With the untimely death of Amy Winehouse, pop music has lost a talented songwriter and a unique voice. When Winehouse started to sing her voice filled the room. She possessed the rare talent of ‘inhabiting’ her songs and it felt like she was sharing a personal story with the listener, making you believe every word she sangs was genuinely heartfelt. Frank Sinatra also had that talent.
“Voices that fill the room” triggered 200% to compile a play list of ‘10 Spellbinding Voices in Pop Music’; vocalists, like Winehouse and Sinatra, who sing from the soles of their feet, which and get to the very heart of the listener and pierces their soul – singers who are fearless in completely exposing themselves, with no filter, or mask.
We have also conducted interviews with some of the singers on our list and asked them questions solely about their voice. Their answers were as open, personal and frank as the way that they express themselves in their songs. We will post these interviews in forthcoming articles.
So here we go, with Part 1: the first five names (in random order) of our play list of 10 Spellbinding Voices in Pop Music. Part 2 will be posted later this week.
“You could be my silver springs” – Stevie Nicks
‘Silver Springs’ – Fleetwood Mac
Richard Dashut, the engineer and co-producer of Fleetwood Mac’s successful album ‘Rumours’, called ‘Silver Springs’ “The best song that never made it to a recorded album.” The song was written by Stevie Nicks and was intended to be included on ‘Rumours’, but to her devastation wasn’t because Mick Fleetwood told her that the song was ‘too long’ and the band preferred another song of hers for the album. (‘Silver Springs’ ended up at the B-Side of ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘Don’t Stop’).
‘Silver Springs’ is a ballad about Nicks’s breakup with Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac’s guitarist and her then boyfriend) and her anger with him. The song manifests Nicks’s voice in full glory. Her vocals magnificently capture the mixed emotions of a painful breakup as she sings the lyrics with a mixture of acceptance that the relationship is over and also with emotional outbursts of inarticulate frustration – finding the situation still hard to accept. By using vibrato Nicks enhances the drama of the song considerably.
In the live performance of ‘Silver Springs’ on ‘The Dance’ DVD, we’re witness to an intrusive moment; Nicks is joined in the chorus (and the rest of the song) by the band’s distinct vocal group harmony – it creates a consoling effect but also reveals that the wound hasn’t healed as Nicks turns to Buckingham and ostentatiously sings to remind him: “I’ll follow you down ‘till the sound of my voice will haunt you’. Stevie Nicks can be assured that her voice also haunts the listener. (TS)
“I, wish I could swim” – David Bowie
Heroes – David Bowie
“I, wish I could swim” – opens one of David Bowie’s best loved tunes, “Heroes”. Using the word ‘I’ to open a song reeks of confidence and intent, followed by ‘wish I could swim’ – a throwaway line at worst, or a metaphor depicting the age old desire of yearning and hope – at best. It remains one of Bowie’s most covered songs too, a classic story of two lovers who meet at the Berlin Wall, ducking the gunshots above their heads.
Bowie has often used the ‘cut-up technique’ for his lyric writing, where a completed text is cut up into phrases or words and rearranged to create a new lyric. Although ‘Heroes’ wasn’t written like this per se, the phrases still seem random, yet coherently strung together to tell the classic story of forbidden love, confirmed by the lyric ‘and the guns, shot above our heads, and we kissed, as though nothing could fall’.
Bowie projects his lines with fine swagger and his vocal timing seems deliberately and confidently behind the beat. But, it is his variations of style, particularly the way the second verse and chorus transition from a relatively low register and morph into a pleading cry an octave higher, which brings the intent home. Every phrase on this tune sounds beautifully crafted; each is short, sharp and lean – to match the song’s title. His tone is reminiscent of some jaded crooner, weary yet still desperate to be heard projecting this epic story.
Tony Visconti who co-produced the album with Bowie recorded the vocals on ‘Heroes’, using three microphones at varying distances from Bowie. The early parts of the song were sung into the first and closest microphone and as the volume and projection opened the second and then the third microphone takes were mixed in. The effect create layers of intensity and as the reverb or sense of space increases through the tune, the combination of the lyrics, the vocal projecting and the recording technique makes for a huge and, well, heroic sound. This was intentional.
Listen to the live version of “Heroes” on the ‘A Reality Tour’ record to be reminded of a master at work. (LW)
“Atmospheres are tense today” – Marc Almond 
Where the Heart Is – Soft Cell 
“Atmospheres are tense today / Mother and father are rowing again / Silently seated around the table” is the first line that Marc Almond sings in Soft Cell’s ‘Where the Heart Is’. It clearly shows Almond’s strength and instantly creates an atmosphere, which he combines with synthesizers and drum machines.
His vulnerable voice – reminiscent of a young adolescent singing – meandering around the notes and drawing upon the style of cabaret, dance hall and sleazy night club singers, updating the sound of the 1980s dance clubs. His heartbreaking lyrics, especially sung in this trembling and unstable voice, tell everyday stories of sadness and woe. ‘The Art of Falling Apart’ sounds like a battle cry for the lost and lonely.
In later recordings Almond added elements of ‘camp’ and touched upon Euro-disco and Mediterranean musical references; with each new recording moving closer to his beloved world of theatre and cabaret. (MH)
“Talk to me darling” – Stuart Staples 
Talk to me – Tindersticks
“Talk to me darling”, whispers Stuart Staples in a worn out voice that sounds like it’s been wrecked by cigarettes and alcohol. Whether singing in a whispery croon or illogical murmur, he captures the late night atmosphere of a smoky pub, producing grief-stricken music.
This kind of vocal performance consoles lost souls; music to take in small doses. Staples’s erotically charged lyrics and hauntingly gloomy stories about relationships are best captured by the first line of this Tindersticks song from their second album. It’s that hope-driven question you come to ask in a relationship when things are falling apart around you. (MH)
“This is the last day of our acquaintance” – Sinead O’Connor
I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Sinead O’Connor
“This is the last day of our acquaintance” is whispered by Sinead O’Connor over a gentle acoustic strumming pattern. The guitar and vocal are both low in the mix on this track from her second record ‘I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got’. In the opening lines her tone is delicate, yet underpinned by controlled restraint, a typical O’Connor trademark. It works well and sounds convincingly heartfelt.
Apparently written about her divorce from John Reynolds, we hear a young woman, supremely talented and sadly heartbroken – gently telling a breakup story.
As the song opens up and the band kicks in, she projects with more gusto and turns her tone to one of anger – and it is this resolution that completes the symmetry of the song and showcases her sensitive/angry persona perfectly.
O’Connor often closes her live sets with this tune and the dynamics of the song and the feeling projected through the vocal make for a fantastic climax to an evening with her. (LW)
This Play list has been compiled by Marcel Harlaar, Louis Warner and Thierry Somers (08/2011)
Picture of Stevie Nicks: Melodicrockconcerts.com © 2009 Matthew Becker
Picture of Stuart Staples: Steve Gullick