Paul Berens

Top Rock Vocalists

I should be writing on something a bit more sophisticated or of greater social import, but a) it’s been forever since I’ve put finger-to-keyboard with respect to this blog and b) we just saw The Greatest Night in Pop, which was a lot of fun, but got me thinking—with all of those rockstars coming together in one place on one night1—about that essential question I ruminate on from time to time (as a former college a cappella nerd), and that is: who are the greatest rock ‘n’ roll vocalists of all time? (Rock because this becomes infinitely harder as you broaden the scope into, say, R&B.)

There are frontmen and frontwomen who have great style and showmanship but not necessarily preeminent vocal prowess2, which is what I’m trying to get at. (In some cases isolated vocal tracks help tease this out.)

Okay, the definitive lists…which I reserve the right to readjust and edit on a whim:

Top Male Rock Vocalists

  1. Freddie Mercury – Decidedly #1 with his full four-octave vocal range and atypical vocal fingerprint.
  2. Robert Plant – a legend and here are six isolated vocal tracks that lend credence
  3. Axl Rose – six-octave range, according to a 2014 article in the Telegraph, suggesting he “has a lower baritone than Barry White, and can reach higher notes than Tina Turner and Beyoncé”.
  4. Paul McCartney – It’d be sacrilege to not have a Beatle in Top 10, but I’ll take Paul over John. Maybe I’m Amazed (isolated vocals).
  5. Daryl Hall – Can hang with the best of ‘em. Out of Touch (isolated vocals)
  6. Prince – I hate to stir up controversy with this pick as this may reflect some Minnesota prejudice.
  7. StingEnglishman In New York (isolated vocals)
  8. Steve PerryOpen Arms (isolated vocals)
  9. BonoWith or Without You (isolated vocals).
  10. Van the Man – remarkable versatility and clarity. Brown-eyed Girl (isolated vocals).

Honorable Mentions: Jeff Buckley, Peter Cetera, Kurt Cobain, Phil Collins, Chris Cornell, Roger Daltrey, Brad Delp, John Fogerty, Elton John, Bobby Kimball, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Steven Tyler, Eddie Vedder.

Top Female Rock Vocalists

  1. Ann Wilson – my unwavering #1…and like a fine wine, her voice just got better; exempli gratia: live version of Alone and her live performance of Stairway to Heaven
  2. Janis Joplin – she brought the blues to rock ‘n’ roll. Inimitable.
  3. Tina Turner
  4. Stevie Nicks
  5. Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane)
  6. Bonnie Raitt – you may think she’s too soft for “rock,” and that may be so, but check this out: Can’t Find My Way Home (Live)
  7. Pat Benatar
  8. Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders)
  9. Gwen Stefani – again, we’re in some gray areas with respect to genre as she moves among rock and pop and ska.
  10. Rachael Price (Lake Street Dive) – going to get one contemporary vocalist in this list

Honorable Mentions: Brandi Carlisle, Joan Jett, Melissa Ethridge.


— ᴘ. ᴍ. ʙ.

  1. Actually, it’s the sequence in We are the World of Kenny Loggins to Steve Perry to Daryl Hall and back to Michael Jackson, and you think: wow, that’s the varsity squad of mid-80s rock. (Footnote to this footnote: I excluded MJ on a categorical technicality since he is the King of Pop; not Rock.) 

  2. A good example of this, in my humble opinion, is Mick Jagger, undisputedly one of the greatest lead singers of all time; because even though he has a legendary voice (powerful, versatile, distinctive), for my money he doesn’t quite crack the top ten. 

First published: 2024-02-12 | tweet | cast

← back to all posts