The Top 20 Classic Rock Solo Artists

Paul McCartney 1973 Michael Putland Hulton Archive

Michael Putland-Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The rock and roll genre has celebrated a long and illustrious prominence in not only American culture but in music scenes around the world, but nothing was quite like the Classic Rock phase which includes music produced between 1960 and 1989 by artists that defined then later defied rock and roll, bringing with them a new culture of anti-establishmentarianism and punk rock.

Some of these great artists first gained fame as members of bands while a few started and stayed on their own in the genre, but all share an extraordinary degree of success in a genre that is dominated by groups.

Still, a number of solo artists managed to sustain illustrious careers with huge followings. The following list of the top 20 classic rock solo artists was compiled based on longevity of the performers, album sales, radio airplay, and their musical influence. Explore this list then read on to discover a bit more background on a few of the artists featured in it.

The Top 20 Classic Rock Solo Artists List

The following presents the best of rock and roll's solo artists that emerged between the 1960s and the early 1990s, qualifying their work as classic rock. Here are the top 20 classic rock solo artists:

  1. Paul McCartney
  2. Elton John
  3. John Lennon
  4. Bruce Springsteen
  5. Eric Clapton
  6. George Harrison
  7. Rod Steward
  8. Bob Dylan
  9. Jimi Hendrix
  10. Janis Joplin
  11. Phil Collins
  12. Alice Cooper
  13. Pat Benatar
  14. Eddie Money
  15. Robert Plant
  16. Frank Zappa
  17. Ted Nugent
  18. Peter Frampton
  19. Tom Petty
  20. Lou Reed

Backgrounds and Histories: Top 10

Paul McCartney claimed the title of the top classic rock solo artist because of his huge commercial success not only as a solo artist but as a member of the Beatles, and the "Guinness Book of World Records" named him as the most successful composer of the 20th Century. Fellow Beatles members John Lennon (3) and George Harrison (6) also enjoyed great success as solo artists.

Perhaps the most prolific songwriter on the list, Elton John ranks at number two in terms of longevity and album sales with over 35 years, 43 albums and 200-million albums sold throughout his career. Be sure to check out his compilation album " Greatest Hits 1970-2002" to get a ​feel of what this great musician can really do!

Eric Clapton's command of the guitar is legendary, and his role in groundbreaking groups like Cream, The Yardbirds, and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers has made him the only person to earn three inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, earning him the number 5 spot while Faces frontman Rod Stewart claimed the seventh slot on the list.

At number 8, Bob Dylan is regarded as one of the most influential songwriters of the rock generation, especially for his work on the album " Blonde On Blonde," whose tracks have been covered by innumerable artists over the years.

The last two members of the top 10 both died at 27. Jimi Hendrix claimed the ninth slot for his incredible electric guitar skills, though his career was cut short by his untimely death while Janis Joplin, whose powerful, raspy voice and explosive style was different from any other female rock artist’s also resulted in her death from a drug overdose at age 27.

Backgrounds and Histories: Top 11-20

After a successful career with Genesis, our number 11 top classic rock artist Phil Collins carved out an equally successful solo career and has been at the forefront of promoting the digital delivery of music as well as composing tracks for famous films like Disney's "Tarzan."

Alice Cooper, at number 12, was influenced musically by the British Invasion in the ‘60s, but added his own unique live performance antics, costumes, and makeup, creating the Shock Rock genre in the process while number 14 Eddie Money originally set out to become a police officer but ended up a rock star after his debut 1977 album earned great chart success.

The "tough girl" of rock and roll, Pat Benatar, claimed the 13th spot on the list for her rough persona and opera-trained voice, which resulted in her winning Grammys for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for four consecutive years.

Both Robert Plant, who defined the musical style of Led Zeppelin as its lead vocalist, and Frank Zappa, whose work reflected a wide range of expertise in various musical genres and instruments, were unique in their ability to create dynamic content while portraying themselves as crazy rock stars whose music had a point. In fact, Frank Zappa produced nearly 100 albums and was famous for the humor and satire involved in most of his tracks.

After establishing a solid fan base with the Amboy Dukes in the late 60s, Ted Nugent embarked on a solo career that resulted in sales of more than 35-million albums, while his personal life and politics have been a frequent source of controversy. Meanwhile, Peter Frampton emerged as a teen idol as a member of The Herd and Humble Pie, but Frampton's greatest success came as a solo artist when he broke through in 1976 with one of the most successful live albums ever, "Frampton Comes Alive!."

Rounding out our list of top 20 classic rock solo artists are Tom Petty at number 19 and Lou Reed at number 20. Tom Petty was an immediate hit in Britain in 1976 and a 10-time GRAMMY nominee who caught on in the U.S. in 1977 and, both alone and with his band the Heartbreakers has had chart success with every one of his albums. Reed, on the other hand, is considered the Godfather of Punk and has also influenced Alternative Rock with 30 solo albums, following a successful stint with Velvet Underground.