Over the years, there have been some incredible British singers. This covers all eras and genres of music. Picking just a handful is a very tall order. I’ve done my best, but if your favorites are not on my most famous British singers playlist, then apologies.
The list contains my own choices, so there are bound to be quite a few omissions. That said, let’s get to it and take a look at the first famous British singer.
Top 9 Most Famous British Singers
Before you all start screaming at the screen that Olivia Newton-John is Australian, here are a few facts. Olivia was born in Cambridge, England, in 1948 and subsequently emigrated to Australia at age five. She took on Australian citizenship in 1981.
But, most of her most successful work was in the 70s and very early 80s whilst she was still a British citizen.
Olivia Newton-John began her career in TV and movies…
By the time she released her first album in 1971 titled, If Not For You, she had already carved out a career on the small and big screen. She built an image around the persona of the girl next door. This was mirrored by the song choices in her debut album and most of her subsequent ones too.
Olivia continued to make strides in her career throughout the 70s. But, her big break came in 1978 when she appeared in the movie, ”Grease.” As well as acting, she also contributed to many of the songs on the original soundtrack album.
This went on to sell 30 million copies making it one of the most commercially successful albums in music history.
She played ‘Sandy’ in the movie, opposite John Travolta, in a lead role…
The movie perfectly showcased her acting, dancing, and singing abilities. In particular, she had the opportunity to reveal her near-pitch-perfect voice, with its crystal-clear tone, to a much wider audience.
The public loved Olivia Newton-John and bought her records in high numbers. To be precise, over her long career, she eventually sold over 100 million albums. This made her one of the biggest-selling female artists of all time.
Following the success of “Grease”…
Olivia later appeared in the 1980 movie “Xanadu.” It was critically well received. But, the public was not so keen, and it is fair to say it pretty much flopped, making just $40 million at the box office. A mere fraction of the $396 million that was taken for “Grease.”
Despite the movie’s less-than-stellar success. The Xanadu movie soundtrack was still a success. It made it to number one in the US and sold three million copies. Olivia Newton-John sang the theme song, “Xanadu,” and five more tracks.
And this is where her British career ended…
She subsequently became an Australian citizen in 1981, which is ironic since she had lived in America since 1974. Although she regularly visited Australia, she chose America as her home and died there in 2023 following a long battle with breast cancer.
Freddie was one of the most charismatic and brilliant performers ever to climb on stage. He is regarded as one the greatest, if not the greatest, Rock frontman ever. He was the driving force and leader of the highly successful group, Queen.
Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar in 1946 and is of Indian heritage. However, since, at the time, Zanzibar was still a British protectorate, he was able to acquire full British citizenship in 1969.
By this point, his family had already been in the UK for five years, having fled Zanzibar in 1964 due to the violent revolution. Thank goodness they did. Otherwise, we might have missed out on one of the most famous British singers of all time.
One year after gaining UK citizenship…
Freddie formed Queen along with Brian May and Roger Taylor. It took them three years to release their first album, Queen, and then a further year to release their second, Queen II. Both were big hits selling around three million copies each.
Following the success of their early albums, including their third album, Sheer Heart Attack, Freddie Mercury began working on the idea of an Operatic concept album. Possibly inspired by concept albums from bands such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
This culminated in the 1975 release of A Night at the Opera. It sold 12 million copies and became their most successful none compilation album. Importantly, it also contained the groundbreaking song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which sold six million copies globally and became their biggest-selling single.
Queen became one of the biggest bands of the 70s…
They sold huge amounts of records. And, thanks to the scintillating vocal and stage presence of Freddie Mercury, they sold out arenas wherever they toured.
Sadly, Freddie Mercury died of AIDS in 1991, and the band, quite naturally, went into a prolonged hiatus. However, in 2004, Brian May and Roger Taylor picked up their guitars and drumsticks and began touring again under the name Queen +.
Initially, they had Paul Rodgers as their vocalist…
But, since 2009, they have settled for the dreadful warbling Adam Lambert. He’s frankly awful, and I don’t understand why they persist with him. The only logical explanation is that all that stupid hair is getting in Brian May’s ears, and Roger Taylor has gone deaf after years of drumming.
Freddie Mercury was and always will be the very heart of Queen. Nothing else comes close. No wonder he is one of the most famous British singers.
Robert Plant is a Rock legend. He had a vocal range spanning almost four octaves. That put him right up there with fellow Rock superstars like Freddie Mercury and Brian Johnson.
However, it wasn’t just the range that made him so great…
He also knew how to use his voice to maximum effect. He’s a singer who has seemingly endless power but can also express anger and emotion with incredible subtlety.
Robert Plant joined forces with John Paul Jones, John Bonham, and Jimmy Page to form Led Zeppelin in 1968. Make no mistake; they were four of the most talented musicians ever to get together in a single group. The result was far from surprising as they quickly established themselves as a super-group.
They released three albums within the space of just two years…
Not going overboard for album titles, they went with Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, and Led Zeppelin III. The titles might not have been much to write home about, but their music and sales were. In the space of three short years, they went from zero to 40 million album sales and global stardom.
But, more was to come…
Just a year later, in 1971, came the Untitled Album, which is often called Led Zeppelin IV. It was nothing short of a Rock masterpiece. Sales, at 37 million copies, were through the roof. And quite rightly, the album became one of the most iconic in Rock history.
The band broke up in 1980 after the death of drummer John Bonham. Robert Plant subsequently pursued a solo career with a series of different bands and projects.
He’s released over 20 albums in different forms. Plus, on occasion, he has hooked up with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones for various projects.
One of these occasions was in 2007…
At the Celebration Day Concert at the O2 Arena in London. The surviving members got back together with Jason Bonham, the late John Bonham’s son, on drums. The performance was breathtaking and amazing. And, despite Robert Plant being close to 60 years old, he’d lost none of his vocal power, charisma, or stage presence.
In many ways, it was an even more compelling performance than when he was at the generally accepted peak of his powers in the mid-70s. A remarkable talent and a highly successful British singer.
Mick Jagger is a pure entertainer, and what he lacks in vocal quality, he makes up with crazy energy and attitude. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have a good voice, because he does. He’s just not as naturally gifted as singers like Robert Plant.
However, over the years, he’s learned a few tricks and undoubtedly gets the best out of his voice. Let’s put it another way; he’s a good enough singer to have been packing out stadiums for 50 years.
Or, let’s put it yet another way, his voice, combined with his and the band’s breathtaking performances, have made them the highest-grossing live act in history. To be precise, they have currently made $2.17 billion from touring and have not finished yet. Impressive.
Sixty years ago…
The Rolling Stones got together in 1962 and are the epitome of a Rock band. They are also one of the most influential groups in Rock history and have been a major force in the shape and direction of the genre.
Their output over this time has been crazy. We’ve already established them as touring monsters, but additionally, they are recording monsters. They have released 121 singles and 92 albums at the time of my writing.
However, as you’re reading, don’t be surprised if they’ve already added a couple of singles and albums to the tally.
Any way you look at it…
The Rolling Stones, headed by the enigmatic songwriter and performer Mick Jagger, are one of the biggest bands in history. However, what’s difficult to compute is that they show no signs of slowing down.
The touring and recording keep on going. And, incredibly, the performances still have the same dynamism and energy they had 50 years ago. Mick Jagger is now 80, and when he performs, he still runs around the stage dancing, pouting, and posturing like he’s a teenager.
How the hell does he do it? Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones are physical mysteries.
The back catalog of music makes it almost impossible to highlight the standouts…
However, in terms of fan favorites, the singles “Honky Tonk Women,” released in 1971, and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” are right up there. I prefer “Start Me Up,” which was released in 1981, or the beautiful ballad “Angie,” released in 1973.
As far as albums are concerned, I’m fully on board with the fans who voted Sticky Fingers as their favorite. This was released in 1971 and sold over 22 million copies.
Adele has one of the best female voices of any current famous female British singer. This is despite her range only being two and a half octaves. The fact is, compared to singers like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, that’s rather limited.
However, the way she uses her voice is just out of this world…
When she sings in the lower part of her register, she has immense power akin to an opera singer. But, when she is singing high, she sounds almost breathless at times.
She is also a supreme master at using vocal fry. This combination gives a unique fragility and vulnerability to her vocals. As if all of this wasn’t enough, her phrasing is also in a class of its own.
Adele has released just four studio albums. She seems a little short on imagination for the titles, as they are simply numbers of her approximate age. So far, her albums include 19, 21, 25, and 30. My bet is her next album will be called “35”.
I wonder if she’s going to stick with this for her entire career. She shouldn’t.
Still, who am I to argue?
With just these four albums to her name, she’s already chalked up 120 million album sales. That’s more than artists like The Bee Gees, Guns N’ Roses, Prince, and Eric Clapton. I mean, my goodness, these artists have been around forever, and Adele is only just getting started.
Who knows what is to come, but I can safely say it will be bloody good. Adele doesn’t sing the kind of music I’m generally interested in, but I can still appreciate her brilliance. So, I have no qualms about placing her among the most famous British singers.
Elton John is the fourth best-selling artist of all time. If you take The Beatles out of the equation, since they are a band, he’s only beaten in popularity by Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. He has sold 300 million albums during his long career. Wow!
Elton John was an absolute genius at writing songs and melodies. As a classically trained pianist, he knew how to write great songs. However, what he couldn’t do was write lyrics. That job went to the legendary Bernie Taupin.
In my opinion, Elton John and Bernie Taupin go together like strawberries and cream. I honestly think that without Bernie Taupin’s lyrical input, Elton John would never be close to where he is today. And he wouldn’t be a legendary British singer either. Bernie deserves way more credit.
In his extensive back catalog…
I believe two albums are head and shoulders above the rest. They were released in 1973, and I bought both of them. Those albums are Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
These albums don’t have a bad track on them…
And they are packed with hit after hit. Of the two albums, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road became his best-selling, chalking up over 30 million sales. My favorite track remains “Funeral for a Friend.” Incidentally, it’s totally instrumental and is a real testament to Elton John’s talent.
My favorite single from Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player is “Daniel.” Even to this day, I get goosebumps listening to it. A wonderfully crafted song that instantly takes me back to 1973.
After the 70s…
I believe that Elton John’s best music was over. However, the buying public had very different ideas. Since the 70s, he has released 18 studio albums, and they continue to sell well.
If I’d written this two days ago, I would have said that he continues to record and play live to this day. However, following a recent concert, at the age of 76 and after 60 years of performing, he announced his retirement. He stated that he now wants to spend more time with his family.
Good luck to him, and I hope he enjoys it.
How many musicians have been responsible for creating a whole new musical genre? The answer is not many. However, Ozzy Osbourne is one of those that can legitimately claim to have done just that.
Ozzy Osbourne is The Prince of Darkness…
He’s the man, along with the guitar genius of Tony Iommi, that introduced Heavy Metal to a startled world. It all started back in 1968 when Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Tom Ward got together to form Black Sabbath.
They released their first album, Black Sabbath, in 1970. Perhaps to the surprise of them all, it made it to #8 in the UK and #23 in the US. It went on to sell four million copies. The rest, as they say, is history.
Over the next eleven years…
Ozzy shrieked and wailed his way to international fame, cutting eight albums in the process. The most successful was their second album, released in 1970, Paranoid. It sold over 12 million copies.
By the time 1979 came into focus, Ozzy’s behavior had become increasingly erratic. He was almost constantly under the influence of drink and drugs. And he was also increasingly unreliable. Tony Iommi called an end to it, and Ozzy was forced out of the band and replaced by Ronnie James Dio. True, Dio is a great singer, but he’s just not Ozzy.
Ozzy went on to an even more successful solo career. And, without one of the most well know British singers, Black Sabbath was done. Ozzy’s first two albums were arguably two of the greatest in Metal history.
His debut solo album was Blizzard of Oz, released in 1980. Diary of a Madman followed a year later in 1981. It’s also worth mentioning that both albums benefited from the guitarist wizardry of Randy Rhoads before his sad passing.
Throughout his career…
Ozzy has been blessed with one of the most recognizable voices in music. He has a vocal range of three octaves and unbelievable power besides. But, what is most noteworthy is his unique tone which is completely natural and untrained.
Ozzy is officially still active, but sadly, his health is now seriously compromised. Consequently, it is highly improbable that we will ever see him perform again. Bats can sleep easy. But, it is a great loss for music.
We’re moving on from one vocal powerhouse and legend to another. Brian Johnson was born in 1947, and like Ozzy Osbourne, he received no vocal training. There is nothing technical or controlled in his singing, and therein lies the beauty.
It’s all sheer power, passion, emotion, and earthy grit. This is what hooks and connects his audience to the songs. Of course, his crazy high voice and four-octave range do a lot to help too.
Although Brian Johnson is most known for being the lead singer for AC/DC, he started his singing career with the Newcastle band Geordie. They had a couple of hits but enjoyed little success. Outside of their native Newcastle in the north of England, they remained relatively unknown.
Following the death of Bon Scott, the frontman of AC/DC, Brian Johnson, took over singing duties. He also became the band’s lyrist with immediate success.
Back in Black, released in 1980, became AC/DC’s first album with Brian Johnson as their lead singer. It went on to become their most successful album and the second-best-selling album in history. Only Thriller by Michael Jackson has sold more copies. Back in Black sold a mind-boggling 50 million copies. I bought a copy as well. You’re welcome!
When Johnson joined the band…
It was the start of a stratospheric career boost for the band. They went from playing town halls to stadiums and arenas. And from Rock musicians to Rock legends. In so many respects, this is an exceptional band of which Brian Johnson is a truly integral part.
Unfortunately, in 2016, Brian Johnston was temporarily forced to leave the band due to hearing issues. His place on a world tour was temporarily filled by the equally talented Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses fame.
Happily, Brian Johnson has now sorted out his hearing problems. He’s now back with the band, shrieking and shouting as only he can. And how we love him for it.
David Bowie was born in 1947 and went on to be one of the most influential singers in British music. He was a highly innovative musician who experimented with musical styles and created a fascinating synthesis between art and music.
Bowie also created alter-egos. And, more than anything, he created intrigue and excitement around his music.
I was lucky enough to witness this firsthand in 1977 when I saw him live on his UK tour. His performance was genuinely spellbinding.
As a starry-eyed teenager, it left a lasting impression…
David Bowie is best known for his incredible songwriting and musical talent. However, he’s honestly not given anywhere as much credit as he deserves for his voice.
What many don’t know is that he possesses an impressive four-octave range. Additionally, he can use it effortlessly to beautifully express himself through his song and the lyrics. He does this all with such ease that his technical and natural vocal abilities are often overlooked.
During his amazing career…
Bowie sold over 100 million albums, of which I bought more than a few. Therefore, selecting a favorite is a bit of a tall task, but I’ll do my best. Although his best-selling album was 1982’s Let’s Dance, I believe it was far from his best. I’d go further and say that I don’t even like it.
I think his best album was Low which was released in 1977. But I realize that I’m probably in the minority. A lot of David Bowie fans will prefer, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, which was released in 1972.
I’ll concede that this is also a phenomenal album. And it also happens to include my favorite song, “Starman.” This song is incidentally the one that launched his career on the global stage. David Bowie was a giant of music, and his death in 2016 was a huge loss for everyone.
Want to Find More Incredible Singers?
Well, check out our thoughts on the Most Famous Blues Singers, the Top Country Singers with Deep Voices, the Best Female Singers, Singers That Sound Like Adele, and Male Singers With Long Hair for more musical selections.
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Most Famous British Singers – Final Thoughts
So, there you have it. It’s been great to look back and remind myself just how good some of the most famous English singers were, and in some cases, still are.
Britain is incredibly lucky to have such a wealth of talent. And I, for one, am forever grateful to have had some of these legends providing the soundtrack to my life. It has been fun and one hell of a ride. Thank you, guys and girls.
Until next time, happy listening, everyone.