I felt like writing about singers, since singing is a good way to practice your voice. I also was listening to some great women singers recently and figured I’d share. Here are ten women that I like; I’ve picked five that I feel are fairly traditionally “femme,” and five that are less traditional. Most of them have sent shivers up my spine at some point or another. Here are the less traditional ones.
- Kate Pierson (The B-52’s). She’s got an amazingly powerful voice (“Roam”) and works well with Fred Schneider (“Good Stuff”) and Michael Stipe (“Me and Honey”). She also loves wild clothes and has settled in my hometown. See also Lady Miss Kier (Deee-Lite).
- Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders). I was a bit put off by her worldliness (“Middle of the Road”) when I was younger, but she has a good feel for the poignant (“My City was Gone”, “Back on the Chain Gang”). See also Terri Nunn (Berlin).
- Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs). “Like the Weather” was the first song I heard her on, and it’s an odd song because her voice is so much higher and cheerier-sounding than most of her other work, as she’s singing about being so depressed she can’t get out of bed. Her “Unplugged” cover of Roxy Music’s “More than This” is a classic. See also Dolores O’Riordan (Cranberries).
- Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde). Napolitano has seen it all and knows how fucked up it all is (“Free”). But she can still be romantic (“The Ship Song”) and tragic (“Tomorrow, Wendy”). See also Amy Ray (“Indigo Girls”).
- Janis Joplin (Big Brother and the Holding Company). My parents were big fans of Joplin when they were together, but by the time I was old enough to remember music, they’d both gotten rid of all their albums. Too bad, she was amazing. At first I thought all she did was scream, but now I really hear her emotional range (“Piece of My Heart”, “Me and Bobby McGee”). I also believed all that bullshit about her being ugly. In the past few years I’ve seen photos and videos of her, and I honestly think she’s one of the most beautiful women from the Sixties.
Honorable mention: Aretha Franklin, Maria BethÃ¢nia, Monique Powell (Save Ferris), Edith Piaf, Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes), Shirley Bassey, Claire Torry (Pink Floyd), Macy Gray. Now for the more traditional singers.
- Phyllis Dillon, the Queen of Rock Steady. Such a sweet voice (“Don’t Stay Away”, “Perfidia”).
- Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac). She sang these wonderful songs about sex (“Say You Love Me”, “You Make Loving Fun”) that really helped me understand a certain kind of female sexuality.
- Leigh Bingham Nash (Sixpence None the Richer). So young and innocent (“Kiss Me”).
- Marie MichÃ¨le Desrosiers (Beau Dommage). There’s always a lovely poignancy in Desrosiers’ voice (“A toutes les fois”), and she contributes to some of the great group harmonies (“Harmonie du soir Ã ChÃ¢teauguay”).
- Harriet Wheeler (The Sundays). Very English, very languid (“I Kicked a Boy”, “Wild Horses”).
Honorable mention: Susanna Hoff, Robin Goldwasser (They Might Be Giants), Rickie Lee Jones, Shania Twain.
Since I live most of the time as a man, I should mention some of my favorite male singers as well. For them, the “traditional” ones are the good singers, and the non-traditional ones are, well, maybe better at songwriting or performing than singing, but still have interesting voices. First the great singers:
- Jim Morrison (The Doors). What is it with all these tenors anyway? Give me a guy with a great baritone (“The Hyacinth House”, “The Cars Hiss By My Window”). See also Brad Roberts (Crash Test Dummies).
- Levon Helm (The Band). Anyone who can sing and play drums at the same time (“Up on Cripple Creek”) is pretty impressive, and I’ve always loved Helm’s Arkansas accent (“Blue Moon of Kentucky”). I’m sorry to read that his voice was damaged by throat cancer. See also John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival).
- Morrissey (The Smiths). The best part of the Smiths was the contrast between Morrissey and Johnny Marr, but I loved Morrissey’s bombast (“Big Mouth Strikes Again”) and melodrama (“There is a Light that Never Goes Out”), especially when I was in high school. See also Robert Smith (The Cure).
- Paul Simon (Simon and Garfunkel). I’ve always found Simon’s tentative shyness (“50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”) highly amusing, as I think he intends. “Something So Right” is one of my favorite love songs of all time. See also Steve Winwood (The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic).
- Randy Travis. Like Macy Gray, Travis has one of those retro voices, with an amazing texture to it (“Forever and Ever, Amen”). They’ve both also appeared on “Blue’s Clues.” See also Rick Astley.
Honorable mention: Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield), Bob Marley, Jeff Healey, Ranking Roger (The English Beat), Mick Jagger (The Rolling Stones), Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), Barry White, Van Morrison, Marshall Crenshaw.
Now for some non-traditional male singers, who maybe can’t sing all that well (in contast to both the traditional and non-traditional women), but still have voices that impressed me in some way.
- Fred Schneider (The B-52’s). I’m leading with him as I led with Kate Pierson for the women. I love his camp, especially the outer-space stuff (“There’s a Moon in the Sky Called the Moon”), but for sheer silliness nothing beats “Quiche Lorraine.”
- Serge Gainsbourg. He had a great voice in the Sixties (“Elaeudanla TeÃ¯tÃ©Ã¯a”), and smoked too many Gitanes, so by the end of his career he mostly spoke his lines, and relied on backup singers to hold the melody (“Sorry Angel”). See also Leonard Cohen.
- Warren Zevon. Now there’s a guy with a gravelly voice (“Lawyers, Guns and Money”); at one point in the Hindu Love Gods version of “Vigilante Man” it sounds like he’s hacking up a hairball. See also Jeff Healey.
- Elvis Costello. Nobody does wounded accusation like Elvis Costello (“Busy Bodies”, “Two Little Hitlers”) You’ve hurt him, and he’s going to let you know just how much. See also Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes).
- Shock G/Humpty Hump (Digital Underground). His voice has so much body and resonance (“Packet Man”, “Kiss Me and I’ll Kiss You Back”). He’s also hilarious.
Honorable Mention: David Byrne, Michael Stipe, Shaggy, Lou Reed, Tom Petty.
Now, wasn’t that self-indulgent? Hey, if I’ve got a blog, I might as well use it to bore you all with my musical tastes. After all, it beats working.