You cannot appreciate light without darkness; you cannot appreciate Chris Cornell’s singing without hearing Neil Young whinge, and the tiny tickle as your eardrums begin to bleed. So as I have done four days of the best of music — and because good pedagogy tells me that teachers should give four positive comments for every negative comment — I have now earned a little negativity. So here it is. Times ten.
For this list, I’m sticking with singers who have longer careers, people who think they can sing even though they can’t. I have no doubt that there are nobodies out there, wanna-bes who won’t be, who have hyperinflated self-images and manage to record something; this is the reason YouTube exists. But for this, I’m strictly looking at successful singers who can’t actually sing. This means that all of these people have fans; usually of their music in general, but often of the singing, in specific. So I know that others will not agree with all of my choices.I sympathize, I really do. But I’m still right. These people really can’t sing. And this list is in order, with the very worst saved for the very last.
#10: Rebecca Black: I know, I know: it’s a cliche. Everyone spent years ripping on this song and this singer. But as I have often noted, things become cliche because they are so frequently true that everyone makes the same observation, the same judgment, the same statement about it. An apple a day (Or at least regularly eating fruit) really does keep the doctor away. You really can’t buy love.
And Rebecca Black really can’t sing. It’s not just the song — though this might be the worst song ever written, and I’m including “Barbie Girl.” She really can’t sing.
I also realize I am breaking my own rules about people with longer careers and avoiding one-hit wonders who suck; so take this as the one who represents all of the people who become singers because they really, really want to be singers; not because they have a calling, or because they love music, or because they have real talent. They just REALLY, REALLY WANT TO. And their parents have enough money to hire a production company.
#9: Eminem: I said this before: Eminem is a brilliant rapper. I love his music, admire his talent and his honesty in his lyrics; the man has an incredible sense of rhythm, and a playful, innovative creativity when it comes to setting words to rhythm and rhyme. Amazing.
But oh my god, somebody tell him he can’t sing. Please? I mean, listen to this song. The rap in the verses is so smooth, so rapid-fire and yet soft and sensitive, as fits his subject, and he packs so many words in there, all in rhythm, all in rhyme, and none of it dropping back to the traditional filler syllables, like “Aw yeah!” or “Gangsta!” or something similar.
And then it turns to the chorus and he sings. And I want to run away and hide.
#8: Geddy Lee: This one’s more personal, and less likely to have other people agreeing with me. So the truth is, I really like prog rock. I’m a longtime fan of King Crimson, and I love Tool. I love the complicated rhythms, the musical virtuosity, the experimental weirdness that sometimes goes too far and keeps it from even sounding like music; I like all of that.
But I hate Rush. Can’t listen to them. Even though they are one of the premier examples of this genre: they are incredible musicians who do all kinds of weird, complicated stuff, ten and twelve and twenty minute songs, with (often pretentious, but that’s a side issue and not unique to Rush) lyrics that draw heavily from literature; all of it requiring great skill. I would love all of that. Except for this one, leeetle thing: I can’t stand Geddy Lee’s voice.
I can’t! Not even for a minute. Even as I write this, I’m listening to the song in the background, to make sure it is the one I want to use as my example, and yup: it’s driving me nuts. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. His voice is just too high, too squeaky, with absolutely no muscle behind it. I hate it. If only he had stood back and played bass and sang background for some other singer, I would probably love this band.
But he didn’t. I don’t. This is why.
#7: Bruce Springsteen: You know, I get it. I’ve known a lot of people who are Springsteen fans. He writes good music — though it’s not really my preference, I can see the draw. And he does a great live show, sure, yes.
But the dude cannot sing. He can’t. He sounds terrible. He mumbles everything. He has to reach for every high note, and when he can’t reach it, he sings it flat and lets it trail off into silence like he meant it to sound like that. Listen: here he is butchering a U2 song. And just listen to how much better The Edge (You know, the guitarist? The backup singer in the band?) sounds than his lead.
#6: Fred Durst: This is a bad singer who needs no argument from me, other than this.
#5: Biz Markie: Worst rapper ever. Maybe that’s the gag, but it doesn’t make it any less terrible to listen to. And he sings, too.
#4: Willie Nelson: This one is a combination. I don’t like country music. I don’t like nasal singers. I don’t like singers who trail off and swallow all of their long notes. Any one of these things, I wouldn’t have much of an opinion: but Mr. Nelson is all three. Sort of the epitome of all three. (I will say that after listening to all of the other singers on this countdown, I suddenly don’t think that Willie is all that bad. I think my ears are crying.)
#3: Tom Petty: This one was tough to place on the list. Because I like a lot of his music. I sing along when he comes on the radio. But the thing is, I sing along loudly: because I can’t stand hearing his voice. I will never understand why people who have genuine musical ability, who write good songs, but who cannot sing, insist on being singers. I liked playing drums, but I was not good at it. So I stopped. I like playing basketball, too — but I don’t play that either. Because I suck. Tom Petty sounds like someone slowly opening a large, extremely squeaky door; and yet there he’s been, for thirty plus years now, squeaking and caterwauling away. Like this.
#2: Neil Young: Okay: Tom Petty I blamed for deciding to be a singer. I blame society for this one. How could anyone with functioning ears like the way this man sounds? I mean, for forty years, people bought his albums and went to his concerts! For this! FOR THIS!
#1 Bob Dylan: The granddaddy of them all. The reason, I believe, that so many bad singers think they can have successful careers if they can write well and perform well. And as I’ve been saying all along, I think the music is fine, some of it is great; but there is no reason — no reason — why any of these people decided they needed to sing. Why any of them could listen to themselves singing these songs and think, “Yeah — that song would suck if someone with a rich, full voice and a good tone were to sing it. What it really needs is a nasal whine, an irritating accent, and crappy enunciation. That’s the stuff!”
So thanks for that, Mr. Dylan.
Here: the top two together. I would advise you not to listen to this. Certainly not all eight minutes. It would be fatal.
And now, for the worst singer of all.
I rap badly, too.