Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Twelve magical voices

The other day, I was driving my wife's car and I popped Kimberley Locke's One Love into the CD player. Of course, I've heard her single "8th World Wonder" on the radio a few dozen times, but this was the first time I'd listened to the album all the way through.

The verdict: Many (maybe most) of the songs sucked harder than a Dyson Animal, but the voice? K-Lo can sing. She was easily the most talented female vocalist American Idol has produced to date — yeah, I've heard Kelly Clarkson, and I'm sure you'll pardon my yawn — and was in fact a better singer than either of the two guys who outpointed her the year she competed.

Which got me thinking about other female vocalists whose voices rock my world. I came up with a dozen. They're in alpha order, because I'd be rearranging the list for weeks if I tried to do it any other way.
  1. Pat Benatar. Awesome pipes come in petite packages. Imitated often, from the '80s until now, but never equaled. She could easily be dismissed as just another screaming rocker chick, but Pat's opera-trained voice soars miles above the rest. Essential performances: "We Live for Love," "Heartbreaker," "Treat Me Right," "We Belong," "Invincible."

  2. Belinda Carlisle. Heaven is a place on earth where Go-Go's records are in nonstop play. Essential performances: (with the Go-Go's) "We Got the Beat," "Our Lips Are Sealed," (solo) "Heaven is a Place on Earth," "I Get Weak."

  3. Karen Carpenter. I can crack as many anorexia jokes as the next blogger, but the woman possessed an instrument — a warm, rich mezzosoprano — that can only be described as divine. Ask any ten female vocalists who truly know their craft to write down the greatest voices of the pop/rock era, and Karen Carpenter's name will be on nine of the lists, if not all ten. (Karen was also a superlative drummer, just in case you didn't know that.) Essential performances: "Superstar," "We've Only Just Begun," "For All We Know," "Solitaire."

  4. Roberta Flack. Scary good. Go back and listen to "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" or "Killing Me Softly with His Song," and if the hair doesn't stand up on the back of your neck, call the undertaker. Essential performances: "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Killing Me Softly with His Song," "Feel Like Makin' Love," "The Closer I Get to You."

  5. Aretha Franklin. Well, yeah. They don't call her the Queen of Soul for kicks and giggles. Taught all of the rest what it was all about. Essential performances: "Respect," "Think," "Chain of Fools," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," "Until You Come Back to Me."

  6. Billie Holiday. Sadly, Lady Blue's personal demons and addictions ruined her angelic voice long before she was finished using it. But when she had it, she had it all. Perhaps the most influential name on this list, after Aretha, despite her middling output. Essential performances: "Strange Fruit," "Summertime," "You Go to My Head," "Body and Soul."

  7. Whitney Houston. Sadly, Whitney's personal demons and addictions ruined her angelic voice long before... say, didn't I just write this? It's criminal what she's done to her career — and herself — in recent years, but in her prime, no one else ever wielded a pipe as powerful, as brilliantly controlled, or as sparkling as Whitney's. Essential performances: "Saving All My Love For You," "How Will I Know?" "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," "I Will Always Love You."

  8. Annie Lennox. Sweet dreams are made of her incredible singing. One of the most amazingly fluid and expressive alto voices I've ever heard, in any genre. Who else could go vocal chord-to-vocal chord with Aretha Franklin, and hold her own? Essential performances: (with Eurythmics) "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," "Here Comes the Rain Again," "Would I Lie to You?" (solo) "Walking on Broken Glass," "No More I Love You's."

  9. Bonnie Raitt. Perhaps better known as a guitarist — the finest female bottleneck blues guitarist ever recorded, in fact — but Bonnie has the pipes to match her picking. Deserves to be a much bigger star than she is. Essential performances: "Nick of Time," "Something to Talk About," "I Can't Make You Love Me," "You Got It."

  10. Sade. No need to ask — the erstwhile Helen Folasade Adu is one smooth operator. One of the sexiest voices imaginable, she caresses every lyric and seduces every melodic line like an accomplished lover. Essential performances: "Your Love Is King," "Smooth Operator," "The Sweetest Taboo," "Never As Good As The First Time."

  11. Nina Simone. There's a reason why, despite her relatively unknown status in her native United States, filmmakers continue to plug her songs into the soundtracks of their films: No one else sounds like Nina Simone, and no one else had better try. A unique talent, criminally underappreciated. Essential performances: "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," "I Put a Spell on You," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "Sinnerman."

  12. Ann Wilson. The lead-singing half of the sister duo at the heart of Heart (although guitarist Nancy is a pretty fair singer herself), Dreamboat Annie deserves a lofty place in the pantheon of rock's greatest vocalists. Essential performances: "Crazy On You," "Barracuda," "Dog and Butterfly," "These Dreams," "Who Will You Run To?"

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5 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

Sade? Sigh. What a voice.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Mr. Fabulous offered these pearls of wisdom...

Wow...great list. Can't argue much with your choices.

I have always been a huge Benatar fan. She's awesome.

Wait...*checks list again*.

No Britney Spears? :)

4:25 AM  
Blogger Sam offered these pearls of wisdom...

I hope this wasn't in order, because if it was, I would say that it's wrong. WRONG.

Where is Minnie Rippleton? Dusty Springfield? Patti LaBell? Patti Smith? Of course, this is your list, not mine.

We may be friends, but I now I know why I never want to borrow yuor record collection.

8:25 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Joel: "Sigh" is correct when it comes to Sade.

Mr. Fab: I got your Britney right here. ;)

Sam: The list is in alphabetical order, as I noted in the introduction. I'd have been futzing with it forever to try to get it into order of merit. It took me quite a while to winnow the thing down to a mere 12 names, as it was.

I agree with you on Minnie Riperton, Sam. If the list had been 13 instead of 12, she'd have made the cut. She and Donna Summer were my last two scratches. Patti Labelle -- great singer, I'm just not a fan. I wouldn't have thought of Dusty Springfield or Patti Smith -- like the former, the latter not so much.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Ronnie offered these pearls of wisdom...

Umm...there is one chick you forgot to mention, much to my suprise because she is a legend. What about JANIS JOPLIN. Listen to her version of Summertime. That sends chills up your spine. ;)Where is Stevie Nicks? Grace Slick? well...thats my list lol.

7:36 PM  

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