Apr 072009

Which rock singer has the most pompous voice?

  • Gordon Lightfoot
  • Eddie Vedder
  • Grace Slick
  • Richard Thompson
  • Other

If we can’t reach consensus I’ll ask my wife to decide. She can’t stand pompous singers.


  47 Responses to “Which Rock Singer Has the Most Pompous Voice?”

  1. I vote Eddie Vedder. The worst part was a hundred and ten guys started to sing just like him…

  2. saturnismine

    yeah…it just might be vedder.

    i’ve been trying to think of a better candidate since this thread was posted, and i can’t.

  3. 2000 Man

    We don’t get to vote for Freddie Mercury? He’s the pompous ass behind Radio Goo Goo and The Bicycle Song. No one else has ever foisted crap of that magnitude on their audiences. I know his fans ate it up and kissed his ring, but I thought his whole schtick was Pomposity and Bombast.

    Now that I think about it, Pomposity and Bombast should open for Belle and Sebastian someday.

  4. hrrundivbakshi

    Burton Cummings really rides the knife’s edge between manly vocalizing and pomposity.

  5. mockcarr

    What about that Human League guy? All I can think of are dickier versions of Vedder like Weiland.

  6. dbuskirk

    Freddie Mercury was who first came to mind but I’d like to add underdog Justin Hayward. “Nights in White Satin” is the example I’m thinking of.

    Elvis singing “The American Trilogy”s truth keeps marching on as well.

  7. For me, it’s no fucking contest:

    Ian Anderson

  8. Vedder. He seems like an okay guy, and I think Pearl Jam are fighting the good fight, but when he opens his mouth I just can’t take them seriously at all.

  9. Mr. Moderator

    Mercury, Hayward, Cummings, and Anderson are EXCELLENT candidates for this title! Let’s continue to hash it out.

    My wife and I were watching a few seconds of a Vedder performance last week and we were thinking, “Imagine if you met someone at a party and they started talking to you in that voice, with that delivery!”

    As Oats demonstrates, I think we’re all mature enough to leave personal tastes and an artist’s “good egg” status out of this discussion. For instance, I felt a little bad about putting Richard Thompson into the mix because I like some of his music a great deal, but honestly, he sings in a pompous voice that I wouldn’t want to hear face-to-face, in a casual setting, so he warrants discussion.

  10. sammymaudlin

    I vote Vedder but also nominate Morrisey.

  11. You’re putting Thompson in but Bono has yet to be mentioned. Something’s not right here.

  12. alexmagic

    If we’re talking pure bombast and over-enunciation, Dennis DeYoung is right there with Mercury, though far less effective. Think of how seriously he delivers the lines “I am the mod-ern maaan” and “machines that save our lives, machines de-HU-man-IZE!” in friggin’ Mr. Roboto, of all things.

    But for pure, unearned, arrogant smugness, I put Billy Joel up against all comers. Just recall him singing “Remember Chaaaaarlie, rrremember Baaaaker, they left their childhoooooods, on every aaaaa-cre!” in Goodnight Saigon. Or “You maybe right, I may be crrrazy. But I just may BE the luuuuuuunatic you’re lookin’ a-for!” Or how he sings She’s Only A Woman. Or that goddamned Billy the Kid song. Or “heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack” and “oh mamma if that’s movin’ up than Iiiiiiiiii’m…movin’ OOOUUT!” Ugh. Just thinking about all that makes me want to go punch somebody.

  13. Yeah, Al, a few of the Mod’s choices seem idiosyncratic, but that’s okay.

    Thompson’s voice face to face, in a casual live setting and only an acoustic guitar, is one of his best modes. Not more recently though, I’ll grant. Lately he sounds more to me like an NPR imitation of himself.

  14. Mr. Moderator

    Bombast and ennunciation are one thing, Al and Alexmagic, but I don’t think they’re necessarily equivalent to pomposity. I don’t find Bono’s singing style necessarily pompous. If Bono started talking to me at a party the way he sings I’d think he was just over-excited and trying to be heard above the din. Lightfoot, on the other hand, is NOT the guy you want to have corner you at this party. He’s pompous.

  15. Good call on Billy Joel. Pompous and smug.

  16. BigSteve

    I think we need to separate bombast from pomposity. They’re not the same thing.

    The OED defines pompous as “Characterized by an exaggerated display of self-importance or dignity; boastful, vainglorious; arrogant; presumptuous, pretentious.” You don’t have to be loud to be pompous. Jon Anderson is pompous in a wispy way. And so far we’re only talking about men. Wouldn’t Patti Smith or Kate Bush qualify?

    And I think Vedder is getting a bad rap, as usual. I can’t say I’m a big fan of Pearl Jam, but in a way his yarl is self-effacing, buried in the sound of the band. And when I’ve seen him sing in other contexts, like tribute concerts, he doesn’t come off as pompous at all. I think he gets blamed for the influence he’s had on others, for what he represents rather than what he is.

    Also I’m not sure I get criticizing singers on the basis of how their singing would sound in a conversation.

  17. Billy Idol

  18. Elvis Presley got pretty operatic in the later years. His was a life of grandiosity of the highest order.

    Elvis Costello became a “vocal stylist” sometime during the 80s, I think. Maybe he always was, but him doing opera is kind of weird to me. I like his voice, though. I’m convinced that he put on the weight to support that rich tone. I’m just picking on the two fat Elvi.

    I think Freddie Mercury was suited to that bombastic Queen style, to I’ll let him slide.

    Harry Nilsson was known for vocal acrobatics, but, again, I like him. So he gets a pass. I just wanted to bring him up.

    I’m giving Vedder tha pass because I think he works well with the band he fronts. I like Eddie Vedder. I agree with Steve, I think he sings to the occasion or song.

    I’m listening to the new Dylan reissues (yes, I bought Before The Flood again) and his big bellow on that record is pretty funny. “You break just like a little gi-hir-hirl…” But Dylan will never win any “pompous vocal awards”.

    I’m giving the award to Big E just because I think he was really trying to be pompous with his. I think he was like, “Look at me singin’ ‘American Trilogy’! Here I am singin’ you some ‘Unchained Melody’! You love it! I’m the Kang!” I think he also chose material based on how pompous he could be with his singing. He went out of his way to be pompous. I can’t say that Vedder is trying to be pompous. Poor, E. It’s so easy to beat up on a dead guy…


  19. Vedder (I just don’t like him)
    Anderson…good call!
    Jim Morrison?

    Billy & DeYoung are trying to sound English, which is a (bad) vocal habit they learned from a vocal coach. Keeps them from being to nasal, but they overdo it and it sounds…pompous

    Freddie was not pompous, he WAS every bit as F*N cool as he thought he was

  20. Alexmagic,
    You left out the gold standard for Billy Joel (and my personal favorite to hate on): “No no no no you had to be a BEEEEG Shot, didn’t ya!”

    I will admit that as much as I despise his music, I wouldn’t mind having a beer or 12 with him because I find him to be pretty entertaining in his interviews.

  21. I will admit that as much as I despise his music, I wouldn’t mind having a beer or 12 with him because I find him to be pretty entertaining in his interviews.

    They’re entertaining to read (once or twice), but do you really want to spend to time with a loud, belligerent superstar with a persecution complex? I’d just as soon have a beer with Bill O’Reilly.

    Alexmagic and I have enough hate-based material on Billy Joel to last us days, weeks even.

  22. BigSteve

    If you actually ARE the King of Rock & Roll, I don’t think it’s possible to be pompous. If pomposity is an exaggerated sense of self-importance, Elvis gets a pass, because I believe he really was that important, even in his later years.

  23. Yes but we’re talking about sounding pompous, not necessarily being pompous.

  24. Mr. Moderator

    Elvis Presley didn’t lose his soul. He was way over the top, as befitting his royal status, but you’re telling me you’d rather be cornered at a party by Vedder, Lightfoot, or Anderson speaking to you in that voice, than Elvis at his most dramatic? Lightfoot wouldn’t shut up about that shipwreck.

  25. Yo Mod, What’s your beef with the Foot?

  26. saturnismine

    yeah…”we need to separate pomposity from bombast” is right.

    we also need to separate pompous vocals from pompous vocalists and pompous lyrics, and all of these from what the thread asks for: “a pompous voice.”

    as has already been suggested, vedder could be singing the most plainly-spoken lyrics on god’s green earth but his VOICE is so pompous that he would sound “self-import… boastful, vainglorious; arrogant; presumptuous, pretentious” anyway.

    anderson’s lyrics are pompous, but his voice itselfis pretty innocent sounding. if i didn’t speak english, i wouldn’t get pomposity from it.

    now gordon lightfoot is another story, entirely. this guy *sounds* like he knows more about whatever he’s singing about than anyone in the room, and in a way i don’t like.

    i wouldn’t characterize freddie’s or burton’s voices as pompous sounding, either, but they’re damn close.

  27. BigSteve

    Does a singer have to have a deep voice to sound pompous? Is that why they call it basso profundo?

  28. Don’t get me wrong, Steve, I love the later Elvis stuff and I will go to bat for alot of his 70s material. And Mod, you make a great point about cornered at a party…maybe you;ve changed my mind here…I’ll let Elvis slip. He is Elvis, after all…

    So, I’m giving the award to that Sonseed guy for the way he procliams that “Jesus is his friend.”

    I’m sorry, King. I hope you forgive me for my lapse in judgement.


  29. saturnismine

    BigSteve, that’s a great question!

    I think that maybe vibrato might have something to do with it, too.

  30. What about Ray Davis? I’m not a Ray aficionado so I can’t name a particular song but I swear I’ve heard him sounding all pompous. Maybe when he’s singing about village greens and dance halls and toffee shoppes and whatnot…

  31. saturnismine

    I keep thinking of that seen in “don’t look back” where Baez is clearly driving dylan up a post with some [very pompous] off the cuff vocal gymnastics / exercises. He’s trying to concentrate on something [very important, of course, he’s bob dylan, after all…he’s got, like the weight of a whole {very important} generation on his shoulders]. Meanwhile, she’s flinging her voice [and her ego, it would seem] all over the room, with reckless abandon. She’s sounding like an opera wannabe. She won’t shut up. Dylan: piqued.

    i once dated a woman who also did that. she also used to bust out this TERRIBLE english accent, which she thought was great. when she started doing both at a more-than-once-a-week clip, i bailed.

  32. saturnismine

    that “seen”? good god….

    i teach writing, too. i teach writing good.

  33. 2000 Man

    Freddie ain’t gettin’ a pass from me. You’d have to be pompous beyond imagination to release some of the songs they did. I can get behind the Billy Joel nomination, though. When I was a teenager I had a friend that called him “Billy Hole,” and the venom with which he spat out “Hole” was awesome! Man, did he hate that guy. It was almost the kind of hate most people reserve for The Eagles.

    Ever notice that one song of his about being just the way you are? Was he really saying he wanted a vapid, stupid woman to never change? That’s what it sounded like to me. I used to laugh when I heard it at weddings. I think I would go out and smoke back then.

    I don’t know if I hate it more than Bicycle Race or Radio Goo Goo, though. That’s some mighty popmpous crap, there!

  34. Mr. Moderator

    cdm asked what my beef was with “the Foot” (yuk!). Sat said it best:

    now gordon lightfoot is another story, entirely. this guy *sounds* like he knows more about whatever he’s singing about than anyone in the room, and in a way i don’t like.

    Yes! This differentiates Lightfoot’s approach from, say, Bono’s. To my ears, Bono sounds like he BELIEVES more than anyone else about whatever he’s singing about, but I think that’s different than sounding like you KNOW everything.

    Seen this way, despite his higher range, I’ll continue to accept Mercury in this discussion. He sings like he’s in on some joke that no one else was getting. Come on, Freddie, we got it by 1976.

    I’m still on the fence about whether Billy Joel is pompous. He surely comes off as an ass, and that often goes with pompous, so I’ll leave him in the discussion.

    Billy Idol and Jim Morrison were good underdog suggestions, but I don’t know if they have displayed the depth of pomposity that Lightfoot, for instance, did while cornering us at the party to tell the tale of that shipwreck or the breadth of pomposity that Vedder displayed when he challenged Chris Cornell to a Pomp-off on that Temple of the Dog song.

  35. mockcarr

    Yeah, it just doesn’t sound as harsh calling him Chili Bowl.

  36. Pompous:
    1 : excessively elevated or ornate
    2 : having or exhibiting self-importance

    I’m still not getting the Mod’s Foot-beef.

    Sure he has a booming voice, and maybe singing about a shipwreck in what seems like real time is a bit over the top. But does he sound as pompous as, say, Mick Jagger singing Lady Jane? I think you are unfairly targeting the Foot and allowing the Fey English Vocalists of the mid-60’s to have a free pass.

  37. Mr. Moderator

    Thank you, cdm, for bringing the dictionary into this discussion. It had to happen at some point.

    Jagger singing “Lady Jane” is more pretentious to me, but I know what you mean. I’ll allow for some Fey English Vocalists in this discussion. But that’s just one song. Lightfoot’s always in my face – and he’s got bad breath and crumbs in his beard. Jagger’s only singing “Lady Jane” long enough to spot some new tail. Lightfoot’s going nowhere. “I’ll be right back,” you tell him, “I’ve gotta take a leak.”

  38. I think Big Steve beat me to the punch with the dictionary but the definition I found suited my position better.

  39. Mr. Moderator

    I’m sorry, I missed BigSteve’s OED citation in the middle of this stimulating discussion on a busy day. I found the following definition that supports my view:

    1 : see Lightfoot, Gordon

    BigSteve, the main reason I bring the aspect of being cornered at a party into the equation is because that’s visceral image that I think we can relate to when faced with a pompous person. Also, I like it when a singer’s voice expresses something I imagine is “conversational.” This is why I can’t stand opera and wish I could hear those tunes sung by the likes of Dylan for once.

  40. How about Don Henley, particularly in his late-’80s sensitive-ponytail-man iteration?

  41. I believe the Tull vocal sound is both excessively ornate (dig all those pompous PAUSES, eh?) and often has a pulpit-like sermonizing tone. I know that’s partly lyrical rather than vocal, but to be a minister you gotta sound like a minister, and I think Anderson has the combination of sound-meaning down pat.

  42. underthefloat

    Vedder, Vedder, Vedder. Can I vote 3 times?

  43. BigSteve

    Upon further review, I don’t think a voice by itself can be pompous. Pomposity is inevitably connected to what the singer is singing and who the singer is.

  44. 2000 Man

    Freddy certainly has an awesome glass of beer, Mod. When he laughs and covers his mouth it’s telling about his insecurities about his teeth, and from what I’ve seen that’s probably just one of many insecurities. His pomposity may have been a shield.

    I saw another video that reminded me of a weekend when ten Stones fans got together here in Cleveland mostly to drink, but we went to the HOF and to the Goldmine Record Convention that was going on there. A Queen Fan Club was all over the place wearing identical clothes and interviewing on TV and stuff. It turned out they had gotten twelve people to meet up for some special event. We talked about it a bit since we were so proud of getting ten Stones fans (from as far away as Finland) to hang out and drink, and we weren’t even on TV.

    Here’s the video:


    Here’s the quote that made my skin crawl:

    I Urge any Queen fan to see this as not only it shows you what a great and influential song Bo Rhap was

    Bo Rhap? Really?

  45. mikeydread

    Pompous suggests an awkward, or awful, credibility gap. You just don’t believe the words coming out of the guy’s mouth. Freddie Mercury certainly had the bombast part down, and did sing some awful tosh, but to be pompous you would have to take him seriously in the first place. Sadly, that was very rarely possible.

    Pompous for me is over-emoting in the cause of very small beer. For that, Mr Philip Collins of England would knock Mr William Joel of New York into a cocked hat.

    Bloody good question, though.

  46. jeangray

    What? No love for Grace Slick? I’ve always decried her pompous over enuciation. In the early 80’s in the fledgling years of MTV, Jefferson Starship was in heavy vid rotation. I consequently went through a misguided teenage affair with the band, going so far as to purchase Ms. Slick’s solo “New Wave” cassette of the period. Bad spoken word, and one-note singing over synths & drum machines, whilst still clinging to some utopian 60’s ideal. A real “This is Serious!” vibe permeated some of the material.


    But looking back, I think she has always had that pay attention to me, I’m the spokeswoman of a generation thang going on.

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