Meanwhile, head to NME.COM/video to hear NME writers discuss these artists - and don't forget to let us know your own personal cult heroes.
Daniel Dale Johnston is perhaps US indie's ultimate cult hero – yet he's seen his career hindered by his long-term bipolar disorder. Here’s Marina Diamandis on his enduring brilliance: "What I love about Daniel Johnston is that he can't hide his emotions and doesn’t have a lot of vocal control. I've got a Daniel Johnston T-shirt and I'm going to cover ‘Walking The Cow’ one day.
"On one hand it's disappointing he's never achieved mainstream commercial success, but he doesn't have it in him, I don't think. There’s nothing calculating or contrived about him and you need that to be commercial. All he cares about is his music and his cartoons. But he is real. He is what he is and makes people feel understood and less alone."
Download: ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’
Alongside her late husband John Lennon, Yoko was one half of the principal avant-garde power couple of the late '60s and '70s. In mainstream circles, her art, both musical and visual, has often gone unrecognised but she's not short of her devotees.
We thought we'd call her up and see how she felt about being in our list: "I don't feel like a cult hero – but if you tell me I am then I accept it! I have just gone down my own path and made art and music that expresses how I feel."
Download: ‘Yang Yang’
Whether fronting seminal DC punks The Nation Of Ulysses, The Make-Up, Weird War, or his new band Chain And The Gang, Ian Svenonius is a true underground don.
We asked him about his cult heroes. "My main hero is Fidel Castro because he really is heroic. In rock'n'roll, the people that people love are the ones who make one record or die. Like Nick Drake and The La's. I see myself as an edge-frayer, slowly polluting the rock'n'roll gene pool and having less people care about me."
Download: The Make-Up – 'Born On The Floor'
6Bob Pollard - Guided By Voices
Nobody wrote songs like Guided By Voices – short, snappy, lo-fi perfect pop that was more often than not drunker than Shane MacGowan at a wedding.
The Strokes' Julian Casablancas is a member of their cult: "Guided By Voices' music is like all the great knowledge that's out there in the world, things like Oscar Wilde's Phrases And Philosophies For The Use Of The Young or reading quotes from The Analects – you know, the Confucius thing…
"There are so many awesome philosophies and teachings, but they're scattered all over the place. It's the same with Bob Pollard's songs! But there are some real sparks in there and it's really worth delving in to find them."
Download: 'Game of Pricks'
5The Yummy Fur
Led by 1990s frontman Jackie McKeown, The Yummy Fur were not only one of the most important Scottish indie bands ever – before finding success with Franz Ferdinand, Alex Kapranos and Paul Thomson made up their numbers – but also a unique band with an impressive catalogue of work in their own right.
Here, The Cribs’ Ryan Jarman explains why the band are so important to him: “A lot of people still cite The Yummy Fur as being influential, and they’re a good example of a band who did exactly what they wanted. They just did their own thing, and that’s kind of what you’re judged on. It doesn’t matter how long it takes – their popularity hasn’t diminished by them being around for such a long time.”
Download: ‘Plastic Cowboy’
Envied for their talent by other bands in their home city of Minneapolis, this permanently wasted stink-rock foursome were banned from rock clubs across America for trashing stages, and loathed by their record company for wrecking every opportunity that came their way. But behind that goofy demeanour and songs called things like 'Gary's Got A Boner', The 'Ments had a soft spot a mile wide.
Singer Paul Westerberg was one of the best lyricists of the 1980s, while his band merged punk attitude and classic rock choruses in a way that influenced a legion of bands.
Download: 'Alex Chilton'
Richard Hell might not – as he claims – have actually invented punk rock but, at the very least, he was the man who gave it its identity.
Sporting the kind of haircut previously only modelled by lunatic asylum patients and wearing a shirt held together with safety pins, Hell – born Richard Myers in 1949 – wasn’t to know that 40 years later his sartorial statement would be a uniform for fledgling rock troupes worldwide.
Forming spindly art-rockers Television with schoolfriend Tom Verlaine, Hell then started the Heartbreakers before writing New York punk’s defining anti-anthem – see below – then becoming a prolific and respected poet and novelist.
Download: Richard Hell & The Voidoids – 'Blank Generation'
As a 17-year-old in 1967, Alex Chilton was the singer with Memphis pop-soul act The Box Tops when they scored a global Number One hit with 'The Letter'. But when the band split he found himself a has-been aged 20.
His response? Forming Big Star, whose mix of '60s British pop and heartfelt, self-doubting lyrics flopped, before a plethora of bands – principally Teenage Fanclub – started to recognize Chilton as one of the all-time great American songwriters.
Download: Big Star – 'September Gurls'
Sadly, Alex Chilton passed away on March 17. Read our tribute, and share your own memories of him, here.
1Mark E Smith
Life in The Fall is brutish and short, but some alumni have achieved independent celebrity. Marc Riley, who played on The Fall’s classic album 'Hex Enduction Hour' (1982), is now a redundancy-threatened BBC 6 Music DJ. Brix Smith-Start, guitarist during the mid-'80s, is now a sidekick to Gok Wan.
Yet Mark E Smith remains the one true star of his own long-running show. He once complained that the press exaggerated everything – that he'd been on the cover of everything for two years, but still only had a bottle of milk in the fridge. In fairness, though, he hasn’t had an eighth of the covers he's deserved.
Sorry Mark, but it’s no exaggeration: you’re still rock'n'roll’s ultimate cult hero. We can only salute you, sir.
Download: The Fall – 'Hip Priest'
Mark E Smith Q&A
Do you reject the conceit of being a cult hero?
What, of being a right cult?
The notion that there's such a thing as a 'cult' hero, above and beyond a normal, common-or-garden hero.
I suppose its fitting because when I was a teenager I was into what was then considered a cult band - Iggy and The Stooges. They never sold any records at the time. It was a very hard record to get hold of in fact. But I never saw us as a cult group. It was more of an underground thing.
The Fall were always aiming for the top of the pop charts?
Not at all. But it's not like you're either a weirdo or a straight. A lot of our fans are bank managers. Dole-ites. Criminals. Stockbrokers... Just people who doin't like either the overground or the underground. It was always surprising that people liked us at all. I was surprised.
The obsessiveness is a factor too - the perennial weirdoes that cult heroes attract – the ones who who go to 100 gigs a year.
Not really. Not as much as you'd think. I mean, you get 15 year olds... you get German kids whose dads bought the record, didn't like it and passed it onto their children. Weird club owners. Weird clothes designers. It was never one town, you see. With The Fall you could never say 'we are very strong the north-east', or in the south-west. You can't say that. We don't aim at any one market.
Who are your own cult heroes, apart from Iggy?
The thing is... I thought The Sweet were good. I thought Gary Glitter was good. You just buy what you like, don't you? 99 percent is always shit, isn't it? So you just buy what you like. I mean, I like Karlheinz Stockhausen. He's a cult figure I suppose.
He's quite unlisteneable. Do you actually like him or do you just like the idea of him? The mythology often has more relish than the product itself.
No! Often people pretend to like him. But I actually do like him. I genuinely like him.
So you'd have him on in the house on a Saturday afternoon?
It's mowing-the-lawn sort of music to you?Yeah.
Have you ever chartered a helicopter and attempted to recreate any of his more ambitious works? I recorded a helicopter once. I didn't even know he'd done it at that point...
Meanwhile, here are a few NME writers on what makes Mark E Smith a cult hero: