Building a Supergroup: Lead Singer
Imagine it: our group has just capped off a near-17-minute jam session in which Ginger Baker, kicking off with a swinging jazz beat in some crazy 12/8 time-signature emphasizing the off-beat, was accompanied by runs that only John Paul Jones can manage for that insane length of time, and Clapton, building and flourishing with bluesy fills in the only-Eric-Clapton Woman Tone, riffed the way for a mind-numbing Hendrix solo. Who wouldn’t like to hear that? Yet, what would come after?
Even the longest and best instrumentals can become tedious time and time again. Great bands like The Grateful Dead, Cream or Led Zeppelin often followed long jams with shorter, soulful classics or original “radio friendly” songs that have become pillars of rock. A lead singer, a good frontman (or frontwoman) can make anything sound good. Very often in music, songs are forgotten until a mercurial singer covers it and makes history and there are dozens of examples. “Piece of My Heart” was originally recorded by Erma Franklin but can anyone readily think of a version aside from Janis Joplin’s? Other songs that were hits in their own right have been reborn by the soul infused into them like Eddie Vedder’s version of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” or Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.”
Though it’s not the intent of this article to downplay songwriting in any way, the lyrics and structure of a song often become secondary to the singer. A lead singer is the personality, face, and voice of a band, and choosing a lead singer for this group was by far the hardest choice to make. There are simultaneously very few and very many great lead singers to choose from and more fruitless than anything else is trying to rank lead singers. Roger Daltrey and Ann Wilson defy comparison but both were fantastic in their respective primes (just listen to Heart’s Little Queen). Choosing the lead singer for this Supergroup meant picking someone whose vocals would fit with the genre of music we’re hinting at: a jazzy blues-rock voice with soul. And it’s a tall order.
The “winner” might surprise you because, despite being (arguably) the most famous name in rock music, his vocals aren’t often associated with our type of music. All the same, I think we have a compelling case to round out the greatest band never assembled.
You knew this was coming. Everything we’ve described has all signs pointing towards Plant: experimental, bluesy, unique, and definitive. Plant has been wholly unable to divorce himself from Led Zeppelin (much like his former bandmates) and that’s OK. He’s done some terrific solo work, put out a very good album with country and bluegrass singer Allison Krauss, and has continued to be very Robert Plant-like with The Sensational Space Shifters.
When one thinks of an iconic rock and roll frontman, it’s hard to get Mick’s pelvis-gyrating image out of one’s head. You might be tired of the Rolling Stones, but there is a reason the band has been around since 1962. Allow that to sink in for a moment. The Rolling Stones have persisted largely because of Mick Jagger. Many of their songs, written by Jagger and Keith Richards, have nearly become commercial property at this point because they’re just that good. Whether it was Mick Taylor (the best Stones guitarist, many might say), Ronnie Wood, or Brian Jones opposite Richards, the Stones have never wavered. Jagger’s personality and voice have become interchangeable with the words “front-man” and he, as much as Elvis Presley, is responsible for bringing black music to the forefront of pop.
One-fourth of the Beatles and one-half of the most famous songwriting duo (Lennon-McCartney) in all of rock history, John Winston Lennon is not the most obvious choice for a Supergroup’s front-man, though the case is not hard to make. Lennon added the bluesy, more melocoly counterpoint to Paul McCartney’s often bright, major-chord songs. Though he’s arguably the most recognizable member of the world’s still-most recognizable rock group, Lennon was understated as a front-man. Though lead singers often define one’s thoughts of a band, a cult of personality can often develop around him or her and that makes true evaluation of a lead singer’s skill difficult. Jim Morrison, for example, was The Doors just as Eddie Vedder is Pearl Jam. Lennon had a shy, sarcastic personality that, in his later years, defied the rock-god adulation one comes to expect from a lead singer. While “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” might not seem a good fit for the band we’ve built around him, here are a few examples (one example includes another band member, Eric Clapton) that might just persuade you into believing that John Lennon is the perfect choice to sing and play alongside Hendrix, Clapton, Jones, and Baker because he is versatile, understated, and an unmatched talent.
After a brief intro with our Runner-Up, a very young Mick Jagger, where we get a glimpse at Lennon’s sardonic humor, you should be all but convinced we’ve got our man.
A classic with The Beatles
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