I was on a business trip recently and got in a really cool discussion with someone about who were the best “front men” in music history. What I thought would be a “no-brainer” list was actually much tougher to come by than I thought. We came up with the criteria that no “solo acts” and thus it had to be an actual lead singer of a band, not an artist who has other musicians backing him up under his own name. This “no solo” act also meant that rappers, by and large, were also excluded (except for say a Chuck D of Public Enemy – because they were an actual group and he was the front man). Of course, I am biased by my own musical tastes – but needed to be honest that while I love Prince he is a solo act more than a band and that while Paul McCartney and John Lennon are to me some of the greatest musical talents ever, there was no real front man in The Beatles. I tried to be as impartial as I could and put my own musical tastes aside and sit back and truly come to this list as objectively as possible. For me, this person needs to be super charismatic and, of course, a great singer. A great front man also needs to put on a “show” – meaning that they need to do more than stand stoically and sing (sorry Eddie Vedder). Look – a great lead singer is the person leading thousands of fans in a stadium to be in the show – no small task. This list could literally be hundreds of people long and fans will still be pissed when their dude isn’t mentioned or ranked high enough – I get it. For this list’s purposes, we will stick the 5 best ever. Let’s roll:
5. David Lee Roth – “Diamond Dave” is a. super charismatic and b. a pure showman in every sense of the word. Van Halen became an ENTIRELY different (and lesser) band when they switched to Sammy Hagar and it is all because of what they had lost, not because of what they had gained. Roth has one of the most unique voices and singing styles of any singer in rock history. I honestly believe that he cannot be copied and I mean that as the highest compliment possible. As an example, think of the song “Everybody Wants Some” (GREAT song by the way). Literally the first minute and a half are Eddie’s guitar and Alex’s drums underneath what is a series of Roth’s grunts and screams – and it works beyond belief. No lyrics at all, but on the sheer power of his voice and persona alone this is great music. He has so many iconic Van Halen performances in songs like “Hot For Teacher”, “Cradle Will Rock” and “Panama” – the list goes on and on. Live, Roth has almost no peer. He is a series of sarcastic snips, pick up lines, innuendo and acrobatics that cannot be matched. Some of you may question him being on this list and to you I say you need to settle down and recognize how amazing he really was. Listen to “Everybody Wants Some” here
4. Bono – I will admit, while I like U2, I am not a big fan. Loved their early stuff, and “Unforgettable Fire” is an amazing album, but not really my cup of tea overall. That being said, you cannot deny Bono is one of the great front men of all time. Even as a non “fan” I can objectively say this. Guy is a great singer, but the charisma and showmanship is off the charts. He has literally transformed himself over the years from rebellious politico to “The Fly” to a crooner with a conscience – and the fans ate up through every incarnation. I have rarely, if ever, seen any performer, much less a “front man”, own a crowd like Bono does. Whether in videos, the super bowl or stadiums, he is THE show and makes U2 more than just a good band – but an all time band. Look – I too tire of a lot of his shenanigans and “preachiness” but even I cannot deny that this guy is one of the all time greats at what he does. I recently got into an an argument with a friend who made the statement that “U2 is the band of our generation” and you know what, he ultimately won me over that this is true – whether I am a fan or not. They have been relevant and important since the 1980s and a huge reason for that is Bono himself. Listen to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” here
3. Robert Plant – THE MAN – pure and simply one of the greatest talents in rock history. Yes, Led Zeppelin would have been really good without him, but he made Led Zeppelin one of the ALL TIME bands with him. He was the precursor to every wannabe heavy metal or rock singer who came after him – and if those singers were being honest they would tell you the same thing. Charisma? Dude oozed it. Show? Seeing Led Zeppelin in concert (while I have only watched videos of it – before my time) must have been like going to a black magic show with great tunes – fun, intriguing and a bit mysterious. His voice is amazing, and his delivery is what makes good Zep tunes great Zep tunes. Can you imagine anyone else singing these songs? Look – I love Chris Robinson and The Black Crowes and their record with Jimmy Page was great – but sorry Chris – you ain’t Robert Plant. For me, a great mark of any musician – singer, drummer, guitarist – whatever – is that you instantly recognize who it is the second you hear them. That my friends, is Robert Plant. There are only two front men I can put ahead of him and I thought a lot about making him even higher. Listen to “No Quarter” here
2. Mick Jagger – Like with Bono – not the biggest Rolling Stones fan but I acknowledge greatness when I see it – and Mick is the prototype for all front men – forever. He is the ultimate showman and while not technically a “great” singer you cannot deny his voice nor the fact that it is instantly recognizable. He is all charisma too – just watch any performance by Mick and you will see a man giving the audience 100% of everything he’s got to ensure they enjoy the shit out of the show. Like Roth, he is part dance and gyration. I bet if you were to ask any of the singers on this list they would tell you Mick is the G.O.A.T. but for my money there is someone slightly greater. Still – no list of great front men is complete with giving credit where credit is due – Mick Jagger is 100% the real deal – and then some. Listen to “Gimme Shelter” here
1. Freddie Mercury – I will admit, I love me some Queen. Fan or no, Freddie is the greatest front man of all time. His voice was simply one of the most powerful and beautiful voices in rock history. His charisma was so great that he literally stole “Live Aid” from such acts like The Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who almost single-handed. He had crowds waiting on his every move and he always delivered. Queen simply would not be QUEEN without him out in front. He could do ballads, rock opera and camp and make each genre of music completely his own. A lot of singers I know will tell you his talent was simply off the charts awesome – even greater than anyone else on this list – almost by a very large margin. What a shame we lost him so young – we could have been treated to some really amazing music and performances. Freddy was, simply, the greatest front man who ever lived. Listen to “Stone Cold Crazy” here
There you have it, my Top 5 Front Men of All Time. I have no doubt that I will get a lot disagreement with this list and welcome your arguments in the comments section. I can hear the names now – Morrison, Sting, Daltrey, Ozzy, Cobain, Axl, Bon Scott, Hetfield – the list I am sure will be long and there a viable arguments to be made. I just don’t agree – but LOVE the debate – so let me have it. Have a great weekend and until next week – there is no spoon.