10 Unique Rock And Roll Singers That Sounded Like No One Else

10 Unique Rock And Roll Singers That Sounded Like No One Else

Photo: Photograph: Koen Suyk. In: Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 – negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang, bestanddeelnummer 928-9665, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pop music has always centered around vocalists, and we can go back to the earliest opera from the 1400s to see that audiences love good singing, tale-telling, and a charismatic person to deliver the goods and entertain. Rock and roll music was and is one of those styles that, along with blues and country and western music, allowed hopeful vocalists to sing naturally. This meant escaping opera and more proper influences that dominated radio in its heyday. The crooners and pop singers had their voices, but arrangements were straightforward compared to jazz and rural styles that were making waves in rural areas and showing up on “Race Record” charts.

Bing Crosby, for example, was the biggest singer in the early to mid-1930s. Still, Al Jolson, Rudy Vallee, and others also enjoyed enormous success as the record labels controlled the material for them to sing.  It would be after a strike in the early ’40s from practically every signed musician and their accompanying bands that finally released a little of the record companies’ iron fists and paved the way for some performers to begin composing and performing their material.

Frank Sinatra was the king, Nat King Cole was hot on his heels, Judy Garland was hugely popular, and many others were. But rock and roll began to flourish when singers who were not trained like the crooners started gaining ground.

Country artists like Hank Snow, Hank Williams, and Jimmie Rodgers, albeit from 20 years earlier in the late ’20s, and bluegrass from especially Bill Monroe and Flatts and Scruggs along with early R&B from Louis Jordan, Ike Turner, who recorded “Rocket 88”, regarded by many as the first rock and roll song was gaining ground quickly. Kids liked a more danceable beat. They wanted the guitars and drums and a much more spare attack.  They also liked how singers began to indeed come into their voices and add more individuality to their music. Elvis and Hank Williams were instantly recognizable, but Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, and others paved the way for new and exciting ways of self-musical expression.

This list is not attempting to list ten “favorites”—the legends and icons we all know about. Instead, it is a visit to singers who simply sound like nobody else ever, and nobody sounds quite like them, either. This is a list of the truly unique.

# 10 – Frankie Valli

The Four Seasons leader and lead singer was pretty serious competition for other U.S. bands, notably The Beach Boys, whom, during their song “Surfers Rule,” actually name-dropped The Four Seasons and assured Frankie that surfers do indeed rule, and “The Four Seasons better believe it.” How adequate that warning was, considering The Four Seasons was a New Jersey/NYC area band where surfing wasn’t nearly as popular, is unknown. What is known is that Frankie Valli possessed a falsetto of incredible range on hits like “Sherry” and “Walk Like A Man.” It was so catchy everybody noticed. They were featured in the movie The Jersey Boys, which is highly recommended.

# 9 – Roger Daltrey

Roger gets on this list because of two things. He has never had any singer come remotely close to sounding like him. His range is incredible, and he is the possessor of the greatest scream in rock and roll music history. You know what I’m talking about, that almost inhuman scream at the end of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” How he managed not to rip his vocal cords to shreds beats me, but that scream is unbeatable.

# 8 – Dan McCafferty of Nazareth

In the ’70s, Nazareth was a top-heavy rock act. Guitarist Manny Charlton wrote great riffs and hooks, and the band was unafraid to explore just about any style of music. They did quite a bit of covering songs, but given them such different workovers, it was almost impossible not to think the band themselves wrote them. However, Dan McCafferty was the rawest shrieking wounded puma-voiced singer at the helm.

Rod Stewart was gritty, but McCafferty sounded like he ate sand at every meal. Nonetheless, he hit the notes, not just hiding behind that voice as an excuse not to sing, and could also do more quiet material. However, his most caustic vocals are on Hair Of The Dog with the title track, “Love Hurts,” and a version of Nils Lofgren’s “Beggars Day” that will have your eardrums bleeding just listening to it.

# 7 – John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon

Punk woke some bands up. The AOR style, the sometimes sappy balladeering, and disco saw bands trying to cash in, and the punkers would have none of it. Most can agree The Ramones started the ball rolling at least in the US, but as far as universal impact, The Sex Pistols and their only album Never Mind The Bollocks was a landmine that featured what today is actually fairly safe guitar sounds and simple song structures, not that they aren’t great as such. Johnny Rotten, with the rotted teeth, snarl, bizarre barking voice, and a loathing for authority that made him quit when he realized he was just a product himself, had enough brains though and talent to survive with Public Image Ltd. and solo work. His high-pitched yip is still with us.

# 6 – Chrissie Hynde

I don’t know if The Pretenders leader is the greatest female rock and roller of all time, but she is on my list. Chrissie Hynde assembled The Pretenders in London and released the self-titled debut that quickly established them as a rock and roll force to be reckoned with. Her unusual vocal delivery with a slow vibrato but brilliant lyrics and music set her apart from all the competition. It was indeed a tragedy that guitarist extraordinaire James Honeyman-Scott would die from a heroin overdose after recording solos of astonishing brilliance, especially on “Kid,” only to be followed about four months later by bassist Pete Farndon by overdose as well.  However, she and drummer Martin Chambers remained, and she has been very successful with that alto vibrato and great songwriting ability.

# 5 – Lemmy Kilmister

If ever there was a loud, eardrum, splitting, gnarly band that could deliver the most punishing rock and roll ever, it was Motorhead. The band Motorhead got their name from Lemmy’s last album by the same name on a Hawkwind album. The self-titled debut sounded like rolling fully loaded trash cans down steep hills into a pile of shopping carts. But there was something that worked: the band had real chops, real blues swing, Fast Eddie Clarke’s guitar abuse that was again, very steeped in blues, and real good, too, and Lemmy’s patented uh, growl, gurgle, animal sounds or whatever guiding the band with his distorted bass, really tongue in cheek lyrics I won’t go anywhere near, and fury and delivery that would have stopped a Panzer tank division dead.

So it’s real rock and roll. The real McCoy and, as Lemmy growled once in an interview, “If you think you’re too old to rock and roll, you probably are.” The band recorded tons of albums and had several lineup changes, but with Lemmy in charge, it was always Motorhead.

# 4 – Tiny Tim

We mentioned Tiny, aka Herb Khoury, in an article previously. Still, while that article was dealing with the weird and wonderful, it deserves mention that Tiny Tim was, of course, like nobody else sound-wise, either. We think obviously of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” and his high-pitched vibrato/falsetto, but he had a tremendous vocal range and did metal tunes by AC/DC and covered Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. How well is a matter of taste?

# 3 – Robin Zander

Cheap Trick has been around since the mid-’70s, and the fourth album, At Budokan, a live album recorded in Japan, hit it big finally in the U.S. with their live version of “I Want You To Want Me.”  On this and other more pop songs like “How Are You?”, “Voices,” or “The Flame,” Zander croons with the best of them or chirps along to the beat. It’s the heavier stuff that reveals the man of 1000 voices. It took my buying Dream Police and then seeing Cheap Trick live shortly after that to see just how unbelievable Zander is.

Not particularly tall or husky, he has the chore of being poppy, edgy, or in the case of “Gonna Raise Hell,” “The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems),” “High Priest of Rhythmic Noise,” and others, of roaring like a full-grown Siberian tiger whose 10-pound steak dinner (raw) is being delivered late to his enclave. It is like listening almost to an impersonator, and Zander’s delivery is so varied without being a silly impersonator himself. Of all those on this list, he is the most powerful by far and will astonish you.

# 2 – Stevie Nicks

Between 1975 and 1977, the entire world fell in love with Stevie Nicks, except for some very jealous girlfriends. Stevie Nicks was that rare talent who had it all and could still separate from the crowd. Stevie Nicks had such a unique voice that straddled the line so tenderly between the sound of an angel and a witch. Between her beauty, talent, artistry, and unique vibrato and resonance, Stevie Nicks may just as well be the most distinctive female vocalist of all time.

# 1 – David Bowie

When it comes to uniqueness, David Bowie broke the mold. At least the rock and roll mold – I don’t know about Tiny Tim. People can try with all their might to adequately describe his overall music style, but only rock and roll with all its variety fits. It would take pages to express his contributions and influence on the world. Nobody ever came close to sounding like David Bowie; many tried to look like him but failed, and nobody ever came close to copping his music. Like the others on this list, he was not about to be manipulated, pressured, or threatened into being anything but himself, and his loss was indeed a great one.

Updated April 19, 2024

10 Unique Rock And Roll Singers That Sounded Like No One Else article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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