Screaming is an under appreciated art form. For one thing, it’s hard to do. Try it. Go lock yourself in the bathroom, close the windows, turn on the fan and start yelling.

It’s not easy to let it all out without feeling self conscious. It takes confidence to be naked and raw. Or, as is the case with many a writer, liquid courage gets the job done.

It is an acquired taste. To be honest, listening to some singers makes my throat hurt. Still, Brian Johnson gets a lifetime pass just for “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

To the dismay of parents everywhere, the annals of rock — and my own record collection — are teaming with screamers of renown. It’s a fool’s errand to come up with an appropriate list of the best, so I won’t. But like any decent rock and roll Top 10 list, my list of screamers worth shouting about goes to 11.

screamin_JAYScreamin’ Jay Hawkins — I Put A Spell On You

In golf, this would be called a gimme. Screamin’ is in his name. Need I say more?

The story is Hawkins and the band were so drunk when they recorded the version that became the hit, he had to relearn the song from the recorded version. The French television version shown here features just Hawkins at his piano.


james_brownJames Brown — Mother Popcorn

No list of screamers is complete without James Brown. His scream was his signature and ’90s hip-hop would not sound the same if so many hits hadn’t sampled it.

The hard part is choosing which song to highlight. “Mother Popcorn” was one of several Popcorn songs inspired by the dance craze,


floydRoger Waters of Pink Floyd — Careful With That Axe, Eugene

Classic rock stations would much more interesting if they played the Meddle/Live at Pompeii era of Pink Floyd. Headphones only.

The spacey groove and whispered minimalist lyrics are punctuated by Waters’ piercing shriek, telling a whole story in only three lines.


matsPaul Westerberg of The Replacements — Bastards of Young

Alcohol played a big part in the Mats best moments and eventual downfall. The band’s Saturday Night Live appearance in 1986 lives in infamy for Bob Stinson wearing Paul’s wife’s jump suit and Paul missing a few lyrics along the way.

The scream at the outset of “Bastards of Young” on the Tim recording was a powerful match to Bob Stinson’s anthemic lead and some of Westerberg’s best lyrics.


volcano_sunPeter Prescott of Volcano Suns — Peel Out

The Volcano Suns were everything I love about rock music. They were loud and sloppy but wrote incredible hooks while shouting whoa-oh choruses. Peter Prescott had a knack for turning a phrase. They were like The Replacements of Boston — only not as drunk.

Whether on their records or live, the Suns always seemed to be having a lot of fun playing, epitomized by Prescott’s howls and yelps.


dioRonnie James Dio — Stand Up and Shout

When I came up with my list of screamers, it didn’t have any heavy metal singers, which is just wrong. I first thought of Rob Halford, who is truly a great screamer. But in a heavy metal thunderdome, Ronnie James Dio exits the cage every time.

This is the problem with Top 10 lists.


yowDavid Yow of The Jesus Lizard — Mouth Breather

I don’t know how anyone has the energy to pull off what David Yow does. He’s not really a great singer, but is still one of the greatest frontmen ever. So many singers have taken to crowd surfing that it has become a cliché. But Yow did it with such abandon, it seemed even he didn’t exactly know how things would turn out. The first time I saw The Jesus Lizard in the early ’90s, Yow was throwing himself around the Cubbie Bear stage while wearing a cast on his broken arm. Nearly 20 years later, on the final leg of the Jesus Lizard’s reunion tour in 2009, he broke a rib when he was dropped while crowd surfing at Metro.


albizSteve Albini of Shellac — The Billiard Player Song

The beauty of Shellac’s minimalist approach is that the songs are living organisms. From show to show, the band doesn’t necessarily play them the same way. At more than twice the length of the original release, I am particularly fond of the John Peel Session version of “The Billiard Player Song.” Channeling a character on Death Row who is asked what he wants for his last meal, Steve Albini screams, “I could eat fuck-all wrapped in nothing, if I could it out there on the beach.” It’s the kind of lyric that invites the listener to imagine the rest of the story that makes Albini’s writing brilliant.


mudhoneyMark Arm of Mudhoney — Sonic Infusion

If you order anything from Sub Pop, I’m told chances are pretty good that Mark Arm sent it.

Not a lot has changed in Mudhoney’s twin-guitar attack over the years, so it can be easy to dismiss the band as  dinosaurs. But when the fuzzed out guitars slowly wind up until Arm releases a scream leading into a joyous racket of “Sonic Infusion,” it doesn’t matter that this song is 10 years old or could have been written 25 years ago. It is timeless.


falcoAndrew Falkous of Future of the Left — The Lord Hates A Coward

Few singers break into a scream as readily as Andrew Falkous. Using an overdriven Les Paul run through a Marshall, distorted bass and propulsive drums with a sing-song delivery, Future of the Left combine a punk rock esthetic with the enthusiasm of the songs kids sing while jumping rope.


cell_phonesLindsey Charles of The Cell Phones — Dirtbiking With Satan

Not really representative of her singing style, when Lindsey Charles tears into “Dirtbiking With Satan,” she owns it.

Forty seconds of overdriven bass, hyperactive drums and screaming about dirt biking. This is a song seemingly written just for my personal taste. It’s the perfect song.


Tom Long is one-third of the seldom heard Chicago band The Ethyl Mermen. The name Tom Long can be found in the dictionary, Baseball Encyclopedia and a pub in Ireland. Tom Long is not affiliated with any other Tom Long; he won the rights to use his own name after prevailing in a three-way game of Jan-ken-pon by choosing "dynamite!" No Toms were harmed in the making of this blog.

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