Isolated Vocal Tracks – 17 Voices That Marked The Last Century

By: Dan Kopilovic
Posted under: Rock History

Isolated vocal tracks (or vocal master tracks) offer us perhaps the most personal listening, during which we can feel all the emotion and expression in someone’s voice. It allows us to hear a singer in an isolated environment, where we can truly feel their energy. Hearing a song in an isolated environment is like hearing it again for the first time.

Unfortunately, in the real world, it doesn’t happen that often that we have the opportunity to lay our hands on a completely isolated vocal track. The tracks that we listen to are often homemade improvisations of what the real thing should be, but nonetheless, we learn to appreciate them.

This list features a compilation of isolated tracks found on the internet that are either completely isolated or feature some minimal background music. This list is limited by availability, so not every amazing singer is featured (this, of course, includes your favorite one, as is the unwritten rule with these kinds of “best of” lists)

* For maximum pleasure, we recommend using headphones. Enjoy.

Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) in Smells Like Teen Spirit

Kurt was one of those singers who almost completely “carry” their songs by the energy of their voice. And what do I mean by “carry”? Well, can you imagine anyone else by Kurt singing Smells Like Tine Spirit? Or Come as You Are? It’s just impossible. Kurt is the voice of Nirvana and the voice of a whole genre of music.

Singer-Songwriter Kurt Cobain wearing headphones
Kurt Cobain. Image by: Julie Kramer

At least in my mind, many of Nirvana’s songs wouldn’t be nearly as successful and well-known if they weren’t sung by Kurt. His voice was so powerful and unique, full of energy and rage, and it’s just irreplaceable.

Here’s one of Nirvana’s greatest hits from the album “Nevermind“, sang to you acapella-style by Kurt Cobain.

Layne Staley (Alice in Chains) in Man in the Box

Laney is arguably one of the best vocalists of the 90’s. Even Kurt Cobain once said, “I know I haven’t got much of voice, but Layne has one hell of a voice.”  He played a huge part of Alice in Chains, and the synergy between him and Jerry Cantrell really worked wonders.

Here’s a song they wrote together for the group’s debut album “Facelift“, with Laney responsible for the lyrics.

Freddie Mercury (Queen) in Bohemian Rhapsody

This list can’t go without one of the most praised vocalists of the last century – Freddie Mercury. He recorded not only with the band but with many professional singers, including the Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, who was more than impressed with his voice.

Freddie also wrote a great number of Queen’s hits: “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “We Are the Champions”. In the track below you have the opportunity to hear his voice completely isolated from the instruments, in a song that best shows all of his vocal capabilities:

Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) in Ramble On

If we’re talking about the most memorable voice of the last century, somewhere on top of that list should always be Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin. The band is one of those that nearly everyone knows about, and they had a great number of hits, including “Whole Lotta Love”, “Kashmir” and “Stairway to Heaven”. Needless to say, Robert played a huge role in that success.

Here’s one of their masterpieces – Ramble On – completely isolated vocal track.

Thom Yorke (Radiohead) in Creep

Thom is known to the majority as a great songwriter, but he is perhaps a little underrated when it comes to his singing. If you decide to give him a close listen, it’s very hard to miss the fact that he sings with a ton of emotion, and with his mind focused on the words and feelings carried within them.

If you are one of the doubters, here’s something to change your mind. He sang this song way back in 1992, and it later appeared on their first album, “Pablo Honey” in 1993. Here’s Creep.

Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) in Best of You

When Dave embarked on a new career after Nirvana’s breakup, no one expected the kind of success he had with Foo Fighters, and probably no one ever imagined he’d take on the microphone himself. But, it safe to say that he more than proved his musical talent.

Here’s Dave’s isolated vocal track from one of the Foo Fighters’ most successful songs – Best of You.

Deborah Harry (Blondie) in Heart of Glass

Female singers are not so common in the rock and roll genre, but where there is one, she rocks harder than most of the guys. Blondie, or Deborah Harry, not only succeeded in breaking the prejudgment that girls don’t belong in the rock and roll, but also served as an example for many upcoming female artists.

Here’s one of Deborah’s most praised vocal performances – Heart of Glass.

Marvin Gaye in I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Marvin is really a top-notch vocalist, whose voice developed during the years from a smooth sounding, to a raspy – more “manly” voice.  He started singing in his father’s church, and it is only unfortunate that the argument between two of them ended the way it did, because who knows what other masterpieces we would be enjoying if Marvin was still alive.

Here’s one of his greatest hits – I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

Michael Jackson in Billie Jean

Michael Jackson is one of those people who were born to become stars. From the very early age he expressed a great talent in music, and with a lot of work and dedication, he managed to profit greatly from it. It is a shame that his eccentric behavior and controversial lifestyle led him to become more of a tabloid curiosity than a music legend he truly was.

Here’s a song he’ll probably be best remembered for – Billie Jean.

Janis Joplin in Mercedes Benz

It is not that often that the world gets to hear someone who truly lives through each and every word she sings. Janis was one of those people, and hearing her sing some of the songs that everybody already knew, made them fresh and new again. She is probably one of the most passionate vocalists of the last century.

Here’s something that is not truly an isolated vocal track, but a private recording of Janis by one of her friends.

Elton John in Tiny Dancer

Elton John is one of those people whose voice changed during the years, in his case perhaps mostly due to drug overuse, and a vocal cord surgery he had shortly after the 1986 Australian tour. Although some people may not agree with him, Elton claims that the surgery improved his vocal talents and that he used to be just a piano player who sang, but now became a singer who plays the piano.

Here’s a song from 1971, which many of us remember from that scene from “Almost Famous“, as an ultimate “feel-good” song.

Merry Clayton and Mick Jagger in Gimme Shelter

Even though Mick Jagger did a great job performing on this song, it wouldn’t be completely fair to say that it was all him. No one can help but notice those haunting background vocals sang by Merry Clayton. She sang her heart out and didn’t spare a single atom of energy to give all shes got. This is the song that to us personally is something that shows what a great musician really is – someone who goes all in and throws her whole heart into the microphone.

If this doesn’t give you chills, probably nothing else will. If you are impatient, skip right to 2:46.

Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) in Black Hole Sun

Chris was just an amazing singer and songwriter, so it is not a surprise that many artists lined up to work with him, including Alice in Chains, Carlos Santana and Alice Cooper. His contribution to the success of both Audioslave and Soundgarden is irreplaceable, and many people, both professionals, and layman consider him to be one of the greatest new-age vocalists.

Here’s a song he wrote in 1994 for Soundgarden for their fourth studio album “Superunknown“:

Steve Perry (Journey) in Don’t Stop Believin’

Some rock critics were not so fond of Steve’s voice in the beginning, but the success of the Journey in the 70s with him as a lead singer, once again proved that critics rarely offer an opinion that tangents with reality.

Today Steve is recognized as one of the best vocalists of the 70s (and beyond), and the praises are coming from all sides. Brian May (Queen) has said that he (Steve) is “a voice in a million”, Jon Bon Jovi nicknamed him “The Voice”, and  Randy Jackson (Journey bassist) has said that “other than Robert Plant, there’s no singer in rock that even came close to Steve Perry”.

Decide for yourself by listening to the isolated vocal track of “Don’t Stop Believin'”

Ann Wilson (Heart) in Alone

We previously mentioned Blondie, and how she was one of the rare female singers in the rock and roll. Well, she was far from being alone. Ann Wilson from the band Heart was also rocking her way through the charts and mesmerized many with her outstanding voice along the way.

Here’s one of Heart’s biggest hits, and also one of the songs where Ann’s voice can be heard in its full potential:

Brad Delp (Boston) in More Than A Feeling

A lot of people like to sing along when they are listening to a song they like, but very few of them can keep up with Brad Delp. He was one of those people who were greatly talented to begin with and practiced their ways all the way to the top.

As a tribute to a great musician and an even greater person he was, here’s a song that he’ll always be remembered for:

Bon Scott (AC/DC) in Let There Be Rock

We’ve all heard at least one song from AC/DC, but many people, especially the younger folks, are perhaps not aware of who this gentleman was. This guy was there when the band was formed, and he put his soul into their first couple of albums – including “Highway to Hell“, “T.N.T” and “High Voltage“. He was the key ingredient of AC/DC initial success, and for that reason he’ll always be remembered as one of the voices of rock.

We can’t find a more perfect way to end this list, but with Bon Scott and his message to the universe – Let There Be Rock!

People who were planned for the list, but of whom we couldn’t find an isolated vocal track: Tina Turner, Paul Rodgers, Paul McCartney, Ella Fitzgerald, Tom Jones, Etta James, Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, Eddie Vedder, Corey Taylor, Phil Anselmo, Bruce Dickinson, Roger Daltrey, Jon Anderson, Lindsey Buckingham.

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1 year ago

You also missed many of the great vocals on songs by the Moody Blues

5 years ago

Nice collection. You missed Stevie Nicks though.

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