When the book is closed on the career of Bob Dylan, who continues his 2012 tour at the Barclays Center on Wednesday, it will read that the man born Robert Zimmerman was a music pioneer.
He was a man who turned lyrics to poetry and dragged folk music, kicking and screaming, into the rock sphere. Missing from the deification? References to his voice.
For all of the awards, the platinum records and the critical raves, no one will ever confuse Dylan’s voice with that of the angels. Thanks to his lyrics and songwriting talent, though, he’s become an icon and one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
He’s not the only one, of course. Every day, radio listeners hear voices on the radio (often times helped by Auto-Tune) that don't rise to the level of “great.” The history of music, in fact, is littered with artists, performers and “entertainers” who lack pristine pipes. Here are five of those names, along with the mitigating factors that gain them our respect.
Shane MacGowan: Is it any surprise that the Pogues lead singer, whose blood seems to be 80 proof at any waking moment, constantly sounds drunk?
It’s OK because ... “Fairytale of New York” is one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time. It will always earn him a pass.
Lou Reed: The former Velvet Underground frontman’s career has survived not just his rough singing voice, but “Metal Machine Music” and “Lulu" (don’t look them up).
It's OK because ... Songs like “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Satellite of Love” had less to do with his voice and more to do with songwriting and storytelling, like a more experimental Dylan.
David Byrne: The former Talking Heads lead singer has always been more notable for his lyrics and idiosyncrasies than his voice.
It's OK because ... There may be no better inspiration for a night out at the karaoke bar than both the Talking Heads’ song and video of “Wild Wild Life.”
Britney Spears: That the former Mouseketeer judges a talent show that involves singers is akin to having Amanda Bynes start from the pole position at the Indianapolis 500.
It’s OK because ... Her backing tracks are heavily produced anyway. If she ever records an “unplugged” album, though, all bets are off.
Ke$ha: It’s hard to tell if she can sing based on the processed-to-death album recordings, but a quick YouTube search brings up videos that make powerful arguments for Auto-Tune.
It's OK because ... Frankly, it’s not.