The vocalist or frontman is usually the focal point of any classic rock ensemble and though there have been so many prominent and talented ones, a bunch stand out in terms of vocal ability, stage presence and charisma. Sit back and enjoy the top ten classic rock singers who ever graced a stage or sang in a recording studio:
1- Freddie Mercury (â€œQueenâ€) â€“ This Zanzibar â€“born (real name-Freddie Bulsara), one of a kind, vocalistâ€™s operatic range served him well in â€œQueen,â€ the ultimate classic pomp rock band. His dynamic stage presence and ability to belt out a rocker (â€œTie Your Mother Downâ€) or sing a lilting ballad (â€œLove of My Lifeâ€) is unparalleled. His Live Aid performance with the band is legendary in rock and roll annals. He went through many stages as a frontman. There was the glam Mercury with one glove (pre-Michael Jackson) and nail polish on the other hand and the tough Mercury wearing a tank top and playing air guitar on his microphone. Mercury knew how to work a crowd with his vocal acrobatics and charisma. â€œQueenâ€ was rocking, innovative and inventive, but would have never reached the heights it did without Mercury.Â Sadly, Mercury died of AIDS in 1991 at the age of 45.Though Queen carried on recently with Paul Rodgers (see below), who is a great vocalist, no one could do justice to Mercuryâ€™s unique voice and style. His contribution to â€œQueenâ€ made them one of classic rockâ€™s most iconic bands.
2-Paul Rodgers (â€œFree,â€ â€œBad Company,â€ and Â â€œThe Firmâ€) This Middlesbrough, England born frontman first hit the rock scene with â€œFree,â€ a highly influential band (look for my upcoming interview with â€œ Freeâ€ bassist Andy Fraser) with signature rock anthem â€œAll Right Nowâ€ and lesser known nuggets like â€œMr. Big,â€ â€œFire and Water,â€Â â€œIâ€™m a Moverâ€ andÂ â€œHeavy Load.â€ He later formed â€œBad Companyâ€ with â€œFreeâ€ drummer Simon Kirke, Mick Ralphs (ex-â€œMott the Hoopleâ€) and Boz Burell (ex-â€œKing Crimsonâ€) and rocked the music world with â€œCanâ€™t Get Enough,â€ â€œMovinâ€™ On,â€ â€œWildfire Womanâ€ and â€œShooting Starâ€ while soothing the masses with the ballads â€œSeagull,â€ â€œSilver, Blue and Goldâ€ and â€œSimple Man.â€ His blues-tinged, earthy vocals make him one of the most sought after classic rock singers as evidenced by his later teaming up with Jimmy Page (â€œThe Firmâ€) for two releases and most recentlyÂ with the remaining members of â€œQueenâ€ (â€œQueen + Paul Rodgersâ€). Through it all Rodgers one of a kind aggressive, confident and self-assured persona has been a source of inspiration for every band he has been a member of, along with his unrivaled vocal ability.
3-Paul McCartney (â€œThe Beatles,â€ â€œWingsâ€ and solo career) â€“ The â€œcuteâ€ Beatle could sing up tempo rockers â€“ â€œAll My Loving,â€ â€œKansas City,â€ â€œBack in The U.S.S.R.,â€ â€œGet Backâ€ and â€œHelter Skelterâ€ or tender ballads like â€œYesterday,â€ â€œAnd I Love Her,â€ â€œI Willâ€ andÂ â€œThe Long and Winding Road.â€ This versatility extended itself to his â€œWingsâ€ and solo days (â€œRock Show,â€ â€œMy Love,â€ â€œHi Hi Hiâ€ and Â â€œMaybe Iâ€™m Amazedâ€) His recent Citi Field appearances were a triumphant tour de force.Â There, he still managed to sing most of his set list in the songs original key, quite impressive for a 67-year-old. â€œMaccaâ€™sâ€ smooth vocals or Little Richard (he taught him to scream) delivery make him one of rock and rollâ€™s treasures. Check out September 9 reissues of the Beatles catalogue, which will be released in Â Stereo and Mono versions, to hear a once in a lifetime talent.
4- Robert Plant (â€œLed Zeppelinâ€) – This West Bromwich, England born vocalist earned the lead vocalist spot in the mighty Led Zeppelin after guitarist Jimmy Page witnessed his banshee-like, screaming vocals at a Birmingham gig with one of his early bands â€œHobbstweedle.â€ Plants blues wailing served him well on early Zeppelin recordings like â€œHow Many More Times,â€ â€œI Canâ€™t Quit You Baby,â€ â€œYou Shook Me,â€Â â€œCommunication Breakdownâ€ and â€œThe Immigrant Song.â€ His raw vocal power and sexually charged stage presence (See â€œThe Song Remains the Sameâ€ DVD) were an integral part of Led Zeppelinâ€™s mega success. Plant could also sing in an understated fashion on tracks like, â€œThank You,â€ â€œAll of My Loveâ€ and â€œDown by The Seaside.â€ His call and response vocals with Jimmy Pageâ€™s guitar on live performances are legendary. To hear this vocalist who changed the role of a frontman in a hard rock band, check out the CDâ€™s â€œLed Zeppelin BBC Sessionsâ€ and â€œHow the West Was Wonâ€ and the â€œLed Zeppelinâ€ live DVD release. He also sang on the most requested song on classic rock radio, the timeless masterpiece, â€œStairway to Heaven.â€
5- Roger Daltrey (â€œThe Whoâ€) – Here is another frontman who was a dominant force on a concert stage and in the studio. Though guitarist Pete Townsend wrote most of the Whoâ€™s landmark recordings, he needed a vocalist whose talent and persona could carry it off. Who (no pun intended) else could sing about hoping to die before he gets old (â€œMy Generationâ€) or carry off a rock opera on stage (â€œTommyâ€) and album (â€œQuadropheniaâ€) except the charismatic and vocally powerful Daltrey? He was equally at home on gripping ballads like â€œThey Are in Loveâ€ ( from the underrated â€œWho By Numbersâ€ album) or sweeping epics like â€œLove, Reign Oâ€™er Meâ€ from the brilliant aforementioned â€œQuadrophenia.â€ His god-like stage persona was reinforced by his long curly locks and athletic build that was shown off by wearing fringed vests. None of this would have mattered if Dalteryâ€™s raw vocal power and trademark throaty sound were not present in his stage presentation. Check out â€œThe Kids Are Alright,â€ â€œThe Who â€“Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970â€ and â€œTommyâ€ to see video evidence of this singerâ€™s indelible mark on the classic rock world
6- Ian Gillan( â€œDeep Purpleâ€ and â€œBlack Sabbathâ€ and â€œIan Gillan Bandâ€) â€“ The original voice of Jesus on the original 1970 album recording of â€œJesus Christ Superstar,â€ Gillanâ€™s most notable accomplishment is being one of the lead vocalists for Deep Purple during its most musically proficient and commercial period. His screaming vocals on â€œSpace Truckin,â€ â€œLazyâ€ and â€œChild in Timeâ€ should be placed in a classic rock time capsule so that an extra-terrestrial in a galaxy far, far, away can hear a bombastic, in your face rock vocalist.His having sung on rock anthem â€œSmoke on The Waterâ€ hasnâ€™t hurt his legacy a bit. In a band like Deep Purple, that contained so many musical virtuosos, a singer had to stand out and Gillan certainly did. His no frills approach on stage and incredible range underscores how dominant his vocals were. Though Deep Purple employed other singers (Rod Evans and David Coverdale) Gillan remains the standard-bearer. Check out the live â€œMade in Japan,â€Â â€œMachine Head,â€ â€œIn Rockâ€ on CD and â€œHistory, Hits and Highlightsâ€ on DVD (also reviewed on this site) to hear and witness an iconic rock vocalist.
7-Mick Jagger ( The Rolling Stones)- Sir Michael Phillip Jagger is such a recognized cultural pop figure, that sometimes his vocal talent and mark on the rock and roll world is sometimes taken for granted. Jagger is a wonderfully gifted singer with great stage presence and personality. It is no accident that the Rolling Stones (in their 47th year) set the record for concert gate receipts on their last tour. Schooled on Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters, Jagger took his blues based wailing to another level with â€œThe Rolling Stonesâ€ and he infused his style into Keith Richardâ€™s blues hybrid music with blues pioneer Robert Johnsonâ€™sâ€™ â€œLove in Vainâ€ as a prime example.Â In terms of original work â€œSatisfactionâ€ is still as powerful as it was in 1965, â€œJumpinâ€™ Jack Flashâ€ rocks and â€œWild Horsesâ€ and â€œAngieâ€ are two of most beautifully sung ballads ever. In terms of concert performances, â€œGet Your Ya- Yaâ€™s Outâ€ might be the greatest live album ever. From the ChuckÂ Berry penned â€œCarolâ€ and â€œLittle Queenieâ€ to Stoneâ€™s originals â€œMidnight Rambler,â€ â€œSympathy for the Devilâ€ and â€œHonky Tonk Womenâ€ Jagger shows why he was the frontman who redefined the â€œmythologyâ€ of the rock singer and had and still has such a strong effect on audiences the world over.
8- Steve Perry (â€œJourneyâ€) – This Sam Cooke influenced singer can send chills up a listenerâ€™s spine with his breathtakingly beautiful vocal styling. His range is second to no one and his vocal trills are vocal acrobatics at its best. Journey was a talented band with Greg Rolie at the lead vocal microphone for three albums, but the band reached multi-platinum success with Perry as a member. From the album, â€œInfinityâ€ (â€œLightsâ€ and â€œPatientlyâ€) to â€œEscapeâ€ (â€œDonâ€™t Stop Believingâ€ and Whoâ€™s Crying Nowâ€) his voice along with Neal Schonâ€™s guitar work created hit after hit. Perry was particularly adept at pulling listenersâ€™ heartstrings with emotional ballads like â€œFaithfullyâ€ and â€œOpen Arms.â€Â After 1986â€™s â€œRaised on Radio,â€ Perry did not record with Journey until 1996â€™s Platinum selling â€œTrial by Fireâ€ which featured â€œWhen You Love a Woman.â€ He subsequently quit the band after a hip injury in Hawaii led to a degenerative bone condition which forced him to have hip replacement surgery. Journey carried on without him, but Perryâ€™s one of a kind voice is sorely missed.
9- Rod Stewart (â€œJeff Beck Groupâ€ and â€œFacesâ€) This vocalist, who first hit the big time with guitarist Jeff Beck, might have the most distinctive voice on the list His raspy tenor voice has delivered rocking numbers like â€œStay with Me,â€ â€œHot Legsâ€ and â€œPool Hall Richardâ€ and an emotional ballads like Danny Whittenâ€™s â€œI Donâ€™t Want To Talk About It,â€ â€œReason to Believeâ€ and â€œMandolin Wind.â€ He also voiced two classic rock signature songs, â€œYou Wear It Wellâ€ and â€œMaggie May.â€ His Hollywood image in the â€˜70â€™s aside (He dated actress Britt Ekland), Stewart is one of the greatest song interpreters of our time which allows him to be equally at home covering The Temptations( â€œIâ€™m Losing Youâ€), Chuck Berry (â€œSweet Little Rock and Rollerâ€) and Â Sam Cooke ( â€œTwistinâ€™ The Night Away). His stage presence has always been a strong point, especially with â€œFacesâ€. In recent years, he has had newfound recording success covering classic American Standards.Â The rumored â€œFacesâ€ reunion has fallen apart, but Stewart will persevere and thrill us once again. Stewart could sing the Yellow Pages and make it sound fresh and innovative.
10- Steve Marriot( â€œSmall Facesâ€ and â€œHumble Pieâ€) This London born singer is the most underrated vocalist on this list. His contribution to classic rock history is undeniable. His unique voice made â€œThe Small Facesâ€ (1965-1969) an important band that had a tremendous influence on future rockers. Check out early concept album â€œOgdenâ€™s Nut Gone Flakeâ€ (1968) and pop nugget â€œItchycoo Parkâ€ (1967). If that is not impressive enough Marriot was a key member of â€œHumble Pieâ€ (1969-1975 and 1980-1982)) with a young Peter Frampton playing guitar on a few albums. â€œHumble Pieâ€ is another band that is critically acclaimed by fans and musicians alike. Listen to â€œHumble Pie,â€ â€œRock Onâ€ for studio excellence and the live albumâ€œPerformance Rockinâ€™ the Fillmoreâ€ (1971). The live renditions of â€œI Donâ€™t Need No Doctorâ€ and â€œStone Cold Feverâ€ are concert performances that demonstrate Marriotâ€™s vocal power, range and originality. Marriot tragically died in a fire at his home at the age of 44 in 1991. It is believed that Marriot fell asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand that started the blaze. He died from smoke inhalation. As band mate Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley states, â€œHe (Marriot) was the most talented person I ever worked with. He should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because he was the greatest white soul singer that England ever produced.â€
Honorable Mention- David Coverdale (â€œDeep Purpleâ€ and â€œWhitesnakeâ€), Ronnie James Dio (â€œElf,â€ â€œRainbowâ€ and â€œBlack Sabbathâ€) James Dewar (â€œRobin Trower Bandâ€), Steve Walsh (â€œKansasâ€) and Brad Delp (â€œBostonâ€)
tyler, ozzy and benetar also come to mind
I think David Byron (of Uriha Heep) should be atleast be on the honor list!! His voice in unforgettably!!
What about Elvis Presly??? Or A. Franklin?
A great read, Steve. Entertaining, yet perplexing. Freddy Mercury at #1 ahead of Plant, Jagger, et. al? Outrageous – yet I love it !! Two Arena rock vocalists (Steve Walsh & Brad Delp) are Honorable Mentions, yet you put their peer Steve Perry in the Top 10? A headscratcher, for sure. In the interest of spirited debate, no Top 10 vocalist list is complete without David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar and Steven Tyler.
Ian Gillan Is The Greatest front man, period.
There is a bit of ball dropping on this list 1.Elvis 2.Mcartney 3.Daultrey 4.Plant 5…Rod stewart 6.Mercury 7…Jagger 8..steve Tyler 9.Ian Gillian 10.David Bowie 11 steve janowsky..i happen to know he can sing ..but everyones intitled to his/her opinion,,who’s Steve Marriot ,,please
It seems you went for “lung capacity” on this list, but I have to agree – overall. As for sheer perfection – where’s Marty Balin? How about the 10 most perfect imperfect: 1) Dylan 2) Janis 3) Kristofferson 4) Lou Reed 5) Jerry 6) Gregg Allman 7) Petty 8) Lou Reed 9) Jeff Buckley 10) Tom Waits/Neil Young (tie). When it comes to range, vocal inflection and downright pathos – these 10(11) can’t be touched. Can’t wait for your Robin Trower review!!!
Wow another wonderful list.
For vocal ability hmmmm… well that means able to sing high and low. Create own unique sound and sound amazing.
Steve Perry could sing beautifully to carefully perfected ballads of Journey
Freddie Mercury was so brilliant expressing his vocals like a song bird sitting on a tree branch in the middle of a Hurricane. What range he had which came right through a cement wall. Very dramatic to listen to like an Opera showcase.
Robert Plant could do certain justice to the heavy thunderous innovative song’s put together by Led Zeppelin. He could sing the blues like nobody else and mean it.
Also Robert Plant had wonderful range from his early years up until his vocal surgery in 1974. Still never losing his ability to sing a song with passion
Over powering vocals would be David Coverdale like a rocket shooting straight into the sky.
For charisma and stage presence out of all these vocals you so carefully chose I would say between Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and Robert Plant.
I would also like to mention David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
David Coverdale is my all time favorite vocalist.
While not a big Queen fan growing up, Freddy Mercury was the quintessential front man. Rock On Steve !!
Actually I’m a big fan of Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart. my favorite song by Mick Jagger is ” Paint It Black”. Great song. I really love Rod Stewart’s songs ” Moonglow” and ” It Had To Be You”. Actually my cousin Jamieson Ernest is good friends with Mick Jagger. My cousin knows him through the music business. lol. I actually enjoy your writing. Mr. Janowsky. Of course who doesn’t remember the song ”Satisfaction”. It’s a number one song for me. You are a very creative writer. I like the way you express your self about each artist.
R.I.P. Ronnie holy diver will live on forever \m/