image from songstartnow.com
There’s quite a bit of history behind this list. This post responds to Kerrang! magazine’s July 2012 list of the “20 Greatest Rock Stars Ever.” However, I first posted on this subject in May 2010 after Q magazine published a readers’ poll on the Top 100 Greatest Frontmen. On the DMDB Facebook page, I presented the Q list followed by the DMDB’s list of The Best Frontmen and Women of All Time, an aggregate of the Q list and twelve other sources.
In June 2011, New Musical Express (NME) did a poll to determine the “Greatest Singers Ever” which prompted another revision. Oddly, NME couldn’t even wait a year to do the list again via their article “Liam Gallagher voted greatest frontman of all time” (10 March 2012). I updated DMDB Facebook post on “The Top 100 Singers of All Time” (2 July 2011). At that time, 25 sources were integrated into the list.
Now the list has been revised again – this time with 27 sources. I’m the first to admit it still has flaws. Best-of-all-time lists notoriously focus on the rock era and not all time, so if you had a career prior to 1955, good luck making this list. Crooners like Bing Crosby and Perry Como are out of luck. Still, greats like Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and Nat “King” Cole manage to fight their way onto a mostly rock-and-roll list. These lists also favor white men who fronted rock bands in the 1960s and ‘70s so kudos to Aretha Franklin, Hank Williams, Bob Marley, Patsy Cline, Howlin’ Wolf and others who are talents so massive they couldn’t be ignored. Anyway, here’s the list:
Queen’s Freddie Mercury, image from telegraph.co.uk
1. Freddie Mercury
2. Robert Plant
3. Jim Morrison
4. Janis Joplin
5. Aretha Franklin
6. Mick Jagger
7. Axl Rose
8. Kurt Cobain
9. Elvis Presley
10. John Lennon
Even though the sources behind this list heavily favor white male singers who front rock bands, the list makers still showed “Respect” to Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Image from ugospel.com.
12. Roger Daltrey
13. Stevie Wonder
14. Paul McCartney
15. Steven Tyler
16. Frank Sinatra
17. Roy Orbison
18. Marvin Gaye
19. Michael Jackson
20. Whitney Houston
Hey, list makers! How about a little more love for The King of Rock and Roll? Many of the names on this list wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. Image from fanpop.com.
21. David Bowie
22. Iggy Pop
23. Ray Charles
24. Sam Cooke
25. Bob Dylan
26. Otis Redding
27. Mariah Carey
28. Tina Turner
30. Elton John
Divas like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Christina Aguilera show they deserve a place on this rock-heavy list. Image from cvvd.net.
31. Thom Yorke
33. Billie Holiday
34. Van Morrison
35. Ella Fitzgerald
36. Al Green
37. Eddie Vedder
38. Dusty Springfield
39. Christina Aguilera
40. Bruce Dickinson
To those list makers who didn’t include greats like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James – what were you thinking? Image from music-wallpapers.net.
41. Patsy Cline
42. Bruce Springsteen
43. Karen Carpenter
44. Chris Cornell
45. Luther Vandross
46. Stevie Nicks
47. Matt Bellamy
48. James Brown
49. Celine Dion
50. Bob Marley
R&B legends like James Brown, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and Sam Cooke make the list. Image from johannasvisions.com.
51. Paul Rodgers
52. Steve Perry
53. Bon Scott
54. Jeff Buckley
55. Liam Gallagher
56. Michael Stipe
58. Gladys Knight
59. Smokey Robinson
60. Neil Young
Pre-rock era crooners didn’t get a lot of love from the listmakers, but some singers like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Nat “King” Cole couldn’t be denied. Image from queens-politics.com.
61. Tony Bennett
62. Nat “King” Cole
63. Johnny Cash
64. Debbie Harry
65. Ian Gillan
66. Maria Callas
67. John Lydon
68. Joni Mitchell
69. Joe Strummer
70. David Lee Roth
Country stars like Johnny Cash, George Jones, Patsy Cline, and Hank Williams made the cut even without rock and roll credentials. Image from abcnewsradioonline.com.
71. George Jones
72. Little Richard
73. Brian Wilson
74. Mike Patton
75. Etta James
76. Howlin’ Wolf
77. Rod Stewart
78. Ian Curtis
79. Tom Waits
80. Mary J. Blige
Howlin’ Wolf makes the list, but where’s all the other blues greats? Come on, list makers! Image from worldofarmonica.blogspot.com.
81. Nick Cave
82. Lou Reed
83. Nina Simone
84. Joey Ramone
85. Hank Williams
86. Billie Joe Armstrong
87. Patti LaBelle
88. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
89. Jackie Wilson
90. Anthony Kiedis
World music gets almost no love from the list makers, but at least Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley and Pakistan’s Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan make the list. Image from aarkangel.wordpress.com.
91. Ozzy Osbourne
92. Patti Smith
93. Levi Stubbs
94. Jon Bon Jovi
95. Michael Hutchence
96. Meat Loaf
97. Sylvester “Sly Stone” Stewart
98. George Michael
99. Barbra Streisand
100. Dave Grohl
Despite the shortcomings of lists such as these, don’t let that take away from rock gods like Robert Plant, Jim Morrison, and Mick Jagger who absolutely belong on this list. Image from thehelplessdancer.wordpress.com.
Resources and Related Links:
- DMDB Facebook post: “The Best Frontmen and Women of All Time” (13 May 2010).
This Facebook post presented the May 2010 list of “The Greatest Frontmen” as determined by Q magazine and then presented the DMDB’s version of the list. The Q list was also presented on the DMDB blog.
- DMDB Facebook post: The Best Frontmen and Women of All Time (7/2/11)
This top 100 list is an aggregate of 25 of the lists below.
- Amazon.com The 20 Greatest Vocalists of All Time (7/17/03)
A personal top-20 ranked list from tmabel1.
- AskMen.com Top 10 Crooners All Time by Matthew Simpson (2007?)
- Associated Content Best Singers and Vocalists of All Time (7/24/09)
List of 10 singers with commentary.
- BBC News Zeppelin voted ‘ideal supergroup’. (7/10/05)
Roughly 3500 music fans were polled at Planet Rock Radio for best singer, guitarist, bassist, and drummer. The top 10 of each are listed.
- Destican.com Top Ten: Best Female Singers of All Time (6/26/09)
Unranked list with commentary.
- Entertainment Weekly Rock’s All Time Best Frontmen and Women (11/07)
Unranked list of 31 performers. Commentary on each.
- HolinessReeducation.com Greatest Lead Singers in Rock History (7/12/2006)
This blog, by a pastor who identifies himself only as Greg, spotlights 15 singers who meet his criteria for stage presence, rock arrogance, a uniquely rock voice, staying power, and great band.
- Kerrang! “20 Greatest Rock Stars Ever” (July 2012)
- Metro News The Best Singers Ever – Part 1 (3/15/10) and The Best Singers Ever – Part 2 (3/19/10). By Mike Benhaim.
An unranked list, with commentary, of singers as determined by vocal skill and unique vocal style and performance.
- Mojo 100 Greatest Singers of All Time (10/98)
Ranked list put together by Mojo from a panel of 175 singers.
- Music Radar The 30 greatest lead singers of all time (12/7/10)
Ranked list with commentary. Determined by reader votes.
- MyMusicLists.com Best Singer of All Time (2006?)
Ranked list of 99 singers. No commentary other than comments from site visitors.
- New Musical Express (NME) The greatest singers ever – as voted by you (5/25/11)
Ranked top-20 list with commentary. Determined by reader votes.
- New Musical Express (NME) Liam Gallagher voted greatest frontman of all time” (10 March 2012)
- NPR 50 Great Voices (3/8/11).
Unranked list with commentary. Weekly series with a focus on a different singer each week. Last post: 3/8/11.
- Q Magazine 100 Greatest Singers (4/07)
- Q Magazine 100 Greatest Frontmen (5/10)
Ranked list with commentary. Based on votes from readers (?).
- Ranker Greatest vocalists of all time by Harold Dickinson (4/8/11)
Top-20 ranked list. No commentary.
- Ranker Best Rock Vocalists by rockboy
Ranked list which viewers can vote on. 92 singers listed as of 7/17/12.
- Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Singers of All Time (2008)
Reposted ranked list. Don’t know specifics of original.
- Rolling Stone Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Best Lead Singers of All Time (4/11)
Ranked top-ten list with commentary. Determined by reader votes.
- Piero Scaruffi Greatest Rock Female Singers of All Times (1999)
Personal list. 19 singers ranked followed by multiple unranked entries. No commentary.
- Piero Scaruffi Greatest Rock Male Singers of All Times (1999)
Personal list. 28 singers ranked followed by multiple unranked entries. No commentary.
- SurvivorSucks.com The Top 30 Greatest Vocalists of All Time (5/11/10)
Personal list. Ranked list. No commentary.
- Turkku.com Top 25: Male Vocalists/Top 25: Female Vocalists
Two separate ranked lists featured in a sidebar. No commentary.
- Ugo.com Best Singers of All Time (9/10/08). By K. Thor Jensen.
A ranked list of the top 50 most influential singers of all time. Includes commentary.