Friday, January 28, 2011
the dividend of years of improper vocal technique: train wreck
oh. em. gee.

You may or may not know that like several on me blogroll, I am a classically trained singer. Yes, it sounds frouffy and pretentious, but it's true. I can ho jo to ho with the best of them, baby. Or worst. For reals.

I started vocal training well into adulthood, and one result of my rigorous training was that while my enjoyment of non-classical music was undiminished, I brought a much more critical ear to the table and technical failings could impede my ability to hear a piece of music for its own merits.

I always found slightly askew music appealing and now I better understand why. I adored Richard Butler's vocalisation in the Psychedelic Furs. Same with David Gahan of Depeche Mode. Now I recognize that part of their wonky appeal is that each of these singers doesn't quite center their pitch over the note they are singing. Gahan is an example of a singer whose vibrato takes them a smidge away from the tone they are singing and makes it sound almost off-key, and this is part of his charm. Butler's technique is odd with a forced vibrato and this probably plays in to his pitch issues. But I love them. My affection for their sounds are firmly cemented.

I've generally balked at so-called-popular music. I always listened to music which was often technically and generally textually superior to the mass-marketed crap on the radio. I am exceedingly fond of P.J. Harvey (who has some interesting pitch issues going on occasionally, and on her, it's smokin' hawt) and Dead Can Dance and Imogen Heap. In the spirit of full disclosure, Whitney Houston makes me want to scratch my own eardrums out, and Bette Midler's The Wind Beneath My Wings made my skin crawl in a not-good way. Bette was a great cabaret act, but the belting is not something one can sustain for a lifetime, unless you're Ethel Merman. She is not Ethel Merman. Celine Dion I can handle in (extremely) small doses (there is a little good technique going on there, but I do feel she abuses her instrument) such as a background piece of music in a loud restaurant scene in a movie for, like 5 seconds(no theme songs, please), and then that's it. That's me done with Celine Dion for the next decade. Oogy-quotient aside, Michael Jackson, admittedly, wrote some very melodically compelling music, but I never bought it and I certainly did tire of hearing him everywhere, all the time.

There are good singers, and then there are good vocalists. Very few have the felicity to possess both qualities. Bruce Springsteen? Scary voice, good singer. Neil Young? Eerie, odd voice, decent singer, better songwriter. Get the idea? Dione Warwick, great voice, great singer, but some scary vibrato issues. Apparently Whitney took the wrong lessons from the work of her auntie. Dolly Parton, good but odd voice, brilliant singer. Ronnie James Dio, superb instrument, very fine singer.

I am awed by the melodies of Burt Bacharach. Remember the Martini&Rossi ad campaign he did in the 70s with Angie Dickinson? That's just hawt. Say yes! Anyhoo, about 10 or so years ago, Burt teamed up with Elvis Costello (odd voice, brilliant singer and also superb songwriter) and they penned one of my all-time favorite songs, God Give Me Strength, which was featured in the film Grace Of My Heart and masterfully sung by (great voice, great singer) Kristen Vigard. This song is extremely complex in composition and the range is a brutal one for the chesty, typical vocal style of pop music. This is a song that 99.999% of the singers on the planet should reserve for the sanctity of their own showers when they are home alone. In the middle of nowhere.

So, on TV, in front of me and everybody, Bette Midler had to take a whack at the beehive and the result is a vocal train-wreck that made me absolutely doubt my senses. This is so incredibly poorly done that-- like watching an exploding septic tank-- I simply cannot look away. If this had been my first hearing of this song, I would have thought it was never in the same room with Messrs. Bacharach and Costello, let alone penned by them. The fawning comments below make me want to spew. I expect the link will be killed about 5 minutes after I put this up, but I'm doing it anyway. What you hear in this clip is the dividend of decades of improper singing.

Bette, honey, just stop. Please. You're hurting the children. You're hurting me. You're spoogeing up my favorite song, lady. Remove this from your repertoire. Immediately.

That is all.

Come to that, stop listening to Bette and wash the bad taste out with the version of it properly done:
Written by phlegmfatale
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Name: Phlegmfatale
Location: Elsewhere, Texas, USA

I'm not whining;
I'm unburdening.

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