Friday, February 20, 2015

Slightly Underrated Singers

This week's blog entry is not about complete underdogs in the rock n' roll and music world, but more likely about the sort of place that many singers hold in the view of most of the world of rock critics. Here, Very Us Mumblings present a few singers who should be held in high regard
. Though they might not hold a place at the top ten of singers all-time, their influence is high, and they are HUGE fan-favourites, constantly winning over audiences wherever they play.

Little Richard
In interviews, Little Richard has no difficulty in expressing his own accomplishments. He has suggested on numerous occasions that he 'started it all' and called himself the 'architect' of Rock n' Roll and the 'originator' Of course it's partially true; Little Richard was one of many Americans who helped create and develop Rock and Roll in the middle fifties. Unfortunately, he, like most of the Black Americans who invented Rock and Roll, was outshined or perhaps out-promoted by people like Elvis, Buddy Holly and a handful of other white rock stars, some of whom were clearly singing songs written by black contemporaries or even old blues musicians. Some of these songs were original songs written in the 'Rock n' Roll' style, and some were outright rip-offs. A certain white male singer (Pat Boone) was responsible for a less than accurate version of Little Richard's own song 'Tutti Frutti'.
   Of course, once people heard the real version of 'Tutti Frutti', Little Richard's own ability was not really underrated, but his influence may have been. When Little Richard speaks of his own accomplishments, he's referring not only to the middle fifties, but to the period ten years later when the British bands came to America singing with raspy voices, screaming vocals and shouts of 'yeah, yeah, yeah' and high-pitched 'Wooooo!' By this time it was clear that those British bands may have liked Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent... but they clearly wanted to sing like Little Richard. And why not? Little Richard's singing style and even his whole onstage persona was the embodiment of what Rock and Roll was all about. Bouncing, dancing, shouting, a few screams and his characteristic 'Wooooo!' seemed to burn-up microphones while making audiences jump up and down with excitement.
  Elvis and The Beatles may have topped the charts during the 50s and 60s, but it was Little Richard's vocal style that is most iconic of Rock 'n' Roll for more than two decades. He not only gave birth to rock n' roll, but also to the style of rock singing that would be picked up and re-learned and re-invented by many rock singers.

Paul Rodgers
  The 1970s were dominated by powerful voices that could slip into the alto range easily. Virtuosos and power-singer frontmen were so dominant in both tone and volume that many singers seemed to be just emulators or imitators of a few really great singers. Paul Rodgers was not one of them. He had his own style and stuck to it. Those power singers that were capable of a higher pitch and volume were highly lauded and perhaps deservedly so, but despite being out-screamed and over-pitched Paul Rodgers was deceptively good and was and maybe still is one of the best rock singers around.
   Paul Rodgers sang for a band called Free, then joined Bad Company in the seventies and probably was one of the iconic vocal sounds of rock and roll for about a decade and a half. During those years, Paul Rodgers, Free & Bad Company put out numerous songs that you have probably heard of and sang along to at some point in your life likely in the shower or alone in the car.
   And this is where the problem lies: If Paul Rodgers is underrated at all, it's probably because his voice is much closer to the natural vocal range of the average male rock fan. In truth, his voice sounds so natural and aggressive that many men think they can sing along with his songs and sound just like him, but turn off the supporting soundtrack or try a Karaoke version of one of Paul's more famous songs and suddenly you find yourself a bit flabbergasted at the amount of control and nuance that is required to actually sing the song right.
    Perhaps he was outshined in the 1970s, but years later, after a few reunions of Bad Company and some impressive gigs singing Queen songs in front of Brian May and Roger Taylor, Paul Rodgers is probably more recognized and respected for his own way of singing and is starting to chart higher and higher on people's all-time lists of great rock singers. Paul has also proved, much like Pavarotti and others that if you take care of your voice, your best years are actually ahead of you, even in your fifties and sixties.

Paul Di'Anno
  Before Iron Maiden's first album, it seemed like there were only two types of heavy rock  singers. There were the guys with god-given pipes and incredible range like Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford, and there were the screamers and gruff singers like Steve Tyler and Joe Strummer. But as the seventies moved into the eighties, it was Paul Di'Anno that got the right mix of roughness and tone, and it was a sound somewhere between that of Lemmy Kilmister and Johnny Rotten with a more aggressive attack and pronunciation. Di'Anno was a raspy vocalist who had enough range to make it interesting and enough punk punch to deliver a rawness and emotion to the early 1980s new wave of heavy metal. Iron Maiden's first album was a mix of heavy metal power, progressive rock complexity and punk speed and rawness that gave a powerful starting kick to 80s metal and eventually gave birth to thrash metal and speed metal and much of what the 1980's metal scene is famous for.
   There is no question why Paul Di'Anno may be underrated. Except for Iron Maiden fans, he has been largely overshadowed by his replacement in Iron Maiden, while his solo career and band Battlezone could not match such success. And certainly Iron Maiden may have developed a seperate and distinct style with their new and current lead vocalist, but after leaving Iron Maiden in 1981, and throughout the decade, it always seemed there were many more rock and metal singers that sounded, or tried to sound, more like Paul Di'Anno than the other guy. In fact, it might be said that if Iron Maiden hadn't changed lead singers, they would've been on track to sounding much more like the big four thrash-metal bands that came later from the U.S. Unfortunately, Di'Anno may have also inadvertently given rise to the more grunting and growling 'cookie monster' type of vocals of death metal in the nineties, partially due to damaging his voice with cigarettes and alcohol. Di'Anno is currently considering/re-considering retirement due to a severe knee injury. 

Alanis Morisette
Her first endeavours in music were under the one name 'Alanis' and included a somewhat cheesy, but catchy commercial/pop single callled 'Too Hot', but when Alanis grew up a few years and became Alanis Morisette and decided to make the much more emotionally-charged album Jagged Little Pill, she suddenly changed the way that women sang.
   From song to song, track to track, her vocals went from raspy to weak, powerful to lilted, sometimes quavering at little emotional intervals, other times slipping into falsetto vocals in the middle of a lyric, even coughing in the middle of a song. Basically, she sounded a little weird because she broke all the rules of what was perceived as what a female singer should sound like. At the same time, in the mid-nineties, all this music coming from her seemed absolutely rock n' roll, as loud and boisterous as anything her grunge-rock peers were doing yet unmistakably feminine in both tone and taste.
  If Alanis Morisette is underrated, it's most likely because she doesn't fit the image of other 'diva' type singers, nor has she aspired to do so. However, she has not only changed the image of a female singer, but also the subject matter of a rock song. Her music and lyrics spoke to the the loser rather than the winner, the jilted lover, the too trusting person that had been burned, the person that tried and failed. Fifteen and twenty years later, these seem like perfectly normal subjects for a song, but at the time seemed the main point of criticism against an entire generations music. It's this blog's point of view that Alanis Morisette will, in future, likely be viewed as more of a breakthrough type of singer like Janis Joplin, changing what women could and should sing about as well as how they should sound.

Beth Gibbons: (Portishead)
   Old-style singing meets new-style when you hear Beth Gibbons sing for the band Portishead. In the height of the Grunge rock era popularity, Portishead released Dummy, an entire album of mostly melancholy, moody music at a relatively slow tempo. The vocal-style, however, was brought by Beth Gibbons who sounded like she was constantly switching between the voice of a modern-style soft control of vocal power to the jazz-era style of singing temptress that sounds a little like Billie Holiday. Switching between these two voices is a characteristic carried on throughout this album and later Portishead releases and, in live performances, Beth Gibbons has managed to perform these subtle changes remarkably well, winning over audiences to Portishead everywhere they play.
   If Beth Gibbons is underrated, there's one obvious reason and that's the fact that she doesn't wear the attention-attraction clothing of a diva singer. Instead of flashy gowns and sexy dress, Gibbons mostly performs in clothing that's similar to the sweater and jeans of her Grunge-rocker colleagues. In fact, most of Portishead is similarly devoid of flashy dress, and even when they have a string-ensemble backing up the band, most of the of orchestra is in casual attire as well.

Puddles: (Michael Geier) From what a person can glean from interviews and videos posted on YouTube, Michael Geier is not a newcomer to music, but a veteran who has toured with rock bands, performed in musicals and burlesque shows, and even does a very good Elvis 'impersonation' despite being about a foot taller than the real Elvis Presley. Most recently, however, Michael Geier has taken on the 'persona' of a sad clown named 'Puddles' who sings with a powerful voice and range that would seem uncharacteristic of such a shy clown. Normally, a person might view one or two videos of this sad-clown act and smirk and maybe share it with your friends, but it seems that enough people have alread done that. So much so that one of Michael Geier's videos, a cover of Lorde's Royals has a whopping ten million views and is gaining new viewers all the time. Most recently, he's gone on a tour of Australia. Perhaps 'Puddles' time has come.
If you enjoyed this blog entry, then you might like our take on some Underrated Guitar Players. Please feel free to comment and share!