When words fail, sometimes a well-placed scream will do the trick. Throughout the history of rock ‘n’ roll, artists have used their voices to yell, howl, shout, squeal and scream.
Many rock ‘n’ roll screams have become as recognizable as the songs they’re found in— think of Paul McCartney‘s scream just before the singalong ending of “Hey Jude,” the first few seconds of James Brown‘s “Get Up Offa That Thing” or maybe the most famous of all, Roger Daltrey‘s ear-splitting screech during the climax of the Who‘s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Defining the word “scream” in the context of rock music can present a challenge. The below list of Rock’s 35 Best Screams focuses on screams that don’t feature the sort of melodic quality of a normal vocal part. Indeed, many of them are wordless, the sign of a perfect scream.
1. James Brown, “Get Up Offa That Thing”
From: Get Up Offa That Thing (1976)
The ascending scream at the start of James Brown’s “Get Up Off That Thing” is nothing short of a call to action. The song’s inspiration, according to Brown, came when he was playing a subdued club show in Florida. “I looked out at all those people sitting there,” he recalled in .nd because I was depressed they looked depressed. I yelled, “Get up offa that thing and dance til you feel better!” I probably meant until I felt better.” There’s also “I Got You (I Feel Good)” if you want some more screams by the Godfather of Soul.
2. Joe Cocker, “With a Little Help From My Friends”
From: With a Little Help from My Friends (1969)
Joe Cocker’s soulful cover of the Beatles‘ “With a Little Help From My Friends” appeared on his debut album. Not a bad way to announce yourself. (The album reached No. 35 on the Billboard 200.) Cocker’s most prominent scream comes around the 3:50 mark, which is accentuated even more by the instrumental pause surrounding it. That’s Jimmy Page on guitar, by the way.
Ian Gillan possesses one of rock’s all-time greatest voices, made even more distinctive by his multi-octave range. One of his best showcases appears in “Child in Time,” which clocks in at a little more than 10 minutes. Near the end of the song Gillan lets loose with a cacophony of yells and screeches that eventually crashes down into silence. There’s another great Gillan scream in Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” worth hearing.
4. Big Brother & the Holding Company, “Piece of My Heart”
From: Cheap Thrills (1968)
Even though “Piece of My Heart” wasn’t written by Janis Joplin, she owned the song once she wrapped her big voice around it. She’s at her best on this track from Big Brother & the Holding Company’s second album. Her bluesy growl is present throughout, but it’s around the 3:30 mark when she unleashes a spine-tingling scream.
The Doors’ “When the Music’s Over” is best experienced during a single, 11-minute listen. Jim Morrison recorded his vocal in one take, releasing an explosive scream around 8:10: “We want the world and we want it … now. Now? NOW!“
6. The Beatles, “Revolution”
From: 1968 Single
The Beatles released a bluesier, slower version of “Revolution” on the White Album, but it’s the 1968 single version that finds them in full throaty glory. John Lennon double tracked his famous scream at the song’s intro. For more Beatles screams, see “Twist and Shout,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Oh! Darling.”
7. Uriah Heep, “Bird of Prey”
From: Salisbury (1971)
No surprise that “Bird of Prey” includes a shriek that sounds like it originated from the titular creature. The original version of the song, which appeared in 1970’s Very ‘Eavy … Very ‘Umble, doesn’t have the full effect, though. You have to turn to the re-recorded rendition, which arrived a year later with an unbridled eagle screech.
8. Little Richard, “Good Golly Miss Molly”
From: 1958 Single
Around 10 takes of Little Richard’s classic “Good Golly, Miss Molly” were reportedly attempted before they got it right. His vocal is powered to 11 for the entire song, but his descending scream just before the instrumental break is the key moment here.
Dave Grohl had a lot on his mind in 1997. It had been three years since the death of his Nirvana bandmate Kurt Cobain and the dissolution of the band. Grohl had also divorced his first wife, so it’s understandable if he wanted to let off some steam. Around the 3:30 mark in “Monkey Wrench,” from the band’s second album, he gets some rage off his chest.
10. The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
From: Who’s Next (1971)
Roger Daltrey’s scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is the scream to end all screams. After an instrumental buildup, his voice rolls in like a storm before leading the rest of the band to the song’s rousing finale. It’s one of rock’s all-time best-recorded screams, which Daltrey somehow managed to replicate onstage night after night.
Aerosmith postponed tour dates in 2023 because Steven Tyler suffered vocal cord damage and fractured his larynx. That’s not too surprising, considering the wail he lets loose in “Back in the Saddle.” It arrives around 3:15 in the song, but Tyler preps for the big moment with shorter bursts throughout.
It’s easy to mistake Chris Cornell for a wailing electric guitar at the 2:30 mark in “Spoonman.” His voice was so powerful that it occasionally broke equipment during recording sessions. “I know this because I saw bills from the studio for new condensers, for new diaphragms,” Superunknown producer Michael Beinhorn told Produce Like a Pro in 2019. “Five mics were destroyed in the making of this record.”
Iggy Pop’s voice was often an integral part of the Stooges’ instrumental mix. “I’ve got the same kid in me,” he told NPR in 2011. “But when he was ignorant, he was more compellingly dangerous vocally.” One of those spots can be heard in “T.V. Eye” from the band’s unhinged second album. Pop’s scream arrives right at the top: “Lord, aaaaah, hoo!“
14. Ray Charles, “What’d I Say”
From: 1959 Single
Ray Charles already had 10 years of experience behind him when he recorded the classic “What’d I Say.” The single version splits the five-minute track on each side, but listen to the LP take for the full effect, where Charles begs, screams and shouts in one of the most influential songs ever recorded. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Steve Winwood and Van Morrison all ripped it off over the years.
According to Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, “The Number of the Beast” was inspired in part by a nightmare the band co-founder had after watching Damien: Omen II. Robert Burns’ poem Tam o’ Shanter also figures into the song. Bruce Dickinson‘s high-pitched wail comes within the first two minutes. He claimed it was easy to nail the frustrated emotion since he had to sing the introduction over and over again in the studio.
16. John Lennon, “Mother”
From: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Lennon’s mother was killed in a car accident in 1958 when he was 17. Years of emotion poured out of him in “Mother,” which stemmed from his experience with primal scream therapy. He becomes increasingly agitated as the song progresses; by the end, he’s screaming, “Mama don’t go / Daddy come home.”
17. Pink Floyd, “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”
From: 1968 Single
Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” is mostly instrumental, but there are some vocal parts in it – like Roger Waters‘ eerie inhaled scream heard around the 1:44 mark. The song was one of the first the band recorded following Syd Barrett‘s departure and was designed to move them beyond the pop structure of their early work. Waters replicated the famous scream in concert many times over the years.
“Cygnus X-1” is divided into two parts; the first appears in 1977’s A Farewell to Kings. During the piece, a space explorer travels toward Cygnus X-1 (a real-life black hole) before getting sucked into it. Geddy Lee provides the scream that accompanies this event at the end of the 10-and-a-half-minute song.
That’s Axl Rose making the howling sound heard at the beginning of “Welcome to the Jungle.” Having moved to L.A. as a fresh-faced 20-year-old from Indiana, the singer took in a lot at once. He channels this sensory overload in “Jungle.” “It was a very telling lyric,” Slash told Classic Rock. “Just the stark honesty of it. If you lived in Los Angeles, and lived in the trenches, so to speak, you could relate to it.”
20. Edgar Winter‘s White Trash, “I Can’t Turn You Loose”
From: Roadwork (1972)
“I Can’t Turn You Loose” is an Otis Redding cover recorded live version by Edgar Winter for 1972’s Roadwork. It’s nearly four minutes of horns, Rick Derringer’s guitar and Winter’s soulful voice. The last minute of the song includes a few screams, each more aggressive than the one before it.
Kurt Cobain practically screams throughout “Territorial Pissings,” but the best one arrives around 1:14. He was so intense in the studio that producer Butch Vig knew he needed to get the recording done as soon as possible. “Part of it was because he sang so hard, his voice would get blown out after three or four takes,” he told Consequence in 2022. “I just had to be bulletproof. So anytime he was ready to go, I was ready to record.”
22. Kate Bush, “The Big Sky”
From: Hounds of Love (1985)
Kate Bush’s 1985 album Hounds of Love includes some of her best songs. At around 3:45 in “The Big Sky,” she screams for her life. While the track is about childhood memories, it’s also a warning. “The song is also suggesting the coming of the next flood,” Bush later explained, “how perhaps the ‘fools on the hills’ will be the wise ones.”
Never one to back down on what she believed in, Sheryl Crow was angry in the mid-’90s, especially over the rampant gun violence in the U.S. that was coupled with much capitalistic greed. “Watch our children as they kill each other with a gun they bought at the Walmart discount stores.” To make her point, Crow lets out a wild scream at 3:29.
24. Pixies, “Tame”
From: Doolittle (1989)
Pixies’ second album made them college-rock stars. Frontman Black Francis would spend much of the band’s early days screaming lyrics, partly inspired by the rock singers he grew up listening to. His scream is on full display in “Tame.” The song isn’t even 30 seconds in before Francis begins hollering the chorus.
25. Sleater-Kinney, “Call the Doctor”
From: Call the Doctor (1996)
Sleater-Kinney’s 1996 album Call the Doctor arrived during the peak of the riot grrrl movement. The album’s title track finds Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker screaming “You are not me!” at the top of their lungs.
26. The B-52’s, “Rock Lobster”
From: The B-52’s (1979)
In the B-52’s’ 1979 hit “Rock Lobster,” Fred Schneider warns, “Here comes a bikini whale!” That’s immediately followed by Kate Pierson’s shrill scream. “It had a great groove, it had a great story,” Pierson told CBS News in 2022. “And it was different,” bandmate Cindy Wilson added.
The song “Black Sabbath” was inspired by a real-life experience of bassist Geezer Butler, who woke up one night and saw a dark figure standing at the end of his bed. “What is this that stands before me? / Figure in black which points at me,” Ozzy Osbourne sings and then screams, “Turn around quick and start to run / Find out I’m the chosen one/ Oh, noooooo!“
Eddie Vedder screams most of “Blood,” with a few extended yells thrown in for good measure. One scream lasts for an astonishing 10 seconds. “[Vedder] really loves getting into it, the challenges of all of our songs and the different ways they’re brought into ’em,” guitarist Stone Gossard said in 2009. “He hears things and once he’s onto it he’ll give you such incredible variety in terms of vocal approaches and rhythm and story.”
“Rock the Casbah” originated with Clash drummer Topper Headon, who’d been messing around with a piano part. Joe Strummer changed the original lyrics about Headon missing his girlfriend and gave the band one of its biggest hits. Strummer’s scream comes in at 2:14, right when he sings, “The crowd caught a whiff of that crazy Casbah jiiiiiive!“
Robert Plant was a master at interpreting blues songs. In “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” from Led Zeppelin III, he slowly works his way toward a climactic scream that drives home the song.
After about 30 seconds of buildup in “Dissident Aggressor,” a vocal that can only be described as half-scream, half-banshee wail arrives, courtesy of Rob Halford. He repeats this trick later in the song, which won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2010 for a newly recorded live take.
32. Prince, “The Beautiful Ones”
From: Purple Rain (1984)
Prince did everything on “The Beautiful Ones” — produced, arranged, composed and performed it. Around the 3:30 mark, he reaches an emotional high, screaming, “Do you want him? Or do you want me? ‘Cause I want you.” By the end of the song, the screams turn to pleads.
33. Todd Rundgren, “The Death of Rock ‘n’ Roll”
From: Initiation (1975)
Todd Rundgren wastes no time with “The Death of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” He lets loose an awesome scream right at the start of the 1975 song. It appears on Initiation, which still clocks in as one of the longest-running single LPs in rock history at 68 minutes.
34. The Replacements, “Red Red Wine”
From: Pleased to Meet Me (1987)
Paul Westerberg was no stranger to letting out a strong rock ‘n’ roll scream when the moment called for it. On “Red Red Wine,” he adds some screams during the midsong guitar solo. “Shooting Dirty Pool,” from the same album, repeats this, but with a less forceful howl.
“Deuce” appeared on Kiss’ 1974 self-titled debut and has been a fan favorite and frequent concert opener ever since. During the last 30 seconds of the song, listen for Gene Simmons, who wrote “Deuce,” scream as Ace Frehley continues ripping a guitar solo over the top.