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John Moe: My Favorite Singers Who Can't Really Sing All That Well, If We're Being Honest

Brian Johnson of AC/DC performs in Sydney, Australia.
Brian Johnson of AC/DC performs in Sydney, Australia.Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

by John Moe

September 14, 2016

It took me until my mid-20s to start singing in a rock band. I had always been under the impression that performing music for the public or even just practicing it in a rehearsal space required genuine vocal ability. Not so! In my case, I had friends who played instruments but weren't able to play a song the same way twice in a row. I was able to alter, expand, or contract lyrics I was largely making up on the fly. As the band developed, I concentrated on performing VERY EMPHATICALLY to make up for not always being in the same zip code as the note. Or the same area code, sometimes. But I kept going anyway, creating songs, playing shows and having fun.

And I'm not alone! The more I think about it, the more I realize there are plenty of singers out there doing very well who can't really especially sing all that great. But their voices work, their musicians are good, and they create something you can love.

I am not here to criticize singers who can't sing. I am here to ADORE singers who can't sing.

First, who isn't on the list. There are several vocalists who have, I think, an undeserved reputation as bad singers when they are actually good singers with weird voices. Tom Waits can really sing but doesn't sound like anyone else. Same with Neil Young and Randy Newman. They find the notes, they have the tone, they deliver the message of the song (which they've almost always written themselves), but they just sound goofy doing it. Goofy is not the same as bad. Several singers who are on my list have very nice vocal instruments, it's just that they can't sing too good.

Singers who are not all that good at singing but who I enjoy and who just missed making the list: Lana Del Rey, Paula Abdul, Rihanna, Ben Folds, Stephen Malkmus, Madonna, Ozzy Osbourne.

Now on to the list:

As for Bob Dylan, I don't know. I just don't know.

John Moe is heard every Wednesday on Oake & Riley in the Morning, commenting on the latest Internet trends. He also co-hosts the podcast Conversation Parade (with Open Mike Eagle) on the Infinite Guest network, and is an author of a number of books, including The Deleted Emails of Hilary Clinton: A Parody and Dear Luke, We Need To Talk, Darth: And Other Pop Culture Correspondences.