My Top 10 Ugly Beautiful Singers
I hate perfect singing. You know, the way they sing on Smash, or Idol or Glee. If you say you love someone’s music because “they have such a great voice”, I’ll probably hate them. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word. But people with perfect voices leave me cold.
From a purely technical perspective, I can understand the beauty of people with lovely voices, perfect pitch and pure tones. But I like listening to the unusual, the unexpected — the ugly-beautiful. Give me Tom Waits any day. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Lou Reed — I would much prefer to hear them sing than anything by, let’s say, Adele. (Ducks)
Here are my top 10 favourite ugly-beautiful singers:
I have this fantasy where an unknown Tom Waits auditions for one of these music reality programs, and Simon Cowell calls security and has him dragged off — because you know that’s what would happen. But I think Tom Waits is a fantastic singer even though he sounds like he’s gargling gravel. He’s not a nightingale; he’s a Mack Truck! Waits uses his voice like some pre-historic musical instrument.
Some of you might only know of Joanna as Andy Samberg’s wife. But she is an accomplished singer, harpist, and songwriter. Now, if you haven’t heard Joanna sing, well, Joanna once described her voice as “untrainable”. It’s not awful, but it is highly unusual and idiosyncratic. But I can only imagine Joanna turning up to an Idol audition with her harp and her little girl’s voice. Rejected!
Many people dismiss Dylan as a vocalist but have you ever really listened carefully to how he sings? Listen to the way he emphasises specific words. Listen to the way he uses words as rhythmic devices in the song. No one does this better than Dylan. And yet, no one would describe Dylan’s voice as perfect or pleasing. But it is good!
When she sings in the Cocteau Twins, I challenge anyone to explain what she’s singing. At least you can half understand her in her cover version of Tim Buckley’s (father of Jeff) Song To The Siren as part of This Mortal Coil. What a performance! But most of the time, Elizabeth uses her voice like a musical instrument; the words are unimportant. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Neil Young has quite possibly the whiniest voice in the history of rock music, but who cares. He has delivered some of the best vocal performances in the history of rock, folk, and country music. And though many people have tried, no one sings a Neil Young song like Neil Young.
In 1966, Marianne Faithfull had a perfect voice. A voice so beautiful it made angels weep. By 1979, years of drug abuse had stripped her voice of perfection but left us with one of the most unique and distinct voices in pop music. I know which voice I prefer.
Shane MacGowan has a voice as ugly as his teeth, which are very ugly indeed. And yet, when he sings a ballad like Summer in Siam or The Fairytale of New York, he sounds so beautiful. Well, it sounds beautiful to me. There is beauty in imperfection; you just need to allow yourself to see it.
Kate Bush can divide a room. Some people love her voice, and some people hate it. I’m in the group that loves her voice. Well, I’ve come to love her voice. I will admit the high-pitched sound of teenage Kate on her early hits, like Wuthering Heights, is an acquired taste. But as her voice matured and deepened, she became one of the best female vocalists in music history.
Over the years, Lou Reed’s voice gradually became as raw and haggard as the guitar distortion he loved so much. His half-spoken New York drawl can be more poet than songbird. But there’s no doubt it’s one of the most descriptive voices out there. Each word he sings is like an entire novel. Not many vocalists can do that.
And finally, we have Bjork, one of the most eccentric singers in the history of pop music. Unique, idiosyncratic, ugly, and beautiful. Soft as a whisper, loud as a wail. No way she would win Idol! She’d be out in the alleyway with all the other Idol rejects on the first day of auditions, just like all the other singers mentioned in this post.