S/D: singers who don't play an instrument

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Actually, this is more of a lead in to a question I've always had. There are a lot of singers who rarely play instruments live, but who obviously know how to play several instruments: thinking of Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Mick Jagger, and the like. All three could walk into a room with a guitar or piano and come out with a song. But there are also singers like Wayne Coyne, Madonna, Robert Plant, or Morrissey who obviously bring a lot to whatever they're working on, even though what they bring is somewhat mysterious. Taking Morrissey as an example, what does he bring to a song? Just vocal melodies and lyrics (not to underestimate their value), or is he also a from-scratch-to-fruition songwriter?

So maybe the point of this thread will be to search singers with other demonstrated songwriting skills and destroy singers who apparently don't do anything else but sing. But like I pointed out, sometimes the distinction is a little unclear. Any takers?

Josh in Chicago (Josh in Chicago), Friday, 5 March 2004 14:58 (seventeen years ago) link

Elvis.

mark grout (mark grout), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:01 (seventeen years ago) link

Jay-Z

The Huckle-Buck (Horace Mann), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:02 (seventeen years ago) link

thom yorke?

cutty (mcutt), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:03 (seventeen years ago) link

Wayne Coyne?

mike a, Friday, 5 March 2004 15:05 (seventeen years ago) link

Mark E. Smith fiddles with other band members' instruments while they're playing them. Does that count?

Donna Brown (Donna Brown), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:06 (seventeen years ago) link

But help shed some light on this. Coyne, yeah, as far as I can tell he doesn't do anything but sing. Or does he? But Yorke apparently does, well, everything, writing all the songs. Though he does less of it these days, he also plays guitar and piano live. Elvis and Jay-Z are good examples of singers who, for all intents and purposes, don't do anything else.

But does Mark E. Smith know how to play an instrument?

Josh in Chicago (Josh in Chicago), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:09 (seventeen years ago) link

What are you talking about? Wayne Coyne can bang a gong like no other.

Actually, pretty sure he played guitar live until the Soft Bulletin tour. And he still plays on the albums, doesn't he?

flightsatdusk (flightsatdusk), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:12 (seventeen years ago) link

I beg to differ:
http://edition.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/9708/16/elvis.essay/elvis.guitar.jpg

The Huckle-Buck (Horace Mann), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:12 (seventeen years ago) link

Does any band *not* have a classically trained gong player?

Yeah, Elvis could play guitar, but did he bother with it toward the end?

Josh in Chicago (Josh in Chicago), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:15 (seventeen years ago) link

He played it on his '68 Comeback Special

The Huckle-Buck (Horace Mann), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:16 (seventeen years ago) link

Madonna plays guitar, dude!!

Sonny A. (Keiko), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:17 (seventeen years ago) link

David Thomas - used to play the accordian - that's about it.. but he's generally regarded as the creative leader of Pere Ubu - especially in the last few years.

dave225 (Dave225), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:18 (seventeen years ago) link

Johnny Marr did try to teach Morrissey how to play the guitar but gave up pretty soon. On the video of 'How Soon Is Now' there are a couple of shots where you can see Moz awkwardly holding a guitar while Marr tries to show him what to do.

The main disadvantage with Moz not being a musician in that sense is his solo fortunes have depended hugely on who his guitar player was: Vini Reilly or Mick Ronson (Classic); whoever the hell it was on 'Kill Uncle' (DUD)

Mog, Friday, 5 March 2004 15:22 (seventeen years ago) link

Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra. Both were interpreters of other people's tunes for the most part, though they each wrote a couple good ones of their own in collaboration. Sarah Vaughn on the other hand was a great piano player (not that she ever performed on it).

Jordan (Jordan), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:27 (seventeen years ago) link

Nina Simone was a terrif pianist and played it lots.

The Huckle-Buck (Horace Mann), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:28 (seventeen years ago) link

the thing is, in almost all popular music, the voice is by far the most recognizable -- and probably the most important -- element of a musical combo. and a singer who doesn't play an instrument is a more essential part of most bands than a bassist who doesn't sing. try to imagine the smiths without morrissey. now try to imagine them without andy rourke. which is easier to imagine?

as far as who contributes what to the songwriting, there's really no formula for that. no two bands do it the same way. no two singers who don't play instruments do it the same way. but good pop songwriting isn't that rare a skill anyway. i'd argue that good pop singing is probably rarer.

therefore:

search: all GOOD singers who don't play an instrument.

destroy: all BAD singers who don't.

fact checking cuz (fcc), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:31 (seventeen years ago) link

Fcc in Good vs. Bad shockah!

The Huckle-Buck (Horace Mann), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:38 (seventeen years ago) link

I feel that I saw Wayne play geetar on the Soft Bulletin tour, although I was admittedly distracted by the multiple radios

Donna Brown (Donna Brown), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:39 (seventeen years ago) link

Yeah. The singers who are good musicians and songwriters, even if they don't actually know what chords they're singing over, can hear them and sing all the parts they want for a tune. Sometimes it only takes another instrumentalist to translate and nail down the parts.

Jordan (Jordan), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:40 (seventeen years ago) link

(most singers I know play something though, even if it's only for writing purposes)

Jordan (Jordan), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:40 (seventeen years ago) link

I don't think that Jello Biafra does.

Nom De Plume (Nom De Plume), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:47 (seventeen years ago) link

Mark E. Smith has played keyboards & guitar, but prolly not in any conventional sense. I believe he is also responsible for the violin in "Papal Visit."

Kent Burt (lingereffect), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:49 (seventeen years ago) link

Roger Daltrey. And he can barely sing, too.

Jazzbo (jmcgaw), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:51 (seventeen years ago) link

Yeah, but he's got that Extreme History show now, I think we're rid of him

Donna Brown (Donna Brown), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:53 (seventeen years ago) link

robert pollard won't go near an instrument onstage, but offstage, at least back in the day, he often recorded guided by voices songs alone, playing guitar, bass, drums, whatever. which made up for the fact that he wasn't that great a singer.

fact checking cuz (fcc), Friday, 5 March 2004 15:55 (seventeen years ago) link

Many, many jazz and soul singers only interpreted other people's songs : Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Minnie Ripperton, Etta James...

Jeremy (Jeremy), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:00 (seventeen years ago) link

i wanted to say Ozzy, but then i remembered he played the harmonica.

is it correct by the way that Geezer wrote the lyrics in Black Sabbath?

tod (tod), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:03 (seventeen years ago) link

"The main disadvantage with Moz not being a musician in that sense is his solo fortunes have depended hugely on who his guitar player was: Vini Reilly or Mick Ronson (Classic); whoever the hell it was on 'Kill Uncle' (DUD)"

True - but if he was (capable of) writing the music himself, rather than actually having to force a set of lyrics he'd already written to fit 'round a tune someone else had written (because I'm prepared to bet that's how he wrote his most of his best songs), I think he'd lose the very thing that makes those songs so distinctive!

Stewart Osborne (Stewart Osborne), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:21 (seventeen years ago) link

Oh, sorry, search:
Ian Curtis
Don Van Vliet

Stewart Osborne (Stewart Osborne), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:22 (seventeen years ago) link

John Lydon

Stewart Osborne (Stewart Osborne), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:22 (seventeen years ago) link

Don Van Vliet was an excellent musician! listen to his blues harp playing!

gygax! (gygax!), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:24 (seventeen years ago) link

Brad Delp

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:27 (seventeen years ago) link

Steve Perry

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:27 (seventeen years ago) link

Lou Gramm

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:27 (seventeen years ago) link

Gwen Stefani (that's a "search")

fact checking cuz (fcc), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:28 (seventeen years ago) link

Kevin Cronin (sp?)

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:28 (seventeen years ago) link

(although, he might play piano onstage...I haven't seen an REO Speedwagon video in a decade.)

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:29 (seventeen years ago) link

"Don Van Vliet was an excellent musician! listen to his blues harp playing!"

He could play a mean harp 'tis true but he was no musician. He could also hammer out a tune on a piano with one finger or make strange noises through a saxaphone - but he couldn't play anything well enough to communicate with his musicians without having to resort to somewhat less-than-technical instructions like "play that like a smokey yellow room, make it more sulphur yellow" or "play it like a bat being dragged out of oil, and it's trying to survive but it's dying from asphyxiation" or to make a drum roll sound more like "a bunch of keys being thrown down stairs"

Stewart Osborne (Stewart Osborne), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:34 (seventeen years ago) link

David Yow

DJ Mencap (DJ Mencap), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:38 (seventeen years ago) link

destroy: henry rollins

gygax! (gygax!), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:40 (seventeen years ago) link

Let the Rollins bashing begin!

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:42 (seventeen years ago) link

I don't think Michael Stipe plays an instrument, unless he picked up something after REM had started.

In an interview I read with Robert Plant a few years back, he talked about getting serious about playing guitar and had gained even more respect for Page as a musician by trying to learn the guitar parts in Zeppelin songs.

earlnash, Friday, 5 March 2004 16:44 (seventeen years ago) link

Haha, I love the image of Robert Plant sitting in his room with a practice amp downloading Led Zep tabs off the internet.

Jordan (Jordan), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:45 (seventeen years ago) link

I was going to say Freddie Mercury, but he occaissionally played piano, no?

Search: IGGY POP, Liz Fraser,...

Destroy: Julien Casablancas (boy does he look like he needs something to do with his arms).

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:56 (seventeen years ago) link

DAVID GAHAN

Eisbär (llamasfur), Friday, 5 March 2004 16:58 (seventeen years ago) link

love them or hate them, depeche mode would NOT have become what they became w/t david gahan. as far as i know, he doesn't play any instruments. and i'll leave it to ned and dan to describe what he brought to DM songs.

Eisbär (llamasfur), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:00 (seventeen years ago) link

AMG says Iggy played guitar on Brick By Brick. is that true? can he play?

tod (tod), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:00 (seventeen years ago) link

Tod, you're right. He plays acoustic guitar in the awful video for "Candy" as well. Alright, that's him nixed.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:02 (seventeen years ago) link

Search, then: Peter Murphy

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:02 (seventeen years ago) link

"Iggy played guitar/ jammin' good with Ron Asheton etc"

Not only can Iggy play guitar but he started off as a drummer (does that count as being a musician?)

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:03 (seventeen years ago) link

True again!

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:05 (seventeen years ago) link

Search: Rob Halford!

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:05 (seventeen years ago) link

George Clinton - but he can't sing either

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:06 (seventeen years ago) link

Lee Perry - and neither can he

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:06 (seventeen years ago) link

George Clinton - but he can't sing either

Shame on you.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:08 (seventeen years ago) link

George Clinton - but he can't sing either


yeah, wtf?

Donna Brown (Donna Brown), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:09 (seventeen years ago) link

Tina Turner

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:10 (seventeen years ago) link

Well he can't really, the other guys sang the songs and George just kinda rapped shit

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:10 (seventeen years ago) link

Aretha (she doesn't play anything, does she?)

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:10 (seventeen years ago) link

Tina plays a mean tamborine!

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:10 (seventeen years ago) link

George just kinda rapped shit

ACK! You are so fulla shit! Dig out a copy of Mothership Connection at once!

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:11 (seventeen years ago) link

George Clinton - but he can't sing either

...why are you assuming this was meant as any sort of criticism?

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:11 (seventeen years ago) link

Davy Jones, the singing Monkee.

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:12 (seventeen years ago) link

What songs does he actually sing on "Mothership" - by the way, one of mine (and yours I know) Top 10 favourite albums?

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:12 (seventeen years ago) link

how about Johnny Lydon and Alan Vega?

tod (tod), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:13 (seventeen years ago) link

... not only could Aretha play piano she recorded many of her greatest vocal performance while playing piano simultaneously - she preferred recording that way

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:13 (seventeen years ago) link

But he CAN and DOES sing. Give the man some credit!

Just listen to even "P.Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)". I mean, he's no crooner, but his voice is melodic and melifluous when it needs to be. It's not like he's Einar Orn or somebody.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:14 (seventeen years ago) link

http://syrland.skifan.is/Myndir/einar-orn.gif

(this being einar)

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:15 (seventeen years ago) link

Oh yeah of course I know THAT, Alex, I thought that went without saying!

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:15 (seventeen years ago) link

Alrighty, perhaps I'm overreacting.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:15 (seventeen years ago) link

He's a great vocalist as opposed to a great singer

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:16 (seventeen years ago) link

... not only could Aretha play piano she recorded many of her greatest vocal performance while playing piano simultaneously - she preferred recording that way

I just haven't seen a lot of her old live footage. All we get now are the videos from Who's Zoomin' Who and the time she was craned in to perform on VH1 Divas.

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:17 (seventeen years ago) link

... once upon a time special lifting gear was not required for Aretha to appear on stage

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:18 (seventeen years ago) link

aw, jeez. low blow- no wonder she's not appeared on the "Female Artist" thread

Donna Brown (Donna Brown), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:20 (seventeen years ago) link

Most of The Specials and 2/3rds of Fun Boy Three.

christoff (christoff), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:25 (seventeen years ago) link

Bjork
Bruce Dickinson
Jennifer Herrema

otto, Friday, 5 March 2004 17:39 (seventeen years ago) link

But but... wasn't Bjork some kind of infant prodigy - on piano, flute etc?

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:41 (seventeen years ago) link

the chick that sings all those sweet chill zero 7 songs

Mr. Snrub (Mr. Snrub), Friday, 5 March 2004 17:46 (seventeen years ago) link

Ella Fitzgerald. She had a heavenly voice and could sing just about anything they threw at her. And her scatting technique...pure muscianship, at least in that aspect.

sublimityeternal (sublimityeternal), Friday, 5 March 2004 18:25 (seventeen years ago) link

I think Dave Gahan brought a lot of the emotion that Gore intended in the songwriting out in the DM songs, and more on his part. "Stripped" comes to mind, for me atleast...also "Somebody," "Black Celebration,"
"Shake the Disease," "Here is the House", "Barrel of a Gun"

I guess Ultra was an more emotional outpouring altogether, but to tell you the truth I haven't listened to it as much as the older albums.

sublimityeternal (sublimityeternal), Friday, 5 March 2004 18:36 (seventeen years ago) link

Gahan knows how to work a mic stand, though.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 5 March 2004 19:19 (seventeen years ago) link

He's the Steven Tyler of synthpop.

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 19:25 (seventeen years ago) link

But does Mark E. Smith know how to play an instrument?

He plays a mean kazoo.

mmmmsalt (Graeme), Friday, 5 March 2004 20:04 (seventeen years ago) link

Most of The Specials

?

Ben Dot (1977), Friday, 5 March 2004 20:33 (seventeen years ago) link

actually the kazoo was kay carroll

tom west (thomp), Friday, 5 March 2004 20:50 (seventeen years ago) link

Bjork plays loads of stuff, including a fair few things oon her albums I think.

She can definitely play church organ and sing simultaneously very well indeed!

mei (mei), Friday, 5 March 2004 21:07 (seventeen years ago) link

wayne coyne was playing guitar when i saw them in january.

glenny g2003 (glenny g2003), Friday, 5 March 2004 23:19 (seventeen years ago) link

Wayne Coyne : acoustic guitar :: Kip Winger : electric bass

Johnny Fever (johnny fever), Friday, 5 March 2004 23:23 (seventeen years ago) link

ian curtis played instruments. not sure if he did it onstage, but barney is playing ian's guitar (the white one) on the taras schevchenko dvd/video. The melodica barney also played on tours and such was ian's, too.

bill stevens (bscrubbins), Friday, 5 March 2004 23:36 (seventeen years ago) link

OK, roundup time: Iggy played guitar on several songs last time I saw him live ('93, American Caesar tour). David Thomas, in addition to accordion, played musette, plus a bit of soprano sax & even Theremin! Roger Daltrey played guitar on a few Who songs around the time of their (first) farewell tour in '82. David Yow played either bass or drums in the early days of Scratch Acid, before they recorded. Brad Delp is credited with acoustic guitar on Boston's first LP. John Lydon played some violin (?!) on "This is What You Want..."

Destroy: Jim Morrison, Henry Rollins (despite playing cowbell onstage during Black Flag's final days, according to Chuck Eddy)

And yes, Tod, Geezer Butler was the lyricist

Myonga Von Bontee, Saturday, 6 March 2004 11:23 (seventeen years ago) link

Toots of Toots and the Maytalls, I think, is just the throat of reggae music.

thomas de'aguirre (biteylove), Saturday, 6 March 2004 14:38 (seventeen years ago) link

But could not the human voice be considered an instrument of music? It does require some sort of formal or informal training to become manageable. Karaoke has given us vast insight to this conundrum.

jim wentworth (wench), Sunday, 7 March 2004 04:10 (seventeen years ago) link


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