September 29, 2010

Vocals and Music's Seduction -- Harry Tournemille

Vocal tracks. For as long as I can remember they've been the "make or break" criteria for me when considering a song's excellence. 

Take great instrumental work and watch it become spectacular when the vocals are spot on. An unspoken connection between vocals and music's seduction. It crosses genres too. 

From the young Bruce Dickinson's brilliant harmonies in Iron Maiden's Flight of Icarus to Lauryn Hill and the Fugees's Killing Me Softly
Nina Simone's admonishing cover of I Put a Spell On You and Mike Patton's foreboding tracks on Mr. Bungle's The Holy Filament

A singer claims a song as their own, places a stamp on the arrangements not to be duplicated. A combination of vocals and persona. The notes are given an identity through the vocalist. Or maybe notes become identifiable once they are given a face, or an attached embodiment. The voice (instrument) part and parcel of the player. 

Likewise, poor vocals can absolutely butcher any song's credibility. Sometimes to the point of parody -- as Mr. William Hung gives evidence for. Or at the very best, sub par vocals can render a potentially great song mundane. 

But when a singer gets it right, the song transcends. I think these moments are rare -- at least for me they are. I equate them to a movie scene where every nuance is captured in all its subtlety, to the point where repeated viewing is a necessity. 

Bonnie Herman's vocals with The Singer's Unlimited come to mind. Pristine, clear, achingly beautiful. I'd listen to her sing commercial jingles. I hadn't listened to Singers Unlimited since college, but the other day, for some reason I remembered the gorgeous note she hits at the end of Killing Me Softly (yes, that song again). 

The kind of note that makes a man want to pledge undying affection. Which I did back then, those many years ago. And do now. 


harpoon said...

I've always thought one falls for voices emoting songs just like one gets a crush, or even falls in love. Sometimes that one person speaks to the masses in a Beatle-esque scale, and sometimes you find a voice that's all your own and you just get absorbed in hearing it to the point where you could hear it sing a phone book (Jeff Buckley, for me).

Sam said...

Usually we agree on music, but man, even AM radio wouldn't put that snooze of a Beatles cover on the air. Isn't this what you meant to post?

Harry Tournemille said...

Funny, Paul. I wouldn't be surprised if most people have that response. As if the voice has sung just for you.

Not sure I like calypso versions, Sam. The one I posted is slow, granted, but the chords being sung are immense. 3/4 of the way through, at "sun going down" is a great example.

Sam said...

Calypso? That's a cha-cha.