Singers who can’t sing

I was playing Transformer by Lou Reed the other day.  Grethe walked in, and demanded to know, in that forthright Scandinavian way, why I was listening to this man who cannot sing.  After a moment’s thought, I replied that there are many great songs by bands or artists who can’t, you know, sing. At least, not very well. 

Thinking about it some more, this seems to be particularly true of some of the greatest musicians of the 1960s and 1970s. Here is my top five list of great singers who can’t actually sing:

  1. Bob Dylan
  2. Lou Reed
  3. Paul Simon
  4. Van Morrison
  5. Mark Knopfler

Other nominations gratefully received.

26 thoughts on “Singers who can’t sing”

    1. Yeah man 2nd that on Ian Brown, he is more of a movement and that was back in the day, today his singing live is pretty awful, or maybe its the sound engineer of the gigs I have seen??

  1. Jim: I guess I never thought of Johnny Rotten as even trying to sing!

    Ben: are you being perhaps a little harsh on Michael Stipe? I was listening to Murmur just this morning. He is certainly no Frank Sinatra, but his voice modulates somewhat.

  2. George Michael
    Axel Rose – Guns’n’Roses
    Louis Armstrong
    Elvis Costello
    Chris Rea
    Kurt Cobain – Nirvana
    Mike Skinner – The Streets (arguably not great)

    1. George Michael!!!!!???? Are you sure?? Maybe his voice doesn’t sit right in your ear, but can’t sing is not right, he has/had excellent vocal range and could reach whatever he was pushing for when it comes to notes.

  3. Fat Bob Smith?

    Owen adds: I suppose it should be no surprise that someone with a gothic-sounding domain like “devil’s kitchen” should be a fan of The Cure! But you are stretching a point to call any of their songs “great”.

  4. Fat Bob Smith?

    Owen adds: I suppose it should be no surprise that someone with a gothic-sounding domain like “devil’s kitchen” should be a fan of The Cure! But you are stretching a point to call any of their songs “great”.

  5. I cannot sing, either.

    What about women? I notice the list is all male!

    Alanis Morrisette, Chrissy Hynde, Janis Joplin

    Celine Dion, Sher, Macie Gray, Mariah Carey, Avril Lavigne, Natalie Merchant ..

    1. The first line is women who may not be able to ‘sing’ but they express real honest emotion, so I give them an OK.

      The second line – I run away screaming when I hear their voices.

    2. Van Morrison? Not sing? Maybe not withThe Them (wasn’t that the first band?) but Astral Weeks and so on. He can at least hold a tune (and stay in key) which is more than the other four can do. Paul Simon live is a horrible experience.

      Ringo Starr? George Harrison? Elton John (now, anyway, his voice is shot)?

      1. Its 2018, and I’m watching Van Morrison on AxsTv, and he definitely cannot sing. He vocalizes, but that’s not singing.

    3. Van Morrison? (There I go again agreeing with Tim. Hate it when that happens. Er, no offence, Tim.)

      Elvis Costello belongs in a different and more subjective list – singers who can pitch & hold a note but do so in a way which many people find intensely irritating (same goes for all me?’s female nominations).

      David Thomas of Pere Ubu is another example – on his own account he’s actually tone deaf, has no idea whether one note is higher or lower than another. Great vocalist, though. More obscurely, Gerard Langley of Blue Aeroplanes generally doesn’t even try to sing.

      Leonard Cohen used to be able to sing (although in an intensely irritating way, for my money) but his voice has completely gone these days, from what I hear. Dylan’s also suffered – if you think his voice sounds bad on Blood on the Tracks you should hear Love and Theft.

      1. Yeah, Jagger is sometimes an interesting vocalist, and he does have a sound like no other, but that’s not singing. Half the time he’s just pretending to be black.

    4. Ian Brown – Cant sing, however… Member of possibly the greatest band ever – The Stone Roses, anyone disagree?
      Van Morisson – Cant sing????? Who Is Being Absurd, listen 2 him on the last waltz on caravan and you’ll c who cant sing

    5. As David Berman – another thin voiced marvel – of the Silver Jews sings in his ‘We Are Real’:
      "Repair is the dream of the broken thing / All my favorite singers couldn’t sing."

    6. Some of you guys have no idea what you’re talking about. Axl Rose? Brilliant singer in his hey day! Paul Simon, I mean, are you deaf? One of the most perfect and clear voices out there with a perfect sense of harmony. Someone said Celine Dion and Janis Joplin and a few others? I had to read the post twice to see if she said CAN or CAN’T sing.
      I bet a few people here aren’t even musicians and have no idea what the hell they’re talking about

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