This ain’t no hoedown. This is all about the ability to musically throw down. It’s tough to define exactly what a rock star is, but at their essence, they are really talented celebrities who are just cooler than everyone else. It’s nearly impossible to narrow down a list like this, so once again, we chose to rely on the infallible, Goliath algorithm. It’s always growing, changing, accepting new information into its data bank, and thus, there is no denying variable. That’s why there’s a comments section for residual sound off. Now, let’s pay homage.
10. Chuck Berry
Would rock ‘n’ roll have become rock ‘n’ roll without Chuck Berry? Chuck Berry was so instrumental to the future of rock music, his most famous jam was played in the 1985 classic, Back to The Future. He was even referenced during the famous scene that featured Marty McFly six-string-wailing to “Johnny B. Goode.” If Elvis was the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Chuck Berry was his daddy. And it wasn’t a lack of talent that prevented Chuck Berry from taking over the musical world, or the fact that he was a black man playing during the civil rights era…it was the fact that he carried a reputation of being difficult to work with, a sex fiend, and unaccommodating as a performer. Sure, it’s understandable he probably hated being paraded around for studios full of white people, but some of his legal troubles? Damn.
9. Michael Balzary
Wait. Who is Michael Balzary? You probably know him by his stage name: Flea. This list isn’t reserved for vocalists, be they frontmen or frontwomen. There are few rock stars who are as legendary as Flea, and he is still at the top of his game. What makes Flea such an incredible rocker is his musicality and musicianship. He can pretty much do anything with the bass guitar, but he was once considered a potential virtuoso on the trumpet. And who else could make playing in your tighty-whities so cool? Let’s take this a step further. What has Flea done with some of his free time in the 21st century? He has put together some epic bass guitar tutorials, and uploaded them to YouTube in an effort to encourage more people to pick up an instrument and learn to play.
8. Pete Townshend
Who comes after the bassist other than the lead guitarist? There are a lot of people who might argue the rock god status, and chain of command regarding guitar gods, but again, this isn’t that list. And for anyone arguing that no guitarist should be on this list if it’s not Jimmy Page…well…Jimmy Page stole a lot of riffs. We’re giving Pete his ultimate due as a rock star who is still rocking! Imagine rock ‘n’ roll without Pete Townshend and The Who. Pete made thrashing cool. People with afflictions had someone to call their hero. And before the death of Keith Moon (on drums), it seemed like The Who might actually tear the world down and reconstruct it. One of the greatest things about Pete was his seemingly aloof persona. Then to see what he turned into on stage? All rockers bow in reverence.
7. Ann Wilson
Oh yeah, there’s a sweet honey on this list. And not because we’re shooting for more diversity in the world of rock. There are several women who have been great rock stars, and fronted some pretty badass bands. Joan Jett comes to mind. But Joan simply didn’t have Ann’s pipes. Ann is one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. There is no one on this list who can out-sing Ann Wilson. That’s how good she is vocally. Some might be able to out-scream her, but when it comes to all vocalists fronting rock bands, few have come close to Ann Wilson. Chris Cornell is close, and he’s certainly worth an honorable mention, but other females in the realm of rock ‘n’ roll…? Nope. The true test is a live performance. For anyone who hasn’t seen her, she still lays the good wood every time out.
6. Robert Plant
What can be said about Robert Plant that hasn’t already been said? Everything Led Zeppelin did was next level. Their peers were making similar music, but Robert, Jimmy, John and John took rock ‘n’ roll in a different direction, and they opened the door to the idea of hard rock with substance. Led Zeppelin also “borrowed” a lot of their music from lesser-known musicians who were steeped in southern rock and blues. The band has paid out more than a few settlements for biting other people’s work. This is the black eye of Zeppelin, because the fact remains: everything they took, they improved upon. Their musicianship is second to none in the rock world, and that holds true to this day. Back to Robert: he is often imitated (poorly), and never duplicated. There may not be a more unique voice in all of music.
5. John Lennon
It is easy to imagine John living beyond 1980, and The Beatles getting back together at least once before George passed in 2001. John was a fascinating specimen from Liverpool. It’s not a city known for people who—to borrow a German phrase—are born near the river. Meaning he was a sensitive fella. Still, any Lennon fan knows that John had a healthy edge and ego. For many years, he set it aside to work with his fellow Beatles, when hindsight would suggest it was a small miracle they played together for as long as they did. John was that guy who injected a soft side into the world of rock ‘n’ roll, and earned his legend status for more than his music. He was eloquent and intelligent and challenged listeners. And he was assassinated. What is more rock ‘n’ roll than a tragic, untimely death?
4. Paul McCartney
Paul belongs next to his brother Beatle, and the greatest rock band in the history of music deserves two people on this list. Paul has enjoyed a lasting legacy as a member of Wings, and simply throwing down as a solo artist. Paul brought a headiness to rock ‘n’ roll, and a musical approach that was inspired by the masters. We’re talking Bach, Beethoven, Mozart: those masters. Paul also threw down when it came to the most rock-inspired vocals. A simple listen to “Hey Jude,” and you’ve got one of the greatest rock ballads of all time. (Most Beatles fans will know that Paul actually wrote the song as “Hey Jules,” for John’s son, Julian, when John and Cynthia divorced.) Paul’s rock star bottom line: is it possible to see a Rickenbacker bass guitar, and not think of him?
3. Jimi Hendrix
The 27 Club has claimed too many rock stars. Jimi Hendrix was one of the early members. Considering Jimi Hendrix at the time of his death, the guy was looking closer to 45. His legacy and influence at that point—he was 27—was already so vast that there was little else he could probably do to further music due to his drug abuse. That’s the sad aspect of rockers like Jimi, they milk themselves dry before they can ever actually hit a prime. Jimi Hendrix was quintessential rock ‘n’ roll. He did some time in the military, gigged around as a backing musician, then melted people’s minds and faces with progressive guitar style (not to be confused with prog rock, people).
2. David Bowie
David’s recent passing, and the rock star manner in which he left this earth, thrust him to #2. Call it an emotional pick if you must, but that is part of the algorithm. Looking back at his career, David Bowie is precisely what an aspiring rock star should consider as paradigm. He pushed the envelope. Created persona. Created attitude. At his essence, he was a true creative and a master storyteller. If there is one thing we have lost in the contemporary era of rock music, it is some people who can tell some great stories that aren’t autobiographical. David’s music also inherently lends itself to a cinematic experience. Listening to any of his vast and varied options will help to create scenes within the brain space. A perfect example: The use of “Starman” in the Oscar nominated film The Martian.
1. Elvis Presley
Is this too obvious? He is known as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but setting aside many nicknames that were offered to this inexplicable force, Elvis was gonna do Elvis. He was who he was. Music aside, he was otherworldly. The confidence. The style. The charm. He was another example of someone who was probably from another planet, and couldn’t cope with humanity’s lack of understanding. It’s truly fascinating, the cult of celebrity…or as one underrated rock star (Corey Glover) once sang it, “the cult of personality.” Elvis was a single man whose mere presence was able to send people into a metaphysical state. If you talk to a lot of people who saw him live, they don’t even remember what happened at the show. Women swooned. Men impersonated. When he died, fans wept like they lost a child. And his fan base is still growing.