Well, this was never going to be an easy task, but we can use this as a platform to really discover who some of the best rock singers were, and are, from the 50s to now.
When it comes to rock, or more suitably, rock n roll music of the 1950’s, Australia was heavily dominated by UK performers. However, Sydney singer Johnny O’Keefe is really the only name that should be mentioned when finding the best rock singer of that decade. His success was unparalleled by any other Australian performer at the time, and he was the first to try and break into the American market.
This is when things started to really get interesting in Australia rock music. The second boom had kicked off, we were starting to see Russell Morris, Normie Rowe, and The Masters Apprentices. To be fair, the scene was mostly made up of immigrants from the UK and continental Europe. Still, they made the move to our big brown land, and we’ll always lovingly call Stevie Wright, an Aussie. His work with The Easybeats really set him on his way. Hits like, "She’s so Fine", "Sorry", "Friday On My Mind", and "Music Goes Round My Head" highlight his power and raw, unorthodox style, that would develop even further in the 70’s. The spark was there, he had it, and he was a legend.
Billy Thorpe, Stevie Wright, Ross Wilson, Jon English, Angry Anderson, Doc Neeson, Shirley Strachan, Jimmy Barnes, honestly we could be here a while debating who was the best rock singer of the 70’s, but for me, it has to be Bon Scott. Like Stevie Wright before him, he had a laconic, unorthodox singing style that lent it’s way to rock music. As a front man, I don’t think you could touch him. His lyrics were clever, cutting, and flat-out brilliant. For me, it’s a stand out win to Bon.
Now the Australia rock scene was well and truly established. Pub rock was thriving and rock radio was supporting local talent at the highest level. So how do you accurately decide who was the best rock singer of this decade? So many had distinctive styles that made them iconic, we really were spoilt for choice. Jimmy Barnes comes to mind straight away, for his work with Cold Chisel, but then also for a stellar solo career that launched and continues to this day. Doc Neeson gets another mention for being powerful, iconic, and unique. Same can be said for Peter Garrett, Nick Cave, Kim Salmon, Dave Faulkner, Dale Ryder, Jon Stevens... the 80’s were exceptional. However, for sheer impact, swagger, style, sex appeal, and uniqueness; Michael Hutchence and Chrissy Amphlett stand out.
My head goes into overdrive when thinking about this for the 1990’s. Phil Jamieson, Chris Cheney, Daniel Johns, Suze DeMarchi, Tex Perkins, TISM, Sarah McLeod, Andy McLean, Jay Whalley... again, Australian rock music was embraced and supported by all and sundry. Triple J, Triple M, music television shows, festivals, the 90’s were crazy good. So trying to pinpoint who stands out as the best, and let’s not forget Diesel and Jimmy Barnes are still in the mix. The best rock singer of the 1990’s has to be Suze DeMarchi from the Baby Animals. To this day sounds as good as ever, and her raspy tones drove me wild as a young fella growing up. Super powerful when needed, but Suzi has the versatility to be delicate, subtle, and beautiful. It’s that versatility that nails it for me.
There was a slight shift in dynamic in the 2000’s in Australia rock music, luckily we still had the bands formed in the 90’s going strong, but add to that bands like John Butler Trio, Little Birdy, The Vines, Jet, Mammal, End Of Fashion, Kisschasey, and things were looking pretty damn sweet. Picking the best rock singer of the 2000’s is a tough one, but due to sheer success and popularity, you’d have to say Nic Cester from Jet. But I’m not. I’m going with John Butler. His unique blues roots rock style is an absolute standout for me.
As always, hit us up in the comments, like I know you will, and share with us who you think the best rock singers from these decades was/is/will be.