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Readers’ Poll: The Best Vocal Performances in Rock History

Your picks included ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’

Readers' Poll: What's the greatest vocal performance in rock history?

Michael Putland/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; David Redfern/Redferns

A great vocal performance can elevate an otherwise standard song to amazing heights. Imagine the Who's "Love Reign O'er Me" sung by anybody other than Roger Daltrey or "River Deep, Mountain High" sung by some run-of-the-mill soul singer. It just wouldn't work. If you need any evidence, search YouTube for Audioslave's attempts to perform Rage Against the Machine numbers; Chris Cornell is amazing, but "Bulls on Parade" cannot work without Zack de la Rocha.

Last week, we asked you to vote on your favorite vocal performances in rock history. Click through to see the results. 

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3. The Beatles, ‘Twist and Shout’

John Lennon's voice was practically fried the night they recorded "Twist and Shout." He had a bad cold and producer George Martin knew they didn't have much time to nail down the vocal. Lennon gargled milk and took a cough drop before stepping into the booth and delivered his throat-shredding take on the Isley Brothers' classic. "That song nearly killed me," Lennon said. "My voice wasn't the same for a long time after; every time I swallowed, it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it, because I could sing better than that, but now it doesn't bother me."

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2. Pink Floyd, ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’

Pink Floyd had been tinkering with "The Great Gig in the Sky" for a long time before they finally brought in a female vocalist to sing over what they originally conceived as an instrumental. "I went in, put the headphones on, and started going 'Ooh-aah, baby, baby – yeah, yeah, yeah,'" recalled singer Clare Torry. "They said, 'No, no – we don't want that. If we wanted that, we'd have got Doris Troy.' They said, 'Try some longer notes,' so I started doing that a bit." Over just three takes, Torry wailed over Richard Wright's piano work, pretending her voice was an instrument. The group was thrilled with the results, even though Torry wasn't so sure she did a good job. In 2004, she sued the band, claiming she should have a cowriting credit on the song. They settled the suit, and all pressings of the album now list Wright/Torry as the songwriters. 

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1. Queen, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Only Freddie Mercury could effortlessly sell lyrics like "Scaramouch, scaramouch/ Will you do the fandango?" He's also one of the few artists capable of cooking up such a fantastically complex and bizarre song. It took shape over a number of years, and the band spend weeks recording it. They pushed all the technological limitations of the day practically to breaking point, and the result is a six-minute mini-opera that defied the skeptics and became a huge radio hit. Drummer Roger Taylor hits many of the high notes during the opera portion of the song, but it's really Freddie who carries the vocals. It's the ultimate showcase for his tremendous vocal range and the band's crowning achievement.