How strongly do you think the voice of a vocalist impacts on the piece of work as a whole? And I don't mean in a "Yeah, I can appreciate what they're doing but his voice gets on my nerves" sense, such as that often aimed at the likes of Billy Corgan and Alec Ounsworth, but do you think a singer's voice can actually add a whole level of artistic credibility to a song where it otherwise would have been completely dismissed?
I'll give an example. I got thinking about this when I first listened to the Elliott Smith tribute album, To: Elliott, From: Portland. There was one song on there which sounded like it was being covered by Jack Johnson. I therefore didn't like it. But surely it was still a great song? It was still the same song that had been written several years ago, it was just someone else performing it. And then I started thinking, if Elliott Smith had covered a Jack Johnson song, would he have been able to save it?
The answer, I think, is yes. The way Elliott's voice quivered as he sang; that frailty, the anxiety... they make up so much of what I love about him. But in that case, would we have to consider Jack Johnson as a great songwriter? He can be, in my opinion, a perfectly adequate lyricist, it's just the way his songs actually sound I have a problem with.
So if Elliott Smith had taken a Jack Johnson song, we'd analysed the lyrics, decided they were quite good, but, most importantly, that we liked the way the song sounded, would we be forced to call it a great song? We could analyse it musically to attempt to reach a different conclusion, I guess, but loads of stuff Smith (and indeed stuff Dylan, Drake, etc) wrote consisted of nothing more than very simple chord progressions based purely around the vocal melody, which, on a technical level, I don't think constitutes a great song.
So the point is, what do we actually mean when we say someone is a great, or not so great, songwriter? The word itself suggests it's someone who writes great (or not so great) songs, but a lot of the time, are we not just being biased by the voice of the person singing it? Is it actually quite unfair to call Jack Johnson and people of his ilk (although not James Blunt - he's just crap) bad songwriters, when really they just haven't been (un)lucky enough to go through the experiences that would have given an emotional resonance to their voices? Or maybe they just have boring voices. Either way, by criticising their abilities as songwriters, it seems like we could easily be giving them a raw deal.