Top 20 Rock Singers of All Time

Bruce Springsteen performing live in concert.

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Rock and roll music is many things to many people. Its earliest roots branch out to encompass a wide variety of genres that include everything from R&B and gospel to folk music and country and western.

As it evolved, rock music spawned its own vast array of sub-genres including folk rock, punk rock, glam rock, heavy metal, and grunge, to name only a few. As a result, a rock song can by anything from a power ballad to a screaming rant of dissent, a thought-provoking commentary to a joyous tune you just can’t help dancing to.

Since there’s no one definition of rock and roll, you’d think it might be hard to define what makes a great rock singer. Having a beautiful voice and being able to belt out a tune certainly have their place in most musical formats, but to be considered a truly memorable rock singer takes something more. Great rock singers deliver a message that makes listeners feel connected to the music. It’s not about the notes these singers hit, but rather the hearts and minds that they touch and the lasting impression (sometimes lifelong) they make. The following list showcases 20 of the best rock and roll singers of all time. 

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Robert Plant

Robert Plant performing on stage in 1975.

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While growing up in England, Robert Plant hid behind curtains and pretended to be Elvis Presley. In 1968, he joined the group Led Zeppelin after an audition in front of lead guitarist Jimmy Page. In the 1970s, he was acclaimed by many as the world's greatest rock vocalist. Led Zeppelin's certified album sales exceed 100 million. After the group broke up in 1980, Robert Plant embarked on a successful solo career.

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Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury performing on stage.

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Born and raised in Zanzibar and India, Freddie Mercury gained acclaim as the flamboyant frontman for the rock group Queen. He was the lead vocalist on such classic songs as "Bohemian Rhapsody," "We Are the Champions," and "Somebody To Love." Queen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Freddie Mercury died tragically from AIDS complications in 1991.

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Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger performing on a darkened stage.

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For the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, showmanship has always been just as important as his trademark voice. Childhood friends with guitarist Keith Richards, Jagger was heavily influenced during the group's formative years by American blues and rock and roll. Starting out in 1962, the Rolling Stones have been acclaimed as the "World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band" and celebrated more than 50 years as active performers. Nine of their albums have hit #1 on the U.S. charts.

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Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney performing live on stage.

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Paul McCartney proved himself a superb rock vocalist in the early days of the Beatles. However, it's his performances on such songs as "Helter Skelter" and "I'm Down" that showcase his abilities as a true rock screamer. His later work with Wings includes understated rock brilliance on songs like "Jet" and "Live and Let Die." Paul McCartney is credited with writing or co-writing 32 songs that reached #1 on the U.S. pop chart.

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Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin performs live on stage, black and white photograph.

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Janis Joplin's raw, soulful vocal style has made her one of the most legendary rock vocalists of all time. She first gained fame as the singer in the rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. However, she experienced even greater success as a solo artist. Sadly, she passed away in 1970 at age 27. Her single "Me and Bobby McGee" was a posthumous #1 hit.

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Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen in profile performing on a dark stage.

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Bruce Springsteen's trademark rugged voice is noted by many as a distinctively American rock sound. His songs center around the experience of the American working class. Bruce Springsteen has sold more than 120 million records worldwide. In 2009, he was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, and in 2016, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Axl Rose

Axl Rose performing on stage.

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Axl Rose's troubled road to fame began in Indiana, where his early years were less than ideal. He was arrested more than 20 times and served multiple jail terms. In 1982 at the age of 20, he moved to Los Angeles to seek a music career. He helped form Guns N' Roses in 1985, one of the most critically acclaimed rock bands of all time. Their debut album, "Appetite For Destruction," has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, and is the bestselling debut album of all time. In addition to his work with Guns N' Roses, Axl Rose began singing lead for AC/DC in 2016.

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Ann Wilson

Ann Wilson performing close up photo.

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Singer-songwriter Ann Wilson and her sister guitarist Nancy Wilson joined the band Heart in the early 1970s. They became one of the most successful Canadian bands of all time. Heart has sold over 20 million albums and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Ann Wilson released her first solo album "Hope & Glory" in 2007. In 2015, she embarked on a solo tour as "The Ann Wilson Thing."

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David Bowie

David Bowie singing on stage.

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David Bowie, one of the most influential rock vocalists of all time, stretched the boundaries of rock into both avant-garde and mainstream dance music territory and was known for continuous reinvention of his music and his image. David Bowie released his final studio album "Blackstar" to critical acclaim just two days before his death in 2016.

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Bob Dylan

Black and white photo of Bob Dylan performing.

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Some observers believe the distinctive croaking quality in Bob Dylan's sound might disqualify him as a top rock vocalist, but the passion he puts forth in such classics as "Like a Rolling Stone," "Just Like a Woman," and "Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man" more than makes up for a less than pretty voice. Bob Dylan is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016.

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Bono head shot full color photograph.

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U2's lead vocalist Bono was born Paul David Hewson. U2 has won 22 Grammy Awards and sold more than 150 million records worldwide. Their 1987 landmark album "Joshua Tree" produced two number-one U.S. singles: "With Or Without You" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Beyond his illustrious career as frontman for one of the world's most celebrated rock bands, Bono is a well-recognized philanthropist and is occasionally known to put his star power behind political causes.

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John Lennon

John Lennon looking at camera, full color photograph.

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Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney showed strong rock vocal chops with the Beatles and in their solo careers. Many consider John Lennon's lead performance on the Beatles' cover of "Twist and Shout" his all-time best with the band. Solo songs such as "Cold Turkey" and "Mother" present another side of Lennon's talent with a harrowing and evocative vocal style that remains haunting decades after his tragic shooting death in 1980.

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Neil Young

Neil Young playing guitar on stage.

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As a member of the groups Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young played a key role in the development of the late 1960s folk-rock scene. Later, with his own band, Crazy Horse, he began forging his own distinctive path with an unmistakable high tenor singing voice. Neil Young has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame both as a solo artist and a member of Buffalo Springfield.

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Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks at the microphone performing on stage.

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When Stevie Nicks and her boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham joined the English blues-rock group Fleetwood Mac in 1975, no one foresaw the legacy that would soon unfold. Fleetwood Mac went on to become one of the most acclaimed pop groups of all time. "Dreams," written and sung by Stevie Nicks, became the group's only number one pop single. As a solo artist, Stevie Nicks turned in a stronger rock direction and experienced significant success. Six of her solo albums have hit the top 10 on the album chart and her songs "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," "Stand Back," and "Edge of Seventeen" are considered rock classics.

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Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain singing and playing guitar on stage.

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Kurt Cobain is remembered as both leader of the rock band Nirvana and the face of the grunge rock movement that emerged from Seattle from the late 1980s through early 1990s. Cobain's deeply emotional vocals reveal the pain and frustration that accompanied much of his personal life. He died by suicide in 1994. Although they only released three studio albums, Nirvana sold over 25 million albums in the U.S. and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame their first year of eligibility.

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Roger Daltrey

Roger Daltry performing on stage with The Who.

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Shortly after The Who formed in the mid-1960s, Roger Daltrey asserted himself as the group's charismatic leader. As the group's popularity grew, he became less of a dominant figure and shared the spotlight with guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend. In addition to his vocal contributions to The Who, Daltrey also embarked, with some success, on an acting career and recorded a series of solo albums. The Who have sold over 100 million albums worldwide.

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Jim Morrison

Black and white promotional photograph of The Doors with singer Jim Morrison in front.

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Jim Morrison co-founded The Doors in 1965. Two years later, they hit number one on the pop charts with "Light My Fire." Jim Morrison was acclaimed as an iconic rebel among rock singers. He was also arrested for indecent exposure and attempting to incite riots at Doors live performances. Jim Morrison died at the age of 27 in Paris in March 1971.

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Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler singing on stage.

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Aerosmith's lead vocalist Steven Tyler credits seeing a Rolling Stones concert at age 17 as one of his life's most influential events. Aerosmith formed in 1970. In 1972, the band signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. In 1976, the group hit the Pop Top 10 with both "Dream On" and "Walk This Way." Since then, Aerosmith has become an iconic rock band with Steven Tyler's screaming vocals and flamboyant style of dress leading the way. The group has sold more than 150 million records worldwide.

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Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi singing on stage.

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Jon Bon Jovi grew up in New Jersey and has claimed to be a blood relative of Frank Sinatra. He joined the rock group Scandal briefly in 1983, but after receiving a recording contract the same year, he formed the group Bon Jovi.

Bon Jovi experienced a significant breakthrough with the 1986 number one hit album "Slippery When Wet" that includes the anthems "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Livin' on a Prayer." Bon Jovi has sold more than 130 million records worldwide. Jon Bon Jovi has also experienced solo success with his song "Blaze of Glory" hitting number one on U.S. pop charts.

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Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne singing on a dark stage.

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Early in his career, Ozzy Osbourne set the bar for every heavy metal vocalist to come as lead singer with Black Sabbath. After being fired from the group in 1979, he had a highly successful solo career and eventually rejoined the band, releasing the album "13" in 2013. Ozzy Osbourne credits the song "She Loves You" by the Beatles with inspiring his musical career.