Readers' Poll: The 10 Greatest Rock & Roll Rebels - Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Greatest Rock & Roll Rebels

Your picks include Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan and Axl Rose

Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones

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Rock & roll is supposedly all about rebellion, but it seems like many rock stars didn't get the memo. They're too busy marketing their new fashion lines, playing corporate gigs or selling their songs to pharmaceutical companies. We recently ran a list of our favorite rock rebels, then let our readers vote on their favorites. The 10 people you selected have all pushed boundaries and refused to conform. Some were even willing to destroy their careers in the process. Click through to see the results. 


David Bowie Ziggy Stardust

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10. David Bowie

A huge part of being a rock rebel is the willingness to defy audience expectations, even when such moves threaten your career. David Bowie has spent the last 45 years doing that. He killed off his Ziggy Stardust character at the height of his glam fame. He released a Philly soul LP when most of his followers were diehard rock fans. He made weird, noncommercial music in Berlin, and then toured as Iggy Pop's keyboardist in clubs when he could have been packing arenas on his own. But his most recent move was his most rebellious: a decade of silence and seclusion, followed by a surprise album he refused to promote with a single interview or live performance. The move meant that his album The Next Day went tumbling down the charts not long after it came out, but it's hard to imagine that Bowie cared that much. 

Axl Rose of Guns 'N Roses

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9. Axl Rose

A lot of rock stars pose as rebels, then do whatever they can to maximize their income. Axl Rose is the real deal. He put Guns N' Roses on a long hiatus after a huge stadium tour in 1993, then parted ways with every original member of the band. He could have spent the entire 1990s playing alongside Slash and Duff, earning enough money to buy a medium-sized country. Instead, he went into seclusion and emerged with a new Guns N' Roses. It had a member of the Replacements on bass and a dude who wears a KFC bucket on his head.

The fans wanted Slash onstage. Axl instructed the club to not even let him inside. The fans want a reunion. Axl called Slash "a cancer" and wouldn't even show up at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. He's also fast to take a swing at anyone who pisses him off, from the paparazzi to Tommy Hilfiger. He has no problem taking the stage after midnight, and when the press asks about this, he gets upset and blames Slash. In all likelihood, he'll go to his grave without ever playing with the old lineup again, regardless of how much money that costs him. He might be in need of serious therapy and medication, but he's definitely a rebel. 

Frank Zappa

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8. Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa absolutely loved making music, but he never cared much about selling records. The only song in his catalog that even resembles a hit is "Valley Girl," a 1982 duet with his 14-year-old daughter Moon Unit Zappa. The rest of his career was spent recording songs like "Don't Eat Yellow Snow," "Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus" and other songs that would never be enjoyed outside of his massive cult.

He wasn't even afraid to speak out against religion or censorship, even sparring with Tipper Gore and the other members of the Parents Music Resource Center in 1985. "What if the next bunch of Washington wives demands a large yellow 'J' on all material written or performed by Jews?" he said. "In order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?" He died of prostate cancer in 1993, but he recorded countless hours of music that his growing cult will pour over for decades to come. 

John Lennon

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7. John Lennon

He was the Beatle who caused a firestorm when he said the group was "bigger than Jesus." He insisted that Yoko Ono sit alongside him in the recording studio, even when a car accident forced her to bring in a bed. They later posed naked together on an album cover. He fought the Vietnam War to the point that the Nixon administration actually tried to deport him. He then totally walked away from his music career for five years to raise his newborn son. John Lennon could have played by the rules in the 1970s by releasing regular albums and launching big-money tours where he played old Beatle hits, but he had absolutely no interest in doing that. He played by his own rules until the very, very end. 

Johnny Cash

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6. Johnny Cash

On 1955's "Folsom Prison Blues," Johnny Cash sang, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." Those were bold lines for Eisenhower-era America, but Cash was just starting to break the rules. He played country songs that appealed to rock fans. He made a movie about Jesus, featuring his wife June Carter Cash playing the role of Mary Magdalene. (Few biblical scholars knew that Mary spoke with a Southern accent.) The man consumed enough prescription drugs to make Rush Limbaugh blush, and passionately defended Bob Dylan when the folkies said he sold out. He was a man of contradictions and the only country singer of all time who could credibly cover Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage," Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" and Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus." 

Iggy Pop of Iggy and the Stooges

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5. Iggy Pop

Long before Marilyn Manson, Ziggy Stardust and even Alice Cooper, there was Iggy Pop, the crazed alter-ego of James Newell Osterberg, Jr. Iggy had no problem cutting his chest open with glass, diving headfirst into crowds (only occasionally dislocating his shoulder in the process) and releasing album after album that didn't have a tiny chance of landing a song on the radio. He was playing punk 10 years before it was cool or even had a name, and partied so hard in the 1970s that he wound up in a mental asylum.

Sure, he appears in John Varvatos ads now and does private gigs for sunglass companies and Fashion Week, but he can make anything seem cool. Besides, he didn't earn any money back in the day and he deserves this now. Also, his music is so noncommercial that he even sang in French on his last solo album. 

Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones

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4. Keith Richards

A couple of years ago, Keith Richards wanted nothing more than to see the Rolling Stones return to the road. Sure, the last tour nearly ended when he fell out a coconut tree in Fiji and cracked his head open, but the band is his life and they'd been gone for too many years. But then he released his memoir, Life, which contained countless jabs at Mick Jagger – the only man on the planet with the power to bring the Stones back to life. Mick was livid beyond belief (particularly over the line about his "tiny todger"), but Keith couldn't help himself. He's always spoken his mind and done exactly what he wanted, consequences be damned. Somehow or another, he always manages to get by. He got caught with heroin in the late 1970s, and his only punishment was doing a concert for the blind. As a character in Wayne's World 2 said, "Keith cannot be killed by conventional weapons."

Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine

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3. Zack de la Rocha

David Bowie and Axl Rose might be reclusive, but they seem like Darius Rucker in comparison to Zack de la Rocha. The Rage Against the Machine frontman almost never talks to the press, and when he does speak onstage, it's some of the most radical shit you can imagine. "If the same laws were applied to U.S. presidents as were applied to the Nazis after World War II, every single one of them, every last rich white one of them from Truman on, would've been hung to death and shot," he said at Coachella in 2007. "And this current administration is no exception. . . This whole rotten system has become so vicious and cruel that in order to sustain itself, it needs to destroy entire countries and profit from their reconstruction in order to survive." The guy is so extreme, he thinks Jimmy Carter should be not just hung, but hung and shot. He also refuses to record any new Rage records, move forward on a solo project or release a full-length album from his other band One Day as a Lion. We have no idea what he does all day, but it's probably pretty rebellious. 

Bob Dylan

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2. Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan was a rebel before anybody even knew his name. Prior to the release of his first album, he told Columbia's press people that he was a runaway who spent his childhood working at a traveling carnival. He wrote the greatest protest songs ever created, but then quickly moved away from them near the height of the Civil Rights Movement. He plugged in at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and spend the next year playing incredibly loud rock & roll shows to crowds full of booing folkies. He made a country album at the peak of the psychedelic era, and 10 years after that, made a gospel album and went on a tour featuring just that material. In recent years, he appeared in commercials for Victoria's Secret and the Cadillac Escalade. Simply put, he doesn't give a fuck and he never does what anyone expects. 

Jim Morrison of The Doors

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1. Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison was so rebellious that he's been dead for 42 years and he still won this poll in a landslide. In September 1967, right after "Light My Fire" hit the top of the charts, the group went on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform "Light My Fire." The producers told them to not sing the line "Girl we couldn't get much higher." Accounts vary as to whether or not they actually agreed to this, but on the live broadcast, Morrison definitely sang that line. They were banned from the show, which basically played to every living room in the country.

It was a costly move, but Morrison was just getting started. He was the original Axl Rose, showing up late for gigs and taunting the crowd when he did show up. People have been debating for decades what actually happened in Miami in 1969, but even if he didn't reveal his penis, he certainly taunted the police until they arrested him. Moves like that really damaged the band, but Morrison seemed not to care. He died in Paris in 1971, but some fans refuse to believe that and they're holding out hope he's going to re-emerge some day. 

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