Who’s your favourite
singer who can’t sing?
I have a particular fondness for musicians who choose to sing despite their having a very limited vocal range. I think this is because I’m mostly tone deaf and though I try to make up for it with showmanship and pizzazz, I’m never going to sing anything in a way that people are going to describe as pretty.
In fact, one of my weirdo hobbies is to try and imitate some of my favourite non-singing singers singing covers they are unlikely to ever perform. Occasionally, when I ‘m bored, I’ll even upload one of these efforts on YouTube. For example, here’s my version of Tom Wait singing Wham’s classic ode to guilty feet, “Careless Whisper”:
And here’s my take on how Leonard Cohen would handle the theme song for Fresh Prince of Bel Air:
Of course, these are terrible, but that’s kinda the point. To insist that music always be perfect and pretty misses the point. It’s about how it makes you feel and doing these impressions makes me feel fun and silly, while the music from the actual musicians who inspired them make me feel a wide range of important and necessary emotions.
My iTunes playlist is full of songs by singers who can’t sing, but here are the five I’ve listened to the most over the years:
“Liar” Rollins Band
Truthfully I grew up being more of a fan of Henry Rollins spoken word material, but this beloved-by-Beavis-AND-Butthead classic is just the song I need when I want to pretend like I want to punch something.
“I Know What Boys Like” The Waitresses
Waitresses lead singer Patty Donahue proved that you didn’t need to be able to carry a tune so long as you had the appeal it takes to confidently sing an ode to your irresistibility.
“Hey Baby” Maggie Estep
Remember when people cared about poetry in the 90s? It was weird, but I’m glad it happened because it meant not one but two albums by the late Maggie Estep, which combined music with spoken word material in a way that still makes me happy.
“Just a Friend” Biz Markie
Now it goes without say that today any musician who released a song with this particular theme would inspire at least hundred think pieces (including at least four on The Good Men Project alone), but lamentable gender politics aside, this is probably the catchiest song I’ve ever heard in my entire life and its performed by a dude whose inability to sing the chorus only makes it that much more endearing.
“Sweet Jane” Lou Reed
More than any other famous singer who can’t sing (Bob, Tom, Leonard, Neil, Paula, etc) none has probably touched me more than Mr. Reed. Like most artists who fit into this particular category, he was a poet first and a performer second. And thank god for the poets ready to save us from those who only skill is the ability to remain on key.
So that’s a small selection of my favourites. What songs do you love are performed by folks who even you have to admit are more vocally enthusiastic than vocally talented?