Grand titles have long been a part of popular music, with countless numbers of artists and bands incorporating a royal or otherwise imposing element to their monikers. Honorifics aside (“The Prince Of Pop,” “The King,” “The Queen Of Soul,” or even “The Count Dracula Of Spectacular Vernacular”) here are ten notable examples. Which one deserves the top spot?
One of the great ‘forgotten’ 80s bands (now reformed), King enjoyed a run of hit singles in the UK, appearing on legendary TV show, The Old Grey Whistle Test and reaching the number two spot with “Love & Pride.” An old-school band who came up the hard way, King earned their moments in the sun, starting out with makeshift recording equipment and touring relentlessly.
Certainly one of the best-known examples on this list. Queen began life in the crowded late-70s heavy rock scene, though with charismatic frontman Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara) and mercurial guitarist Brian May, they were always going to stand out from the crowd. Mercury’s extraordinary four-octave vocal range, together with May’s distinctive sound, a powerhouse rhythm section and the band’s unique blending of rock, baroque flourishes and operative flavours propelled them to international stardom. From the mid-80s onwards, Queen moved further into pop territory, cementing their legacy with a triumphant set at Live Aid.
A contemporary contender, gender-fluid king/queen Stephen/Cassandra, who performs as Emperors, was discovered and mentored by no less than Killing Joke bassist, Youth, at a psychedelic art exhibit in Whitechapel. With a striking, deep voice and plenty of flair, Emperors stated aim is to “create dada-esque art which pushes the boundaries of traditional binary thinking.”
Queens of the Stone Age
Hard rock band Queens Of The Stone Age staked out something of an unique territory, blending melodic and heavy riffs with elements of electronica, blues and accessible pop. One of many bands to have evolved through multiple changing line-ups, founder, vocalist and guitarist Josh Homme has been the only constant presence.
The prolific, eclectic talent, Prince Rogers Nelson (is it cheating, if his given name was Prince?) inarguably helped shape the modern popular music landscape. Restlessly imaginative and frustratingly enigmatic, Prince’s music incorporated pop, jazz, soul, R&B, electro and straight-out rock into a distinctive blend which achieved immense commercial and critical success.
Curtis Montgomery, aka King Curtis, was a legendary saxophonist who added much to early rock and roll/R&B. A great talent in his own right, Curtis also contributed sax to a string of hit singles by other artists, including Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” His swinging, blasting style influenced a generation of players.
Legendary prog rockers King Crimson are perhaps best known for their seminal 1969 album, In The Court Of The Crimson King, though the band have produced an intriguing body of work across five decades. Robert Fripp’s ethereal guitar sound, together with majestic arrangements, a quirky adventurousness and a changing roster of first-class players, make King Crimson an enduringly good listen.
Another contemporary entry, Mikaela Mullaney Straus, who records as King Princess, achieved the impressive feat of having her debut single, 2018s “1950” certified platinum (one million sales). A debut album, Cheap Queen, followed in 2019, and King Princess looks set to be a key player in modern pop for some time.
Duke Of Earl
Among the most charismatic and enduring of the great 60s soul/R&B performers, Gene Chandler, aka The Duke Of Earl, enjoyed a remarkable longevity, with chart hits across three decades. Chandler’s big success came via the great Vee Jay Records label, with his “Duke Of Earl” single selling more than a million copies in its first few weeks.
Pioneering bandleader, composer and pianist, Edward Kennedy, better known as Duke Ellington, remains one of the most beloved and influential musicians in jazz history. A host of great players rose through the ranks of Ellington’s bands, and the composer’s music has rightfully been celebrated as among the greatest America has to offer.