One of rock and roll’s smartest scribes once wrote, “It’s the singer not the song that makes the music move along.” How true. The frontman or frontwoman is the figurehead for the band, connecting the noise on stage with the crowds below. Whether it’s the result of vocal greatness, a cool look, insane dancing ability or just out-and-out charisma, the best frontmen enhance the music with their performances (while sometimes turning their bandmates into the “out of focus guys,” to quote Almost Famous). When you watch a great frontman, you simply can’t turn away.
In tribute to these legendary performers, Gibson.com is counting down the Top 50 Frontmen (and Frontwomen) of All Time – as voted on by the Gibson editorial and writing staff, some all-star musicians and most importantly, you, the readers. We’ve already unveiled #50-#41, #40-#31 and #30-21. And make sure you log on to Gibson.com on Friday, when the Top 10 Frontmen (and Frontwomen) of All Time are revealed!
20. Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses)
When Axl Rose first brought us to our collective “cha-na-na-na-na-na-knees” with 1987’s debut single “Welcome to the Jungle,” the world was introduced to one of rock’s all-time great frontmen. Much to the chagrin of the hordes of bedazzled lipstick-sporting pretty boys “manning” the mics of hair bands far and wide, Axl — with his plethora of tattoos, angry scowl, snake-like gyrations and preternaturally-gifted metal voice — single-handedly b****-slapped all pretenders straight back to their mamas’ ever-loving bosoms. – Sean Patrick Dooley
19. Bono (U2)
While he is a talented singer and charismatic performer, it’s Bono’s deep-well of sincere altruism that has allowed him to transcend the very definition of rock and roll frontman. As the focal point for the most successful band of the last 25 years, Bono is as comfortable occupying a single spotlight in front of 100,000 fans as he is chilling with the Pope, meeting with displaced refugees or lobbying world leaders for money. And that he does it all while rocking his ubiquitous multi-hued eyewear – now that’s cool personified. That’s a frontman! – Sean Patrick Dooley
18. Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
Even as he nears an unfathomable 70 years in age, Paul McCartney remains the ultimate showman. His combination of humor, musicianship and uncanny sense of just what the audience wants makes every Macca show an event. And somehow, he still has that unbelievable high ceiling of vocal power that makes “Helter Skelter” and “Live and Let Die” as potent today as when they were originally recorded. It doesn’t hurt that he has the greatest song catalogue ever composed at his disposal, either. – Michael Wright
17. Bruce Springsteen
Bruuuuce is rock and roll’s marathon runner, captivating audiences for hours at a time with his vivid lyrics, Jersey drawl and unrelenting intensity. He’s the ultimate performer-poet, a hybrid of Elvis and Dylan, spiked with a little bit o’ Stax soul. One of that rare breed who are completely at home on an arena stage, Springsteen proves it all night, every night – taking impromptu requests from the audience (“London Calling”? Sure. “Higher and Higher”? Why not?) and astounding crowds with his own rock epics, like “Rosalita” and “Badlands.” – Bryan Wawzenek
16. Iggy Pop (The Stooges)
Iggy Pop is pure energy. Shirtless and sweaty, wild and reckless, you never know what the guy is going to do next. There’s no plan, there’s just the moment. And whether that moment involves a jar of peanut butter or inviting the whole crowd on stage to dance to “No Fun,” Iggy always comes out looking like a genius. More than 40 years after the first Stooges record, he’s still got a heart full of napalm, as he shows new generations what real punk rock looks and sounds like. – Bryan Wawzenek
15. Johnny Cash
No voice in country or rock has ever been more distinctive than the voice of the late Johnny Cash. Blessed with a rich bass baritone that commanded authority, Cash presented an on-stage countenance as the ultimate renegade, and his ink-black wardrobe only added to that effect. During his performances, Cash’s rock-steady gaze and subtle turns-of-head bore the marks of a great choreographer. It’s hardly surprising that Cash was always at his best when doing prison shows. – Russell Hall
14. Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath)
There’s something not right about former (and future?) Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne. Right out of the gate in 1968, when Sabbath played their first note, Osbourne’s oddball antics – made legendary in his 2002-05 MTV reality show The Osbournes – became as much a part of his persona as his haunting singing voice. The English-born “Godfather of Heavy Metal” surrounds himself with top-rate musicians (including fellow Sabbath members Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi and Bill Ward), but it’s Osbourne who we can’t tear our eyes from. – Ellen Barnes
13. Tina Turner
The legs! The hair! The voice! Tina Turner is one of rock and roll’s most powerful women, blending R&B roots, girl-group pop and raucous rock into a manic cocktail. The controlled chaos of her stage presence – coupled with that “nice and rough” voice – has been hugely influential, and not only for female performers (Mick Jagger’s outsized stage persona was inspired by Turner’s). Tina turned out to be just as strong in her personal life, too, ditching her abusive husband Ike to rebuild herself as a solo artist – culminating in a multi-platinum album and decades of sold-out shows. – Bryan Wawzenek
12. David Bowie
From androgynous polymorph to rock star/space alien, David Bowie’s brand of theatrical rock broke the mold of what was expected – and accepted – from a rock and roll frontman. Always visually captivating with a penchant for unpredictable and, at times, ground-breaking music, Bowie’s flamboyant alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust, catapulted him from cult sensation to international superstar. His chameleon-like appearance has never failed to fascinate, making the enigmatic Bowie one of rock’s all-time great provocateurs. – Sean Patrick Dooley
11. Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)
Few frontmen have merged on-stage dynamism with a multi-faceted vocal style as effectively as Steven Tyler. As a vocalist, the Aerosmith frontman shifts easily between rapid-fire rapping, jazz-like scatting and blues-rock belting, all delivered in a serrated rasp that’s perfect for both full-on rockers and the occasional power ballad. On stage, Tyler is a whirling dervish prone to handstands, backward flips and other acrobatic moves. Those ever-present gypsy scarves dangling from his microphone are a nice touch, as well. – Russell Hall
Votes for the Top 50 Frontmen (and Frontwomen) of All Time were included from Michael Wright, Bryan Wawzenek, Andrew Vaughan, Sean Dooley, Arlen Roth, Russell Hall, Ted Drozdowski, Ellen Barnes, Paolo Bassotti, Josh Todd (Buckcherry), Chad Kroeger (Nickelback), Ric Olsen (Berlin) and the Gibson.com Readers Poll.