Rock Out at Home: Rock's Greatest Frontpeople
Published on 11 June 2020
Rock music is the best thing ever.
Rock music is the best thing ever, but the message cannot be properly sent out into the world without an amazing, magnetic person leading the charge.
It’s all about the frontperson. Everything begins and ends there for most music fans. The image, the attitude, the voice, the energy, the power and the meaning: it’s all tied up in the lead vocalist, who stands front and centre, delivering the sermon, rousing the rabble and changing the world.
We’d like to celebrate some of our favourite Frontpeople today, from across the many different facets of Rock music. We’ve decided to forgo chronology and simply throw our favourites up as we go along. Come with us! The music is guaranteed to be brilliant...
One of the defining singers of the late 60s, a troubled soul and, sadly, a member of the dreaded ‘27 Club’, Janis Joplin brought her supersonic voice to a career that shot up and away like a firework. Her emotive, passionate performances blended heart-on-sleeve honesty with a commanding defiance.
Led Zeppelin’s iconic frontman is the textbook definition of the Hard Rock Hero. Long blonde mane of hair, scandalously tight jeans and an open shirt ensured that Robert Plant’s swooping vocals had visuals to match. From the epics of Zep to his later-day forays into world music, Plant is the original from which the mould for ‘Rock Star’ was made.
Infinite charisma. Endless skill. Prince Rogers Nelson was easily one of the most gifted musicians ever to walk the earth. His ability to write and perform music was matched only by his skills on stage. His command of his audience and his band are benchmarks for anybody who thinks they mean business. He wrote some of the greatest songs ever, played guitar as well as Hendrix, and dressed and danced better than anyone. Prince wins, frankly.
The dark and vaguely threatening Doors are, for many, the defining sound of LA in the late 60s. Their mysterious and spooky keyboard-driven sound, peppered with jazz drums and slide guitar, evokes a time that almost feels like it never existed. Central to the mythos and sound was of course the Lizard King himself, James Douglas Morrison. Looking like a Dionysian god and displaying a sense for the dramatic that has still never been bested, Morrison and his incredible baritone voice (Frank Sinatra tried to sue him for stealing his voice, which is crazy but true) are the stuff of genuine legend. In a very short career (Jim was another 27 Club member), Morrison left one hell of a legacy.
Influential to the point of ubiquity, Elvis Aaron Presley was the Rock Star that other rock stars looked up to. He is the origin of the source, the First, the original creation of the Myth. His velveteen voice and matinee idol looks stole the hearts of untold generations, whilst his quietly tragic private life merely added gossipy fuel to the fascination. Early live performances on US Television shocked the world with their animalistic, predatory passion. The world was never the same afterwards.
In a hundred years’ time, people will still be listening to, looking at and talking about Elvis Presley. He has long since become immortal.
Ziggy Stardust. Aladdin Sane. The Thin White Duke. David Jones was actually 5 or 6 great rock stars all rolled up into one man. Throughout a career that lasted almost 50 years, the Alien himself provided a masterclass in ‘life as a performance’. Every move, whether on or offstage, was considered and practised to perfection. Even ‘David Bowie’ was a persona in itself, a mask to wear in public. Who was the real David Jones? Few people truly ever knew, but each of his personas brought him world-wide fame, and his understanding of image and fashion repeatedly paved the way for genre upon genre to form underneath his horizon-spanning influence. Today, anyone who strikes a theatrical pose on stage owes something to Bowie and his performance innovations.
Ice cool and full of confidence, Blondie’s Frontwoman Deborah Harry is one of the most instantly recognisable singers of the last 50 years. Her stunning beauty was often matched with a fantastically disdainful attitude on stage, proving that aggression isn’t the only way to keep rowdy crowds in their place! There is always a playfulness to her deadpan demeanour, though.
Blondie’s songs were significantly more melodic and Poppy than the NYC Punk scene they came from (could Blondie ever really be called a Punk band? Does it matter?), and their subsequent success, which has endured to this day, is a testament to great songs and a fantastic frontperson.
The U2 frontman, 60 years old this month, is ample proof of the power of connection. Bono is famous for breaking down walls between the performer and the audience, whether that’s during his career-making moment at Live Aid when the world watched him save a girl from being crushed, or merely taking an audience member in his arms on stage to serenade Elvis songs to, whilst dressed in a gold suit and devil horns.
Subtle he may not be, but his unwavering effectiveness in his desire (no pun intended) to reach out and create a meaningful connection makes him one of the most beloved singers of our time.
When Queen were on form, it’s fair to say there was no band on Earth who could touch them. In a band populated by gifted musicians, the centre of the storm was most definitely Farrokh Balsara, the flamboyant and larger than life singer, otherwise known as Freddie Mercury. Easily one of the world’s greatest performers, Freddie seems to have simply adored being on stage, displaying a huge amount of charisma and energy as he ran, jumped, kicked and threw himself around like a man possessed, whilst performing a catalogue of embarrassingly great songs. With one of Rock music’s best voices, Freddie Mercury ‘brought it’ like nobody else ever could.
Public Enemy’s rapper and lyricist Chuck D is one of the world’s most awe-inspiring rappers. Coming up in the mid 80s, Chuck told white America in no uncertain terms what it meant to be young, intelligent, angry and black. Backed by the atonal frenzy of the Bomb Squad’s production, Chuck D brought a sense of social awareness and politics to music in a blunt, powerful and highly skilled way. Public Enemy changed the world by calling out injustice, meeting it with fierce intelligence and fiercer vocals. ‘Bring the Noise’ is a masterclass in the art of rapping.
Chuck has continued his art in recent years with Prophets of Rage, a Rap-Rock supergroup that includes members of Cypress Hill and Rage Against the Machine. Talk about a stellar line-up?!
Björk Guðmundsdóttir is one of the most individual, expressive artists working in music today. It’s perhaps a stretch to call her amazingly emotive, electronic/symphonic music ‘Rock’ strictly, but we think she belongs on here none the less. Who says Rock music has to be guitar, bass and drums, anyway? Björk’s music is its own entire ecosystem, filled with colourful, kaleidoscopic sounds that have helped propel her to the very top of the musical firmament.
Björk’s gift for visual expression is apparent in her outlandish, custom-made costumes and theatrical stage sets. Frequently obscuring her face behind masks, headpieces and elaborate veils, Björk uses mystery and suggestion in her performances to help describe the scene and tell the story. Her massively impressive voice, so unique when compared to nearly all other singers, is the centrepiece of a truly otherworldly performance style. How many artists push as many boundaries with as much success? (listen out at the 2:25 point for an extraordinary vocal...)
Without stating the obvious, the man is known as ‘The Boss’ for good reason. He’s altogether immense, from his gravel pit powerhouse of a voice, to his gritted teeth-and-redemption performance style, to the out and out strength that pours from his every fibre of being during live performances.
Talking of performances, a man in his mid-sixties has no business playing for over 3 hours, but to his fans, these epic concerts are what life is all about. His authority on the stage is obvious, as is his enthusiasm and sheer glee at being up there in the first place! His concerts are sermons to the heroism of the everyday struggle: a fight to see the beauty in the everyday. In other hands, this could come across as schmaltzy, but with Bruce, you know he means every word.
David Lee Roth
Nobody sums up 80s Hard Rock showmanship like ‘Diamond’ David Lee Roth. The high-kicking, endlessly quotable Van Halen frontman was the natural successor to Robert Plant, but with an emphasis on glamour, beach culture and jive-talk instead of hobbits, Vikings and rambling. The 80s seemed to call for more deliberately superficial, fun performers, and Roth has happy to oblige.
Van Halen became superstars, and Roth was arguably the blueprint for all 80s Hair Metal hopefuls looking to steal some of the limelight. Nobody spoke like Dave, kicked like Dave or carried on like Dave. He’s a daft big brother mixed with a circus ringmaster, and there’s no one else out there quite like him. How could you not have fun with Diamond Dave around?
Punk’s most iconic figure, apart from perhaps his Sex Pistols’ colleague Sid Vicious, John Lydon embodied the disenfranchised and the dispossessed so perfectly, that every other ‘punk’ artist since has felt close to caricature in comparison.
Yes, the Sex Pistols were a manufactured band and certainly had a carefully constructed image, but Lydon came to the party complete and ready to aggravate. You simply can’t manufacture Lydon’s persona, both on and off stage. The man is the real deal, through and through, with a sharp, acidic wit and an ability to unleash eloquently verbose rants on everything from Britain’s class system to his opinion of other bands. We suspect he’s actually quite lovable in real life, but we don’t want to spoil it for anyone...
His music with Public Image Limited has been consistently innovative and unpredictable, much like the man himself. Divisive, uncompromising and entirely uninterested in gaining your approval, Lydon is as iconic as it gets.
Skunk Anansie’s unstoppable frontwoman is a magnet of charisma and energy. On record, her voice is an expressive powerhouse, ranging from bruised and delicate to incensed and rallying, always with a sense of hope and optimism to counter the bile and anger. Skin can simply sing everything amazingly, which is actually pretty rare for a heavy Rock band: most singers have a forte, but Skin seems to master all vocal areas with apparent ease.
Live, Skin is a phenomenal cyclone of energy. Her tone is inclusive and championing, as she stalks the stage and crowd surfs at every opportunity. The band’s music requires this level of energy from her, and Skin seems to demand nothing less in return.
Skunk Anansie are one of the most significant British Rock bands of the last 30 years, and their frontwoman has star power to spare. An inspiration.
Who did we miss? Some were very close calls, and so here is a roll of honour for other frontpeople we love and respect:
Maynard James Keenan
There are tons more, as always, so please get involved! Let us know which Rock frontpeople (frontpersons?) you love the most!
As ever, thank you for reading.
Until next time