Rock 'n' Roll icons: 16 artists who best embody the spirit of the genre

Here's a list of 15 artists who best embody the Rock 'n' Roll spirit. Scandalously, Joey Ramone (pictured) is only in the number 8 spot. That's just how tough it is to make these lists!
The Ramones
The Ramones / Gie Knaeps/GettyImages

Here is a fun list of the 16 artists who I think best represent Rock 'n' Roll. What does that mean? Well, it's not a list of the 13 greatest Rock 'n' Roll musicians, but of people who just seem to embody the spirit of the genre (or rock subgenre) they are known for. There's just something about them that screams, in their own unique way, "I have a unique place in rock history!" Oddly enough, overall commercial success isn't the primary theme here, or overt fame, but just something about their attitude and unique identifiable traits.

Some might be miffed by my exclusion of this artist or that, but here's the thing: There are plenty of musicians I like who just wouldn't make the top 16 list of those perfectly representing certain shades of Rock 'n' Roll. For example, my most controversial decision here may be the exclusion of Elvis Presley (in fact, someone who makes the cut was actually an Elvis superfan). My reasoning for excluding Elvis is simple: You can't truly be the "King of Rock 'n' Roll" if you never wrote your own songs. (If you want, you can just pretend he made the list — if that will make you happy, go for it.)

Surprisingly, I don't have anyone from the industrial or grunge genres, either. Some people just wound up on the chopping block compared to the others, because some just strike me as more iconic.

Also, keep in mind that this list is for fun, not meant to be taken too seriously. Any such list would be flawed, no matter who's doing it, and what rationale is employed. Some would make it all the usual suspects. Some would too frequently avoid mainstream picks, making the selections too intentionally obscure. I think I'm somewhere in the middle, while I must admit personal preference comes into play. Enjoy!

The list

16: Dick Valentine of Electric Six: I am already starting out with an unexpected, perhaps controversial choice, right? Still, this man and his band uniquely combines elements of rock, disco, and new wave, and are known for their high-energy performances and satirical lyrics. Dick Valentine represents a quirky appeal that is both genre-defining and genre-defying at the same time. Plus, the video to "Danger! High Voltage" has 10 million views, so enough people know about this band. Mr. Valentine makes the cut!

15. Mojo Nixon: I may be guilty of bringing Mojo up too often, but he fits on the list. Known for his humorous, irreverent, sometimes offensive songs, Mojo Nixon brought a satirical edge and country style to Rock 'n' Roll. He said his Holy Trinity was Elvis Presley, Foghorn Leghorn, and Otis Campbell, the town drunk from "Andy Griffith."

14. Siouxsie Sioux: In assessing who best represents goth rock, I decided upon the frontwoman of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Yes, I could have gone with the Cure's Robert Smith, but her dark, gothic style influenced post-punk and alternative rock, and I personally think her music has more edge than The Cure...more Rock 'n' Roll edge. Also, the YouTube video below has 155K likes, comparable to a video by The Rolling Stones. She's in the rock pantheon, baby!

Sure, it's a bit weird (possibly even sad) that her first recording in 9 years is a duet with Iggy Pop for an ice cream commercial, but whatever.

13. Wendy O. Williams: As the lead singer of The Plasmatics, Williams pushed the boundaries of punk rock with her provocative and often destructive stage acts. Who on earth would say Wendy O. Williams does not represent the Rock 'n' Roll attitude? No one would dare!
This happens to be my favorite Plasmatics song, even if not their wildest and craziest:

The original shock rocker!

12. Screamin' Jay Hawkins: With his theatrical horror-themed performances, Hawkins brought a unique, eerie flair to early Rock 'n' Roll, and is largely considered to be the first true shock rocker. He is known largely for "I Put A Spell On You," which is a great song, but it's a bit of a shame his other tracks are often so overlooked. Some of them are pretty funny.

11. Weird Al Yankovic: A master of musical parody, Weird Al has cleverly spoofed rock and pop songs for decades, bringing humor and satire into the genre. I considered adding Jack Black to this list, but I had to go with Weird Al as the king of comedy rock.

10. Alice Cooper: Pioneering shock rock, Cooper’s theatrical performances, and macabre themes added a new dimension to rock concerts. I considered placing him higher in the ranking, as he really did craft some influential tunes, but I have my reasons.

9. Lemmy: Motörhead's frontman, Lemmy's gruff voice and aggressive bass playing bridged the gap between rock and metal. How much does he represent the Rock 'n' Roll spirit? Well, I don't even listen to him all that much, yet I still knew he had to be on this list somewhere!

8. Joey Ramone: The lead singer of The Ramones, Joey's raw vocal style and the band's fast-paced songs defined the punk rock movement. In fact, if someone would place him (or anyone else in the Top 8) at the number one spot, I would understand.

Here's a stripped down, live version of their song "Do You Remember Rock N' Roll Radio?" Keep in mind: The studio version features piano, trumpet, horn, saxophone and synthesizer, and here all they use is bass, drums, 1 guitar, and Joey's voice, and they pull it off! Also, note the single note pseudo-guitar solo fill played by Johnny Ramone.

7. Tony Iommi: As Black Sabbath's guitarist, Iommi's heavy riffs helped create the blueprint for heavy metal, a crucial subgenre of rock. Yes, I know I could have gone with Ozzy Osbourne, and I assume many would, but Tony is the Riff-Master General (though his lead playing is underrated)! I'm not even an Ozzy-basher. Tony's just that good!

6. Frank Zappa: Known for his experimental approach, Zappa fused rock with jazz, classical, and avant-garde elements, pushing the boundaries of the genre. He was hugely influential, often brilliant in his social commentary and satire, had an instantly recognizable guitar style, and even had an iconic appearance. I don't even like every Zappa song, but he was so prolific that I still would have a tough time choosing my favorite Zappa track.

5. Little Richard: With his flamboyant performances and powerful voice, Little Richard was a pioneer of Rock 'n' Roll, influencing countless musicians. This is another artist I actually don't listen to very often (yeah, I know, it's a bit of a failure on my part), but that cannot stop me from putting him here. Why didn't he get placed higher on the list? Well, he famously "quit rock and roll" more than once. Still, it's a testament to his iconic status that, even though he publicly stopped rocking a few times, he's still on the list.

4. David Bowie: Bowie's ability to constantly reinvent himself, blending rock with various other genres, made him not only a "chameleon" but a trailblazer in Rock 'n' Roll.

3. Iggy Pop: Known for his wild stage antics and raw energy, Iggy Pop is considered the godfather of punk rock.

2. Mick Jagger: As the frontman of The Rolling Stones, Jagger's charismatic performances and distinctive voice epitomize rock's rebellious spirit. Granted, I was torn between him or Keith Richards, but I think he ultimately wins for the frontman cred.

1. Jimi Hendrix: A virtuoso guitarist who revolutionized electric guitar playing, Hendrix’s innovative use of feedback, whammy theatrics, the wah-wah, and distortion set new standards for rock music. He was a showman and a craftsman. If Jimi Hendrix doesn't represent the spirit of rock, then who does?

Look at those hippes dance!