Roger Daltrey of the Who certainly belongs alongside Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Ozzy Osbourne, and the like on the Rock Frontmen Mt. Rushmore. So when he comes out and says there aren’t any real lead singers out there any more, we have to at least consider the idea.
In a conversation with the Associated Press, Daltrey dismissed the lot of current singers, especially those who show up on network television. “A lot of the new people they choose on shows like American Idol and things like that — I don’t ever hear lead singers,” Daltrey said. “They always seem to choose to pick people that are great singers, fabulous singers, but they’ve never got the voice that makes a great lead singer.”
Daltrey noted that these younger acts lack the distinction possessed by some of his great peers. “You hear 10 seconds of Rod Stewart, you know it’s Rod Stewart,” he explained. “Ten seconds of Mick Jagger, that’s Mick Jagger. Ten seconds of Eddie Vedder, you know that’s Eddie.” He also allowed that Adele is “the real deal.”
There’s a lot to unpack there, so why don’t we take some time out to watch seven minutes of Daltrey screaming in between David Caruso saying pithy things on CSI: Miami.
OK, now that we have that out of our systems, let’s take a look at what Daltrey is saying.
His primary complaint seems to be with the types of people who accomplish big things on American Idol and the like, and he might not be wrong. While Kelly Clarkson certainly has the sort of voice that fills a room and front a band, most of the winners from the past few seasons have lacked that compelling je ne sais quoi that makes people translate their television-watching to album-buying — a bridge that sometimes seems impossible to cross.
While people like Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, and David Cook are certainly talented, they don’t necessarily own the sorts of voices that Daltrey (or Jagger or Vedder) have used to both express their lyrics and also command large rooms full of adoring fans. It’s sort of unfair to compare people you’re only just being introduced to on a television show to Rod Stewart (because not only is Stewart great, but he’s also been in the public eye for over four decades; over that amount of time, even Crystal Bowersox would be able to make an impression), but the sentiment comes across.
But let’s pretend for a second here that Daltrey is saying that there aren’t any great frontmen, because he might not be wrong about that either. Daltrey is specifically talking about voices in his complaint, but there’s a real dearth of people who are able to incorporate everything a frontman does.
The era that Daltrey came from, when unfettered vocalists stalked stages across the world, is long gone. The idea of approaching the frontman position like Freddie Mercury or David Lee Roth became so passé for a while that it never quite made its way back. It’s a difficult gig (just look at how instantly terrible Van Halen became with Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone at the helm instead of Roth), and it’s often overplayed a bit. Is there any doubt that the support for Guns N’ Roses’ entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is rooted in memories of when Axl Rose was an absolute monster on stadium stages?
There are certainly a number of people who combine vocal chops with enough presence to compel tens of thousands of people at a time. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong comes to mind; though he certainly doesn’t have the throat of a Plant or even that guy from Wolfmother, he knows showmanship.
Coldplay’s Chris Martin would probably qualify for this plateau as well, and he gets bonus points because, like any great legend, he’s super-polarizing (that’s the Bono School of Frontman Science). Jim James from My Morning Jacket seems like he’s growing in both vocal signature and onstage stature, and as soon as No Doubt get back on the road, Gwen Stefani will be the best bandleader working.
Of course, none of these people hold a candle to Roth, who could probably front the Starland Vocal Band and still make it feel like the greatest night in the history of rock.
Who do you think are among the best band frontmen — or women — today? And can any of them hold a candle to Daltrey and his peers? And who is the greatest frontman of all time (other than DLR)? Sound off in the comments!
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