I have been planning this article mentally for quite some time. I finally had to just throw my thoughts down on paper. On July 20th, it will be 5 years since Chester took his own life. For countless people (myself included), this shook me like no other celebrity death. When I heard the news, I was just a zombie walking around the rest of the day, not knowing what to do with myself. It was just months before I was finally going to see Linkin Park live for the first time.
Chester was a hero of mine. He was a mega-talented singer and songwriter, and Linkin Park came into the fold right at the perfect time for me. I was in junior high when Hybrid Theory was released, which changed rock music. It was what I have always referred to as “pop-metal”, with heavy distortion and lyrics, but they also somehow had a singalong nature that no other band had really ever had. That’s because Chester’s voice is so unique. His screams were out of this world, but his voice also had the purity of a pop singer, and his vocal range as a result was legendary. Just check out him doing covers of AC/DC and Adele.
I have always been in awe of Chester, and here is my tribute to him. We are counting down the top 5 vocals of his career. Not all of them are with Linkin Park, but most of them are. It is not hyperbole to say he may be the best hard rock vocalist ever. Just check out this clip of Linkin Park performing “One Step Closer/99 Problems” at the 1 minute mark, where Chester is just doing his thing at the end of the song, screaming completely in tune, and Jay-Z is just stunned with that look on his face like “...damn…”. I know this isn’t a perfect list. It is definitely subjective, and I am not as familiar with some singles from their later albums, but this is what I got. I’m including live performance videos because Chester always gave 100% in every moment of every live show I have ever seen a clip of.
“Crawling” (Hybrid Theory)
“From the Inside” (Meteora)
“The Little Things Give You Away” (Minutes to Midnight)
“No More Sorrow” (Minutes to Midnight)
“One Step Closer” (Hybrid Theory)
“Shadow of the Day” (Minutes to Midnight)
“System” (Chester Bennington: Queen of the Damned)
5. “Soul Song” (Grey Daze: …No Sun Today)
The quality on this video isn’t the best, but you get the idea. This is the band Grey Daze that he was in before Linkin Park, founded in his hometown of Phoenix. You also see him with some crazy long hair. It has a post-grunge sound, and his voice just soars. It is definitely more low-key and has a jazzy sound that he never really tapped into after that. But even here as a teenager, you can hear just how powerful his vocals can be, almost singing himself into a trance. This is mainly on the list to show that it wasn’t just Linkin Park but it was Chester that was special.
4. “QWERTY” (LP Underground 6)
[There isn't a great video available of the actual live performance, but this is the audio of one (the actual live video that it wouldn't let embed is right HERE]
This song came from an album of live performances and a showcase for this one new song. It is definitely as heavy as Linkin Park ever got. Chester is crazy in this song, absolutely slaying the screams while alternating in and out of his actual singing voice. I don’t know how that’s even possible, but what else should we expect from the man? It is times like this, performing a brand new song that no one has heard, and he gets the audience into it because he never takes a song off. Chester is really feeling it when he has to just stand still and just belt out the vocals. That is definitely the case here.
3. “Lying from You” (Meteora)
This is an unconventional choice, but just watch the video. Chester is out of his mind in this song. It is astonishing what he does. From someone who has watched hundreds of live Linkin Park live videos, when he puts one leg up on the speaker and looks to the sky and screams, that is when he is really challenging himself. This song never gives him a break. He is killing the higher notes, and then there’s a monster scream, followed by more just relentless wailing. He was one-of-a-kind, and he poured every ounce of himself into every live performance. This isn’t even one of their 5 most popular songs from that one album, but he treated it like it was the last time he would ever take the stage.
2. “Given Up” (Minutes to Midnight)
“Give Up” is Linkin Park making a different kind of song than they had done in their first couple major albums. It is rhythmic heavy rock, but Chester is given the room to show off his insane range. He is possessed at about the 2:30 mark. The octaves that he hits when he goes into this low-range that is almost demonic, then his crazy high notes that are nothing short of a roar, but everything is always in tune somehow. I can only think of a few rockers who scream at the rate he did and are perfectly in tune. It is performances like this that made me want to see them in concert more than any other band. The little changes Chester makes to his vocal during this performance are insane.
1. “One More Light” (One More Light)
This is the tough one, the song that Linkin Park dedicated to Chris Cornell. Chester has never displayed as much raw emotion as he does during this song. His voice always had an immense amount of passion and pain buried deep in his soul, but here, he lets it all out in the most emotional live performance I have ever seen. You even get Brad looking over at Chester, as if he’s checking if he’s ok. His voice here is as pure as ever, and the cry out of “I DO” at 3:48 is spine-chilling. It’s hard to not get choked up listening to this song. Chester even loses it and skips a line because he poured everything into the performance, which was simply a live performance on Kimmel, of all places. Chester was unbelievable.