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Bad singers that sound great

Updated on September 24, 2012

Pitch perfect, note for note, nice sounding singing voices are completely overrated, this article pays tribute to the singers who have less than perfect voices but sound unlike anyone else.

Some of the most successful bands and singers have made great music while not being “technically” good singers. In fact in many instances it is because of the fact that the singer has a memorable and interesting voice (sometimes for the wrong reasons) that enhances the song and makes it great.

Would Bob Dylan have been as successful and memorable if it weren’t for his nasally vocal?

Would the song “what a wonderful world” have been nearly as great if it weren’t for Louis Armstrong’s distinctive baritone?

I don't think they would, its the distinctive vocals on songs like these that helps make them so special. When sung perfectly by an American idol finalist these same songs become instantly forgettable.

So here is a little tribute to those singers who are not great singers in the technical sense, but have appealing and interesting voices (to put it nicely)

1 Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has a voice that a lot of people just cannot get passed. There is no denying the man has written some of the greatest, most lyrically brilliant songs of the last 50 years but his voice is something which is loved and loathed in equal measure. Here’s Dylan singing Subterranean Homesick blues, the vocal may not be pitch perfect but he manages to cram about ten thousand words in two and a half minutes, how many other singers can do that??...Not many.

2 Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix incredible guitar player, pretty average singer. I don’t mean that as an insult, when Hendrix sings "Hey Joe" or “All along the watchtower” he sounds like the coolest guy on the planet. He sings it effortlessly like he isn’t even trying and that is why Hendrix is a great singer, albeit technically not great.

3 Lou Reed

When Lou reed first hit the scene with the velvet underground his voice sounded like no other, tuneful it certainly was not, but he sounded like a street-smart New York tough guy that went perfectly with the velvets style of abrasive experimental rock. After the velvets broke up Lou Reed embarked on a successful solo career but his voice (never a thing of beauty) it’s fair to say got less and less tuneful as the years passed. At some point I think he must have decided screw it, I’ll just talk instead of sing. Either way his imperfect but distinctive voice is a big part of why he has remained a true rock n roll icon.

4 Stevie Nicks

When I was a kid growing up I had a massive schoolboy crush on Stevie Nicks. Not only was she a stunner but I was a sucker for her husky voice, still am.

5 Tom Waits

My wife won’t let me play my Tom Waits records in the house, she says it scares the kids. ... so I spend a lot of time listening to Tom Waits in my garage. His music sounds good in the garage. Tom Waits has a voice that makes Bob Dylan sound like a choir boy. It’s a voice that us Waits fans love, and makes other people scratch their heads and ask “what the......”

6 Leonard Cohen

Like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen has a voice that polarizes opinion. What can I say about Leonard Cohen’s voice.......its deep.....veeeeeeery deep. Here’s a clip of “I’m your man” from a 2009 concert in London, his voice is perfect for his songs. Leonard Cohen’s vocal style is pretty unique but it is worth persevering with, he has written some incredible music.

7 Gordon Gano

Gordon Gano is the lead singer for US indie pioneers the Violent Femmes. The Violent Femmes are probably best recognised by song “Blister in the Sun”. Rolling Stone once described Gordon Gano’s voice as sounding like “a cross between Lou Reed and a sheep”. You decide if they were right

8 Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams is an Alt country singer who has been writing consistently great music for 20+ years. Her voice is very distinctive, like whiskey and honey...with maybe a little diesel thrown into the mix.

9 Kurt Cobain

What Kurt Cobain lacked in vocal finesse he made up for in sheer aggression and raw emotion. Cobain’s unique vocals were a huge part of why Nirvana became such a massive band during the 90s.

10 Neil Young

Neil Young’s music has run the spectrum from folk, to punk, to country, to rock and his voice often changes between each of these musical styles. Some of his early folksy songs were sung an alarmingly high key. I get told by a lot of people that Neil Young's voice is too high pitched and whiney. Me I love his music, whiney voice and all.

Some more "Bad Singers" that didn't make top 10

The following didn't quite make the to 10 but deserve are honorary members of the 'bad singers that sound great' club.

Frank Black - The pixies front-man won't win any awards for technical singing ability, but is without doubt the greatest screamers in rock.

Brian Johnson (ACDC) - It sounds like Johnson has been gargling with Nails and whiskey since he was 5. Still his voice fits with the music perfectly.

David Byrne - David Byrne once said 'The better the singer's voice is, the harder it is to believe what they're saying. So I turn my weaknesses into strengths'. I think he succeeded.

Shane MacGowan - If this list was called best drunk singers, Shane MacGowan would win hands down. That is not meant as a slur on the man, the Pogues songs would sound terrible if sung by somebody with a perfect singing voice. MacGowan's vocal delivery is unique and full of character, his lyrics are genius.

Howe Gelb - Howe Gelb is regarded by many as the Godfather of Alternative Country. His voice sounds a little like a whacked out Neil Young with shades of Lou Reed and Tom Waits.

And that completes the “bad” singers that sound great list. Thanks for reading.


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