If you want to start a friendly fight, ask your friends and otherwise who their favorite rock singers are. You’re sure to hear the usual suspects – Elvis Presley, Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Rod Stewart and others tossed into the ring. What about Brian Wilson or Carl Wilson? Otis Redding? Wilson Pickett?
What if your tastes lean toward hard rock or heavy metal? Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson is way up there on my list. And I would say that AC/DC’s Bon Scott had the most singular and powerful rock and roll voice of all.
But there are so many great singers that would probably be left out. Some well-known, some not so. Others are just taken for granted. Here’s my starting Top 10 list of great and underrated rock singers that deserve a second look and listen. This is not a complete list – stay tuned for more (and more and more).
1. Richard Manuel – The Band had the proverbial embarrassment of vocal riches, with Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel all able to step up to the mic and put their stamp on a tune. But it’s Manuel’s emotion-studded singing that does it for me. I love the way his voice strains on “Whispering Pines.”
2. Gary Louris – The ex-Jayhawks’ singer has a pure and beautiful voice that reminds me of wind blowing through a summer field before a rainfall. One of Louris’ side projects is Golden Smog – a super group of sorts. I remember seeing them play live on the streets of St. Paul, MN, back in the mid-90s, on the heels of their excellent debut album Down By The Old Mainstream. This song, “Won’t Be Coming Home,” was a highlight and a sample of Louris’ greatness.
3. Robin Zander – Amazing range and style. From the start, Zander could light it up and burn on tunes such as “Hot Love” and “Clock Strikes Ten” or pull back and sing like an angel on “Mandocello” and “Voices.”
4. Steve Walsh – Why Steve Walsh doesn’t get immediate mention among the greatest rock singers is beyond me. He sounds like no one else, and can do amazing things with a song. Best known as the voice of Kansas, Walsh also has been an in-demand studio man. One of my favorite Walsh performances is on Steve Hackett’s “Racing In A,” from Please Don’t Touch.
5. Frank Dimino – The lead singer for Angel is, in my book, the most underrated rock vocalist of all. Dimino is a natural, with great vibrato and presentation – a singer’s singer. He’s a monster on ballads or bruisers. Check him out on “Sunday Morning,” from Angel’s awesome debut.
6. Brian Danter – You may not know the name, but Brian Danter gets my vote for the most amazing voice in rock. Danter was the front man for Canada’s Teaze, a four-piece hard-rock outfit that tried to make a run in the late 1970s, just as disco was taking over the world. Danter possesses an extraordinary voice with a seemingly limitless range. To hear him belt out “Heartless World,” from Teaze’s One Night Stands album is to hear the sound of glass the second before it shatters. Track down the vinyl LP and be amazed. (No sound clip. Sorry.)
7. Phil Mogg – Through countless lineup changes, one thing has remained the same for British rockers UFO – the voice of Phil Mogg. His rough-and-tumble delivery helped form the spine of countless UFO classics, including “Mother Mary,” “Electric Phase” and “Shoot Shoot.” The perfect mix of grit and emotion. Mogg rules.
8. John Wetton – Wetton’s earthy vocals made him in demand for such legendary groups as King Crimson, Uriah Heep, U.K. and Asia. That he could handle each challenge speaks volumes about his ability and sensibility. Let’s listen to Wetton on “In The Dead Of Night,” a standout track from U.K.’s self-titled debut album. Oh yeah, he‘s a phenomenal bassist, too.
9. Jeff Lynne – Too often Jeff Lynne’s studio wizardry, songwriting and arrangements overshadow his amazing voice. How does he hit those notes? My favorite Lynne performance is “Eldorado,” from the namesake album. It’s like a mini-opera.
10. Gregg Allman – Granted, Gregg Allman doesn’t have the multi-octave range that other rock singers do, but he has an undeniable fire and soul in his voice. And his phrasing is phenomenal. After all the tragedy that has befallen the Allman Brothers, and considering Gregg’s recent long recovery from Hepatitis, the opening track, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” from Eat A Peach seems even more of a statement of purpose. It doesn’t get better than this my friends.