Sunday, 25 May 2008

More about the singers

I have been a music fan as long as I can remember. I like books and films and TV and art and all that but music....now that was my first love, no question, songs and singers in particular. It all started with the seductive voice of one Phil Harris (he sang O'Malley in 'The Aristocats' and Baloo in 'The Jungle Book'). I loved the sound of 'Bare Necessities' so much I bounced out of my pram onto the floor (so the family tale goes). After that it was Top of the Pops and no stopping me really...still going in fact...I still love the sound of a good singing voice above...almost anything. That may explain the title of this blog and the book-to-be (proofs approved - not long now!) and the way I write and so much more. I've come to different styles of music via all kinds of routes - big sisters' old Beatles 7 inch singles left lying around when they moved out, big brother's record collections (and they were both big rockers mainly), friends, radio - but I wasn't one of those people who got a musical education from their parents. My Dad (apparently) liked Flanders and Swann and not much else and my Mum likes to go out to classical music and opera but very rarely listens to it at home. All I remember her playing when I was a kid were all the Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musicals on LP. I still know all the words to most of them...not exactly the cool musical background you hear from musicians, is it?

Over the years I've been into lots of different kinds of music and I've worked as a DJ (clubs, pubs, pirate radio) and have reviewed music for various magazines but I've mainly been a fan. Quite a lot of my poems are about music or make references to music, some of them (as you may already know) have been turned into songs in the past year, some I even sing myself which is pretty amazing as I am not a singer and have no ambitions in that area (it's a lot of fun though - good to challenge myself and try something I know I'm not that good at, strangely liberating and enjoyable). For a while I've had half an idea to write a poem about all the great voices that I have listened to over the years but it has yet to come together - partly because there are just so many of them. I thought I'd list a few of the ones I've loved and listened to the most (and no doubt I'll forget some and have to add them tomorrow). At risk of sounding like a local radio DJ I'd be interested to hear about some of your favourites too. Here goes...(loosely) in the order in which I came across them or started to like them. I've been honest (as ever) so it's a real mixed bag:

Phil Harris, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Donny Osmond (calm down...I was about 5), Julie Covington ('Rock Follies' and first LP of 'Evita'), Julie Andrews, Doris Day ('Calamity Jane' - oh my goodness!), Judy Garland, Rod Stewart, Karen Carpenter, Marc Bolan, Freddie Mercury, Phil Bailey (Earth, Wind and Fire - they did have other vocalists..bit complicated), all of Sister Sledge, Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, Robert Plant, Carole King, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Weller, Morrissey, Diana Ross, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Tom Waits, Gil Scott Heron, Dana Bryant, Beverley Knight, Bjork, Tracy Chapman, Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, Lauren Hill, Carleen Anderson, Thom Yorke, Kate Rusby, Judy Dinning, Michael Marra, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Rhodes, Corinne Bailey Rae, Amy Winehouse, Karine Polwart, Natalie Maines (Dixie Chicks), Aimee Mann, Heidi Talbot, Boo Hewerdine, Johnny Dickinson, Ana Laan, Kris Drever, Nick Drake, June Tabor, Aoife O'Donovan (of US band Crooked Still), Eivor Palsdottir, Steve Tilston, Julie Fowlis, Jenn Butterworth, Feist, Bella Hardy....could go on and on...

I'm sure I've missed loads out - especially from my house music/nightclub years (maybe I'll work on that section another time). Probably the ones I come back to most often (just now) are Kate Rusby, Karine Polwart, Robert Plant, Nina Simone, Aoife O'Donovan (truly one to listen out for - she is fantastic). Some in the list are great singers but, for me, could do with better material (Beverley Knight is a good example of that). There are other bands and singers I listen to where I like the songs but the voice is not one of my real favourites (e.g. Neil Young). Also there are some of my beloved's favourites - Badly Drawn Boy and Bob Dylan, say - who I can listen to enthusiastically but who don't quite shoot a hole in my heart with their voice the way some of my own favourites do. Then there are voices that have sung songs I have loved but the voice is just not one of those I adore (e.g.I've liked a lot of songs by The Police and Sting's voice is very distinctive but I've never loved the voice in its own right, if you know what I mean).

So how did I end up writing this today? It's always on my mind in some ways...and then last night watching the cheesey, Saturday night entertainment that is 'I'd do anything' with the family (except the beloved - he watched cricket!) they sang a song from 'Evita'...and I knew every word! Ay, por Dios...as Eva Peron may have said now and again. (By the way, if this means anything to you, we are a Jessie household...who cares if she can't act particularly well...the girl has a voice that would make it into my list and the sparkliest eyes...go Jessie, go!).

20 comments:

Rachel Fox said...

I forgot Rachel and Becky Unthank - top geordie singing lasses - plus Rab Noakes, plus Beth Orton nearly, nearly in my top favourites...plus Martha Wainwright probably going in soon...

Sorlil said...

okay absolute fav voices - Karen Carpenter, Eva Cassidy, Vashti Bunyan, Kate Rusby, Norah Jones, and er...Neil Diamond (don't laugh!)!

Rachel Fox said...

Oh yes...Karen Carpenter was one of my early loves ('Yesterday once more' in particular).
I like Neil Diamond too (and never worry if someone will laugh at your taste - it's very important we should feel comfortable saying what we really like...not what we feel we should like...that way craziness and deep unhappiness lies). Also on Neils...I liked Neil Sedaka as a kid (well, one song called 'Standing on the inside').
Eva Cassidy...yes, great too. I do listen to her sometimes.
Norah Jones...yes, I listen to her now and then (when I need something calming sometimes!) and I do like her voice and lots of the songs. She was a bit overplayed a while back but that's never really the singer's fault. I read an interesting piece on how she wanted international fame to get back at her Dad for never paying her any attention...
I've heard bits of Vashti B but only on radio so far.

hope said...

One of the few times I heard Sting sing that actually took my breath away was during some awards program. He sang "Someone to Watch Over Me", accompanied by a full orchestra. The effect was amazing.

I like Michael Buble, but I'm sure it's because he sings songs from my parent's generation and reminds me of my late Dad. Plus I know all the words. :)

I always thought Barbra Streisand was given too much credit at the expense of Karen Carpenter...who had a much lovelier voice. She's missed. Norah Jones is a good addition.

I like distinctive voices which move me or, worse yet, make me want to sing along. :) James Taylor, Carole King, Three Dog Night...that era was interesting. Harder to find that now...lyrics you can understand the first time you hear them, I mean. And the kids I work with in the afternoons...sigh. I feel sorry for them because they won't remember the music of their youth because half the time they have to censor themselves when trying to sing something for me. I'm glad I was raised in a musical era where I was exposed to lots of musical styles but no one was putting down women while praising guns and drugs.

You ladies have wonderful taste. I'll check back to see how your list grows.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, James Taylor...like him too. And you're right about Sting...he has become a bit of a joke in the media but it is good to forget all the image and the media quotes about tantric sex and just think about how the voice sounds. Plus he has written some good songs - more than we remember sometimes. I like 'Fields of gold' (sung also by Eva Cassidy of course) and quite a lot of others. His voice reminds me of high school ('Don't stand so close to me', 'Every little thing she does', 'Roxanne', 'Message in a bottle' etc etc). Makes me want to go for a smoke behind the bike sheds except I don't smoke any more...

Rachel Fox said...

So girls - the Karen Carpenter Appreciation Society it is then? Can't wait to hear what some of the regular male visitors to this blog make of that..

Rachel Fox said...

Speaking of men...I forgot to say that now and again I like a little Tom Jones (one song - now and again) and some Louis Armstrong and even some Billy Bragg (I know...painful sometimes...but surprisingly fantastic and heartwrenching others).
Also I am going for the 'adding comments to your own blog' record as I remember more and more voices that I like...

Sorlil said...

just remembered I also really like Donovan - the Scottish singer-songwriter (not Jason!).

Jim Murdoch said...

An interesting, and eclectic (possibly even quirky), mix there. This is definitely one of those blogs where you want to go, "Oooh, oooh, what about such-and-such," and bounce up and down in excitement. It's an interesting list, as I've said, but what struck me was the fact that you focus on singers rather than bands. I wonder why that is?

I could also provide a huge list of favourites. When my wife and I were getting to know each other we tried to list out top ten, films, songs, books etc but it was impossible. I usually gave up about the thirty or forty mark. How do you pick ten things from a lifetime? I could never do Desert Island Discs.

There are two other topics that tend to get people all excited like this: the great sweets you can't buy any more (Old English Spangles, Fry's Five Boys, Cabana) and why the kids programmes we watched as kids were so much better (Mary, Mungo and Midge; The Woodentops; Fireball XL5).

Rachel Fox said...

Well, yes 'Mary, Mungo and Midge' was fantastic...pretty slow and laid-back by modern standards...
I listed singers not bands because for me the singer, the voice and to some extent the song (words and tune) have always been the most important features when I listen to music. Obviously I appreciate the rest of a band's sound (to a point) but my love affair (and it is that) has always been with voices and their singers. I wrote about it for several reasons - partly because it is fairly common for people to talk and write about a poet finding their voice (their distinctive voice etc) and I like the link. I know that in some ways I hope to affect readers and listeners with my poems the way my favourite singers affect me with their voice/sound/song. I don't know if I manage it or if it's even possible but I'm pretty sure that's what I'm after a lot of the time...even if it's not a conscious thought when I'm writing. May as well aim high.
I suppose some might say...well, write songs and sing then...and I do a bit. My singing voice is undeveloped and nothing special though so I don't see me on X Factor any time soon (that and seeing X Factor as the work of the devil...oh yes I believe in the devil...just not the other side). Plus I love writing poems...and I'm getting enough good feedback to make me think I am achieving my targets (bizarre business speak alert) - at least some of the time...

Don't think I could do 'DID' either. I enjoy listening to it sometimes though. (Now disgraced) Andy Kershaw's was good...Victoria Wood's simply marvellous!

Rachel Fox said...

2 more...when I lived in Spain I loved a Cuban singer called Silvio Rodriguez...plus I was never a huge Bowie fan like some but I did have little Bowie phases...'Wild like the Wind', 'Young Americans'...especially the first of those shows off his voice really well (for me). I've never been one much for clothes, fashion, image etc so that side of the Bowie story never excited me particularly.

Sorlil said...

...and Alanis Morissette!

Rachel Fox said...

Yes...interesting one...is it the voice or the powerful songs with her, I'm never sure. I wasn't really into the big album when it came out (still slaving to the rhythm in nightclubs mainly) but the beloved likes it and has played it quite a lot. Supposedly she has a new album coming out that will be as big as 'Jagged Little Pill'...so we'll see.
Other voices I forgot..Cerys Matthews (formerly of Catatonia), Dolores O'Riordan (when she was in the Cranberries anyway) and Minnie Ripperton. I know I haven't mentioned Billie Holiday...somehow has never been one of my huge favourites. I love photos of her almost more than recordings which is odd.

Sorlil said...

I also really like Alison Krauss' voice, hmm not many men on my list!

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, she's great. That album with her and Robert Plant ('Raising Sands') is one of my favourites this year.

hope said...

Hmmm, better add some men folk.

Andrea Bocelli's "Amore" in Spanish. Best version I've ever heard of "Besame" [she sighed softly with an idiotic grin on her face.]

John Mayer...because he has a quirky sense of humor which seeps in and he loves words. How can writers not like a guy who enjoys word play...then sings it?

Carlos Santana, Billy Joel, the Eagles and America round out my favorite guys with bands.

And someone sent me a couple of audio clips of Scottish music. [as if you folks haven't already guessed I'm an American from the South...sorry Jim.] I absolutely loved Martyn Bennet, whom I hear has sadly left the planet.

Now I'm going to have to go and look up ones on your list I'm not familiar with. At least it's a fun job. ;)

Rachel Fox said...

Funny you should mention Billy Joel...he's another one that i used to listen to when I was a teenager (my brother had all his albums..one of his not-so-rock favourites). He wrote some great songs - not very cool these days but they're still good songs.
I also remembered this morning that other singers I have loved listening to are - Rod Stewart (early recordings - late 60s and very early 70s..), Liza Minnelli, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac.
Others I can't decide about...Beth Gibbons of Portishead...amazing voice but is that partly because of the amazing album ('Dummy')...would I put her on the list otherwise? Also Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics...I've never been a huge fan but on a couple of songs I do really rate his voice...Again they seem to be in the uncool bucket well and truly these days. How much does that affect our feelings about sounds? How immune are we to that stuff...even those of us who say and think we don't care?

Sorlil said...

most of my music is uncool, but I like to think it's uncool in a kind of retro cool sense lol - hey at least I'm not into the 'Steps' style of really naff pop!

John Baker said...

Johnnie Cash, Christy Moore, Jo Ann Kelly and Billie Holliday come to mind . . .

Rachel Fox said...

I've never heard of Jo Ann Kelly...will investigate...