View Part 1 here.
View Part 3 here.
10. Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly was essentially the anti-Elvis. Elvis gyrated his way into the hearts of Americans, while Buddy exhibited a sweet, chivalrous Southern demeanor that became just as well-loved. Elvis could play no more than a few simple guitar chords, while Buddy was a master guitarist who could play circles around Mr. Presley.
Elvis was a performer with hired songwriters, while Buddy pioneered the practice of writing one’s own songs. Elvis’s star status slowly eroded away as he survived well into his infamous 1970’s “Fat Elvis” period as a chintzy Las Vegas entertainer. Buddy tragically died in a plane crash at the height of his career, being only twenty-two years old. And at the center of the difference between these two icons are their voices. Elvis possessed a low, resonant vibrato that echoed the bluesmen of decades past. But Buddy was different. While Buddy sometimes dipped into lower vocal territory, his jaunty, high-pitched hillbilly vocals, complete with some incredibly well-placed hiccups, had never been seen before in pop music, and never will be seen again.
9. Debbie Harry
The record-buying public of the late 70’s often thought that Debbie Harry was Blondie, even though Blondie was actually the band for which Debbie was the lead singer. And the reason why Debbie kind of became Blondie was because her voice was such an important aesthetic to the band, and blah, blah, blah. You know what? I think the band members wanted people to get confused over what Blondie actually meant. I mean they named their band Blondie, for Christ’s sake! And their singer just happened to be a beautiful woman with blonde hair? What did they think was going to happen? But even so, Debbie took a great pop rock band (who actually had roots in the same punk underground that birthed The Ramones) and gave them an extra layer of sexiness and femininity. And when they started making disco-influenced music, this image was only enhanced. The band KISS recently complained about their exclusion from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, saying that Blondie was a mere disco band and even they got in. Screw you KISS. Blondie’s awesome. You suck. Because everyone knows that the most “rock and roll” thing that a band can do is whining.
8. Art Garfunkel
I can remember listening to this song for the first time, on Simon & Garfunkel’s 1966 album Sounds of Silence, and wondering what Artie would say about August, the month when I was born. I was a little disappointed when it turned out to be “die she must”. It barely even rhymes. But it didn’t matter. Because anything coming out of that man’s mouth sounds beautiful, even if he’s singing about death and destruction. Artie’s voice is clear. That’s the best word for it. Sometimes a voice needn’t be powerful to be full of power.
7. Tina Turner
You have to wonder about people like Tina Turner, people who have devoted their lives to performing. People whose worth is measured by the number of their records that get radio play and the number of concert tickets they sell. Does the stress ever get to them? And what about those background dancers? Do you think that they memorize all of Tina’s dance moves and song lyrics just in case one day, I don’t know, the brakes on her car stop working? There’s no business like show business. Anyway, I have to confess something. I am not really a fan of Tina Turner. I haven’t even listened to that many of her songs. But I don’t think you need to be a Tina Turner aficionado to appreciate a voice full of that much style and flair.
6. Van Morrison
My senior year English teacher had this pet peeve about the word “unique”. It was overused, she said, because something is either unique or it isn’t. Something cannot be “very unique” or “so unique”. There is either one of them in the entire world, or there isn’t. And though I may have abused that word on this blog multiple times, Van Morrison’s voice holds up even to this refined definition. I can’t really describe it because I have nothing to compare it to. It’s a voice that’s deeply embedded in the valleys and mountains of Van’s home country of Northern Ireland. And it’s versatile, too. One of the most radical transformations in rock history occurred in between Van’s 1968 album Astral Weeks and his 1970 album Moondance. Both are regarded as utter classics, but the former is a conceptual, mystical jazz-folk album, while the latter is a radio-ready, folksy AOR masterpiece. If the joyful “la la la”s didn’t tip you off, the above song is from Moondance. But whatever genre Morrison tackles, his voice sounds as if some ancient spirit is trying to escape from his body, but it settles for rocking to the beat instead.
View Part 3 here.
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