For a while now I'm been puzzling over the phenomenon of Guys-who-aren't-conventionally-good-singers-but-who-get-to-sing-anyway-because-they're-good-songwriters-or-guitarists. You know the ones... Dylan, Hendrix, Leonard Cohen, Mark Knopfler... The thing that puzzles me is that they're all... guys. Can you think of any women who are successful singers who aren't conventionally "good" singers? Other than so-bad-they're-good novelty acts like The Shaggs and Mrs. Miller. Or like the Raincoats, a female punk band... in punk bad singing is expected; anything resembling good singing (The Clash, of course) is unusual. So where in rock, jazz or pop can you find popular female singers with limited or off-kilter styles? Well, I finally got a lead.
Since I'm in a production of Kiss Me Kate I've been on a Cole Porter kick, and so I picked up a Cole Porter tribute Revue CD recently... it's got a bunch of (mostly older) singers doing really terrific versions of Porter tunes... and some of those old gals don't quite have the pipes they must have had back in the day, but they more than make up for it. You can hear all their years' experience coming out of those cracked, straining, imperfect but wise and expressive voices.
And if you really delve into show tunes you'll hear more singers who can't hit the notes but who sell the songs wonderfully. Listen to the original recording of Send In The Clowns. And the original version of Sue Me from Guys and Dolls... the guy in that was actually tone deaf, and it shows! But the performers are selling the songs and the parts. I'm listening to these partly for the pure pleasure, but partly to solve the challenges of singing with my relative inexperience and wonky skills. I've been surprised by the diversity and idiosyncracy allowed in show tunes... I would have expected a more homogenized, pasturized vocal style would have been mandatory, but musical theatre is teeming with happy surprises for the receptive newcomer.