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You can’t have rock and roll without strong, in-your-face powerhouse vocals. Throughout the history of rock and roll, there are particular voices that have stood the test of time. Today, we’re rolling out our list of the top 10 best rock vocalists of all time.
Check out our picks below.
And now for something completely different. Boston’s own Steven Tyler lifts Aerosmith‘s mostly pedestrian, bar band songs with the sheer power of his incredibly versatile voice. Lithe, raspy, and with a soaring range, Tyler’s voice can raise up blues songs about elevator sex to Hall of Fame-worthy levels.
Performance-wise, Elvis was merely an amalgam of his influences. He channeled the sounds and styles of plenty of unfortunately anonymous, frequently African-American performers, and topped it with a borderline-salacious waggling of hips. But this combination alongside Presley’s heavy-lidded baritone voice created something entirely new, a phenomenon we’d never seen before (and have rarely seen since.) Before he could make concertgoers faint, they had to be drawn in by that distinct and endlessly imitable voice.
Chris Cornell was the antithesis of the Seattle slacker stereotype that hung around his contemporaries. While grunge vocalists and other Gen X-affiliated singers were fine with mumbling and grunting through songs, Cornell delivered his best lines in a piercing wail. We’re convinced it’s only the power of his bone-chilling vocals that allowed something like “Spoonman” to be released.
Stevie Nicks plays into her witchy reputation in interviews now, but it was almost entirely earned on her studio recordings. Without getting particularly occult, Nicks’ voice alone was enough to convince listeners she held secret knowledge. How else can we explain the spellbound trance that comes over a room when Fleetwood Mac hits like “Rhiannon” and “Dreams” play?
The Queen of Rock n’ Roll herself Tina Turner defined the genre as we know it with her commanding vocals. After all, the Tennessee native is still rolling on the river today with tours across the globe. More recently, TINA: The Tina Turner Musical debuted on Broadway, which chronicles her life through her greatest tracks such as “Proud Mary,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and “The Best.” To this day, the 80-year-old dynamo delivers performances across the globe that are equally as explosive and action-packed as they were at the early zenith of her musical career.
Ann Wilson has been supplying the powerhouse vocals of Heart since 1970, and the band is still going strong to this day. With hits like “Barracuda,” “Crazy on You,” and “Magic Man,” Wilson ran laps vocally around the male counterparts of her era. Dubbed in their heyday by music journalists and fans alike as “Led Zeppelin with tits,” the Wilson sisters have stood their ground and pressed onward, touring with other rock giants such as Joan Jett, Sheryl Crow, and Cheap Trick. Back in 2012, they even performed their own rendition of “Stairway To Heaven” at the Kennedy Center Honors in front of surviving members of Led Zeppelin. Their performance is worth the listen (it made a stoic Robert Plant shed a tear or two.)
Mick Jagger’s voice is the textbook definition of distinct. It’s hard not to recognize the Rolling Stone frontman’s unique, gravelly, expressive vocal stylings when grooving along to hits such as “Start Me Up,” “Paint It Black,” and “Brown Sugar.” His unmistakable tone paired with his outlandish, unique look paved a way for rock singers to come who didn’t fit the norm.
Janis Joplin’s voice sounded well beyond her years, something that served her legacy when she unfortunately passed away at the young age of 27. It’s a testament to the striking sound of Joplin’s voice that almost none of her hits that have burned into the public’s consciousness were originals. She took songs and made them entirely her own using just her voice.
If you’re going to sing about orcs, wizards, and old gods, you need a voice that sounds piped in from Valhalla. In his pre-bluegrass days, Robert Plant was more than happy to oblige. He was even known for his groundbreaking rock and roll superstar stage poses, one of the most recognizable being Plant stretching the microphone cord over his bare chest while belting out gems like “The Ocean” and Black Dog.”
Mercury is the only singer on this list who could Pied Piper a hundred thousand people through a ridiculous vocal warmup. He had the charisma to make the entire stadium at Live Aid scat along with him, and the chops to back it up. Even as Adam Lambert has taken up the mantle of Queen, we all know we’ll never see Freddie’s like again.