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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.


Submit a Comment
  • WayneCha profile image


    6 years ago from Sacramento, California

    Calvin Johnson, frontman for Beat Happening, is clearly an undisciplined singer, but absolutely perfect for a band that never tries to sound accomplished. And when she steps up to the mic for her occasional leads, Heather Lewis matches him note for flat note.

    Speaking of flat singers who sound great, Liz Phair is a favorite of mine. She's always had a great melodic sense whether being on top with "Exile in Guyville" or being accused of selling out from "whitechocolatespaceegg" on. If anything, her vocals enhance the tunefulness of her songs despite sounding off much of the time.

    But if I had to choose just one amazing pop songwriter who doesn't get the credit he deserves as a vocalist, I'd have to go with Anton Barbeau. He's in good company with Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, and Leonard Cohen, but he's obviously below the radar by comparison and should be hitting the charts with each and every album he releases. (And there have been quite a few.) There's a few times when he emphasizes the unconventional tone of his voice as he does on a cover of "The Gambler" and on a whacked-out take of his own "Little Bleep Bleep," but for fans like myself, hearing the sound of his vocals is like musical comfort food. I used to give out his first CD ("The Horse's Tongue") to a number of friends and acquaintances (before I was able to take advantage of disc-burning technology), and several times I had to put up with knuckleheads complaining about his voice as though they were listening to Adam Duritz. (Dude, you are NOT Van Morrison!) Anton is much better than better-known singers with presumably better voices, and you BETTER go check him out right now!

  • jericho911 profile image

    Kenneth Claude 

    8 years ago from Ohio

    I actually like Stevie Nicks voice, but it's a very interesting and original article, to say the least. Thanks for the effort

  • Theeyeballkid profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    No scorn from me Sir! Springsteen has an interesting voice which suits the music but it isn't pretty, that is for sure.

    As a big Gano fan, can I just say that it is quite a talent you have there. Be sure to sing a lot of Karaoke, the world would be a much better place if more people sounded like Gordon Gano.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    I am probably asking for a boatload of scorn, but Frank Sinatra was flat and off-key all the time. He definitely could croon, though and that's what we like about his singing. I'd add him to the list, for sure.

    Another one I'd add (again lots of hate coming my way) would be Bruce Springsteen. I wouldn't say he has a great voice, but it suits his music very well.

    As for Gano, I love the fact that I can sing along with the Violent Femmes in my natural voice and blend in nicely. (Well, blend in at any rate; my voice is *not* a singing voice!)

  • Theeyeballkid profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Thanks for reading Spartucusjones, you are so right. Much better for a singer to be remembered for having a voice that you either love or hate than the boring, technically good but unmemorable, ready made for today's pop chart voices.

  • spartucusjones profile image

    CJ Baker 

    9 years ago from Parts Unknown

    Great list! It includes many of my faves. But I agree many of these singers can be polarizing because they don't have good singing voices in the technical and traditional sense. But of course that is what makes them great.

  • Theeyeballkid profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Thanks TheMusicGeek, yes I probably shouldn't call them "bad singers", they all have great voices in their own right. Music sounds much better when it is a little rough around the edges.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • TheMusicGeek profile image


    9 years ago

    I love this hub because I consider 9/10 of these singers some of my all time favorites and I never once even thought to refer to them as bad singers. I listen to Lucinda Williams on a regular basis, Neil Young is my hero and Bob Dylan...I'm pretty sure the majority of the amazing artists out there would not exist without his influence. Great job!

  • Theeyeballkid profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    That is a great quote Starkravenmadman!!, I agree 100%!.

    Thanks for reading and commenting

  • Starkravenmadman profile image


    9 years ago from Earth

    I have said for years, "I would rather be known as a good bad singer than a bad good singer."

    This article is perfect.

    Thanks for taking the time to acknowledge the great bad singers of all time.

  • Theeyeballkid profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Haha that is so very true about Gordon Gano.Im not sure whether it is the voice or lyrics of Tom Waits that my wife finds so offensive, I did try very carefully to ease her into his music starting with the non offensive early balladeering Waits (grapefruit moon era) but she didn't like that either. I do know the name the BoDeans (90s alternative band right?) I'll be sure to check them out, your desription has me very intreaged indeed!

    Thanks for reading KFR

  • KF Raizor profile image

    KF Raizor 

    9 years ago

    I love the Violent Femmes, but I agree 100% with you about Gordon Gano. He sounds like someone whose voice got stuck while doing an impersonation of Lucy Ricardo's whine. His voice is perfect for that band, though. And LOL about the Tom Waits remarks, although I wonder if it's his voice or his lyrics that scare the kids (or maybe a combination of the two).

    Another "golden throat" you might want to check out is Sam Llanas of the BoDeans. He sounds like someone put Boraxo in his Listerine but he really pulls it off, especially with their harmonies.

    Great hub!

  • Theeyeballkid profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Thanks for reading Bloggernotjogger.

  • bloggernotjogger profile image


    9 years ago from La Cala de Mijas, Spain

    Interesting hub.


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