet? Circa 1998, she's a 90.

The absence of Lauryn Hill on this list really is unforgivable. I really don't see how she's not the winner.


In an effort to build some momentum behind the Tina Turner campaign, I give you this:

"Winner"? Doesn't that concept conflict with your "Everything I've ever heard is equally awesome" philosophy on music? Le Pétomane could perform "Spanish Flea" three inches in front of your face and you'd give him a 10.

Crid [CridComment @ gmail]:

> brilliant - glad you finally got to

You meant dreid, not me, but I appreciate the love anyway. Strut, pout... She was all about the thighs.


Karen Carpenter. 7.5 x 10 = 75
Connie Francis. 7.5 x 10 = 75
Natalie Merchant. 7.5 x 9 = 67.5
Carol Conners. 7 x 8 = 56




since scurrilous rumours and Lady Gaga herself hint that she may be a hermaphrodite, does that disqualify her, give her bonus points, or make the the most likely to have a negative number as a result?

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