What makes rock singing good?

I’m stunned by this thread. In it, the following examples for bad rock singers are mentioned : Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Neil Young (not all by the same poster, but still).

For me, these are all essential vocalists in the history of rock’n roll. The most criticism is about their technique, range and so on. Now, I don’t think that technique is very important in rock singing. The aforementioned singers sure have all their genuine techniques, but not a technique in a classical sense, but still can impress with their voice . And there are several interesting singers with a limited range. Take Lou Reed: he has no range at all, but still can nail a song with his voice (at least, IMO).

For me, in rock’n roll singing it is necessary to be able to express emotions. If I get the feelings of a song through a voice, I don’t give a shit about the singer’s technique. See the Whitneys and Mariahs: great voices, but singing like robots.

I don’t deny that a beautiful voice can interpret rock or soul songs (see Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell etc.), but I also love my Joey Ramone , Otis Redding and Patti Smith.

So, what do you think makes a good rock (I’ll include classic soul) singer?

Just for the record: I have no idea of musical theory or vocal techniques and such, I’m just a fan of rock music.

There is a difference between a good singer, who can sing many different types of music and some rock singers who have voices that suit a specific type of music. I disagree about Joplin though. But Neil Young has a limited range . Mick Jagger has no voice at all. But he suited his own music perfectly. You don’t see many successful covers of Stone music. It just wouldn’t sound right.

I don’t get why you’re stunned. No one said they’re “bad rock singers.” They said they’re “bad singers,” meaning technically the voice isn’t good – which could mean several things, including off-pitch, weakness, nasality, harshness…

But almost everyone acknowledged that the abovementioned singers were able to perform the hell outta their songs, either through emotion, strength, sheer star-power, or what have you. Maria Callas wasn’t the most perfect opera singer on the planet, but (in addition to having a very good voice) she could perform/act her roles brilliantly, and whatever flaws were inherent to her voice, no one gave a rat’s ass when they saw her Tosca deciding whether to submit to Scarpia’s sexual advances to save her lover’s life. Not that I’d put Callas’s voice on a par with Bob Dylan’s – the mind revolts! – but I’m just making the point that you can sell a song even without vocal perfection, and the ability to “sell” is even more important in rock / pop.

What makes rock singing “good” depends on your definition of “good.” For me, I need musicality and emotion. If your voice isn’t technical strong then you’d better be able to make those lyrics come to life.

As I mentioned in that thread, Sting is one of my favorite rock/pop singers, because despite his vocal weakness he does things with that voice (through volume and shading) that turn it into a sinuous, flexible instrument in service of the music and lyrics. He’s atmospheric rather than technically beautiful. (Physically he’s definitely beautiful. :)) I believe everything he says in his lyrics, and his musicality is manifest.

Roger Daltry… well, I never thought of him as having a bad voice, so I’m kinda surprised there, but whatever – I think his sheer guts and strength make him an amazing rock singer. (Pete Townshend belongs in this group too.) George Harrison had a very weak voice but he managed some lovely performances, and in a way his fragility/vulnerability worked for him beautifully in “Here Comes the Sun” and especially “Something.” Peter Gabriel is similar to Sting in vocal sound but I don’t think he’s as good at conveying emotion, though I like listening to him very much.

If you can combine power and hella good piipes together (Ian Gillen from Deep Purple is a great example; Billy Joel is another) that’s awesome. But it’s not mandatory in rock/pop.

Sometimes, though, no matter how much emotion a rock star has, I can’t get past the sound of the voice. Bob Dylan, I can hardly bear listening to. Undeniably a great poet and song writer and obviously he speaks to millions. But I can’t not hear Eddie Murphy’s “Buckwheat” when I listen to him. Bono’s another one – very good with lyrics and emotion but I really really dislike the quality of his voice.

If rock singing was all about range and pitch, then cars would be all about comfort and mileage.

And food would be all about nutrients and fibre.

I agree with almost everything you posted, but this got me thinking. In rock’n roll, sometimes harshness, off-pitch and other seemingly weaknesses are stylistic means, and some singers are attractive because of these features. They can even turn to be genuine techniques (think of Howlin’ Wolf’s/Captain Beefheart’s/Tom Waits’ growling and hollering). For me, those techniques are appealing, and I call them good singers. (Then maybe it’s either a matter of taste or definition)


Once rock music started getting LOUD, the need for being a “good singer” wasn’t as important as shouting/yelling/bellowing just to be heard. Imagine the abuse their vocal chords took, having to compete with those Marshall stacks night after night. That’s why many rock singers’ voices are in such sad shape today.

This started earlier in blues, when singers, without being amplified, had to sing (and play) in noisy juke joints.

Good singing is about Sales, Technique and the Song.

Different genres define “Technique” differently (Axl Rose and Janis Joplin have great rock technique, just like Pavarotti has great Opera technique and Aretha has great gospel/r&b technique).

Different genres weight these different factors differently - with Opera, you need a minimum amount of Technique just to play and Sales can be compromised in some cases if Technique is superior; with rock, you can get by with Sales and The Song and virtually no Technique.

…all for now…

I don’t get this attitude. No one’s saying it’s all about the basics. But why is it so wrong to prefer good singers who also have power and emotion and that je ne sais quoi? People like Mick Jagger and all have their place, but why settle for someone who just has undefinable quality when you can have both?

Also, why does Janis Joplin keep getting lumped in with the bad ones? I’d consider her up there with Tina Turner, Aretha, and Dusty for sure.

If you get a chance to see it, the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame concert, Ozzy backed by Metallica

Who in their right mind would want to see a bunch of old guys with instruments on stage… other than they kick out a seriously excellent set.

Ooo, I will definitely watch that. (Blocked at work at the moment.)

Ozzy has one of the best rock and roll singing voices ever. Which is quite amazing, considering he can barely talk! :slight_smile:

I don’t think it’s wrong…but I do think it’s a very rare combination. And, I also suspect that relatively few rock singers have had a significant amount of formal / classical voice training.

I’d certainly put her in that lump. :slight_smile: Rough, screechy, unmelodic voice, at least to my ears. And, I like her!

I don’t think it’s wrong…but I do think it’s a very rare combination. And, leaffan’s “attitude” was essentially saying that he doesn’t want the talent alone.

I also suspect that relatively few rock singers have had a significant amount of formal / classical voice training.

I’d certainly put her in that lump. :slight_smile: Rough, screechy, unmelodic voice, at least to my ears. And, I like her!

I don’t think you necessarily need formal or classical voice training to be good. I’m thinking of people like Elvis, Darlene Love, Tina Turner, Dusty Springfield, Frankie Lymon, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, Levi Stubbs, or Frankie Valli. Granted, not all of these people are strictly rock n roll, but there are so many people who have genuinely good voices who can do amazing things that I guess I prefer to listen to them than to the people who have “heart” or are “good frontmen” or whatever the excuse if for why Mick Jagger is supposed to be a passable singer.

Because not all songs call for technical perfection, and many would in fact be hurt by it. The Beatles weren’t the greatest guitar players ever, but they didn’t need to be - in fact, their records would’ve been ruined had someone like Yngwie Malmsteen vomited all over them.

In addition, everybody’s voice has a unique timbre, and that imparts certain things to the music that may or may not fit a particular song/piece (and that varies according to a given listener’s taste). For example, I happen to like the sound of punk rock vocalists, very few of whom have any level of training. From a traditional, technical standpoint, none of them are very good at all. But when you combine that vocal style with chugging guitars and pounding drums played at breakneck speeds, you get a unique musical alchemy that many people find appealing. Nobody who likes The Descendents thinks to themselves, “Man, this stuff is great, but it would be so much more awesome if Milo had a four-octave range and a perfect vibrato!”

Well, I agree with the categories that others have come up with for evaluating what makes rock singing good - ability to convey emotion, star-power, strength of voice. For me, the timbre or quality of the voice is really important, and I recognize that my preferences on this are totally subjective. I love love love the quality of John Lennon’s voice, and I dislike the quality of Bob Dylan’s voice (which sounds grating to me.) I hear them as very different even though they have similar sounds, and in fact both have been criticized as being too nasal. I like Sting, but I prefer Peter Gabriel because the quality of his voice sounds richer and darker to me. As for Mick Jagger, I actually enjoy the timbre of his voice, but I realize I’m in the minority on this one.

Recently I watched a movie I had never heard of, mainly because Craig Ferguson was in it. He played an aging rock star, and his daughter was played by Charlotte Church. Ms Church is an incredible singer, very well trained in classical or opera or whatever she normally sings. But she just could NOT sing rock-n-roll very well in the movie. It was kind of funny, because, in the movie, the big thing was supposed to be that she had the best voice everyone had heard…but it just was NOT a rock voice.

Absolutely. My guess is that the some people have a very narrow definition of “good”.

Whenever someone from the stage has a crossover hit in the charts I can admire the technical excellence but I always find their voices kind of empty and lacking in soul. Like food that is supposed to be good for me. Like a diet of cod liver oil and broccoli.

I don’t think it’s wrong to want both but there are multiple elements to the “je ne sais quoi” that you may be overlooking which give Mick the edge (for some–I’m on record in the other thread as not a Stones fan).

“Je ne sais quoi” IMO is part emotionality, part charisma, part 'tude, part sex appeal. (Note that for a rock singer part of charisma and/or 'tude might include being a great musician and/or dancer.)

For those who love him Mick has so much of these (especially the 'tude I think though others might stress the sex appeal) that technique is just not an issue.

I’d like to add something else I think is important as distinct from either “je ne sais quoi” or technical prowess. And that is distinctiveness. Some voices you just recognize right away.

For example, Freddy Mercury, Sting, Neil Young, Chrissie Hynde, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Veder, Debbie Harry, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, Robert Smith, Graham Nash, Morrissey, Siouxsie Sioux, Bob Dylan etc. etc.

Some of the above named singers are more technically proficient than others; some have more 'tude or emotionality or charisma. But all of them–because their voices are so recognizable and distinct–put the stamp of their vocals on the sound of that band. This, IMO, is necessary for greatness.