Any song (not instrumentals) has three basic elements:
music, vocals, and lyrics.

When an artist/band is hitting all of these three well, the song is great.

If any one of these elements is undeniably atrocious, the song is sunk.

Still, I might consider a song worth listening to so long as any _two_ of these elements are of good quality. For example:

Music & Vocals
In a song like this, it doesn’t matter quite as much what the singer is saying--they’re still conveying the emotion and the mood with the sound of their voice and the music.
Example: the Dave Matthews Band song “Stay (Wasting Time)

Vocals & Lyrics
If both of these elements are hitting dead-on, then I can usually overlook a weak musical accompaniement.
Example: Joan Osborne’s latest album, Righteous Love

Lyrics & Music
Common to singer/songwriters who have an unbelieveable amount of talent but, alas, were not gifted with a songbird voice.
Example: Bob Dylan, or Blues Traveler

While the given examples are biased to my musical tastes, I think it is apparent how this system can be applied to almost any musical genre.

To refine Pfilip's categorization: Within music we can distinguish several qualities:
  • expressiveness - music can deeply appeal to the senses
  • adequacy - music often serves a specific purpose: to help create an atmosphere or mood, to help telling a story, or as part of a celebration or ritual (including concerts)
  • aesthetics - music tends to generate its own standards of aesthetic value, which vary from genre to genre; some artists manage to set new standards on their own
  • technical prowess - the display of musical skill can be impressive and educational
  • originality
The same criteria apply to vocals and lyrics.

For example, Bob Dylan is a singer of limited technical skill - although his timing is immaculate - but his voice is very expressive and adequate for his lyrics. Therefore it would be short-sighted to regard him as a poor singer.

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