Most vocalists are mediocre pretty much by definition compared to the best.
Many mediocre, and even technically poor vocalists still have the "it" factor to be a "star" and over the years typically get set up with the the most talented musicians available to make a good product.
Bob Dylan demonstrates one need not be even a mediocre vocalist technically or even be overly physically attractive to connect and be a star. I would rather hear Dylan sing any tune he is committed to than than most very good vocalists who may just be going through the motions.
The example of a mediocre vocalist catapulted to stardom that comes to mind is Mick Jagger. I love the Stones but much prefer most studio versions of their stuff to most any live performance mostly due to Mick’s mangling of the vocals in comparison. Just me.
Mick Jagger isn’t mediocre vocalist. He’s lousy and always off the key.
Not attracted neither to Bob nor Mick, but would love to hear Dylan’s songs performed by great jazz vocalists rather than Dylan sing himself. Not his job IMHO.
Just me or maybe not.
Yes. The rock vocalist MUST be lousy to the point of goose bumps on skin sounding similar to opening of the old rusted shed door or grinding noise of breaks with worn pads! Axle Rose I guess is champion.
Can’t tell that about Jim Morrison, Peter Gabriel or even David Byrne.
Personally, I enjoy the singing of many/most of the perps cited. It's that unusual quality that makes the song more charming. Another example is the Band--Rick Danko and Richard Manuel had quirky voices which I like, but I understand why they are not everyone's cup of tea. Levon Helm sounded like a country hick but he had a great voice for the material he sang. They had each other plus Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson playing behind them, not a bad lineup of players.
As far as Dylan covers: the all-time fave is Hendrix' version of All Along the Watchtower. And check out Judy Collins' cover of I Pity the Poor Immigrant, with Buddy Emmons wailing on the pedal steel guitar.
Warren Zevon isn't exactly Jussi Bjoerling (well, maybe next to Dylan he could pass), but his cover of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" blows away the original IMO. Maybe knowing that Zevon was dying of cancer when he recorded it colors my judgement here, but - for me - that is an insanely moving vocal performance.
+1 ! HEW wrote:
"Who's the OP? Tater? Totally disagree with the entire theme of the thread. Inferior vocals compared by whose standard? Would Louis Armstrong be considered Inferior? Kate Bush? Joe Cocker? Is it inferior or different? Or is it just personal preference?"
The premise of this thread is, at best, silly. Where would so much vocal music be without those so-called "mediocre or lousy" vocals?
Just think of the possibilities: Sinatra sings "Masters of War" and other great hits. Jussi Björling sings "Heart of Gold" ....
Tosta wrote: "Levon Helm sounded like a country hick"
Tosta, Perhaps you might want to retract that strange and patronizing comment.
HEW nails it. What the hell are "inferior vocals"??? What the hell is a "superior singer?" All those "inferior" vocalists sound like themselves, ie: "the real thing." Their voices are the essence of their songs.
You’re so right Marty---Yoko is as bad as it gets. Lennon really made a fool of himself by championing her. A couple of guys I find particularly distasteful are Michael McDonald and Steve Perry, though the Bands they were in (The Doobie Brothers and Journey) were comprised of musicians I don’t consider great.
I agree with others that, I don't really see the reason for this post. I also agree with others that singers with less than perfect voices are what "makes" the songs they create, (special). It is the intent of the songwriter along with their expression/emotion that makes the song come alive! Example: Lucinda Williams! I rest my case.
There are always exceptions...Kris Kristofferson...wrote many a song that (others) could have only made into hit records.
My two cents:
I think Neal Schon is a great guitarist.
The Doobie Brothers is one of my all time favorite bands.
Funny that we got a Neal Schon response to Bdp. I was considering making one myself. I was roped into seeing Journey last year and was struck by two (and a half) things:
1). The concert overall struck me as a completely soulless exercise in nostalgia.
2). These guys could play. Expert musicians across the board.
1/2). Neal Schon, in particular, is enormously skilled.
What most struck me was how little they did with so much. Other than a few really schmaltzy ones, a fair number of their hits are pleasant enough. Yet, the entire show left me utterly cold.
It really comes down to personal taste. Every musical decision they made felt calculated. Neal Schon covered The Star Spangled Banner and demonstrated what a terrible idea that was. His playing was certainly admirable, but No! Do not go there! Unless you have something truly compelling to add in your interpretation (if he did, I missed it) this is just a very, very bad idea.
I fully understand that others may see it differently, but as good as the players are, the entirety of it didn't work at all for me. So, in summary:
If Steve Perry qualifies for this thread, I'd say that the little Philippino guy who replaced him does, too.
ps--I absolutely love Levon's voice, whether singing, acting or just speaking in conversation. I'm from a small town in Southeast Texas and it doesn't get any twangier. I'm a hick from the sticks myself so I recognize another when I see one. It was not a knock in any way.
I think people are way too quick to jump the gun and take offense or blow the whistle over nothing these days.
There is a big difference in saying a band, in this case Journey, is comprised of musicians one doesn't consider great and that same band not having a good performance on a particular night.
Subtext: Journey is comprised of several musicians, NS being one of them.
I don't know what martykl really expected, going to a show that featured a band from decades ago that had hit after hit and since then, has not produced anything really new?
I saw them around 15 years ago with the first Steve Perry replacement. (looked and sounded just like SP from the balcony). Frankly, I didn't miss the original. They did what they are known for and that's what I'm sure most of the crowd wanted and expected. NS came out during a break and did some awesome guitar solos!
No doubt about it, Neil Schon is a skilled guitarist, just not one I myself consider great. But then I feel the same about Hendrix, surely even more questionable an opinion! Great for me includes considerations of taste and style, not merely skill (technique or otherwise), and taste and style are always a matter of opinion and, again, taste. Nothing wrong with that---it's why they make ice cream in different flavors, as the old expression goes.
Tostado, I couldn't agree more about Levon's voice. Not great range, but so much character and personality! But Richard Manuel's voice quirky? Unique sure, with a whole lotta soul. He's one of Clapton's favorite Caucasian singers. Speaking of Clapton and guitarists, Eric is dissed a lot, and I don't understand why. I love his phrasing.
It's always a matter of taste wouldn't we agree? EXCEPT in the case of Yoko Ono or could a fan step in and let us know what we're missing. I agree John diminished his influence by promoting her. See what love can do?
One comment "Joni Mitchell has a poor voice? You need to get out more." AGREED!! What I hear in her, besides her unique voice, is her experience and deep observations through her wonderful lyrics, right up there with the best songwriters of the folk/rock era, IMHO of course.
Rock is as much about swagger and appeal as it is about great voices, we're not talking about Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett here but again many would argue whether Frank had a great voice. All so subjective and based on personal biases more than anything else.
I think you conflated my response with the one that followed - "panties in a bunch" wasn't me. I was actually trying to reconcile what you posted with what bop posted. IMO, Neil Schon is a highly skilled player whose taste does not comport with mine. For those with different tastes, he might well be a favorite. I really wasn't trying to make any value judgement at all (beyond the general rule that guitarists should leave the anthem to Jimi).
I was actually trying to note that - although they might appear irreconcilable at a glance - I agreed with both bdp's view of Neal Schon and with yours.
What makes for a great guitarist, or great musician on any instrument?
First and foremost, it’s musicality. In Pop (in the large sense of the term) music, I put the song (it’s chords, their "progression", the melody, harmony, counter-point, arrangement, etc., and lyrics) first, the singing second, the ensemble accompaniment third, and the individual musicianship last (though that collectively impacts, in fact determines, the third). IMO it is the job of every musician to serve first the song, second the singer, and the ensemble of which he is a member third. There is an old axiom amongst seasoned musicians: "Make the other players sound good". That requires selflessness and humility, somewhat of a rare trait amongst guitarists ;-).
The problem posed by "playing for the song" is.....what song?! Many Rock guitarists are the main point of interest in a recording, the songs themselves being merely the vehicle the singer and musicians require to "show their stuff", the level of songwriting quality in the music being generally so low (imo). The problem posed by "make the other players sound good" is.....to play in such a manner requires the others players to also be playing in that manner. It only works if they do.
There is a well-known case of a moment in time when one of the two biggest and most celebrated guitarists in the world (the other being Jimi Hendrix) was faced with the above quandary, and had a musical epiphany. He had just heard a music in which the musicians DID put the song first, DID put the singer second, and DID play in such a manner as to make the other musicians (AND song, AND singer) sound good. He had his entire musical rug pulled out from under him, and had to completely rethink how he made music. He was currently playing music that: 1- Had songs whose main purpose, function in fact, was to give the musicians a platform upon which to play their instruments; 2- Was being played by each musician in such a way as to make each of them individually sound good, the opposite of the axiom above. The guitarist was Eric Clapton, and the music he had just heard was that of The Band, and their new debut album, Music From Big Pink. You can listen to Eric talk about it on You Tube (Eric: "Music had been going in the wrong direction for a long time, and now someone had gone and done it right".).
The Band were the "anti-Cream", their opposite in every way. The members of Cream played as to each make himself the center of attention---each man for himself. Jack Bruce’s bass playing was often fighting for your attention against Eric Clapton’s guitar playing, not complimenting it. Ginger Baker was not laying down a deep pocket and groove in support of the music or Eric and Jack, he was over-playing to a ridiculous degree. He obviously did not subscribe to Duke Ellington’s view of musicianship: "What you don’t play is as important as what you do". Ginger left no space unfilled. The members of The Band, in contrast, played not only for the sake of the song, but left "holes" in their playing, holes to be filled by the other players. Ensemble playing of the highest order, unheard of in a self-contained Rock Group or Band. A level of musicianship only available from the best session musician’s in Muscle Shoals, Memphis, Nashville, Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York.
Now, there are a lot of assumptions in the above, and not all of them necessarily apply to Rock (or any other) music in general, or to guitarists specifically. But consider this: Don’t the "best" songwriters usually have musicians who play in the manner I have described up above? The "better" the songwriter, the more he usually wants from his players musicality, playing that enhances the song itself. When John Hiatt was given his choice of any guitarist in the world to play on his Bring The Family album, he chose, not Neal Schon, but Ry Cooder. When The Stones went in to record after the death of Brian Jones, they brought in, not Neal Schon, but.....Ry Cooder.
Yes, Ry Cooder is my idea of a great guitarist! There are others, but Neal Schon is not one of them. Again, that is just a matter of taste. I find Neal’s guitar playing very common, both numerically and pejoratively. No offense! His playing brings me back to Hendrix. I loved Jimi’s first two albums (I had yet to have the same epiphany as Clapton), and saw he and The Experience live twice. He is probably the most revered Rock guitarist of all time, yet I now don’t like his playing. Why? Beside his God-awful tone (imo!), the answer lies above: For me, it’s all about the song; everything flows from it. Many guitarists are faced with playing music in which the song itself is, as I have already claimed, a mere afterthought, at best. One such guitarist was Hendrix. C’mon, does anyone listen to him for the songs themselves? No, it’s for his guitar playing. But guitar playing is of interest to me only in how it contributes to the music (again, the song) itself, and Jimi’s songs are sure not much to write home about. If the music itself is not interesting, it’s just guitar playing. Guitar playing in isolation from music is not of interest to me. As they say, ymmv!
Actually, I listen to Hendrix for the songs as well as everything else. He's not a great singer but he does okay, as does Clapton (I'm a fan of both). Little Wing has been covered so much I wish people would leave it alone. I think Manic Depression, Angel, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and Fire, among many others, are great songs. But I don't want to hear most covers as they fall far short of the original. Anyway, I'm sorry the songs don't register with you but I don't think I'm alone in this respect. And, FWIW, I like his tone. Lots of celebrated players have worked hard to duplicate it or to create a personalized variation thereof. Sometimes they come to close to the original and put me off (SRV and Robin Trower come to mind immediately). Hendrix, IMO, paved the way for not only a new way to play the guitar but new sounds and songwriting for decades beyond his time. As much as the Yardbirds did to push things forward, Hendrix was the one who smashed the barriers and led rock into a new age. Confused youngsters and wannabes have spent the last 50 years trying to catch up.
I go both ways on this one. Jimi just went about playing the guitar in a new and different way. While I tend to agree with Bdp on both of his main points:
1) Playing should generally be in service to the song
2) Jimi's songs weren't often compelling.
Hendrix may be the rare exception to the rule.
I guess my reasoning is that the other side of the analysis is that playing can also be in service to the technology. One difference between Bach (whose keyboard was a harpsichord) and Mozart is that the latter had access to a newfangled device called a piano. What Mozart did to unleash the instrument's potential is significant (and generally compelling) to me beyond what that playing did for the particular piece at hand.
Fast forwarding to the last century (and NOT drawing any qualitative comparisons), you saw a similar opportunity with both guitar and synthesizer. In my view, the heart of the electric guitar playing evolution occurred in a roughly thirty year span ending in +/- 1965. Charlie Christian, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, and Jimi - as well as a potentially contentious list of bluesmen that I'll avoid selecting - all contributed to the evolution of expression from an instrument that didn't even exist as a commercial product before 1935. That's enough to get me interested, even if the underlying music doesn't always move.
BTW, I'll give Pete Townsend similar props for the synthesizer. For me, the classical world struggled to find good use (although I like some of Phillip Glass' early ideas more than most folks I know) for the instrument. Rock musicians tended to use it as a guitar. Townsend really found a more interesting avenue, IMO.
All in all, an interesting subject to me. My own views are probably somewhat eccentric, s the ever popular: