In an attempt to get him and his band a wider audience, he auditioned for Season 10 of American Idol. Despite the fact that his singing voice is comprised of creaks and breaks, hoarseness and shaky whispers, he has made it thus far to the top 9. What I hear as a broken down car crashing through a dilapidated, haunted house, fingernails slowly dragged across a chalkboard, or a rasp being pulled across a jagged rock, others hear as "quirky" and "unique."
He sounds like Rod Stewart, some say. Others remind us that Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. I will not sully any of those great artists by paying any heed to these farfetched comparisons. But, the discussion of a singer not being able to sing -- which one would think would be a deal breaker on a singing competition show -- caused me to think about singers who I have liked who might not have traditionally good voices. Resulting in this, a list of my favorite singers who can't sing -- but who I love despite their vocal shortcomings.
Elvis Costello -- While his aim is true, his voice sounds a lot more like someone under water or perhaps choking on phlegm. The older he gets, the more aggravating'y awful his voice is. But he wrote this, What's So Funny 'bout (Peace, Love and Understanding), Watching the Detectives and Radio, Radio, so all is forgiven.
Arlo Guthrie -- He brought nasally signing to a new high, or low, depending on how much of a stickler you are for proper singing technique. You could tell he was influenced as much by Bob Dylan's legendary shortcomings as a vocalist as his prowess as a songwriter.
Graham Parker -- He can't sustain a note, his voice gets awkwardly twisted around the words he's trying to articulate and he has no power. Oh, and he sings too high, his voice gets weaker as the song goes on, and he has a really creepy sound augmented by a slight rasp. So why is The Mona Lisa's Sister in heavy rotation on my iTunes?
Jackson Browne -- He has been quoted as saying, "I never was a very good singer," and I remember he once told a story of him siging up in his room and his father asking what that horrible noise was. But he sang well enough, if not traditionally well, to sell his songs.
Billy Corgan -- He is of course a brilliant songwriter and, as with the others on this list, I cut him slack because of that. But knowing what his voice sounds like -- a cat being choked and electrified at the same time -- the fact that he would cover one of the most beautiful songs ever written just tickles me to no end. And you know what, with all his squawking and sputtering, I love his version.
John Darnelle -- I think he only has one key, and it's flat. It is more spoken-word than singing. He's never been taught about breath control, or singing from your diaphragm, or how not to sing through your nose. He was busy learning how to write songs that cut right through your heart.
Ben Folds -- He doesn't even try and sing, basically talking his way through most of the song, before trying to squeak out the melody in a voice so flat and tuneless you think the Brick of the title is an apt analogy.
Tom Petty -- The owner of possibly the most grating voice in all of music, Petty is a talented as writing songs as he is incapable of singing them in a pleasing manner. When he gets to the chorus and has to sing in the higher register, it's as painful to hear as it seems to be on his poor, strained vocal chords. But I woudn't want him to stop if it meant no more songs this good.
Here's Paul McDonald singing his own material, a song called American Dreams. For me, the song is not nearly in the caliber of any of the songs above -- it's typical lightweight, forgettable pop. If you can't sing well, you need to overcompensate with your songwriting. Until he does that, I'll continue to point out his vocal deficits in my American Idol recaps -- especially since not to do so would be like shooting into a barrell of fish and missing.