Martha Reeves (Martha And The Vandellas)
As usual, Ask MusicRadar posed the question, and you answered in your thousands. Who is the best lead singer of all time? Well before we start the rundown, let's get the rules out of the way...
Debbie Harry (Blondie)
Waitress, secretary and Playboy Bunny; just a few of Debbie Harry’s short-lived careers before forming Blondie in 1974. Thanks in no small part to 1978’s seminal album Parallel Lines, the band became, and have remained, synonymous with American new wave and punk movement, with Deborah Ann Harry as the face and voice of it. Sultry, icy and impeccably cool.
Diana Ross (The Supremes)
Standing right alongside Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross (along with her backing singers, The Supremes), virtually defined the Motown sound of the ‘60s and helped establish the Motor City as one of the era’s musical meccas.
While labelmate Martha Reeves’ siren-like delivery was better suited for harder-edged R&B, Ross’ breathy, heavenly swoon - she didn’t just sing a song, she romanced it - ruled the pop charts across the globe on an astonishing array of hits. Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love, Stop! In The Name Of Love, You Can’t Hurry Love, I Hear A Symphony - and that’s just a sample.
Black Francis/ Frank Black (Pixies)
Pixies frontman Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV - aka Black Francis (pre-’93)/Frank Black (post-’93) - doesn’t exactly look like a rock icon. Even in the Pixies’ early days his style could be described, at best, as ‘geography teacher chic’.
Yet Black’s inherent weirdness, his shrill shriek, penchant for singing in Spanish and obsession with lyrical themes like religion, incest and UFOs have had an immeasurable effect on the past two decades of alt-rock. Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke both counted him as a big influence - without him rock music in the ‘90s would have sounded very different.
Smokey Robinson (The Miracles)
Singer, genius songwriter, record producer, record label executive, cocaine addict, American Idol mentor; Smokey Robinson’s career has been long and varied but he’s still best known for the sensually smooth tones of his output with The Miracles in the golden era of Motown.
Covered by The Beatles, and admired by Bob Dylan, who called Robinson “America’s greatest living poet”, Smokey’s pedigree is beyond question. Here’s why:
Iggy Pop (The Stooges)
Let’s try and push out of our minds for a moment the Iggy Pop of 2010 that seems to be a ubiquitous presence on British TV - plugging insurance and lording it up on a golf course with an insufferable puppet version of himself. That’s not the Iggy Pop we’re thinking of here.
No, let’s hark back to the turn of the ‘70s when Pop (real name James Newell Osterberg, Jr.) was the insane-ball-of-energy frontman of influential proto-punk band The Stooges. Supposedly inspired by watching Jim Morrison in action, Iggy often pushed the boundaries of live performance - rolling around in broken glass, exposing himself to the crowd and throwing himself off anything he could climb (he’s widely credited with inventing stage-diving).
Somewhere amidst all these antics he also found time to belt out undeniable punk classics like Raw Power and Search And Destroy. And if nothing else, Iggy Pop in 2010 is a solid reminder that you’re never too old to take your shirt off and dry-hump an amplifier.
Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac)
Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Nicks may have shared lead singer duties in Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac with her former boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham, but her voice played a massive role in defining the sound that made them one of the biggest bands of the era.
Nicks' Dreams was the biggest hit in Fleetwood Mac’s career, and is still one of their best loved tracks. Her publicly turbulent lovelife, on-off drug use and mystical hippy style all combined - for better or worse - to make her one of the most iconic frontwomen of all time.
Joe Strummer (The Clash)
British punk rock, in its 1970s heyday, had no shortage of great frontmen. Yet of all the icons from that period The Clash’s Joe Strummer was arguably the most gifted songwriter, charismatic performer and articulate frontman.
Renowned for his lyrical raison d'être of ‘write about what you know’, Strummer’s politically-charged songs about everyday life in Britain inspired a generation of young rebels and have a huge influence on rock and indie music to this day. His death of a heart attack in 2002 (at the age of 50) was a sad moment for music.
Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs)
At least one member of the MusicRadar team considers Jack White to be the world’s greatest living guitarist. And if we’re talking pure charisma and star quality, those of you who have seen him perform live in The White Stripes or The Raconteurs will surely agree that artist born John Anthony Gillis is a mesmerising frontman with an onstage intensity to rival anybody else in this list.
White’s haunted, explosive delivery has more in common with Frank Black than the other, more traditional singers you’ve nominated, but he’s more than capable of giving melodies a more delicate treatment when required:
Liam Gallagher (Oasis)
American alternative rock ruled the airwaves in the 1990s until 11 April 1994. Then came Oasis. The band’s debut single Supersonic, released just days after the death of Kurt Cobain, heralded the arrival of a hungry gang of contenders for the title of Biggest Band On Earth.
Rising out of a storm of overdriven guitars was a voice that was both unforgettable and emphatically British; Lennon and Lydon colliding in a lazy sneer that said fuck you to the world. Before long the world would hang on every word. Circa 1994-96 Liam stood toe-to-toe with his heroes and was untouchable.
Morrissey (The Smiths)
There are opinionated frontmen, and then there is Mozzer - the man will storm off stage at even the slightest whiff of meat (as happened at Coachella festival in 2009). But he is responsible for making it alright for men to wear blouses and walk around with a bouquet of flowers down their trousers, and for that we salute him…
…Oh yeah, and then there is the small fact that pretty much every Smiths song is pretty much genius. Mustn’t forget that.
Geddy Lee (Rush)
The Rush frontman made a recent appearance at number two in our greatest bassists of all time poll - so it’s impressive that he’s turned up here too (Paul McCartney is the only other musician to appear in both lists!)
Known in Rush’s early days for his impressively high tenor, he is also a no stranger to a complex bassline and does fine line in keyboard solos too. Plus, along with his Rush bandmates, he’s been made an Officer of the Order Of Canada. No wonder he proves so popular with MusicRadar users…
As Pavement once sang, "What about the voice of Geddy Lee / How did it get so high? / I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?" We've met him, and he does.
Roger Daltrey (The Who)
Smoke bombs, equipment destruction and three bandmates who all want to be lead players simultaneously - it takes a big set of lungs to go up against such mayhem. It takes a rock star. Luckily for The Who, Roger Daltrey was - and still is - a rock star.
The world first came to know Daltrey in 1965 for stuttering his way through Pete Townshend’s timeless love letter to rock ’n’ roll rebellion, My Generation. But Daltrey was no novelty act and quickly developed into an extremely versatile and expressive singer, capable of handling rock opera (See Me, Feel Me from Tommy, 1969) and, well, rock opera (Love Reign O’er Me from Quadrophenia, 1973).
A dynamic stage performer who turned mic swinging into an art form, he helped to make 1970’s Live At Leeds a stone cold classic of its kind.
Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)
At 2010's Download Festival, one 62-year-old Bostonian's outrageous charisma and incredible voice outshone every other performer by some considerable distance.
It doesn't matter how many of their albums you own, or even if you listen to them that often, if you've never seen Aerosmith live, you need to, and fast. And the whirling rainbow in front of one of the planet's greatest ever rock 'n' roll bands possesses a larynx capable of truly astounding feats. Whether he's singing The Star-Spangled Banner at sporting events or partying and screaming until his vocal chords are bleeding, there's nobody else quite like Steven.
Bon Scott (AC/DC)
Bon Scott wasn’t always the cool, rasping voice and mischievous grin of hard rock legend. In fact, he wasn’t even always cool, as this video of his former band The Valentines will testify.
Terrible/amazing billowing shirt sleeves aside, Scott’s killer vocals and captivating presence was enough to earn him a place with AC/DC in 1974, and the rest was rock 'n' roll history.
Following his tragic death 'by misadventure’ midway through the Back In Black writing sessions in 1980, he was honourably replaced by Brian Johnson, but Bon Scott will always be sorely missed - check out his enviable 'pipes' to hear why…
James LaBrie (Dream Theater)
In the last six months Dream Theater’s now ex-sticksman Mike Portnoy has been named the second best drummer of the last 25 years, while bassist John Myung cruised to first place with over 40 percent of the vote to be crowned the best bassist of all time. So it’s no surprise to see frontman James LaBrie flirting with the upper echelons of this poll.
But suggesting that the online weight of Dream Theater fans is the reason for this recognition is, of course, an injustice to a band who are musicians’ musicians of the highest order. James LaBrie, we (and the hordes of Dream Theater fans who frequent MusicRadar daily) salute you and your progressive vocal prowess. Respect.
Mick Jagger (The Rolling Stones)
The name Mick Jagger (actually that’s Sir Michael Jagger to you!) is pretty much synonymous with rock 'n' roll. Sex, drugs, politics, art, anarchy - he’s done it all; only his bandmate Keith Richards is able to hold a candle to him in the decadent lifestyle stakes.
He has survived the Hells Angels, various arrests and imprisonments and years of drug abuse and somehow come out the other side as an old cricket fan with a knighthood and one of the greatest back catalogues in rock history. Fair play Mick, fair play.
Maynard James Keenan (Tool)
Maynard James Keenan, frontman of art-metal bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, is a fairly odd and enigmatic man. He hides his identity onstage with an assortment of wigs, clown outfits and, in more recent times, gasmasks.
Maynard is a former member of the US army, an art school graduate and ex-pet shop interior designer. He has a son named Devo, owns a vineyard in California and, oh yea, has sung on some fairly huge arty metal classics…
James Hetfield (Metallica)
While the metronomic precision of his downpicking right hand has remained a constant for three decades, James Hetfield's vocals have matured over the years, developing from the wail of the early 1980s into the throaty leonine roar of 1990s MTV megastardom. He's also shown a more sensitive side along the way too.
Relentlessly consistent live, James Hetfield is a heavy metal monolith, and the rock frontman that MusicRadar would least like to get into a fight with.
Jim Morrison (The Doors)
The Doors took their name from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors Of Perception - a book in which Huxley recollects an afternoon of psychedelic drug use in an attempt to ‘unlock’ those doors. A fitting link.
But beneath the cloud of booze and acid that followed the band from its most creative and experimental to its darkest hours - culminating with Jim Morrison calling a 12,000-strong crowd a “bunch of fucking idiots” in 1969 - lies a prolific poet and charismatic talisman.
Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
When The Beatles made their historic US TV debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on 9 February 1964, they took little chances of blowing it. Thus, it was up to Paul McCartney, with his enchanting, saucer-like eyes, and more importantly, his smooth, unthreatening vocal style on numbers like All My Loving and Till There Was You to sing lead on the majority of the songs the band played that fateful night.
Macca has earned a reputation (some would say well earned) for being something of a softy, but his roots are steeped in 1950s rock ’n’ roll and R&B. In 1964, he paid tribute to his boyhood hero, Little Richard, by covering Long Tall Sally, and five years later, gave props again (and threw in a little Fats Domino action, for good measure) on his own howler, Oh! Darling.
While he might not have equalled John Lennon for the title of Man Of A Thousand Voices, McCartney could handle anything he put his mind and throat to. Straight-up love songs (Michelle), Vaudeville send-ups (Honey Pie), C&W satire (Rocky Raccoon) or the precursor to heavy metal (Helter Skelter) - he did it all, beautifully.
Matt Bellamy (Muse)
In recent years Muse have won more Best Live Act In The World Today gongs than we’d care to count. Not bad for a three piece.
And while overblown light shows, giant spaceship paraphernalia and mind-bending guitar sounds won’t exactly harm the band’s live reputation, it’s hard to ignore the force of Matt Bellamy’s all-round performance. Semi-operatic falsetto, anyone?
Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
Not only did Generation X’s reluctant spokesperson kick down the door for thousands of guitarists similarly alienated by the notes-per-second arms race of mainstream rock guitar in the early 1990s, but he was also one hell of a singer.
Aberdeen, WA’s most famous son was responsible for some of the most visceral, primal vocal performances ever committed to tape, but crucially, he also knew that a whisper can be as powerful as a scream. Cobain had more passion and authenticity in his fingernail clippings than most rock stars manage to exhibit in a lifetime of performance.
Thom Yorke (Radiohead)
We think it would be hard to deny that Thom Yorke deserves a place within any greatest lead singer list. He may cut a fairly modest, awkward shape on stage, but his unique delivery, off-beat and politically charged lyrics and creative multi-instrumentalism have helped to propel Radiohead to the position of being one of the world’s most critically lauded bands.
His voice may divide opinion at times, but anyone who has caught Yorke lead a festival crowd in a euphoric sing-along of Karma Police over the past decade will understand exactly why he deserves a place in this poll.
Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
Bruce Dickinson might not have been Iron Maiden's first singer, but the Air Raid Siren's soaring voice is not only all over the band's best work, but woven into the rich tapestry of heavy metal history.
Aside from fronting the bulk of the band’s prolific output, Bruce has also found time to fence for Great Britain and obtain a commercial pilot's licence. He now flies Maiden around the world on tour; just try slowing him down.
John Lennon (The Beatles)
Most singers cancel a recording session if they have so much as a sniffle. John Lennon was different. Suffering from a bad cold when The Beatles recorded their first landmark album, 1963’s Please Please Me, Lennon practically burst his larynx in an eleventh-hour rendition of Twist And Shout that ranks as one of rock’s most urgent, raw and impassioned vocal performances ever.
Lost in the towering and timeless achievements of The Beatles is the fact that they were also a supreme singing group, and Lennon led the way. Surprisingly, he hated the sound of his voice and always tried disguising it, which resulted in myriad astonishing applications.
Whether pining for love (This Boy), begging for acceptance (Help!) reflective and/or confessional (In My Life, Norwegian Wood), child-like and surreal (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds), bone-cuttingly vulnerable (Julia) wallowing in drug-addled agony (Yer Blues), inciting political activism (Revolution), or brimming with fatherly bliss in one of his last offerings (Beautiful Boy), Lennon had no cap on his emotions, and he conveyed them all through an instrument that was his and his alone.
Ronnie James Dio (Rainbow, Dio, Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell)
Although he stood just 5’4”, Ronnie James Dio had the voice of a giant, and his soaring vocals were some of the most influential in heavy metal. He started his career in doo-wop bands like Ronnie & The Red Caps, but after discovering hard rock, he formed the band Elf (yes, he had a good sense of humour), which soon caught the attention of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore.
Dio helped make Rainbow a hit, but it wasn’t until the he replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath, scoring smashes such as Neon Knights, that he became a household name.
Dio left Sabbath in 1982, and against all odds, went on to greater heights with the group that bore his surname. With songs and albums such as Holy Diver and The Last In Line (and his use of the 'devil horns' hand gesture), Ronnie James Dio, to millions of fans, was heavy metal. His death last May was a major blow, and tributes continue to pour in for a man whose legacy will live on.
Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin)
Between 1968-1980, Led Zeppelin were gods, transcending blues and hard rock and paving the way for heavy metal. Only five artists in the history of recorded music have sold more records.
And with his bare chest, curly blonde mane and high register vocals, Robert Plant was the archetypal heavy rock frontman - you can hear his influence everywhere.
Freddie Mercury (Queen)
For many, Freddie Mercury will forever be remembered as the charismatic figure that held the world in the palm of his hand during Queen's 1985 Live Aid performance. The vest, moustache, and flamboyant stage persona have since become iconic.
But for the few who really knew him - offstage at least - Mercury was an introvert. He rarely gave interviews and, in a move almost unthinkable today, managed to keep much of his private life private (the fact that Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis was hidden from the public for several years and announced only a day before he died of bronchopneumonia in 1991 was the final testament to this dignified secrecy).
Instead, Freddie Mercury and Queen concentrated on what they did best: making rock history. And for that, he’ll always be a legend.
Axl Rose (Guns N' Roses)
The public have spoken, and we can’t think of a more contentious choice for the greatest lead singer of all time. Forget the moustachioed, cornrowed croaking caricature of recent years and think back to the late 1980s. Axl Rose: dangerous, lean, angry, confrontational, controversial; the hotheaded, horny ginger stepchild of Steven Tyler and Robert Plant, a born rock star who made being fashionably late a lifestyle choice and started riots in the process.
In his autobiography, Slash recounts his first encounter with that legendary voice: “Izzy brought me a tape of his band… it sounded like they were playing deep inside a jet engine. But through the static din, way in the background, I heard something intriguing, that I believed to be their singer’s voice. It was hard to make out and his squeal was so high-pitched that I thought it might be a technical flaw in the tape. It sounded like the squeak that a cassette makes just before the tape snaps – except it was in key.”