- by Gitabushi
Every once in a while, I encounter someone talking about “the Great Voices of Rock” or ‘the great singers of rock”, and my usual reaction is a mild puzzlement.
I don’t like many of the iconic voices of rock music. I don’t like Tom Petty, I don’t like Robert Plant, I don’t like Rod Stewart, I don’t like Bob Dylan, I don’t like Bono.
But even the bands I *do* like, I’m not sure I can say I really love the singers. I love Styx, but I can’t say I love Dennis DeYoung’s, Tommy Shaw’s, or James Young’s singing. I can find flaws or aspects I don’t like much in any of them. Same with Heart, Night Ranger, Loudness, Kansas, Foreigner, Queen (yes, I’m not a huge fan of Freddie Mercury), Survivor, Alice in Chains, etc., etc., etc.
But I realized the other day there *is* one singer I like:
I’m not going to include a picture, because I don’t think he’s famous enough for anyone to recognize him by his photo. His “most famous” time was with Bad Company, but I don’t think he’s even close to actually being famous.
If I said, “Brian Howe”, everyone except for a fairly hard core Bad Company or Ted Nugent fan wuold say “Who?”
I really like his voice. But have I looked up his solo albums? I have not. I do not even listen to two of his albums with Bad Company. I love his voice on “Dangerous Age“, and that’s it.
I think that highlights my relationship with music: I like a song if I like the guitar, and possibly the drums. If I like those, I will learn to enjoy the bass, the voices, and the lyrics. But I won’t like a song for the voice.
As in all things, however, there is a probable exception:
I’m digging into Steely Dan’s catalog right now. Unlike Blue Oyster Cult and Jethro Tull, it is resulting in increased respect and affection for the band. Although Donald Fagen is not an objectively good singer, his voice is perfect for the songs. I feel so strongly about this, I simply don’t like the songs he doesn’t sing on. I hate “Dirty Work,” for example. But Fagen’s singing voice is, if I can believe what I’m saying next, both cynical and introspective. It is so expressive, and it adds the sardonic note necessary to make the lyrics work; which, in turn, add depth to the music.
Steely Dan has good music, but this is the one band that I listen to for the lyrics.
Of course, I wouldn’t be listening to them for the lyrics if they didn’t *first* grab me with good guitar and drum work on the hits that made it to the radio.
And Donald Fagen highlights *another* aspect of my relationship with music: a good voice is immaterial; what I want is a voice that adds emotion. I think no one would say that Stevie Ray Vaughn is a good singer. But his voice has the emotion necessary to sell his songs.
So that’s true for the bands listed above. I don’t necessarily love Dennis DeYoung’s voice, but it has the emotional impact necessarily to sell the song.
Still, aside from that, there are two more singers I like:
Dann Huff of Giant. “I’ll See You In My Dreams” was not the sort of song that should make me interested in a band. But the raw emotion of his singing did. I ended up loving the guitar and compositions of the band enough that they are one of my favorite bands, and I think “Last of the Runaways” should be considered one of the most important albums in guitar rock pedagogy (but it’s not; it’s not even on the radar. smdh).
I’d put his voice on par with Brian Howe’s for just plain my favorite rock voice.
Using the Donald Fagen metric of “fitting the style of music” would seem to open up lots of names to be listed as favorite, but I won’t. Robert Plant may be perfect for Led Zeppelin; Freddie Mercury may be perfect for Queen; Steve Perry may be perfect for Journey; I don’t care. There is only one other voice I would list as iconic, and good enough to *make* the band the way Fagen makes Steely Dan work:
David Lee Roth, with Van Halen.
I know some people prefer Van Hagar. I don’t deny that lineup had some good songs. But there is no band, no singer, no experience quite like early Van Halen. David Lee Roth made that band what it was.
So those are my Mount Rushmore of Rock Singers:
David Lee Roth
One other final point that may interest only me:
I listen to a bunch of Chinese rock music. I have the same pattern there: I like a song if I like the guitar part, and in some cases, the drums. In fact, it was my analysis of my Chinese music preferences that allowed me to separate my tastes from what was spoon-fed to me by the corporate music machine (the radio & MTV). It confirms that:
If I like enough of the songs, I like the singer. Some of my favorite Chinese singers are objectively not good singers, but add the perfect emotional flavor to the song itself, bridging any gaps between composition and lyrics, and adding depth to both.
I was the youngest of six kids, so I grew up listening to what my older siblings listened to.
Older sister #3 was a particularly strong influence on my musical tastes: her college roommate already had an 8-track player, so she left hers at home, and would bring me a different 8-track to swap out each time. That’s where I got my love for Styx and Queen “Jazz”. And also Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, and other late 70s/early 80s bands.
I loved (and still love) that mix of guitars and synthesizers, but with the focus on guitar riffs and guitar solos. That’s led to my enjoyment of late 90s Taiwan pop, which is exactly in the same vein.
However, as a PK (Pastor’s Kid), I felt some aversion to Heavy Metal. It wasn’t *quite* a belief that Satan was in the music, and if you listened to it, you were going to be dragged to Hell. But even as late as 1982 or so, I thought Def Leppard and AC/DC were probably influenced by Satan. Or, at least, I didn’t like the imagery of insanity, violence, etc., in Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, and other Heavy Metal acts of the early 80s.
The one weird exception was I had sort of inherited Kiss Destroyer from my older brother. They were certainly Satanic looking in their makeup, and from an early age I had heard that KISS stood for “Kings in Satan’s Service”, and Destroyer had some fairly evil-sounding tracks in God of Thunder and King of the Night-Time world. That didn’t stop me from listening to it. Recognizing that most of the songs were not Satanic at all, and even the two “bad” songs didn’t cause me to do become evil didn’t really open my mind to the other Heavy Metal groups. Then again, I had no desire to explore any other Kiss albums. Part of that may have been that before 1982, at the age of 13 or so, all my music was received, and I wasn’t going out to seek any other albums or music I didn’t have already.
At the same time, however, I found myself drawn to the heavier songs of Queen (Let Me Entertain You, Dead on Time) and Styx (Miss America, Suite Madame Blue, Snowblind, Queen of Spades, etc.). The heavier the guitar, the more I liked it. But I still rejected the heavy metal bands.
Something had to give. And it did.
One guy in our lunch group had a boom box. And another guy brought Night Ranger’s “Midnight Madness”. Lots of hard rock and heavy metal guitar, no Satanic lyrics, and I liked it.
Then Def Leppard’s Foolin’ hit Friday Night videos, and was on there every week. Familiarity bred appreciation, and before too long, I obtained a copy of Pyromania and listened to the whole album a bunch of times. I somewhat reluctantly decided Def Leppard was okay.
At the same time I was sliding into heavy metal appreciation, the musical world was going synth pop. The big acts were Pet Shop Boys, Flock of Seagulls, Howard Jones, Madonna, lots of other pop bands that guitar didn’t figure prominently in, or sometimes even appear. As popular music got more synth-y, I went more heavy. I got into Van Halen, Ratt, Night Ranger, Autograph. A friend had Ozzy’s “Bark at the Moon” and listened to it constantly, and I decided I liked that. I liked Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health” album. Heard Dokken in the school parking lot in 1985 and thought “That’s what metal should sound like!” Pretty quick after that, Dokken’s “Under Lock and Key” came out and “In My Dreams” was a top video, with a solo that captivated me. I heard Akira Takasaki was as good as Eddie Van Halen, so I got into Loudness. Early Stryper got into the mix. The next Ozzy album (The Ultimate Sin).
The final barrier was Metallica. They were either Satanic or a modern version of Spinal Tap using tremolo picking or something to try and sound fast. I mean, EVH, Akira, George Lynch, the Night Ranger guys, Jake E. Lee, Warren di Martini and the other Hair Metal flashy guitarists…there were just so many good guitarists to go around, and if Metallica’s guitarist was any good, he’d have been in a Hair Metal band, right?
But the guys I hung around with my senior year liked Metallica, so their cassette was always on in the car when we went cruising. I grew to enjoy the riffs. I became a Metallica fan.
Still never got into Motley Crue, WASP, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc. I think I didn’t like their guitar tone/style much.
Is there a point to all this? No. No, there isn’t.
However, even though I listen to Chinese pop/rock 90%+ of the time, I have dug into my old American music trove to listen to some of the groups I haven’t paid much attention to lately, getting deeper into their catalogs. This has been sporadic…I have a *crapton* of old US music .mp3s.
Most recently, that meant Autograph. I liked “Turn up the Radio”, and so I got that album. I also got “That’s the Stuff.” I liked them okay, but wasn’t overly excited about them, wasn’t waiting eagerly for their next album, and originally missed “Loud & Clear”. Decades later, I notice I have all 3 of their albums in .mp3. I remember “Turn Up the Radio” and “Deep End” has a guitar riff I like. I made a commute playlist that included all three albums. I read up on their Wikipedia. Why weren’t they more popular? Their drummer was good friends with David Lee Roth, which was how they got their break. They had a huge hit, top 100 all time by most countdowns. They were playing live all over the US, opening for the biggest bands. They had an innovative lead guitarist (Steve Lynch). The lead singer was a prolific song-writer, wrote a bunch of songs for other people, and his songs have literally been in hundreds of TV shows. But, as a band, after their big debut, they were disappointed with slumping sales on their second album. What happened?
I listened, and found out.
Steve Plunkett, the lead singer, might be a prolific songwriter, but he’s not a very good one. For a heavy metal or Hair Metal band, the songs had almost no memorable riffs. The aforementioned “Deep End” has one, but that’s about it for the first album. Think about “Turn up the Radio”. It builds tension and excitement with driving 8th notes in a drone in the bass, guitar, and bass drums. Then it has a simple 8th note walking pattern on the turnaround. That’s it.
The rest of the album is the same way. The next album is the same way. There’s very little memorable about any of them. It’s light pop. There’s nothing an aspiring guitarist would want to learn to play. If he learned to play it and played it for his friends, they would have no idea what song it was (except for Turn Up the Radio and maybe Deep End). The sung melody is never very distinctive. Despite Plunkett being a guitarist, they never take advantage of having two guitarists in the band. Despite Steve Lynch a “guitar hero”, he never contributed any cool guitar riffs. The songs are formulaic, and show no character. There is rarely a guitar fill or guitar lick outside of the solo. The drummer seems incapable of playing an fill with anything faster than 8th notes. His favorite technique seems to be hitting the snare and the high-hat at the same time. There’s never a bass solo or a bass fill. It’s like, “Here’s the intro, maybe with a driving 8th note bass/guitar/bass drum motif. Here’s the first verse, second verse, chorus, solo, chorus, done.” None of their songs take chances. None break new ground. There’s little variation.
There’s more character in *one* Bad Company song than all three Autograph albums. That’s true of pretty much any of their songs, but I’m thinking especially of “One Night”, where the drummer hits the kick/bass drum in a double 32nd note. That alone has more surprising character than anything Autograph ever did.
Autograph isn’t bad. They’re just not good.
Bad Company, on the other hand, is pretty good. Paul Rodgers is one of the greats, and he writes some great songs. It is interesting that among their 10 From 6 songs (which was pretty much their greatest hits), there is cowboy imagery in several songs, and several other songs are about the life of a touring musician. But unlike the 80s groups that complain about how tough it is to be on the road all the time, Bad Company’s songs are about how great it is. Refreshing, in retrospect.
Also, Bad Company pretty much became a totally different band just by changing lead singers to Brian Howe. After an initial keyboards-laden disappointment I don’t think I ever heard of, “Dangerous Age” was (and still is) one of my favorite albums of all time. I had heard “One Night” on the radio a few times, but I could never hear the ann
ouncer say what band it was. I loved the vocals, I loved the guitar parts. It was (and still is) one of my Top 5 favorite songs, all time. Lots of research and a friend’s input later, I found out it was Bad Company. I initially rejected that, because it sounded nothing like Bad Company. Not just the lead singer, but the drums and guitar styles.
I found out later that this was likely due to being produced by Terry Thomas. He wrote most of the songs, even played some rhythm guitar.
I know that their next album “Holy Water” was bigger, but I couldn’t get into it as much. It seemed like they just re-did “Dangerous Age” again, and it felt like it was done by rote.
Incidentally, Terry Thomas also produced and co-wrote a bunch of songs for Tommy Shaw’s “Ambitious”, which is also one of my favorite albums.
HOLY CRAP. Doing a search on Terry Thomas, I just found out he produced Giant’s “Last of the Runaways”, which is *also* one of my Top 10 all-time favorite albums. Maybe Top 5.
Terry Thomas was the lead guitarist for the English band Charlie, which I had never heard of before I searched his name on Wikipedia. It looks like I need to get their entire catalog. I bet I’ll like it.
He also produced some Foreigner and Tesla. But none of those left much of an impression on me.
Finally: Def Leppard.
They, too, have more character in any one song than Autograph has in all three first albums put together.
Reading about their history on Wikipedia, I’m struck by how Pete Willis was fired from the band due to his drinking, but long-time guitarist Steve Clark died from being unable to conquer his drinking. They fired Willis for his drinking getting in the way of his recording on Pyromania, but were much more tolerant of the same thing for Clark on “Adrenalize”. I wonder if it is because they hadn’t hit it big yet on Pyromania so they felt more was at stake, or if Willis’ drinking brought other issues other than just guitar performance, or if the band was just more mature about dealing with Clark’s problem. But you’d think Clark would have learned something from seeing Willis brought down by alcohol.
I also wonder how much of what I liked about Def Leppard was Willis. I liked Hysteria enough to buy it and listen to it quite a bit, but it also seemed to kill off my interest in further Def Leppard songs/albums. I was vaguely aware of Adrenalize and a few other pop hits, but never made any attempt to acquire any. I do still think Pyromania was their peak, and Willis contributed quite a number of songs to that album.
Reading through Def Leppard’s history, it is said they influenced Metallica. I would have scoffed at that idea if I’d been told it earlier, but re-listening to High ‘N’ Dry and Pyromania a few times recently, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. Def Leppard had some pretty good basic riffs, and would combine different riffs into one song, changing the feel of a song slightly as it went on. Metallica was known for doing the same thing, often having as many as 7 or 8 riffs in a single song. I guess it reached its peak on “And Justice for All”, which I don’t like much, so they toned it down and sometimes had just one riff in a song starting with their Black Album. And while I liked that album at the time, I don’t see much reason to listen to it anymore. For me, Metallica will always be their first three albums.
Okay, retrospective over. Return to your lives, citizens.
To the tune of “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes.
And the Karaoke version:
dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb
dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb
dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb
dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb
Hey, Nick Sandmann, You’re gonna get reamed
The Left’s as rabid as I’ve ever seen (dumb dumb dumb)
You didn’t give in to a Leftist takeover,
So blue checks swarmin’ and your life is over!
Nick Sandmann, you’re not alone
The Left destroys any thing it can’t own
So please keep on your MAGA hat.
And keep smiling, they don’t like that!
Hey Nick Sandmann, you did just fine:
The Left is scrambling, and starting to whine.
You were calm and you kept your composure,
The Left is freaked, risking overexposure!
Nick Sandmann, you’re not alone
The Left destroys any thing it can’t own
So Please keep on your MAGA hat.
And keep smiling like that,
with your red hat
Ignore them, they don’t like that!
Merry Christmas (Eve), everyone!
Every year, right around Thanksgiving, radio stations start saturating the airwaves with Christmas music. Some people eat it up. Others get sick of it before Christmas Day even rolls around.
Over the years I’ve vacillated, and have landed somewhere around mild forbearance and occasional flickers of enjoyment. Some Christmas music just feels so vapid and asinine to me these days, though, that I have trouble recapturing anything near the pleasure felt in youth. Have you ever really listened to “Santa Baby?”
It’s become quite a cliched complaint – “Christmas has become too commercial.” It’s also become too secular. How many Christmas movies and songs these days completely leave out Christ? Many? Most?
Ironically, in voicing this observation it’s all too easy to sound the Grinch. I do think about this stuff a lot more now that I’m a dad, though. It’s not like I’m going to gatekeep everything my kids are exposed to, but I can certainly exert my influence. In fact I’d say it’s a parental duty.
Anyway, I’m not going to dwell on the bad right now. Instead, I’d like to share some renditions of a few of my favorite Christmas songs.
Getting the baby into a routine, we’ve been playing music for him during bath time and on the changing table before bed. I’m in charge of the playlists, of course.
He seems to really like when I sing along to Dean Martin or Johnny Cash.
It has thusly occurred to me that while “real men don’t cry” is usually an axiom violently rejected or vehemently espoused, depending upon who you ask, allowances should be made.
HP’s Summer of Tolkien has got me hankering for some Hobbit!
I’ve got very fond memories of the old Rankin and Bass production that HP recently reviewed. I saw it before having read the book, and no doubt it contributed (along with the other Rankin and Bass films, David the Gnome, Eureeka’s Castle, and the like) to the strange brew that fostered my strong and lasting love of fantasy and scifi.
Perhaps needless to say, the songs from the Hobbit cartoon poke me in the nostalgia bone.
The other day I was killing some time with my son, who’s just starting to notice shapes and colors and reach for things with his hands, and I decided to play “The Greatest Adventure” for him. Conveniently, I found a whole playlist of the OST!
And…what’s this? Track 3: Old Fat Spider.
Quite interesting. I don’t know if the Mirkwood scene involving Bilbo’s fight with the spiders was originally slated to run longer, but this song didn’t make it to the final cut.
So if you’re a fan of the animation, check it out. A nice little secret tune.