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The Freedom of Music: The Front Men (and Women) of Rock

September 5th, 2010

freedom-of-music-header

One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Gibson Guitars had a list of the top 50 front men (and women) of all time on their webpage. Actually, they had two lists: one put together by Josh Todd of Buckcherry, Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and Ric Olsen of Berlin, plus staff at Gibson.com. The other list was chosen by readers. Here’s the top 10 of each list:

sidebar-7Gibson

1.Mick Jagger
2. Freddie Mercury
3. Robert Plant
4. Elvis
5. James Brown
6. Jimi Hendrix
7. Michael Jackson
8. Roger Daltrey
9. Prince
10. Jim Morrison

Readers

1. Freddie Mercury
2. Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
3. Marc Bolan
4. Bon Scott
5. Robert Plant
6. Brian Johnson
7. Mick Jagger
8. Bono
9. Robin Zander
10. Elvis

We can pick and natter about the list, and ultimately that’s what these lists are for. So lets:

Really? Freddie Mercury is pretty much the undisputed best? Really?? While the “experts” pick Jagger, the readers placed him well enough down the list to make Freddie indisputable. One suspects however that too many fans think of Mick circa 2005, or 1995, when he looked like a skeletal old man refusing to acknowledge his age. Longevity has it’s curses…

There is an argument to be made that Elvis wasn’t really a front man, he was the act. And if we are allowing guys like Elvis, why not Frank Sinatra? Could you make a list of front men, and not have Sinatra on the top 25, never mind the top 50? Hell, Neil Diamond is there. And not to pick on Elvis, the same questions apply to Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, Garth Brooks and, too a lesser degree, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elton John &tc….

And what’s this about Stephen Tyler being at #11 on the Gibson list and #22 on the fan list, yet Rod Stewart is #22 on the Gibson and doesn’t make the fan list? People don’t seem to realize how much Tyler copped Stewart’s Faces act. Oh, I know, I know, he copped Jagger not Stewart. Except other than looking kinda, sorta like Jagger, there is little comparison. He dresses more like an early 70’s Keith than Mick, but his stage stuff is all Stewart. The scarves hanging off the microphone, the dragging the mike stand around the stage. All Rod, before Aerosmith came along. Granted, Tyler uses silk scarves and Stewart football scarves, but that’s details. The point is, if Stephen Tyler is to be so high on the list (and don’t get me wrong, he belongs up there), then Faces era Stewart belongs in that neighbourhood.

Quibbles and Bits,however, as the dog is always saying when we argue philosophy (these discussions usually involve vodka). If Gibson readers think Freddie Mercury over Bruce Dickinson, then I’ll not argue. He wouldn’t top my list – and you know there’ll be a list – but then again, Bruce Dickinson? Not on my list.

Dickinson and Robin Zander. When I said top front men, did Bruce Dickinson and Robin Zander come to mind? Iron Maiden and Cheap Trick’s front men? Is Zander even Cheap Trick’s guy, wouldn’t Rick Neilson really qualify as Cheapest Trick? But lets face reality. A couple of fan web sites put fans on notice there was a readers poll and a “lets get Robin to the top of the list,” button. Even accounting for that, however, Marc Bolan? Who’d a thunk it?

For those who don’t know, Marc Bolan was the leader of T. Rex, although that was by no means his only band. T. Rex had a significant American hit with Bang a Gong. Bolan was their singer and guitar player, had male model good looks (in fact he did some modelling), the requisite big curly hair, and played a Les Paul on stage. He is credited with inventing Glam Rock, what we here in America tended to call Glitter. Think Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie, and you have Glam (or think Cherrie Currie dressing up as David Bowie in “The Runaway’s” and you’re there).

T. Rex released nine albums from 1970-1977, a decent output, to put it mildly. In fact, Bolan’s discography is impressive. In September 1977, however, Bolan was killed in a car crash, a passenger in a purple mini, in London. He was two weeks shy of being 30.

The thing is, I have never, ever, had somebody mention how good Marc Bolan is to me. In all the years, and all the music conversations, never once has his name even come up. It’s not a name that would have ever occurred to me. And to be clear, I’m not poo-poohing the idea that Bolan is the third best front man ever: I have no idea if he is or not. I have zero frame of reference.

Or at least I had no frame of reference. What did we do before the internet? Before YouTube?

Marc Bolan fan: Marc Bolan is the greatest.
me: Is he now?
Marc Bolan fan: Don’t argue with me, I’m telling you
me: Never seen ‘im.
Marc Bolan fan: Well you should check out… um…er…

But with YouTube, there he is, in full purple colour (the 70’s were incredible for music, but they really were a crime against fashion). He is more charismatic than athletic, all good looks and pretty smile. The physical manifestations of the job he leaves for others, the heavy Les Paul keeps him pretty rooted in spot. But for that, he’s not bad. I see what they are talking about, although he’s not about to make my list.


My list: you knew it was coming… here it is, my list of the top ten (plus some)front men (and women).

1. Roger Daltrey – he moved constantly, he had all that blonde curly hair. He had the most powerful voice in rock, and didn’t have trouble singing on stage. He would twirl his microphone by the cord sending it twenty feet in the air and during Who Are You he ran on the spot through the whole song. In Won’t Get Fooled Again he offered up the greatest scream in rock and roll, that counts here.

2. Mick Jagger – Not tired old guy circa now Mick Jagger, but the young Mick Jagger that preened and pranced. Pre 1980’s Mick who exuded sexuality out of every pore. Once he put on the knee pads it was pretty much over, but I’ll even give him the knee pads tour of 1981. Mick pretty much invented the genre and virtually everybody else is an imitator to one degree or another. He deserves to be much higher than seven.

3. Robert Plant – The best band in the world, bar none (even the dog doesn’t argue that point with me). By a long, long shot. Heads and shoulders above the next. So how low can their front man be? Not below 3, that’s how low.

4. Bruce Springsteen – Even now he fronts an energy packed band, never stopping, never seeming to breathe for two, two-and-a-half, three hours. If you’ve never seen him, it’s exhausting. And yet, those in the know will tell you he’s nothing compared to what he was in 1978.

5. Janis Joplin – Rent the DVD Festival Express and skip to Cry Baby. Those chills running up and down your spine, that’s why Janis Joplin is not just the token woman on this list.

6. Russel Mael – Every one who makes one of these lists, every critic needs their obscure, arty band to prove their bona fides: Sparks are mine.

7. Stephen Tyler – He really is good, no matter who did what first.

8. Alice Cooper – He hung himself, onstage, with mascara running down his face. He wore a boa constrictor for a necklace. He danced with a corpse, and with skeletons in top hat and tails (with walking sticks, naturally). That stuff counts for something.

9. Rod Sewart – Of the Faces, not of Do You Think I’m Sexy. He tied scarves around his mike, duct taped the mic to the stand and taught Stephen Tyler how it’s done – the tutu is a but much though.

10. Freddie Mercury – I have no frame of reference having never seen Queen live or watched any Queen concert footage, but if he’s #2 for the Gibson experts and #1 for their readers, that’s good enough for me.

10a. Elton John – The electric boots, the mohair suits: OK that technically isn’t Elton John, but he has worn both. Also, he has dressed by like Luis XIV, worn oversized glasses with windshield wipers on them and played Crocodile Rock on stage opposite a crocodile. At the end of the day, this is supposed to be entertainment.

10b. Ian Hunter – The shades, the rock star hair and cockney accent. Ian Hunter was still doing Glam in 1980, and getting away with it. You couldn’t get away with Glam in 1980.

10c. J.Geils – More fun on stage than anybody you have ever seen, that has to count for something.

10d. David Lee Roth – He can jump microphone high, and do the splits. He wore yellow jumpsuits. He once said, “I’m not like this because I’m a rock star; I’m a rock star because I’m like this.” Some people are born to be front men, some have front men-ish-ness thrust upon them. Diamond Dave is of the former.

10e. Bob Seger – Since we’re allowing Bruce Springsteen…
The most fun you will ever have at a concert.

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