Rock’s Greatest Frontman

Who is Rock’s Greatest Frontman?

The question of who is Rock’s Greatest Frontman has taxed the minds of the finest academics across the land, and has been debated in some of the most important arenas including Cabinet Rooms, Parliament…

Milliband: “I tell the right honourable gentleman that Robbie Williams is the best”.
Cameron: “Calm down dear – Morrissey is clearly better…”

…Buckingham Palace, and not forgetting The Crooked Billet pub in my home town of Leigh on Sea.

“Those politicians know nothing – it’s got to be Lee Brilleaux…”

I have seen a few of the greats (he stealth-boasted): Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Axl Rose, Steven Tyler, Ozzy, Bono, Alice Cooper, Iggy, Dave Lee Roth, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet…(joke). I’d put Jarvis Cocker up there too. Humour and charisma are important.

The greatest frontman I ever saw however (and who had both the above qualities in spades) was Queen’s Freddie Mercury.

Freddie Mercury

And in my view he was leagues ahead of the competition – like Donald Bradman‘s batting average, or Mario Balotelli’s firework displays.

Shortly after One Vision capped Queen‘s triumph at Live Aid and confirmed there was life in the old dog yet (or poodle in Brian May‘s case) the newspapers announced Queen were playing a show at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 12th July 1986. Now a confirmed Queen fan – I had Live Killers from the library, taped Night at the Opera from a friend and had Works on LP – I posted a breathlessly excited cheque for £10 and camped out by the letterbox to wait for a ticket to float down onto the doormat.

Such was the demand, an extra date was hastily added for the Friday, and before too long my whistling postman was delivering me a Golden Ticket to Wembley. I was as pleased as a certain wife-beating, crocodile-terrorised baby-dropping 350-year old wooden puppet.

John Rowlands Mr Punch St Clement Danes The Strand

Someone wipe that smile off his face – he’s a wife beater! (picture from my Great Grandad John Rowland’s sketchbook)

I had arranged to meet a couple of school friends at the stadium – but quickly regretted not bringing a mobile phone – although I wasn’t too hard on myself – they had yet to be invented.* It turned out that finding a couple of friends in a crowd of 80,000 was going to be, if I may use my own neat simile, like finding a needle in a haystack.

I elbowed my way as far to the front as I could whilst Status Quo Caroline’d and Paper Plane’d their way through their support set. I wasn’t too worried about having missed an unknown Australian band first on the bill called Inks (spelt INXS for some reason). I reckoned they wouldn’t amount to much…

The thing about Freddie was that he wasn’t as good as people would have you believe. He was much, much better.

The subsequent performance remains one of the greatest rock gigs I have ever seen – even during Brian May’s ten minute guitar solo during Now I’m Here – a “highlight” of the show usually greeted by rapturous applause a flood of people heading to the bar.

Mercury was a phenomenon. I sang my lungs off to Love of My Life and at one point inflatable Kind of Magic style figures of the band floated off into the air above the adoring crowd. The whole of Wembley (including people in many of the surrounding houses I dare say) raised their hands as one during Radio GaGa. It was like a Religious Revival, only more fun and with much better tunes.

Freddie had such rapport with the crowd, effortlessly toying with us like Sachin Tendulkar might were he pitched against the Somerset under-ten’s cricket team (ladies division) – if you’ll forgive another cricketing analogy…

Freddie was full of energy, involving us at every turn, prowling the stage, thrusting out his chest and so on. I feel so fortunate to have seen the band and Freddie in particular at the peak of their success.

XFM recently held a “Greatest Frontmen” poll and Mercury placed second despite Queen not exactly being a regular on the indie-filled XFM playlist. Believe me, he was far more compelling a front man than the winner of the poll (Liam Gallagher) even allowing for their difference in style.

I’ll place Mick Jagger as my number two, and Steven Tyler not far behind, so you have my top three list.

What’s yours?

* More or less…

Record #41: Queen – Tie Your Mother Down – Live at Wembley Stadium 1986



Categories: Rock Music

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

32 replies

  1. I think you’d have to have Jim Morrison in the discussion somewhere. Didn’t seem him live, but I like to think that Light my Fire was playing in the background when I was conceived in 1967. Don’t really need confirmation of that, though.

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  2. while i’m not a queen fan in the least, i agree that he’s one of the best.

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  3. I have never had the fortune of seeing Queen live so I don’t have personal experience of Freddie Mercury. I will say the choice of Steve Tyler has definite merit, but for me, my all time favourite front man has to be Dee Snider from Twisted Sister. I’ve seen them 5 times and he has been fantastic, as was the rest of the band, each time.

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  4. Wow, how wonderful to have seen these acts… And Queen, I bow down to you, good sir…! Wow! 🙂

    Top three front men for me? That I’ve seen? Hmm… David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and I’m not sure who to say as the third… There are different people who are great for different reasons. Think the first comment about Jim Morrison would be pretty true… how amazing it would be to have seen The Doors back in the day… or Nirvana…

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  5. I echo a previous response: Queen are OK, but Freddie Mercury is by far the greatest front man. I tend to like bands without front men (e.g. Pink Floyd, Rush). The Beatles arguably had 4, but even all together not as good as Freddie (though I prefer their music to that of Queen). Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull deserves an honourable mention. (By the way, his latest solo album, Thick as a Brick 2, is getting rave revues and they are justified. I have a front-row ticket for 27 May.) Some things actually work and one gets used to them so it is hard to remember how bizarre they must have seemed at the time (Manager: We’ll call you “Elvis”; Mr. MacManus: “What?!”). Cast your mind back to the late 60s where groups like Cream (yes, three front men) and The Who (three front men plus John Entwistle) reign supreme, where macho instrumentalism (drum solos, anyone?) is the way to stardom. So, Ian Anderson becomes the front man of a rock group playing—the flute.

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  6. Not so much front men but musicians who do that bit extra in addition to being very good: Rick Wakeman, Neil Peart, Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, Eddie Van Halen.

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  7. While I started writing songs for bands, it took me a while to grasp the theatrical inspiration behind the English artists such as Bowie, Adam Ant, Pink Floyd, and Queen. The knowledge came in handy while writing for Queen though. It meant I could use many styles I grew up with that included Classical, Jazz, Flamenco, and Rock for inspiration. Freddie was not just a great frontman, but an extremely talented and kind hearted person.

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  8. Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Springsteen, Dio all are great front man.

    I don’t know what you mean per say as front man, but Jimmy Buffett has one helluva a stage presence. One of the greatest to lead an audience.

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    • Yes – Rob Halford is good. Don’t know Buffett – he’s unknown in the UK – except when they read out the list of highest earners on tour and everyone in the UK says “who?”…

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      • Check out some concert footage of him. It might not be your style of music, but you can see what energy he brings to a crowd – look up Margaritaville – his biggest hit.

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  9. “Which leaves you the question who’s the best Metal Front man? Ozzy? Dio? Dickinson? Hetfield? Snider? Axl?”-

    ANSWER: Bon Scott, of course!

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    • Good call – the nearest I got to seeing him was the Let There Be Rock DVD unfortunately….

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    • AC/DC metal? Surely you jest. I think they describe themselves as “rock and roll”, though with a bit broader definition than, say, Bill Haley. Personally, I would see them as hard rock. But not metal.

      Interesting question, though. What defines heavy metal? Keep in mind that there is probably more variation within heavy metal than within all the rest of music combined. Iron Maiden are the classic heavy-metal band, but I see more similarity with bands such as Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep etc—which everyone would call hard rock and not heavy metal—than with bands which are generally recognized as heavy metal. (This is not necessarily a contradiction. Somewhere just south of the Tropic of Cancer is in the tropics, but can be closer to some things in the temperate zone than things at the other side of the tropics.) And what about the Scorpions? Hard rock or heavy metal?

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      • See my post on The Tube Heavy Metal Special for Ozzy’s definition of heavy metal…(see index)

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      • Metal is the Alpha genre and it covers, oh, only about 250 sub-genres underneath it. Is AC/DC metal? I’ve always considered them a disco band with heavy guitars, the first true dance/rock crossover band! “Metal” is so subjective, as are most Alpha genres. Would you consider RUSH metal? I sure as hell would not. How about something a little harder, like S.O.D., DK’s, Anthrax, etc?

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  10. FREDDIE MERCURY forever & ever!!!

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  11. Freddie Mercury!! All the way 🙂

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  12. I’d personally rank Mercury behind Mick Jagger.

    Just the fact that Jagger pretty much invented the concept of frontman, he should already top the list. Not to mention that man was a bomb at his peak. He was a good as Mercury, only he was more important and influential.

    Then third wouldbe Rod Stewart and fouth Robert Plant. At least, in my book.

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