||This article possibly contains original research. (January 2010)|
The lead vocalist or lead vocal (or lead singer) is the member of a band who sings the main solo vocal portions of a song. The lead vocalist may also play one or more instruments, and is usually the "leader" of their group, often the spokesman in interviews and before the public. The lead vocalist is sometimes referred to as the frontman.
In certain types of music, notably soul and rock'n'roll, there is a line-up of a lead vocalist with a named group of backing vocalists (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Bill Haley & His Comets). Such line-ups can be very fluid, with both the lead vocalist and the backing group pursuing independent careers; and frequent personnel changes are not uncommon. While members of backing bands were often replaceable, the lead singer would be regarded as having a more marketable name and would have to hire or fire backing musicians at will. Cases of backing bands "defecting" to rival vocalists were rarer, but did happen on occasion as seen by Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Ambiguous lead vocalists
Some rock groups, such as Cream, Linkin Park, The Libertines, Alkaline Trio, Hollywood Undead, Less Than Jake, Jefferson Airplane, Eagles, Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, KISS, Blink-182, Hüsker Dü, They Might Be Giants, The Monkees, The Moody Blues, Mushroomhead, and Barenaked Ladies have or had more than one featured vocalist, making it difficult to establish a single "lead singer" or "front man."
Other bands, such as Queen, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Clash, The Doors, Oasis, Depeche Mode, Guns N' Roses, System of a Down, Avenged Sevenfold, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Wings, The Cars, Styx, Status Quo, Animal Collective, and Crosby, Stills & Nash had, in addition to the designated "lead singer", one or more members who provided significant lead vocals in the course of the group's career.
While the lead vocalist often defines the group's image and personality to the general public, several bands, such as AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Alice in Chains, INXS, Boston, Three Days Grace and Helloween have changed lead singers and maintained the original band name and, to some extent, identity. Other bands such as Fleetwood Mac, Escape the Fate, Underoath, Journey, Judas Priest, Genesis, Anthrax, Rainbow, Rage Against the Machine, Misfits and Black Sabbath have gone in an almost completely different musical direction with the arrival of a new vocalist.
The lead vocalist of a band is sometimes called the frontman or frontwoman. This term "frontman" refers to being the most visible performer in a group, who is often, but not always, also the band's leader and spokesperson. While lead vocalists or spokespersons for any musical ensembles can be called a frontman, the term is used very widely in rock music. Since the position commonly has an expanded role from simple lead vocalists, there have been cases in which the frontman for a band is someone other than the lead vocalist. For example, while the lead vocalist for the band Fall Out Boy is guitarist Patrick Stump, the bassist and lyrics writer, Pete Wentz, is generally called the frontman, both in the media and by the band members themselves, since he represents the band in most interviews and contributes most to the band's image in the popular media. Additionally, Dave Clark of The Dave Clark Five was the group's drummer, not the main vocalist (this role was fulfilled by Mike Smith). Another example is Angus Young of AC/DC, who is the band's lead guitarist, and co-leader with his brother Malcolm Young; while lead singer Brian Johnson (and before him Bon Scott) is the band's frontman, Angus Young can be thought to share the frontman position with Johnson, due to his on-stage antics and his role as the band's mascot, frequently featuring on album covers and promotional materials.
An example of a band with two lead vocalists is The Libertines, whose members Pete Doherty and Carl Barat sing lead vocals on an equal number of songs on an album; these two singers are also considered frontmen for the band. Pink Floyd also can be considered a band with two frontmen, as both the guitarist David Gilmour and the bassist Roger Waters sang and wrote most of the songs. In the beginning of the band's career, however, Pink Floyd's frontman and guitarist was Syd Barrett, who left the band in 1968.
In several bands (such as Led Zeppelin, Queen and Oasis) the lead guitarist may share spokesman responsibilities with the lead singer. Usually, this is derived from that guitarist's specific role as a co-songwriter, co-founder and/or co-vocalist. The normal configuration of The Who follows this pattern. Also in some cases, there are two frontmen, such as Underoath, with singers Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie (drummer) sharing vocal duties. Another example is Blink-182, in which vocal duties are split between bassist Mark Hoppus and guitarist Tom DeLonge. Hoppus usually carries out most media either by himself or together with DeLonge, while the band's other member, drummer Travis Barker usually remains quiet. Linkin Park has two vocalists as well, Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda, both considered as frontmen. Another example is the thrash metal band Metallica, in which James Hetfield (lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist) and Lars Ulrich (drummer) share the spokesperson duties for being both founders and the only members who have never left the band.