If our list of Rock's 20 Best Backing Vocalists proves anything, it's that the genre is often a team sport.

Lead singers can find themselves in an unenviable position as the de facto mouthpieces of their bands. When they're on, they get the lion's share of the glory, but the pressure to perform up to their rigorous standards on record and onstage is daunting. It's not a business that takes kindly to sick days or off nights.

Enter the backing vocalists, whose jobs and required skill sets are different. These singers don't necessarily need to have the best voices on a technical level; what matters is their ability to support, accompany or accentuate the best qualities of their respective lead singers. Keith Richards, Cliff Williams and Duff McKagan won't be winning singing awards anytime soon, but their harmonies and gang vocals are crucial to the fabric of their bands' sounds.

That's also not to say backing vocalists can't be stellar singers in their own right. With his rough-hewn, bluesy growl, Richie Sambora proved himself every bit as worthy of a lead singer as his counterpart Jon Bon Jovi. Likewise, Jerry Cantrell toed the line between backing vocalist and co-lead singer for much of Alice in Chains' tenure — no small feat while performing alongside Layne Staley.

Other singers on this list made a name for themselves as legendary backing vocalists outside their main bands. Michael McDonald added a much-needed zest to tons of '70s and '80s pop-rock hits, while Merry Clayton transformed the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" from a pretty good rock song into a generation-defining anthem.

One thing of note: We've excluded bands and musicians that routinely shared lead vocal duties from this list, so you won't find the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top or Kiss here. (The divide is subjective, of course, as evidenced by our inclusion of Cantrell and some others.) The rest is fair game, so dive into our list of Rock's Best Backing Vocalists below.

Rock's Best Backing Vocalists

This genre is a team sport.

Gallery Credit: Bryan Rolli

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