The singer Kirk Hammett called “the best voice in rock”

There has never been one defining element that makes someone a good singer. Although there’s no disputing that the Whitney Houstons and Mariah Careys of the world have gotten their chops down to a science, how do you measure the talent of a singer like Bob Dylan, someone who lives and breathes his music while also sounding like sandpaper half the time? Many artists tend to rely on the character in their voice, but Kirk Hammett thought that nothing beat the raw power of Joe Strummer.

In the world of metal, though, it tends to be about vocal acrobatics half the time. There may have been some odd voices that have come and gone in the genre, like Chino Moreno of Deftones or even Tom Araya, but when you ask someone to think of a metal vocalist, they typically go to someone like Ozzy Osbourne as the model for hard rock singers.

When the genre started, the whole point was for vocalists to make something dirtier than what they had been used to. Everyone knew what the nice vocalists of the world sounded like, but no one had heard the kind of music that was practically designed to scare you the minute you put the record on.

Once metal started getting to be one of the biggest genres in the world, though, singers started to become a lot more passe. Sure, it might have been cool that David Coverdale could sing his guts out in Deep Purple and later in Whitesnake, but that was so far removed from what was happening on the street. The punk explosion was on the rise now, and Strummer was the one with something to say.

Unlike John Lydon, who seemed to want to cause as much destruction as possible in as short a timeframe as possible, Strummer cared about what happened after everything came tumbling down. Approaching politics with the same passion as John Lennon or Bob Dylan, it’s easy to hear every emotion spilling out of Strummer in half of The Clash’s songs, as if he’s trying to shake you out of submission through the speakers.

Even though Metallica were known for being a band that relied on brute force behind the microphone, Hammett still said that no one surpassed Strummer, telling PopTalk, “Joe Strummer had the best voice in the world. He could sing anything and make it great. He could sing so hellaciously out of key, and you just love it.”

From where Strummer stood, it wasn’t always about being in tune. There are tons of blemishes on The Clash’s records where he doesn’t exactly hit the right pitch, or it comes out sideways, but the energy of the take probably could never be replicated.

Compared to other artists who cared about their intonation and whether or not they could actually stay in tune from one bar to the next, Strummer used the song format as a way to get in touch with whatever problems were affecting the world. It may not have been the easiest thing to replicate, but by Strummer’s own standards, if there wasn’t any hardship to write a track, it wasn’t worth doing.

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