Singers. The fans love ’em, most musicians can’t stand ’em, but there is something about the sexy, flamboyant narcissism of a rock singer that embodies the artform. This listicle presents the fifty best rock singers, by date of birth. The criteria are: 1. The performer must be primarily a singer, and 2. The principal music genre must be rock. The first criterion eliminates legends like Tom Petty, Elton John, and Bruce Springsteen, who substantially contribute to the music playing instruments. The second criterion eliminates legends like James Brown, Tina Turner, and Carly Simon. Rock is dead, so this can be considered a closed list.
1/8/1935 (Tupelo, MS) — 8/16/1977 (Memphis, TN)
The King still reigns. Sam Phillips wanted a white boy who could sing black music. The combination was somewhat successful. It was a blatant act of cultural appropriation, but some would say it brought favorable attention to black artists.
10/30/1939 (Highland Park, IL)
“The Acid Queen” “The Chrome Nun” was the air under the Jefferson Airplane’s wings. Legend has it she wrote “White Rabbit” in an hour.
1/15/1941 (Glendale, CA) — 12/17/2010 (Arcata, CA)
Born as Don Van Vliet, and almost brought weird into the mainstream. The band got its name after Don’s uncle, who used to take out his penis and squeeze it so hard that the glans turned bright red. He did it in front of Don once and said “look at that boy! Doesn’t it look like a big old beefheart?”
9/13/1941 (Kingston upon Thames, Surrey)
The king of chest hair music, DCT’s strong baritone made Blood, Sweat & Tears an American classic. He was a teen runaway from an abusive home, did time in prison, and was homeless before he started singing. After sitting in with John Lee Hooker, DCT was playing “basket houses” in Greenwich Village, where artists got paid by passing the basket through the audience for tips. Judy Collins heard him, and recommended he join BS&T, who had just broken up after their debut “Child is Father to the Man.”
1/19/1943 (Port Arthur, TX) — 10/4/1970 (Hollywood, CA)
Janice once said, “I’m one of those regular weird people.” Bessie Smith was her greatest influence. Janis was furious when she found out that Smith was buried in an unmarked grave, and paid to have it replaced.
7/26/1943 (Dartford, Kent)
Moves like a woman, sings like a truck driver. Charlie Watts almost tossed him out of a hotel window when Mick referred to him as “my drummer.” Keith only stopped Charlie because at the time, Mick was wearing one of Keith’s favorite jackets.
12/8/1943 (Melbourne, FL) — 7/3/197 (Paris)
The Lizard King said it best: “No one here gets out alive.” Asked what he thought of Led Zeppelin, Morrison replied, “Tell the truth I don’t listen to rock and roll so I’ve never heard them. Normally I listen to classical music, or Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.” His favorite blues musician was Jimmy Reed.
3/1/1944 (East Acton, London)
Known for slinging microphones and annoying stage talk. During a Who concert on May 16, 1969 at New York City’s Fillmore East, a man rushed the stage and tried to take the microphone. Daltrey punched him in the face, and Pete Townshend kicked him in the crotch. The man was actually a plain-clothes policeman trying to warn the audience that there was a five-alarm fire next door. Townshend was arrested.
5/20/1944 (Sheffiled, West Riding) — 12/22/2014 (Crawford, CO)
The Sheffield Shouter, the One and Only. Cocker cleaned himself up for a career revival in the ’80s. He credited his second wife, Pam for his recovery. “She made me think positively. I was very down on myself. She made me realize people still wanted to hear me sing, and convinced me I could escape the downward spiral.”
1/10/1945 (Highgate, London)
Rod the Mod’s been married three times. He’s been quoted saying “Instead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house.”
7/1/1945 (Miami, FL)
Blondie started as a Playboy bunny, then she met Andy Warhol. The band’s original name was Angel and the Snake. In 1975, they changed it to the name that truck drivers would use to catcall Debbie.
8/19/1945 (Chiswick, London)
Deep Purple and Black Sabbath are the colors of rock. Ian was the painter. Gillan is also noted for singing the part of Jesus on the original rock opera concept album, Jesus Christ Superstar.
8/31/1945 (Bloomfield, Belfast)
Van the Man, The Belfast Cowboy, The Belfast Lion. He’s an Irish Buddhist mystic with an impossible sense of rhythm. “Music is spiritual,” he once said. “The music business is not.”
3/7/1946 (Bronx, NY)
The purists’ Mick Jagger. Wolf and Tom Petty were great friends. Tom sent Peter a copy of “Don’t Do Me Like That” for the J Geils Band to cover, but they never got around to recording it. Petty put it on his first album and it became a hit.
7/9/1946 (Fortar, Scotland) — 2/19/1989 (East Dulwich, London)
Iconic quote from AC/DC’s first frontman: “I’ve never had a message for anyone in my entire life. Except maybe to give out my room number.”
9/5/1946 (Stone Town, Zanzibar) — 11/24/1991 (London)
If this was a ranked list, Freddy would be #1. He is the personification of what we think of when we think Rock Singer. He talked about a “date” he went on with tennis icon Billie Jean King at a Brooklyn disco called the Gilded Grape: “Everyone tried to warn me about this club,” he said, “which of course made me all the more determined to go. Not long after we got there, a massive fight broke out, which ended up at our table. Chairs were being smashed, fists were flying, there was blood everywhere. Billie Jean was petrified, but I loved it. I told her not to worry, and as the fight raged, I grabbed her and took her on to the dance floor. It was much more fun than having some cozy dinner back at my hotel.”
12/30/1946 (Chicago, IL)
Dark and enlightened. The poet laureate of New York City. Before her musical career, she spent part of the late 1960s working in bookshops as she pursued poetry. She also did freelance writing. She once interviewed Eric Clapton and only asked him one question: “What are your six favorite colors?”
1/8/1947 (Brixton, London) — 1/10/2016 (New York, NY)
Bowie approached death as he approached life: “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”
4/21/1947 (Muskegon, MI)
The drunk junk punk from Motor City did a slam on glam. When Jim Morrison died, The Doors invited Iggy to join the band. He declined. At a low point in Iggy’s career, David Bowie saw him at Max’s Kansas City in New York. Iggy’s career was revived, and the two collaborated frequently over the years.
9/27/1947 (Dallas, TX)
It is rumored that Marvin Lee Aday burned out a piece of recording studio equipment when he hit a note with particular force. There are many legends how the band/performer got the name, but it wasn’t Marvin’s diet. He doesn’t even like meatloaf.
Ronnie Van Zant
1/15/1948 (Jacksonville, FL) — 10/20/1977 (Gillsburg, MS)
“If prisons, freight trains, swamps, and gators don’t get ya to write songs, man, y’ain’t got no business writin’ songs.” Face it. Ronnie was Lynyrd Skynyrd.
2/4/1948 (Detroit, MI)
Vincent Damon Furnier introduced horror imagery into rock by accident. At a show, someone from the audience threw a live chicken onto the stage. Thinking it could fly, he tossed it into the air. It landed in the crowd and died a bloody death.
3/26/1948 (Manhattan, NY)
A friend of mine once worked at Merriweather Post Pavilion. One night, Aerosmith was arriving late at a nearby airport. His job was to pick them up and drive them to the show. There was no time for the dressing room, so Steven got changed in the headlights of my pal’s car. My friend saw it all, and confided that Steven had plenty to boast about. He is actually a great guy. Another friend of mine was in Boston and was too broke to take his girl out to dinner. Somehow Steven found out, and got them sat at a very good restaurant, and paid the tab.
5/26/1948 (Phoenix, AZ)
Her given name is Stephanie, but as a toddler, she pronounced it as “tee-dee” which led to her nickname. Only a woman as sexy as Stevie could make her ex sing a song about how big a cheating d*ck he was. Big flex.
8/20/1948 (West Bronwich, Staffordshire)
The icon. Probably #2 on a ranked list. Plant once said, “I like the idea of being alone. I like the idea of often being alone in all aspects of my life. I like to feel lonely. I like to need things.”
12/3/1948 (Aston, Birmingham)
The poster boy for substance abuse, Ozzy married Sharon on July 4th so he’d never forget their anniversary.
Known as The Voice, Paul was the lead singer for Bad Company and Free.
6/19/1950 (San Diego, CA)
On December 2, 2012, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin were among the artists celebrated at the 35th annual Kennedy Centre Honors. Ann chose Jason Bonham to play “Stairway to Heaven.” It was a good choice. Robert Plant cried.
9/17/1950 (Omaha, NB)
Waybill is known for wearing impossibly high platform shoes and having an enormous prosthetic member tucked inside his trousers. With the Tubes, Waybill would perform as crippled Nazi Dr. Strangekiss, country singer Hugh Heifer, glam rocker Quay Lewd, and punk parody Johnny Bugger.
5/19/1951 (Queens, NY) — 4/15/2001 (Manhattan, NY)
In 1972, Jeffrey Ross Hyman joined the glam punk band Sniper. At the time, he was playing under name Jeff Starship. He left the band in 1974 and co-founded the Ramones, together with his friends John Cummings and Douglas Colvin. At the time, Colvin was known as Dee Dee Ramone and other band members soon adopted stage names using the surname Ramone. The name came from the stage name Paul McCartney used with the Silver Beetles, Paul Ramon.
6/12/1951 (Peabody, MA) — 3/9/2007 (Atkinson, NH)
His suicide note read: “Mr. Brad Delp. ‘J’ai une âme solitaire’. I have a lonely soul.” He was 55 years old. The following day, Boston’s website was temporarily shut down, the webmaster having replaced their home page with a simple black background and white text message: “We’ve just lost the nicest guy in rock and roll.”
8/25/1951 (Sutton Coldfield)
“Metal God.” Halford said he knew he could count on his fans to support his public 1998 announcement that he was gay. As he told the Montreal Gazette, “Metal fans are just as compassionate and caring and tolerant as any other form of music fans are.” Still, he was overwhelmed by the “incredibly intelligent and compassionate” response from around the world, stating, “It made me feel great.”
9/7/1951 (Akron, OH)
Her first kiss was from Jackie Wilson, who planted one on her from stage. In 1967, she played a gig with Devo founder Mark Mothersbaugh. She almost lost her virginity to Ronnie Wood after a Faces gig in Ohio. She was at Kent State on May 4, 1970, and knew Jeff Miller, one of the people who was killed. She was hanging outside a 1972 David Bowie show in Cleveland, hoping to catch a glimpse. On his way out, he saw her and asked where he might find a bite to eat. She ended up driving Bowie and security man to a local restaurant. In 1973, she bought a one-way ticket to London. She found work as a shop assistant at the store owned by Malcolm McLaren that would become the infamous SEX shop that spawned the Sex Pistols. McLaren fired her when her ex-boyfriend came in and beat her with his studded belt. She wrote porn with John Lydon, and tried to get Sid Vicious to marry her for a visa to stay in England. He was going to do it, for two quid, but the registry office was closed for a holiday.
5/14/1952 (Dumbarton, Dunbartonshire)
David created the eerie, breathless vocals on “Drugs” by jogging in place as he recorded it. On October 27, 1986, he made Time magazine’s cover as “Rock’s Renaissance Man.” His current projects are American Utopia, and Reasons to be Cheerful.
1/10/1953 (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)
Pat saw Liza Minnelli live in Richmond and was inspired to quit her job at a bank and pursue singing.
Dave Lee Roth
10/10/1954 (Bloomington, IN)
Diamond Dave’s uncle, Manny Roth, owned the historic club Cafe Wha? where several rock acts got their start — Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, Bruce Springsteen. It is also where Chas Chandler recruited Jimi Hendrix.
1/31/1956 (Holloway, London)
John Lydon met Simon Ritchie in London. They would often busk, playing Alice Cooper covers, people giving them money to stop. John gave Simon the nickname “Sid Vicious” after John’s pet hamster. On December 21, 1988, John was booked to be on Pan-American flight 103 from London to New York. He missed the flight because his wife hadn’t packed in time. The plane crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, victim to a terrorist bomb.
12/25/1957 (Penbury, Kent)
During a Clash gig at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in October 1976, Shane was photographed in the front row bleeding profusely from his ear, apparently having been bitten. The pictures appeared in NME under the timeless headline: “CANNIBALISM AT CLASH GIG.” Legend has a priest finding Shane passed out on the altar, completely naked, painted black from head to toe. “The whole family had me lined up for the priesthood because I was a very encouraging kid,” he once said. “Up to the time I got to 11, I was seriously considering it. I saw how priests live. Free house, free booze — and the beauty of a Mass.”
7/30/1958 (Bexleyheath, Kent)
Wuthering Heights was the first time a woman had reached No 1 in the UK with a self-written song. Outkast’s Big Boi is a huge fan: he once spent a month in England “just to find her.” They eventually met during the Before the Dawn shows. “I talked to her and [we] drank some wine and it was just fucking incredible,” he said. Tupac Shakur was also reportedly a fan. Elton John claimed that “Don’t Give Up,” Bush’s duet with Peter Gabriel, saved his life while he was in the depths of cocaine addiction.
8/7/1958 (Worksop, Nottinghamshire)
Iron Maiden’s “human air raid siren.” Aggrieved by a bad sound mix at a 1983 festival in Germany, Bruce expressed his displeasure by pissing on the mixing desk. He once recorded a cover of Alice Cooper’s “(I Want To Be) Elected” with Mr. Bean as part of a Comic Relief project. It made the top 10 in the U.K.
5/22/1959 (Davyhulme, Lancashire)
Steven Patrick Morrissey and Johnny Marr met at a Patti Smith show in Manchester. Marr told his future bandmate: “You’ve got a funny voice.”
1/4/1960 (Decatur, GA)
“That’s when Wendell Gee Takes a tug upon the string That held the line of trees Behind the house he lived in He was reared to give respect But somewhere down the line, he chose To whistle as the wind blows And whistle as the wind blows through the leaves.
He had a dream one night That the tree had lost its middle So he built a trunk of chicken wire To try to hold it up But the wire, the wire turned to lizard skin And when he climbed inside,
There wasn’t even time to say Goodbye to Wendell Gee So whistle as the wind blows Whistle as the wind blows with me, and If the wind were colors And if the air could speak Then whistle as the wind blows And whistle as the wind blows (gonna miss you, boy)”
Bono’s investment company, Elevation Partners, was once named the “worst investor in America” by 24/7 Wall Street for a series of “disastrous investments.” In 2010, he acquired a 1.5 percent stake in Facebook. That small percentage is estimated to be worth nearly $1 billion.
2/13/1961 (Washington, DC)
Henry Rollins joined Black Flag when the vocalist at the time, Dez Cadena, was switching to guitar. At a bar show, the band invited Henry on stage for an impromptu audition during “Clocked In.” They were so impressed with his stage show that they asked him to join. He did, reluctantly at first, and acted as a roadie for the rest of the tour, learning the songs from the side of the stage. Now, Henry travels, and does occasional speaking tours where he shows photographs and talks about the places he’s been.
2/6/1962 (Lafayette, IN)
William Bruce Rose, Jr.’s mother was just 16 years old when he was born. His father left in 1964, and was killed soon after by a criminal acquaintance. His mother married Stephen Bailey, and they changed his name to William Bruce Bailey. He thought Bailey was his biological father until he found out about his biological father from insurance papers he found. A young habitual criminal in Lafayette, he left for Los Angeles in 1982, where he formed a band called AXL. He legally changed his name, and formed Hollywood Rose with Izzy Stradlin. In 1983, they merged with a band called L.A. Guns to form Guns N’ Roses.
11/6/1964 (Brooklyn, NY)
“It’s not like [Living Colour] didn’t get some recognition for our work. It was really weird playing because all they wanted to do was put us with Fishbone or [24–7] Spyz and make that a thing. But we had just as much in common with them as we did with Primus or the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers but they didn’t want to hear that, which was really telling as to where the country still is. Ain’t shit changed at all.” [Laughs]
12/23/1964 (Evanston, IL)
Eddie Vedder wrote “Better Man” for a 5th Grade English Class Assignment. He received a B+ as the teacher said it “was a downer kind of song.”
5/17/1965 (New Castle, PA)
NIN were invited to perform at the 25th anniversary of Woodstock in 1994. Trent recalled: “We got there the night before, and that rave was going on. I’m glad I saw it. We slept on the bus. The next day, a power line had fallen on the bus and there was voltage going through the bus while we were on it. I went back to the bunks: ‘Guys, don’t panic, but try not to touch any metal. There is a lot of voltage going through the bus right now.’ I walk to the front of the bus, and I see fucking Crosby, Stills, and Nash looking in, and a sea of cameras, seeing me in my underpants. Hi everybody! That was the most nerve-wracking day of my life. But that changed things for us a lot, in terms of brand-name recognition.”
Björk cited Sir David Attenborough as her biggest musical influence, saying she “identified with his thirst for exploring new and wild territories.”
October 27, 1967 (San Jose, CA) — 12/3/2015 (Bloomington, MN)
During the Stone Temple Pilots’ Core tour (before cell phones), Weiland didn’t tell anyone he was getting off the bus to buy cigarettes and use the restroom. His bandmates left him behind as they headed south. “We were halfway to Florida and word got around to our tour manager that he wasn’t there. We had to go back and get him when we realized he wasn’t on the bus,” remembers guitarist Dean DeLeo. Weiland went home with a store clerk and sat on the guy’s trailer porch for hours, waiting for his band to find him. “He was really rattled. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it’s kind of funny now looking back.”