The Man Behind the Voice

Music has been an influential part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up listening to classic rock ‘n’ roll in the car, played Guitar Hero and Rock Band on my Xbox 360 and later learned to play guitar and bass to participate in bands. After learning the basics of musicianship, I took it to the next level by participating in Rock Camp and Kidstock through the River Music Experience in Davenport. Putting yourself on a stage and performing with other people is when you really feel the passion come to life. Performing takes the love for music to a whole new level that is incomparable to anything else. After seeing Freddie Mercury’s captivating performances in the new Bohemian Rhapsody movie that came out this month, (which I absolutely loved and would 100% recommend) I was inspired to dive deeper into the lives of some of my favorite, talented and inspirational male singers who have shaped history through the power of their stories, music and performances. (Don’t worry ladies, our female legends will be in another article TBA!)

 

1. Freddie Mercury

british 90s GIFThe man, the myth, the legend. It’s Freddie Mercury. With his impressive 4 octave vocal range and flamboyant stage presence, he always rocked his audiences and left them wanting more. If you don’t have all the words to “Bohemian Rhapsody” memorized from singing it on the bus ride to a marching band competition or some other spontaneous moment of breaking out in song with a group of friends, then you’re missing out. This song debuted on their album A Night at the Opera which was a huge risk. It was different than anything else done in rock music at the time. These leaps in music, however, are what changed the world one note at a time. Where would music be without a few risks here and there by some unforgettable musicians? Queen was one of those courageous bands and produced  numerous amounts of iconic songs. Unfortunately, we lost Freddie at the young age of 45 to complications with AIDS. He lived in a time when AIDS did not have a treatment and being bisexual was not as openly accepted. None of this stopped him from making his dreams a reality and leaving his heart out on the stage for all of his fans. He always said,

“The most important thing is to live a fabulous life. As long as it’s fabulous, I don’t care how long it is.” 

Freddie was honored on April 20th, 1992 at Wembley Stadium by a send off 5 months after his passing. This performance is a must see moment in history featuring Elton John and Axl Rose: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i26406_EldM

 

2. Robert Plant

led zeppelin GIF I have a “whole lotta love” for Led Zeppelin’s singer Robert Plant. When I think of a distinct voice that can be recognized within seconds, I think of his. This could very well be because I listen to “Stairway to Heaven” on loop along with any other classics on their Mothership album, but that’s beside the point. Plant truly captures the essence of being a musician. He conveys emotion through his dynamic contrasts in their folk style tunes, utilizes his roots with some gritty vocals in the blues and can let it all out in a powerful wail with his amazing vocal range for their heavy metal tunes. Whether it’s the blues, metal or classic rock, Zeppelin’s got it covered. There’s something great about them as a band that cannot quite be explained or replicated. All four of these British men work together harmoniously to create something more than just music recorded in a studio. Their stellar work, and Plant as their fierce leader, cause them to be powerful innovators in rock history that many bands, still to this day, reference when gettin’ ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

Even Plant hooked up for a gig with Queen at one point, so here’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55PbgeeqCpY

 

3. John Lennon

the beatles GIFAll of The Beatles were heartthrob sensations back in the 60s and 70s and, who are we kidding, they still are, but one of them in particular deserves the spotlight. John Lennon was a big social and musical influence in history promoting peace, love and happiness especially with his song “Imagine.” In times of trouble or distress, the world has always been able to take comfort and refuge in his music. Having the capability to reach out to so many different people through music is truly priceless and gave him the touch of a true visionary. He also had a deep passion for his wife, Yoko Ono, which led to their combined effort of promoting what he felt were problems in the world: hypocrisy and insecurity. What a better way to address this issue than appearing nude on his album cover for Two Virgins? Well, in his defense, he felt that people needed to be accepting of others’ decisions and be aware that it is not their place to tell others what to do. He stated,

    “If everyone practiced being themselves instead of pretending to be what they aren’t, there would be peace.”

December 8th, however, did not reflect much peace in his life. When he and Yoko returned to the Dakota from the recording studio, Lennon was shot dead by an obsessed fan who wanted his fame. This, unfortunately, is not uncommon with celebrities and most of the time people like Lennon don’t even necessarily want the fame. They are happy to be doing something they are passionate about and just want to share that with others. I personally did not realize the impact of John Lennon alone on society because I was so caught up in Beatlemania, but now that I have taken the time to scrape the surface of his influence, I realize that we are lucky to have had someone who was so ahead of their time and passionate about life.

Freddie Mercury did a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and it is definitely worth a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71UCu-6Z5bw

 

4. Brendon Urie

panic at the disco GIF by AMAs Recently, I would say that Brendon Urie has become increasingly popular with his band Panic! At the Disco. I will admit, I did not start listening to their music in its entirety until my boyfriend got us tickets to see them in concert this past summer. What blew my mind was that the second I started listening to his music, I was hooked. Not only was I hooked, but I was thoroughly impressed with his vocal range and variety of genres and styles (like a pop version of Led Zeppelin). You can listen to their music for hours and not get tired or bored from it because you don’t know what to expect next (perfect for mowing the lawn or going for a run). In addition to being ultra talented, he has a genuine personality when talking to his fans at concerts or on social media and an incredible stage presence. I mean, he did a back tuck off of a platform after playing a pretty sick drum solo. When he came out as pansexual, he became a role model and icon for many to take comfort in and look up to. Not only has he overcome that adversity, but he has also struggled with ADHD, anxiety and depression due to the stressors of fame. In spite of these factors, he has had “High Hopes” since day one and is the epitome of setting goals and shooting for the stars.

For an incredible cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” click on the link below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jl6oJTB4TpA

 

5. David Bowie

david bowie blue jean GIF This creative genius, David Bowie, is known as a “musical chameleon,” but he defined himself more as a writer and actor due to his entrancing stage performances as he changed from character to character seamlessly. He is also known for doing what he wanted to do and setting no boundaries for himself. He was the driving force for the glam rock era. Just think about it, KISS would not be who they became if it wasn’t for Bowie. But he didn’t stop there, Bowie liked to jump around from genre to genre which makes sense considering his life mottos was,

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

He certainly kept his promise. One of his first peaks was with a song we all know and love, “Space Oddity” which just so happened to be released the same time as the televised Apollo 11 space launch. He was so unpredictable, what could be next? The biggest thing that stuck out to me was his character. I read one quote that told me everything I needed to know about him. He stated, “Marrying my wife. That’s the most successful thing I ever did in my life… Nothing else counts.” Get you a man like David Bowie.

When we lost Bowie, it was shortly after the release of his album, Blackstar, which is now known as his parting gift to the world. One thing I noticed that he and Freddie Mercury had in common was that neither of them told the world that they were dying. They kept it in a close circle because they weren’t looking for sympathy. They were just looking to keep doing what they loved, performing and making music. It doesn't get more genuine than that.

On that note, here are these two great stage performers together singing “Under Pressure”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoDh_gHDvkk

 

6. Geddy Lee

See the source imageI like to think of Geddy Lee as the “Master of Multitasking.” If you’ve ever listened to a song by the band Rush, you know they play very complex pieces and the singer has one of the most distinct voices in rock and roll. Well, imagine playing those complex bass riffs while singing over top and adding foot pedals into the mix. Yeah. That’s a handful and a half if I do say so myself, but Geddy Lee handles it like a pro. My bass teacher told me a story about an interview he saw where someone asked how he did it. He replied, “Well, I either find an exit sign in the back of the crowd or I just find a cute girl in the front row, whatever works.” That’s some pretty great advice, dude. Despite being called “a Led Zeppelin knock off band” and having complaints about their songs being too long, they carried a loyal fan base through it all. Due to this dedicated "cult" of fans, they were determined to never hire extra band members because they would rather struggle to make the magic happen live at concerts then have help. This kind of fan dedication is uncanny and shows how genuine these guys are.

Finding a clip with members from Rush and Queen was a little hard to come by, but what I did find is a musical masterpiece. This video comes from something called Rock Aid which is a later version of Live Aid that you can see in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie. They brought various musicians together to record “Smoke on the Water” and you can see Brian May and Roger Taylor from Queen along with Alex Lifeson from Rush. I also recommend reading through some of the comments because they have some nice info and insight which I found was a fun time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tsw3nKDlBE

 

7. "Weird Al" Yankovic

weird al yankovic GIF Now for something completely different, we’ve got our parody king, “Weird Al” Yankovic. I’ll never forget the day I became low key obsessed with Weird Al. It was at a trivia night. “Hello, nerd alert!” Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I’m so glad I was there because learning all of his classics was a blast and they have been a part of my go-to playlist ever since. More importantly, the parodies he makes are not only catchy, but they make sense. They make so much sense that I actually know his versions better than some of the originals! His modifications are cleverly crafted and saturated with satire. To some degree, this requires more skill than the writing a song from scratch. He does, however, respect the original songs’ owners by always asking permission to use their song. This is brilliant because by having Weird Al do a cover of your song, it will automatically bring more popularity to the song the parody is based on. This, in effect, is a win-win scenario for both artists.

Did I mention he plays accordion? Here lies a classic, “Another One Rides the Bus” where you can check out that sweet accordion sound of his: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZkouut-9RQ

 

8. Michael Jackson

michael jackson moonwalk GIF“The King of Pop” sure was a “Thriller” when it came to his amazing performances. He stole the hearts of many as a 6 year old kiddo in The Jackson 5 and continued to wow audiences for the rest of his days as a solo artist. His percussive singing style will forever be his own and no one will ever be able to moonwalk like this “Smooth Criminal." In between the lines of his life, however, we can see a different side of this extraordinary man; the side that struggled. Michael Jackson is one of the most well known people to have suffered from vitiligo. This skin disease caused him to have white patches on his skin. He chose to hide these imperfections with makeup and his signature glove that was perfect for catching his quick hand movements.  He was a perfectionist in everything he did, so it was only natural for him to want his appearance to be perfect as well. This led him to having various surgeries giving him the appearance we remember. Dealing with something as hard as this when you have cameras on you all day, everyday can be very stressful especially when people start judging and criticizing you for it. This had an impact on his appearances in public and turning to drug use. He ended his career with being the most awarded artist of all time, Thriller being the best selling album of all time, and his funeral being one of the most watched television broadcasts in history.

To reminisce upon the great lives of Michael and Freddie, here is an audio recording of them performing “There Must Be More to Life Than This”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkcdSj4qBWU

 

9. Elvis Presley

elvis presley dancing GIF by Hollywood SuiteWhen reflecting upon the 20th century, Elvis can be considered one of the most influential and generous icons of that era. I mean, you don’t get called “The King of Rock & Roll” for nothin’. He created a style of music called rockabilly which basically combined elements from rock ‘n’ roll and country into one genre. Not only was he influential to the era, but specifically to the teen culture. They were buying his albums, changing their hairstyles and wardrobes and doing anything they could to be different from their parents’ generation. You could say he was a bit of a trend setter. Elvis added a vibe to the 50s only he and his swiveling hips were capable of. He was daring and different and proud of it. Once the British Invasion hit, however, the spotlight slowly moved from him to The Beatles and The Stones. This sent Elvis into a depression which caused him to let himself go to the point where he eventually passed from a heart attack which was uncommon for his age. “The King” may not be with us anymore, but he still rocks on in our hearts and his distinct, “Uh-huh-huh” along with his giving heart will never be forgotten.

Queen’s cover of “Jailhouse Rock" sure seems like a crowd pleaser to me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bf00FoksBs

 

I had a lot of fun writing this article because it gave me an excuse to learn so much more about some great male front men in history through researching and talking to friends and family about things they know and experienced. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together. 

So, that’s all, folks.

Thank you for reading, thank you very much.