A companion piece, if you will, to the guitarist list I posted. These are the 10 people I want to hear when I'm sad & blue, happy, excited, mellow, angered, horny, on my deathbed, whatever. The songs I picked are a soundtrack to parts of my life too. So, in alphabetical order, here we go....but before I move forward, apologies to Al Greene, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Freddie Mercury, David Coverdale, Prince, Robert Plant, Smokey Robinson, Sting, James Brown, Levi Stubbs, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Costello & Solomon Burke. You all could have a spot here, but I just didn't want to keep writing. I'd be here to 2009.
Favorite Vocal: I Left My Heart In San Francisco
Anthony Benedetto. A true legend. An Italian-American hero. The first song played in one of my all-time favorite movies, Goodfellas, is by Tony. "You know I go from rags to riches". So appropriate for the beginnings of that story. My dad's favorite singer, which roped me in. Whenever I hear this song, I always think of my dad. He would sing it to me as a toddler when I would try to fall asleep. Later, he would tell me that it was my grandmother's favorite song and she would sing it to him as a child. Many, many years later, I've started doing the same with my own son. I love you Dad, and I miss you everyday. One of the greatest pop/jazz/standard singers of the last 100 years. Still relevant today.
Favorite Vocal: A Change Is Gonna Come
The King of Cool. So smooth. So right. Hearing Sam sing has always been what I would think Heaven would sound like, if Heaven had a soundtrack. From his initial gospel performances like "Touch The Hem Of The Garment" to the classic pop of "Cupid", Sam evolved into a "pop prince". No one before him used the "Whoa,whoa, whoa's" before Sam. You send me, indeed. When he created "Change", the country took notice. Raw, powerful, truthful. It spoke volumes for the plight of the African-American in a time when voices for them were either squelched or looked upon as rebel rousers. One of my favorite all-time movie scenes used the song to set the mood of an incredibly sad moment. Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" showed Malcolm's last moments alive, with the strings and The Voice stirring in the background, showing the end of a misunderstood heroes time on the planet. Only Sam could make such tragedy seem hopeful in it's entirety. He was taken away too soon.
Favorite Vocal: Distant Lover (Live Version)
Sexuality. Power. Defined greatness. Marvin was all those things. Whether singing solo, playing drums on "Please Mr. Postman", dueting with Tammi, or as a voice of the people in the late 60's, Marvin could do it all musically. His voice could rage like a smoldering inferno or be as sweet as sugar in his honeysuckle falsetto. I'm sure if a scientific poll was taken, "Let's Get it On" would be the song most children of the last 30 years would have been created to. But on to "Distant Lover". To hear this version, found on a greatest hits retrospective, is to hear a love-lorn man pleading for his lover to come back home. From the females in the crowd reactions, to Marvin's burning desire and hurt felt in each pained lyric, Marvin put the every man's feelings on notice. You want to win a woman back, play this for her. Marvin knew the feeling. It was there for us to hear. Marvin's emotional stance vocally is what set him apart from the rest of his contemporaries. Another incredible voice lost way too soon.
Favorite Vocal: Neither One Of Us
Not that Gladys is the only female voice I love and appreciate (Aretha, Etta, Diana, Ronnie, Tina, I'm here, no fears)but Gladys's voice always stayed in my mind the clearest. It was the raspiness, the on-spot vibrato and the big notes that encompassed her lyrics. The Pips were always "there", but Gladys was the show. "Neither One Of Us" showed anguish, fear and sadness of not being able to move on. Real feelings, coming from her soul, in a beautiful vocal. All earmarks of what has made Gladys a legend to every other contemporary female singer. She is my choice for the Queen of Soul. Or at least the next in line. If Aretha is the Queen, then Gladys is the Empress.
Favorite Vocal: Jealous Guy
John was a disciple of American blues. Many times he claimed Little Richard, Ronald Isley and Sam Cooke as his largest vocal influence in the early Beatle days. With the Beatles he played the role of the one with an attitude. His voice was rough. Paul's was always smooth. His songs were always more on the "far-out" side in their latter years. He wore many hats with the Beatles. And they all fit well. Once he went solo, his true voice began to show. Buy the time he put out "Jealous Guy", he had settled in to more of a balladeer role than the anguished writer he was in the early 70's. "Jealous Guy" showed him at the top of his game vocally. A haunting melody, pained lyrics and perfect vocals, all Lennon hallmarks from his very beginnings. Gone too soon. (what a shitty trend with my picks)
Favorite Vocal:I've Been Loving You Too Long (live performance from Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert)
If you were lucky enough to have seen this performance, his ranking on this list and any other compiled by legitimate music critics, would no doubt be verified. He out Otis'ed Otis. He stole the show from a group of legendary performers who were not use to being shown up. His voice is on-par with any other blues/soul singer ever. From the Sam & Dave days to the present Sam has cut a nitch out for himself that no other singer past or present has ever been able to fill. At 72, his vocal power is unrivaled even by singers half his age. Yeah,we all know "Soul Man" or "Knock On Wood". "If Something Is Wrong With My Baby" may have been S&D's most soulful performance. Maybe all of Stax's music most soulful performances. True love in song. But if you are ever lucky enough to see the Atlantic Records performance, you may just find yourself saying "how is this possible?" It's that good. He's that good. He wears a diamond-encrusted Superman logo for a reason. He is a vocal god.
Favorite Vocal: Beside You
The Belfast Cowboy. A legend in America and his homeland. A blues disciple that turned to mysticism and became a Jehovah's Witness and returned to the blues. The voice that can shake paint off a wall. Van is all those things. One of the most well-respected, introverted, mysterious figures in popular music history. Van has been there, done that at every turn of his illustrious book of life. As Tony Bennet was my father's favorite voice, Van was the same to my mom. Throughout my childhood in the 70's , I think I may have heard Van's voice more than my dad's as he worked all the time. If my mom was to have an affair with anyone back in the day it would have been with the voice coming from the turntable and the speakers in our living room. I knew Van as a child, learned more about him as a teen, in my 20's I knew his music inside out and now in my mid-thirties, I am a Van historian. 30+ years of love. "Beside You" was on his legendary Astral Weeks album, which stands in the pantheons of rock/jazz fusion as one of the most creative, influential albums of it's kind. The song showed Van's voice in all it's incredible facets. Tender, pensive, angered, passionate. All things that have made Van the phenom his was and still is today.
Favorite Vocal: Winds Of March
If there's one singer that might take my top, top, top spot, it might be Steve. Most of the general population think of him and his former band Journey as comical due to their corporate ties and radio overplaying and terrible 80's videos. But for those of us who listened deeper to just the radio anthems, we knew that Steve was the closet thing to the "modern" Sam Cooke. Long touted as his primary vocal influence, Sam's phrasing and tone came through every time Steve sung a line. Steve's first radio foray came with the song "Lights" in '77. In it, Steve sang of his life in San Francisco, and Sam's "whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa's" came through throughout the song. As time and albums passed, Steve evolved. He became less of a high-pitched, over the top, flamethrowing vocalist and to the later incarnation, which showed a more toned-down, bluesier sounding voice in songs like "When You Love A Woman" and "I'll Be Alright Without You". "Winds Of March" came from the early Journey years and had Steve's full range on full display. Huge notes, off-the-charts range for a male singer and impeccable phrasing. He learned well from the master, Mr. Cooke. Although he has been off the radar for years, every now and again he will venture out and add his voice to backing tracks of various obscure artists but The Voice remains. In wedding songs, remembrances of prom songs of years past and songs used to win a girl or two by red-blooded American males across the nation.
Favorite Vocal: Satisfaction Guaranteed
The king of blues rock vocalists. As influential a singer in the rock arena as any other vocalist. Led some of the biggest bands in rock history. Free, Bad Company, The Firm, Queen. Huge bands, huge sounds, huge talent. Paul made some of the most recognizable songs in the 70's in America, England and across the globe. "All Right Now" is a bar band/radio staple. In the 70's Bad Company was the 2nd highest money earning act behind Led Zeppelin. That's a staggering figure considering the bands that shared stages at that time included Pink Floyd, Van Halen & Aerosmith. Paul's voice came from the Muddy Waters/BB King school of hard blues. He influenced my own vocal style more so than any other vocalist, rock wise. Rough, ready and raw. Paul has been long hailed "the king of soulful rock". Free was raw and powerful. "All Right Now" is an all-time classic. Bad Company changed the way bands played the heavy rock blues with songs like "Feel Like Makin' Love" and "Can't Get Enough". The Firm teamed Paul with the other giant of 70's blues rock, Jimmy Page, and although their teaming only produced two albums, they possessed incredible songs in the vein of "Radioactive" and my personal favorite "Satisfaction Guaranteed". A Rodgers vocal tour-de-force, it could be an introduction to all aspiring young rock singers to the greatness of The Man. To show his greatness, Paul was tapped to be the "new" voice of Queen in the 21st Century. That speaks volumes to his prowess to have the ability to take over the reigns from the legendary firebrand, Freddie Mercury.
Favorite Vocal: Ain't To Proud To Beg
It's fitting David is last on this list. He was the most tragic figure in Motown history. His voice, one of it's most definable. You've heard "My Girl"? You know his greatness. Ever had a day when "I Wish It Would Rain" was your exact feeling? That was David. The two opposite sides of the emotional spectrum. Happiness and complete loneliness, that was David. With a voice trained in the churches of Mississippi. He gave the Temptations the "rawness" they had been missing. Drugs played a role in his slow descent into failure & a huge ego (which was warranted to a degree)didn't adhere him to his group mates. But when he left the Temptations, they lost their soul. Sure, they scored hits with "Get Ready" and "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" without him, but his signature classic, "My Girl" remained the bands and possibly all of Motown's greatest single song. He had mild success as a soloist, but his days as the long, lean, sex machine (not my feelings, btw)of the Temps remained in many peoples eyes as the quintessial Motown act. If you hear "Ain't To Proud To Beg" and don't want to move your ass, you must be dead or a Mormon. And if David couldn't lock you up with that vocal,then you had to be deaf. The other inspiration that molded my vocal game, he gave me soulfire more than anyone else. Another voice who left too soon.
Enjoy the classics, appreciate the greatness.