challenging male vocalists!
October 12, 2017 1:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm working on a music project and need some help coming up with a list of artists to work off of... parameters inside.

Essentially I am looking for examples of "challenging" male vocalists. My definition of "challenging" is someone like Bob Dylan, whose method of singing is sort of a talk-singy-chanty thing and it takes a few listens to discern the notes of his melodies. Another example I would use is David Byrne, who does actually sing in the traditional sense (certainly more so than Dylan) but draws on some deeply weird vocal quirks to execute songs.

I'm NOT looking for male vocalists in the vein of Michael Jackson or Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars - they are very skilled vocalists but I'm more interested in male singers who just aren't very... melodic... when they sing. ???

I don't know if I'm explaining this well or if I'm making any sense, but on the off chance that I am, I'd like to hear your suggestions. I'm happy to clarify further if needed.

posted by thereemix to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Les Claypool
Tom Waits
Tiny Tim
posted by bondcliff at 2:00 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Neil young?
posted by Clustercuss at 2:00 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Springsteen. When you try to sing like Springsteen you realize how much is in the throat. It can really wear you out trying to nail it.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:04 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

wemayfreeze - yes! I have tackled Springsteen songs as a vocalist and to get them to sound right basically means going against every shred of vocal technique I have ever been taught.

These are great suggestions so far, thanks folks! Keep them coming.
posted by thereemix at 2:09 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Brian Johnson from AC/DC, and Axl Rose are both...unique. Geddy Lee from Rush can also be an acquired taste, especially on some of their earlier stuff.

Eddie Vedder ushered in a half-generation of lower-pitched singers (Crash Test Dummies, the first Stone Temple Pilots album, etc.)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:10 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Scott Walker, perhaps.
posted by davebush at 2:12 PM on October 12 [3 favorites]

You might check out Ween. I would say it's fair to call their voices "challenging."
See also Leonard Cohen.
posted by Eumachia L F at 2:18 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Mike Patton.
posted by parm at 2:27 PM on October 12 [3 favorites]

Jonathan Richman--I love him, but my sister (who was a singer) would always say "How can you listen to that? He's off pitch!"
posted by zorseshoes at 2:38 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Mike Doughty.
posted by curiousgene at 2:39 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Stephen Malkmus? Especially later Stephen Malkmus, where he switches from full talk-sing to weird euphonious regular singing in mid-verse. ("Stereo," "Spit on a Stranger," "Trojan Curfew" all come to mind.)

Probably less useful, but I cannot think of a more unique voice than... the guy from Wheatus. ("Teenage Dirtbag")
posted by Polycarp at 2:41 PM on October 12

Ian Curtis. Sounds like a low growly monotone, but if you try to replicate his singing you realize that he is doing all sorts of unorthodox things with the pitch and inflection of each word.
posted by googly at 2:41 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Sean Tollefson (from Tullycraft)
Craig Finn (from The Hold Steady)
Franklin Bruno (from Nothing Painted Blue)
posted by 23skidoo at 2:43 PM on October 12

Fred Schneider of the B-52's?
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:45 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Bob Mould.
posted by nicwolff at 2:48 PM on October 12

Michael Gira
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:09 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

I love his voice but lots of folks find John Darnielle's voice (from the Mountain Goats) to be challenging to listen to.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 3:24 PM on October 12 [6 favorites]

Mark E. Smith (The Fall)
David Tibet (Current 93)
Dan Bejar (Destroyer / The New Pornographers)
Calvin Johnson (Beat Happening, etc. )
posted by mr_roboto at 3:33 PM on October 12 [4 favorites]

Oh, and hell, Weird Al had a whole song about how nobody could understand what Kurt Cobain was singing.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 3:35 PM on October 12

Isaac Brock (e.g., this verse) sings with what can only be described as a "yawp." Unusually perhaps, I think the much glossier, hi-fi production on their later albums makes his voice sound even stranger. Billy Corgan also has that infamous, imprecise nasal wheedling.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:37 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Howlin’ Wolf
posted by mr_roboto at 3:43 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

I am a woman, YMMV, but I find Wallflowers songs deeply satisfying/weird to sing because of the weird breathy-but-not-growly singing style. Same with Collective Soul.

I also find that while David Bowie is very melodic, there's something about his tone that is very difficult to nail, plus his vocal quality really changes across songs.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:46 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

The Hold Steady. Soul Coughing.
posted by evilmonk at 4:34 PM on October 12

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
posted by papayaninja at 4:49 PM on October 12

Josh Homme has this sort of haunted treble croon you don’t hear much. Hard to imitate the hollow quality of it.

Serj Tankian’s vocals are very melodic and he’s talented in the traditional sense, but the sheer diversity of sounds he makes would violate a lot of people’s voice lessons.

Kendrick Lamar’s voice is sometimes so burnt it’s like ash on fire and his syncopation can be challenging to the ear.
posted by kapers at 5:09 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:09 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Paolo Conte
posted by Samarium at 5:14 PM on October 12

Jonathan Higgs from Everything Everything.
Hayden Thorpe from Wild Beasts.
posted by billiebee at 5:14 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Jarvis Cocker.
posted by ElectricGoat at 5:17 PM on October 12

David Thomas of Pere Ubu
posted by neroli at 5:31 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Richard Burton spoke-sang pretty much every note as King Arthur in Camelot, if that counts. It's obvious he wasn't cast on his vocal chops, and yet it made a great foil for Robert Goulet's tuneful, passionate, naive Lancelot.

If you want to REALLY diversify in terms of genres/modern pop culture relevance, it doesn't get much more challenging than Joseph Spence. God rest him, his voice made Tom Waits sound like Barbra Streisand.
posted by armeowda at 5:34 PM on October 12

Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes)
Elvis Costello (at least his early stuff)
posted by holborne at 5:44 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Lou Reed is an essential talk-singer, if you need another example of that.

Tom Verlaine (Television)
Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes)
posted by mean square error at 7:23 PM on October 12

Vladimir Vysotsky if they don't need to be in English.
posted by Smearcase at 7:58 PM on October 12

Shane MacGowan of The Pogues
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:17 PM on October 12

Bill Shatner

He found a way.
posted by Poldo at 8:37 PM on October 12

Bill Callahan/Smog for his very deep voice and talk-singing.
posted by dangerbird at 9:07 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Stephen Merritt of the Magnetic Fields.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:38 PM on October 12

Liam Gallagher sings like he has a mouth full of rocks but he pulls it off somehow.
posted by fshgrl at 9:46 PM on October 12

Robyn Hitchcock. (To me, he sounds splendid, but I know quite a few people who find him too nasal for comfort.)

I also feel like Tom Petty might fit.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:14 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]

posted by fourpotatoes at 4:22 AM on October 13

Conor Oberst.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 4:24 AM on October 13

Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil
posted by imaginary_mary at 4:37 AM on October 13

David Berman in the band Silver Jews, who also wrote a lyric, "All my favorite singers couldn't sing."
posted by Leontine at 5:37 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]

Matt Korvette (of Pissed Jeans) HURTS to sing and his cadence isn't always intuitive. I tried this morning.
posted by kapers at 6:12 AM on October 13

Screamin' Jay Hawkins
posted by DrAstroZoom at 6:56 AM on October 13

Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout has a breathy quality to his voice that is difficult to imitate well.
posted by rollick at 11:58 AM on October 13

Johnny Cash (thought of this Ask when he came up on a playlist this morning).
posted by holborne at 6:11 PM on October 13

I'm pretty surprised the list got this far without mentioning David Yow of Jesus Lizard
posted by lumpenprole at 4:10 PM on October 17

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