Voices you either love or hate...
June 22, 2008 11:26 AM   Subscribe

I like singers with strange voices. I don't like novelty songs (e.g. Betty Boop) and I don't like "songs" that are so avant-garde that they're basically noise (e.g. someone screaming into a microphone). So I'm not looking for strange music. I'm looking for traditional (melodic) music sung by singers with non-traditional singing voices. Examples of what I like: Joanna Newsom, Leon Redbone, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Elaine Stritch.

This is obviously a matter of personal taste and interpretation, but I want to find singers with a lot of eccentric character -- not singers that are just putting on a weird act.
posted by grumblebee to Media & Arts (104 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Blossom Dearie.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:33 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Janis Joplin - Summertime, Gröna Lund 1969
posted by jayCampbell at 11:37 AM on June 22, 2008

Tom Waits is an obvious choice.
posted by Ugh at 11:37 AM on June 22, 2008

Leonard Cohen
posted by nitsuj at 11:40 AM on June 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Tom Waits, though I'm not fond of his stuff at all, seems like the archetypal example. Bjork is another mainstream example.

Tiny Tim! In the that vein, how about a castrato?
posted by phrontist at 11:40 AM on June 22, 2008

Alice Smith
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:40 AM on June 22, 2008

Nina Hagen and Lene Lovich.
posted by stavrogin at 11:41 AM on June 22, 2008

In the vein of Joanna Newsom, you've got your Antony and the Johnsons and Marissa Nadler and Devendra Banhart. Oh, and Nick Drake of course.

Your criteria seems specifically designed to exclude Bjork, so I won't list her here...
posted by aparrish at 11:42 AM on June 22, 2008

Victoria Williams
Malcolm Holcolmbe
Antony and the Johnsons (and while we're at it Klaus Nomi ). Neither of these are traditional per se, but they certainly are mesmerizing.
posted by kimdog at 11:43 AM on June 22, 2008

Chocolate Rain! I cannot google for the link, for fear that it will start playing.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:48 AM on June 22, 2008

Leon Russell -- videos.
posted by ericb at 11:49 AM on June 22, 2008

The Decemberists! Definitely a love/hate kind of voice. Also they have covered Joanna Newsom so you might be digging the style.
posted by amethysts at 11:49 AM on June 22, 2008

Joe Cocker.
posted by ericb at 11:51 AM on June 22, 2008

Talking Heads, or David Byrne's solo albums.
posted by Prospero at 11:51 AM on June 22, 2008

Howlin' Wolf. Here's a great video of the man performing.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:54 AM on June 22, 2008

Current 93 (for the most traditionally musical material, check out Thunder Perfect Mind, All The Pretty Little Horses, or Of Some Ruine Or Blazing Starre)
Legendary Pink Dots
Emiliana Torrini
Earlier-era Björk
Daniel Johnston
Nick Cave (sometimes he sounds like a natural crooner/rocker, other times he sounds like a pretty unusual front man)
Jello Biafra
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:55 AM on June 22, 2008

Bob Dylan?
posted by hexatron at 11:59 AM on June 22, 2008

How is possible no-one mentioned Joni Mitchell yet?

Also Sally Timms, possibly best-known for her work with the Mekons.

Karen Dalton (little-known, but rather the archetypal singer of this type. I particularly like "In Her Own Time.")
posted by desuetude at 12:02 PM on June 22, 2008

Bobby Bare Jr.! Your Favorite Hat comes to mind as one of his most weird-voice-y songs.
posted by librarina at 12:04 PM on June 22, 2008

Daniel Smith, a.k.a. Danielson Famile.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2008

Forgot the link! Danielson Famile. Falsetto fantastico.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:08 PM on June 22, 2008

Lots of great weird voices in the blues and old-time canon. Some of my favorites are Skip James, Roscoe Holcomb, Dock Boggs, Blind Willie Johnson and Charlie Patton.

Nico also comes to mind.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:11 PM on June 22, 2008

Neutral Milk Hotel
Man Man (similar to Tom Waits, especially on Six Demon Bag and Rabbit Habits)
The Twilight Sad (the singer has a thick Scottish brogue)
posted by rabbitsnake at 12:12 PM on June 22, 2008

Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan are kind of the holy trinity of this kind of thing. Lou Reed and Cat Power, too.
posted by EarBucket at 12:13 PM on June 22, 2008

Dengue Fever
posted by geekyguy at 12:14 PM on June 22, 2008

Mrs. Bucket says Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing.
posted by EarBucket at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2008

Oh, and on the Americana side of things, Gillian Welch and Ralph Stanley.
posted by EarBucket at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2008

Seconding Lou Reed and Nick Cave and throwing in Placebo (seen here live with Bowie). Brian Molko seems to split people into camps of lovers and haters.
posted by merocet at 12:20 PM on June 22, 2008

Sometimes Richard Buckner's voice is really bizarre-sounding to me. Actually, I love it, but Mrs. Benson thinks it's weird.
posted by elmer benson at 12:33 PM on June 22, 2008

The Cure. Only up until 1992, though.
posted by stavrogin at 12:33 PM on June 22, 2008

Robi del Mar
posted by interrobang at 12:36 PM on June 22, 2008

...also streamable here.
posted by interrobang at 12:37 PM on June 22, 2008

Perhaps Stan Ridgway (of Wall of Voodoo)? He's somewhat known for his odd, "carnival barker" (not my words) vocal style. From Wikipedia: "a flat, uninflected, nasal Western drawl that combined the stoic ballad-style Sprechgesang of Johnny Cash, the declamatory theatrical delivery of Ethel Merman, and the ironic, clenched-jaw voice of a wisecracking ventriloquist's dummy doing James Cagney impressions and carny routines." Though, it's not nearly as "unorthodox" as Joanna Newsom's or Klaus Nomi's vocal style(s).

I also second Klaus Nomi.

Those are the only two I can think of.
posted by Dreamcast at 12:37 PM on June 22, 2008

Regina Spektor
posted by mpls2 at 12:40 PM on June 22, 2008

I think Iris Dement has a really interesting voice, yet beautifully traditional music.

Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley might be categorized as just having a twee-y, immature vocal affectation, but I would say it is unique, more so on earlier albums.
posted by dahliachewswell at 12:45 PM on June 22, 2008

Eugene Chadborne
posted by sourwookie at 12:45 PM on June 22, 2008

Oh, I forgot Coco Rosie
posted by dahliachewswell at 12:48 PM on June 22, 2008

Dan Bejar (Destroyer/The New Pornographers)
posted by greenland at 12:50 PM on June 22, 2008

posted by ascullion at 12:50 PM on June 22, 2008

I don't know if she qualifies as having an "unusual" voice, but Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls isn't afraid to let her voice go out of key when the music calls for it.

All my other suggestions have been put up already.
posted by Caduceus at 12:53 PM on June 22, 2008

Oh! And John Vanderslice. Although he swings from crackly to normal. Since Tom Waits has been mentioned, I'll throw in The Eels, as well.
posted by greenland at 12:53 PM on June 22, 2008

Ingrid Lucia alone or with Flying Neutrinos.
posted by dhartung at 12:53 PM on June 22, 2008

Early David Gray, before he lost his accent and edgy voice.
posted by danb at 12:55 PM on June 22, 2008

Well, there's Stina Nordenstam, Meredith Monk, Robert Wyatt, and the Roches.

Once you leave behind Western music, of course, this sort of thing becomes much easier:

Galina Durmushliyska, Bulgaria
Fairuz, Lebanon
Umm Kulthum, Egypt
Sussan Deyhim, Iran (Warning: worst video accompaniment ever)

These are all top-notch singers within their own respective cultures, of course, but among Western ears, they can polarize a room.

Here are some decent choices from folks mentioned above: Richard Buckner, Grace Braun, The Raincoats.
posted by mykescipark at 12:56 PM on June 22, 2008

Cocteau Twins
Blonde Redhead
The Knife
Arab Strap
Bloem de Ligny
posted by fire&wings at 12:58 PM on June 22, 2008

I'm looking for traditional (melodic) music sung by singers with non-traditional singing voices.

I know it sounds like you don't want Björk, but her early Gling-Gló album may be the exception. It's quirky Björk vocal goodness applied to solidly traditional jazz standards. Give the samples a listen.
posted by mumkin at 1:08 PM on June 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Shane MacGowan in most other situations would have never been allowed to take lead vocals for a band, but it comes off wonderfully with the Pogues (and his 'Popes' material as well - I love "The Snake With Eyes Of Garnet")
posted by pupdog at 1:11 PM on June 22, 2008

El Perro del Mar
posted by thisjax at 1:14 PM on June 22, 2008

For something pretty modern, try out Conor Oberst.
posted by Precision at 1:14 PM on June 22, 2008

Jimmy Scott, Sycamore Trees
posted by the Real Dan at 1:18 PM on June 22, 2008

Some of these suggestions have quite normal and conventionally appealing voices, in my opinion.

Anyway, I'll throw in J Mascis/Dinosaur Jr, Ariel Pink, Mia Doi Todd and Picastro.
posted by loiseau at 1:21 PM on June 22, 2008

A lot of these suggestions are people with totally normal or just slightly quirky singing styles, especially compared to someone like Joanna Newsom. Devendra and Antony are good suggestions though.

John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats isn't super-weird, but I will second that suggestion. He's got a very distinctive nasally and extremely passionate howl. I guess you can include Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel in the same category.

Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs have some pretty idiosyncratic vocals.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:27 PM on June 22, 2008

Yma Sumac.
posted by hexatron at 1:30 PM on June 22, 2008

kristin hersh. kate bush.
posted by ifjuly at 1:39 PM on June 22, 2008

Recently out in this part of the world are Gin Wigmore and Dudley Benson.
posted by minus zero at 1:52 PM on June 22, 2008

Mia Doi Todd, Dame Darcy, Tullycraft, the Slits, certain songs by the Ex, Dog Faced Hermans, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cub, Divine, X-Ray Spex, Essential Logic, Edith Massey, Lydia Lunch (including her early projects Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and 8-Eyed Spy), Half Japanese, 5-6-7-8's, Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth/Free Kitten/Ciccone Youth), and the soundtrack to Forbidden Zone are all worth checking out.
posted by jtron at 1:57 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

John Prine
posted by TedW at 2:11 PM on June 22, 2008

Louis Armstrong!
posted by Class Goat at 2:21 PM on June 22, 2008

Biz Markie
Lucinda Williams
Jón Þór Birgisson (of Sigur Rós)
posted by nicwolff at 2:28 PM on June 22, 2008

Via Tania
posted by unmake at 2:32 PM on June 22, 2008

Emmylou Harris
posted by archimago at 2:34 PM on June 22, 2008

Response by poster: This is awesome. I have a ton of listening to do. Thanks. Keep 'em coming.
posted by grumblebee at 2:50 PM on June 22, 2008

Jeffrey Lewis
Matty Pop Chart
Barry Bliss
Plus a lot of bands on Plan-it-X records.
posted by symbollocks at 3:04 PM on June 22, 2008

It surprises me no one has mentioned Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals. Another suggestion: Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal.
posted by jeffmshaw at 3:06 PM on June 22, 2008

posted by HotPatatta at 3:14 PM on June 22, 2008

Arthur Russell - the voice used, truly, as an instrument, and a musician who spent his entire, short life reconciling his avant garde sensibilities and his love for pop music and melody.

The film Wild Combination will give you a great introduction.
posted by lottie at 3:54 PM on June 22, 2008

Fred Eaglesmith - href="http://www.fredeaglesmith.com/">
posted by Rain Man at 3:55 PM on June 22, 2008

Or maybe: Fred
posted by Rain Man at 4:02 PM on June 22, 2008

Jimmy Scott is a jazz singer with total mastery over the standards. The combination of his boy's voice and eccentric phrasing puts some people off, but he brings life to songs you would have dismissed as overplayed.

K. McCarty is mostly known for singing in Glass Eye and doing a (very good) album of Daniel Johnston covers. She's a natural alto with a vibrato that seems to crop up at random.

Diamanda Galas would probably qualify as "screaming into a microphone" by your terms, but she can do the blues.

Mimi Goese was the singer for the short-lived Hugo Largo, where she honed an idiosyncratic voice, alternately murmuring and swooping up and down. After the band broke up, she's worked regularly in other groups as well as on solo projects. There isn't much by her to find on YouTube except this, which is interesting but doesn't exhibit the sort of thing she was doing back in the day.
posted by ardgedee at 4:11 PM on June 22, 2008

Helen Shapiro

Betty Davis

Catpain Beefheart

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Laura Nyro (Late 1960's, very early 70's only)

The Smiths (Morrissey)
posted by applemeat at 4:13 PM on June 22, 2008

As a rule, Broadway is full of these singers. The "non-traditional" voice creates character in musicals branching out beyond the "pretty". I love the richness and expression of these singing voices.
posted by moof at 5:40 PM on June 22, 2008

Jimmy Scott is a jazz singer with total mastery over the standards

Glad you thought of him; I saw him in Augusta a few years ago at a screening of this film a friend of mine made. It was a great experience.
posted by TedW at 6:05 PM on June 22, 2008

Robyn Hitchcock.
posted by Gianna at 6:59 PM on June 22, 2008

Chin Up Chin Up - breathy, husky vocals, catchy songs.

Maybe The National?

Seconding Wolf Parade.
posted by extramundane at 7:04 PM on June 22, 2008

Seasick Steve is my new obsession.

The female vocalist from DeVotchKa has a "love it or hate it" kind of voice, although I personally don't think it's that strange.

(this question rules, by the way.)
posted by arianell at 7:24 PM on June 22, 2008

kimdog: Malcolm Holcolmbe
That guy makes me think of John Hiatt.

Hear also: Jimmy Dale Gilmore.
posted by booth at 7:45 PM on June 22, 2008

Great suggestions here. I love Mary Margaret O'Hara (best known song Bodies in Trouble). I don't love Issa (Jane Siberry) but you may like her.
posted by saucysault at 8:32 PM on June 22, 2008

Little Birdy
posted by kjs4 at 9:24 PM on June 22, 2008

Blind Melon.
posted by btkuhn at 10:21 PM on June 22, 2008

The Dezurik Sisters!
posted by ethel at 11:24 PM on June 22, 2008

Man, this is an eye-popping list. I can't believe nobody has mentioned Neko Case yet, though. Her voice is more eccentric the further back you go: really bizarre in Maow, a lot smoother on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I think Furnace Room Lullaby and Blacklisted are the happiest medium... mediums... media. Um, I like them the best.
posted by McBearclaw at 12:11 AM on June 23, 2008

Two artists that have spent a lot of time on my playlist recently -

Gary Numan
Skee-Lo of "Gnarles Barkely."

Weird looking dudes who sing weird... tho Skee-Lo has a mastery over his scratchy-high pipes that's jaw-dropping.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:09 AM on June 23, 2008

(Ummm... Cee-Lo, I meant Cee-Lo. Skee-Lo was the nerdy rapper guy with the "Wish I was a little bit taller" song.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:11 AM on June 23, 2008

I forgot to mention Cloud Cult, whose record The Meaning of 8 is great and whose singer has a high-pitched, melodic and distinctive feel.
posted by jeffmshaw at 4:52 AM on June 23, 2008

Cliff Edwards (aka "Ukulele Ike") had a distinctive and unusual voice. Though he did do "novelty songs", he also recorded many pop/jazz standards. He's perhaps best known as the voice of Disney's Jiminy Cricket in Pinnocchio.
posted by trip and a half at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2008

Frog Eyes.
posted by whir at 9:43 AM on June 23, 2008

You gotta try The Tom Fun Orchestra.
posted by carmelita at 1:08 PM on June 23, 2008

Bettye LaVette
posted by jenbeee at 5:20 PM on June 23, 2008

Calvin Johnson has a very deep, droning voice that grows on you. His early partner in crime, Doug Martsch, has a high falsetto. Listen to any Halo Benders album and you'll get the idea.
posted by rabbitsnake at 7:26 PM on June 23, 2008

Tim Fite (I don't have a link to it but 'the more you do' is a song I like).
Ane Brun.
Nellie McKay.
posted by cashman at 7:40 PM on June 23, 2008

Basia Bulat
posted by spiderskull at 10:31 PM on June 23, 2008

My favorite rock'n'roll voice is Jason Lytle's from Grandaddy, but yeah I might be biased because I love that band to fucking death. Not sure if eccentric, but definitely peculiar and, yes, amazing.
posted by papafrita at 2:07 PM on June 25, 2008

Did anyone mention Tim DeLaughter of Tripping Daisy and Polyphonic Spree?

Also, John McCrea of Cake has a pretty unique voice.
posted by owtytrof at 2:12 PM on June 27, 2008

Most of the ones I know have already been mentioned, and I might be in the minority on this one, but I find M.I.A.'s voice falls into this category.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:28 AM on June 29, 2008

Sia Furler
posted by cashman at 8:43 AM on July 10, 2008

(Very Late)
David Thomas and Pere Ubu!
posted by SansPoint at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2008

(and even later)

dang, i cant believe no one said billy corgan.
posted by gcat at 6:38 PM on January 31, 2009

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