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20 Greatest Rock N Roll Frontmen

Posted by MiMi on January 23, 2010 at 9:58 PM

What is it that makes a man a great rock frontman? A rare mixture of style, swagger and charisma – and having the vocal chops to back it all up certainly doesn't hurt, either. But this isn't a list of the greatest singers of all time here – and things like No. 1 hits or platinum album sales don't even factor. Instead, let's look at those male vocalists who just exude cool every time they take the stage and see if it is possible to pinpoint what sets them apart from the also-rans.

20. Robert Plant

If there were a class offered on how to act like the quintessential rock frontman, the Led Zeppelin frontman would lead the syllabus. It's more than just his mystical lyrics or his phenomenal vocal range that sets Plant apart. There's the way he strolls onto a stage and all eyes are suddenly on him. Maybe it's due to the bravado with which he conducts himself, or maybe it has something to do with those ladykiller good looks that he brought to the table in an age when most vocalists looked more like ill-kempt hippies than dashing leading men.


19. Ted Nugent

The Motor City Madman exudes a level of self-possessed confidence that many politicians could learn from. Maybe it has something to do with the way he always speaks his mind, regardless of how controversial -- or maybe it's the manner in which he led a straight-edge lifestyle before straight-edge was cool. More than likely, though, it has everything to do with the nearly manic levels of energy the Nuge brings to the stage. And, well, topping the whole thing off by shooting a flaming arrow through his guitar pretty much cinches his spot on this list.


18. Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie is most assuredly a student of the other greats that grace this list, and his dedication and studiousness shows through. Back in the days of White Zombie, he managed to carve out a respectable niche for himself, but it wasn't until he broke out on his own that he began to come into his own as an all-around showman. Expertly mixing various elements of creepiness and cool like a mad scientist, Zombie has found the correct formula to steal the show, and his shows have more in common with a trip to the carnival than a traditional rock concert.


17. Bono

It is hard to find anyone in music who has so seamlessly adapted to the changing face of the industry as well as U2's leader. In the angst-ridden early '80s, Bono was the dangerous, edgy revolutionary. By the end of that corporate-controlled decade, he had taken up the mantle of the soulful rocker. In the '90s, he morphed into the cool hipster with a conscience. And in the '00s he became a child of the times with a sociopolitical agenda. Bono has managed to not only himself not only vital, but stayed out on the bleeding edge of what it is to be a great frontman.


16. Robert Smith

Robert Smith proved with the Cure that not only do boys cry, but they can be amazingly cool while doing so. In many ways, Smith is the father of both emo and goth: Wild hair, smudged makeup and emotionally poignant lyrics caught people's attention when the Cure hit big in the '80s, but it was sustained by Smith's semi-vulnerable approachability and almost otherworldliness. And while he might not be as high-energy as some, or have the showmanship chops of others, his ability to connect with his audience on some deep, resonating level keeps all eyes glued on him anytime he takes the stage.


15. Marilyn Manson

For some its manic energy, for others it is animal magnetism, but for Marilyn Manson it is all about the spectacle. In some ways, Manson is akin to a car wreck: Even when we don't necessarily want to, we just can't help but crane our necks and look – hoping to catch sight of something disturbing. But if Manson's appeal began and ended with shock value, he would have been little more than a flash in the pan. Instead, he has managed to refine the art of the grotesque into a thing of mesmerizing beauty.


14. David Bowie

For some it is all about raw, visceral appeal or unabashed sexuality. For Bowie, it's more about the subtle androgynous beauty and unearthliness that he wears like a second skin. From his two-toned eyes to his melodically crooning voice, everything about him seems to have an ethereal quality to it. Perhaps it is fed by humanity's general curiosity of the "other" – those not quite like us. And perhaps Bowie is savvy enough to play upon this, crafting the alternate persona of Ziggy Stardust for himself and letting his music often slip toward the supernatural.


13. Bruce Springsteen

When it comes to raw charisma, it would be difficult to find someone who possesses a greater share of it than Springsteen. While not as classically pretty as some of the frontmen on this list, the Boss has a mixture of sentimentality and rough-edged charm that makes him stand head and shoulders above most who pick up the microphone. That, coupled with his gravelly, crooning speak-easy voice, has caused more than a few women's hearts to skip a beat when he presents one of his marathon live shows.


12. Bruce Dickinson

The term "Renaissance man" seems to particularly apply to Iron Maiden's frontman. Not only is he the gifted singer from one of the most recognized bands in the world, but also he is also a world-class fencer who helps to train the English Olympic team and a licensed pilot who flies the band around on its own 747. This rounding seems to come through in the swagger and showmanship that Dickinson brings to the stage.


11. Steven Tyler

Many of the older musicians on this list have had to dial back their performances as time and trial take their toll. Not so with Tyler. Even with a 30-plus year career with Aerosmith to his credit, it doesn't seem like he has backed off the throttle one iota. He can still bring the fans to their feet and whip them into a frenzy with an upbeat song, or bring tears to their eyes with a heartfelt ballad. And all the while, he looks good doing it with his outlandish costuming and raw sex appeal, which has not eroded throughout the decades.


10. Alice Cooper

When you look at Alice Cooper, it isn't hard to see that a very vital part of being one of the great frontmen of all time is theatrics. Cooper seems to understand better than most that rock is part of show business, and he makes sure that his is a show worth seeing. Over the years, others such as Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson have studied at the feet of this master, who has thrilled and delighted with his macabre stage performances for years. Cooper's black humor and elaborate staging never fail to keep the audience captivated.


9. Jim Morrison

The Doors frontman was the prototype for the modern bad-boy rocker. But for Morrison it was more than just some affected act. He seemed to be indelibly linked to his music, and onstage his songs practically poured out of his very soul, washing over the audience like an unstoppable tide. The Lizard King didn't have the most versatile voice, but when he sang it was like crushed velvet running through your brain, and that was more than enough. Add to that the dark, angst-ridden poet persona he exuded, and it isn't hard to see why he has become an archetype.


8. Iggy Pop

Onstage, Iggy Pop is a madman whose intensity is off the charts. Iggy is the living personification of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle -- and it's clear that it isn't just an act or a show or a persona. This is the life that he lives and breathes, and it is that honesty and genuine lust for life that truly resonates with his audiences. He seems more like a force of nature than merely a man when he is up there belting out songs in his brusque baritone. Iggy Pop is a man who lives and bleeds rock n' roll.


7. Ozzy Osbourne

The father of heavy metal, Ozzy has been up and down the road, seen it all and done it all -- twice. First as the frontman of Black Sabbath and then branching out on his own, the "Blizzard of Oz" never disappoints. Ozzy is a wildman who isn't above biting the heads off of bats or doves to wow his audiences – not that he would need to. There is a charisma that Ozzy just naturally exudes when he takes the stage. Maybe it is the realization that you are in the presence of one of the great ones. Whatever it is, even after all these years, Ozzy can still steal a show like no one else.


6. Gene Simmons

We've talked about Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper in terms of the showmanship and spectacle. But when it comes to honing the art of bringing theater to rock, no one holds a candle to Gene Simmons. Whether it is coughing up a stream of blood, blowing a towering gout of fire into the air or simply gesticulating his abnormally long and seemingly prehensile tongue at the adoring ladies in the front row, he is a showman first and foremost. And from the success that Kiss have enjoyed in the past 35 years, there is little doubt that this is exactly what people want.


5. Axl Rose

Axl Rose has attained an almost mythical status -- and not only for his onstage presence. Rose is a lightning rod for controversy, be it punching an unruly reporter or taking 14 years and $12 million to make an album. Despite all that, when he is on his game, there is no one better. Barely contained intensity mixes with manic energy to make him an attention magnet. And even with the depth of talent that the other members of Guns N' Roses possessed, it was impossible to keep from watching Axl as he rushed across teh stage, belting out notes that could shatter glass or bloody eardrums.


4. David Lee Roth

Whether you love him or you hate him, there is no question that Diamond Dave is one of the greatest rock n' roll frontmen of all time. His over-the-top personality, his flamboyance on and off the stage, his style, his swagger -- there is no question that Roth lives the rock n' roll lifestyle and he lives it hard. The former Van Halen frontman wears animal sexuality like some men wear cologne, and not only does he have all the ladies swooning onstage -- he had the guys getting into it and rocking out as well.


3. Mick Jagger

In many ways, the Rolling Stones serve as a model for any rock n' roll band that has come since -- and without question, Mick Jagger has served as very direct inspiration as to what a great frontman should be. Once Jagger hit the scene, it was no longer enough to just be a talented singer with solid vocal chops. He served as a wake-up call for frontmen everywhere that they now had to be showmen as well – larger than life. Jagger has the energy, the emotion and, most important, the talent to round out the whole package. He has brought an attitude and a swagger that is second to none.


2. Freddie Mercury

Mercury could bring a crowd to life like no other. With his refined, theatrical style, the king of Queen had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand each and every time he took the stage. He could rouse them into singing along with him note for note, or could call for a hush with the smallest gesture of his hand. This spellbinding relationship between a frontman and their audience is something that few other performers have been able to duplicate before or since, and is a testament to the charisma that Mercury possessed.


1. Elvis Presley

"Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn't been an Elvis, there wouldn't have been a Beatles. --John Lennon

To be honest, if there had been no Elvis, the rest of this list would not exist. He could touch the hearts of his audience like no one else. His music could bring tears to the eye, and the crook of his lip or the sway of his hips would send the girls swooning. He had a way about him that made each person in the audience feel like he was singing just to him or her and that there was no one else around



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