The Top 10 Playback Singers of India

Here’s my list of the top 10 playback singers of India. Some of the selections may seem undeserving (to a few people) but, it was with great effort and devotion I managed to rank these legends. However one’s subjectivity or “bias” in such selections is inevitable and I tried my best to keep any personal feelings out of it. I’m a novice when it comes to analyzing the music industry but, I’m posting this list to show my appreciation to these Gods of Music. One must understand that the difference between each singer on the list is very minuscule. In my opinion versatility and voice quality matter most. whoever deserved to make the list had these qualities better than anyone else. Hope I was up to the task!

Rank 10-     SONU NIGAM

He’s widely regarded as one of the most versatile singers of India. From his huge range of songs to the mesmerizing ability to perform on stage, he’s a complete package. A true entertainer and the modern day ecumenical singer, undoubtedly his awesome talent and voice are exhilarating.

Sonu Nigam singing “Yeh Dil Deewana” from the movie Pardes.

Some of the best songs he’s sung are “Kal Ho Naa Ho”, “Sandese Aate Hain”, “Panchhi Nadiyaan”, “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna”, “Main Agar Kahoon”, “satrangi re” and the kannada hit “Eenagali Mundhe Saagu”.

Rank 9-   KS CHITHRA / P SUSHEELA
KS Chithra is famously known as the Little Nightingale of South India. Her euphonious voice combined with her supreme devotion to music has made her the recipient of 6 national awards(the most by any female singer). From Carnatic music to the modern day tunes, her ability to adapt and perform so consistently with such magnanimity is very rare quality.
Some of her best songs were-the Tamil hit “Padariyen Padippariyen” ,the Malayalam hit “Indupushpam Choodi Nilkum Raathri” , “Payalein Chun Mun” from the Hindi movie Virasat and the Telugu hit “Nuvvostanante”.

KS Chitra Singing “Padariyen Padippariyen” which won her a national award

P Susheela literally dominated the South Indian Music Industry in the 60’s and 70’s. She is very well known for her mellifluous songs and her sweet soaring voice. She’s most famously reputed for the pronunciation of the syllables, which were very clear and precise in any language she has sung in. I was particularly impressed with her duets with the legendary singer Ghantasala and PB Srinivas and her combo with Illayaraja was a treat even for the Gods!

Some of her best songs were- the Telugu hits “Jhummandi Naadham Sayyandi Paadam”, “Yentha Peethovaade Gopaludu Venugopaludu”, “Kalyanini Kanulunna Manusuku Kanipinchu” and the Tamil hits
“Paal Polave Vaan Meedhile”  and “Magane Magane Kannurangu”.

P Susheela sings “Raghupathi Raghava Raja Ram”

Rank 8- JAGJIT SINGH
The undisputed king of Ghazals. In my personal opinion, he should be in the top 5! The choice of poetry for his songs and his soothing ethereal baritone could even heal people from depression or misery. His songs provide a sense of relief, hope, joy, love and despair to his listeners….almost indistinguishable from a part of their lives. There never was and probably never will be a Ghazal singer like him. From Devotional to Classical, his repertoire is full of harmonizing tunes which could numb down even the most stone hearted men. His pairing with Gulzar for Mirza Ghalib will forever remain in my heart as the greatest performance I’ve ever witnessed.

Some of his most famous Ghazals/Songs are- “Jhuki Jhuki Si Nazar”, “Koi Yeh Kaise Bataye”, “Ab to Ghabraake yeh kehte hain”, “Chhitti Na Koi Sandesh”, “Hosh Walon Ko”, “Koi Fariyaad” and “Shaam se aankh mein nami si hai” .

Jagjit Singh singing “HAATH CHHUTE BHI TO RISHTEY” from Gulzar’s album “Marasim”

Rank 7- MANNA DEY
He’s rated as the best classical singer among all singers of Hindi Film music. He’s incredibly talented and capable of singing any type of song. His deep understanding of music and an enormous skill set of Raagas and Sur makes him a heavyweight in the Indian Music Industry. His golden voice includes a pluralistic range of actors from Ashok Kumar to Amitabh Bachchan. The epitome of consistency and classical fervor!
Some of his famous songs are- “Jeevan se Lambe hain Bandhu”, “Tere naina talaash karein”, “Tum bin jeevan kaisa”, “Ek chatur naar badi hoshiyaar” and “Ke Prothom Kachhe Esechi” a bengali duet with Lata Mangeshkar.
Rank 6- KISHORE KUMAR

I know for sure his fans are thinking “what’s this Idiot blogger doing by ranking this legend at number 6?”. Unfortunately folks, it was a very tough decision I had to make. If there ever was anyone more versatile in singing than Kishore, I have never heard of him 🙂 From a talented actor to a staggeringly gifted singer, he could have filled any shoes with ease and perfection. Although he struggled initially during his music career, he remained a one man show from the 70’s till the day he died. This I guarantee, atleast in my generation you’ll never see a person who’s half as talented as Kishoreda was!

Some of his famous songs are- “Mere mehboob qayamat hogi”, “Zindagi ka safar”, “Kehna hai aaj tumse yeh”, “aa chal ke tujhe main leke chaloon”, “Manzilen apni jagah hai”, “Chingari koi Bhadkey” and “Yaadon ki Baarat”.

Kishore singing “Kuch toh log Kahenge” in Amar Prem

Rank 5- Ghantasala
For nearly a quarter of a century, he was the voice of Telugu films. He composed for more than 100 movies and also sang the entire Bhagavad Gita. His supremacy in Carnatic vocal music is unquestionable. You could say that he was like a priest (saadhu in a Temple) singing to God and his majestic voice expressing all the emotions one can experience. Even if you are incapable of understanding the language he sang in, his voice explained everything. From the incredible modulation in his tones to an unparalleled voice with a wide range of pitch, he was a rare gem who could unleash a storm of emotions with utmost ease.

Some of his famous songs are “Akasha Veedhilo”, “Manishi Maaraledu “, “Kolo Koloyanna” and “Rangula Ratnam”

Ghantasala in his divine voice sings “Seshasaila Vasa Sri Venkatesa”

Rank 4- S. P. Balasubrahmanyam

He’s a colossus in the Indian Music Industry. Padma Bushan, innumerable state felicitations and national awards plus singing more than 40000 songs…Woah! . His superhuman ability to produce quality songs has never been heard of. His longevity,the perfectly timed intonations in his voice and immaculate consistency… makes him a role model for the generations to come. An almost indispensable part of the industry, his immense contribution to music deservedly put him in the Top 5 singers of India.
Some of his best songs are “Hum bane tum bane ek dujey ke liye”, “Oh Nenje neethan”, “Sangeedha Megam”, “Kathalin Deepam” and “Adi Netriravu Natanthathenna”

SP Balu singing “Roja Janeman”

Rank 3- YESUDAS
He’s is fondly called Gana Gandharvan or The Celestial Singer. 50000+ songs, more national/state awards than any other Indian singer….Frankly, there’s no record left in this country for him to break. The former Music composer Ravindra Jain(who was blind) once said that he almost regained his vision after hearing Yesudas sing. The element of spiritualism is evident in most of his songs…I have to admit that he takes the listener into another realm of existence with his soulful voice. Even the spirit of a man can associate with his melodious message and sway to his transcendental tunes. In my opinion, he’s the best male singer alive today.

Some of his famous songs are “teri tasveer ko seene se laga”, “Madhuban khushbu deta hai”, “Unnikale Oru Katha Parayaam”, “Aa Divya Naamam”…the list is endless!

Rank 2- ASHA BHOSLE
She’s the most recorded artist in music history. In my opinion, she’s the most versatile female singer of all time. From Pop music to Qawwalis, her voice control is extraordinary. Her mellifluous overtones blend with the cadences of music as though they were born to be there. She could sing an item number in the most sensuous voice and at the same time, she could plunge you into introspection by singing a tragic note. Her combo with OP Nayyar and RD Burman has made a shattering impact in the music world. When you thought, she was only meant for western music, she came with melodies of the most deeply impacting Indian Classics….The Rabindra sangeet. She’s a maestro in all fields of music!

Some of her best songs “Katra katra milti hai”, “Ab ke baras bhej bhaiyya”, “Yeh jya jagah hai doston”, “Piya tuh ab toh aaja”, “Doh lahfzon ki hai dil ki kahani”…and so flows the tide of sublime music.

Asha Bhosle sings “Dil cheez kya aap meri jaan lijiye” in Umrao jaan

Rank 1 is a Tie between—> Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar
According to most music artists in India, Rafi is the best singer of the millennium. The joy you feel when he sang for Shammi Kapoor was intoxicating and the tragedy he expressed while singing for Dilip Kumar made one feel the texture of anguish and misery. Yesudas, SP. Balu and many other greats regard him as their Guru or the ultimate singer. I’m personally very moved by his tragic songs… the excruciating pain, the heart wrenching agony and the absurdity of our mortal lives..is plainly felt through his radiant god like voice. Most of the older generation of actors and music directors have orbited their career around Rafi. Undoubtedly he’s the greatest thing has happened to the Indian Music Industry!

Some of his best songs are “Chahunga main tujhe saanjh savere “, “Main yeh sochkar uske”, “Barbaade mohabbat ki dua”, “Kya huva tera waada”, “Yeh mera prem patra padh kar”….and everything else he’s sung!

Rafi at his best in Chitralekha..”Mann re tu kahe na”

Lata Mangeshkar- Bharat Ratna, Nightingale of India, Goddess of music etc…I can go on and write a book! anyone who’s heard her divine soaring voice is most likely to remember it till the day he dies. If there’s anyone who can truly say that’s he/she’s got a God gifted talent, that’s Lata. It’s fair to say, Lata’s true potential was realized when she worked with Madan Mohan. The songs composed by this team are beyond endurance for a mortal heart. There’s nothing more to add about her..because the world already knows what she truly is…..God’s boon to Music!

Some of her best songs are “Aaj socha toh aansoo bhar aaye”, “Raina beet jaye”, ” Woh bhooli dastan”, “Aap ki nazron ne samjha”…and everything else she’s sung!

Lata singing “Lagja galey ki phir yeh hasin raat”

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4 thoughts on “The Top 10 Playback Singers of India

  1. so funny!!!!!ks chitra in 9th position?she is the female singer to bag them maximum no of national awards. Neither Lataji nor Shreya has received those many…:P S Janaki is another rlegend who has been omitted.

  2. the order singers must be
    1. S janaki/ P Susheela
    2. K J Yesudas
    3. Lata Mangeshkar
    4. K S Chithra
    5. SPB
    6.Asha Bhosle
    7.Kishore Kumar
    8.Jagjith Singh
    9.Ghantasala
    10.Sonu Nigam

  3. My Personal List :-

    FOR TOP 10 BEST MALE PLAYBACK SINGER EVER

    1. Mohammad Rafi
    2. K.J. Yesudas
    3. S.P. Balasubramaniam
    4. Kishor Kumar
    5. Sonu Nigam
    6. Udit Narayan
    7. Arijit Singh
    8. Kumar Sanu
    9. Atif Aslam
    10. Armaan Malik

    FOR TOP 10 BEST FEMALE PLAYBACK SINGER EVER

    1. Lata Mangeshkar
    2. Aasha Bhosle/Shreya Ghoshal
    3. Kavita Krishnamurthi
    4. K.S. Chithra
    5. Geeta Dutt
    6. S.Janaki/P.Susheela
    7. Alka Yagnik
    8. Sujatha Mohan
    9. Sunidhi Chauhan
    10. Shweta Mohan

    P.S. nowadays, I like Shreya, Arijit and Armaan’s voice the most 🙂

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