Bel Canto

I love beautiful singing, obviously, because I’m a choral director, but it doesn’t stop there. A song has to say something to me in order to be meaningful, or else it’s just so many wasted measures. I love it when a student or friend tells me that a certain song makes him or her cry or feel empowered or angry or whatever. That’s what music is supposed to do: make us feel love, sadness, joy and peace — four of the most extraordinary emotions in the human experience.

I have to find an ethereal combination of lyrics, melody and harmonic structure in order to love a song. [There are exceptions for dance music, however, which I often love simply for the groove.] In other words, music has to talk to me. I cannot have music playing “in the background,” because it’s always in the foreground for me. Strange to say because I’m a musician, but I rarely have music playing in my house when I’m trying to accomplish things (which is often, unfortunately). The music always takes precedence and I can’t get my work done as efficiently.

So what songs “speak” to me? The list is so long and varied that it’s hard to even start it, but I will gi’ it a go.

For this particular little exercise, I will focus on individual singers only, not bands in general.

Bien. Vamos.

A Few of Fink’s Faves, in No Particular Order

  1. James Taylor – “Only One”
  2. Annie Lennox – “Walking on Broken Glass”
  3. Stephen Bishop – “Same Old Tears on a New Background”
  4. John Lennon – “Girl”
  5. Frank Sinatra – “Only the Lonely”
  6. Diana Krall – “Charmed Life”
  7. Stevie Ray Vaughan – “Pride and Joy”
  8. Bonnie Raitt – “Nobody’s Girl”
  9. Bobby Darin – “Beyond the Sea”
  10. Ella Fitzgerald – “Miss Otis Regrets”
  11. Jimmy Witherspoon – “Time’s Gettin’ Tougher Than Tough”
  12. Sting – “Roxanne” (although every time I hear it, I can’t help but think of Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours)
  13. Luciano Pavarotti – “Nessun dorma” from Turandot – quite possibly the most perfect aria in the history of opera. Click the link and watch it.
  14. Anita Baker – “Giving You the Best That I Got”
  15. B. B. King – “Payin’ the Cost to Be the Boss”
  16. Paul McCartney – “Maybe I’m Amazed”
  17. Dean Martin – “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”
  18. Bryan Adams – “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman”
  19. Billy Joel – “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”
  20. Tony Bennett – “Isn’t it Romantic”
  21. Sade – “Smooth Operator”
  22. Don Henley – “Desperado”
  23. Michael Jackson – “Remember the Time”
  24. Glenn Frey – “Heartache Tonight”
  25. Timothy B. Schmit – “Love Will Keep Us Alive”
  26. Harry Connick, Jr. – “Come By Me”
  27. Tom Petty – “Won’t Back Down”
  28. George Harrison – “Something”
  29. Paul Simon – “Still Crazy After All These Years”
  30. Elvis Presley – “Such a Night”
  31. Jamie Cullum – “These Are the Days”
  32. Alanis Morissette – “Uninvited”
  33. Etta James – “A Sunday Kind of Love”
  34. Michael McDonald – “Minute By Minute”
  35. Mel Tormé – “My Foolish Heart”
  36. Johnny Depp – “Epiphany” from Sweeney Todd

Yikes. This was a bad idea. I’m out of time and only about a third of the way done. What does this say about me? I’d rather not know. I might be mental, after all.

If you have a chance, list some of your fave songs and the people who sing them.

Now go and recognize you some beauty today.

Fink out.

19 thoughts on “Bel Canto

  1. Stein

    You bring up a solid point, but for me the songs don’t need to have lyrics. I’ll take a new spin and list my favorites that don’t need lyrics…
    1. “Country Road” (performed by Maynard Freguson, not sure who wrote it.)
    2. “Spirit of St. Frederick”
    3. “My Funny Valentine”
    4. “First Love Song”
    5. “As All The Heavens Were A Bell” – Jay Bocook
    6. “Aria” for Alto Sax – Bozza
    7. The main theme from “Beetlejuice”
    8. “Fanfar for the Common Man”
    9. “Georgia On My Mind”
    10. “Barbossa is Hungry” – Pirates (the first movie, the decent music one)
    11. “Turkish Bath” – Don Ellis Orchestra
    12. “October” – Eric Witakre (basically anything by this guy)
    13. “The Rite of Spring” – Specifically the 4th movement, but the whole thing too.
    14. The theme from Monday Night Football (don’t tell me this doesn’t affect you)
    15. “1812 Overture”

    This may quite possibly be the geekiest thing I have taken upon myself to do. However, if you ever heard these you can’t say that they have no affect on you. Who doesn’t hear the 1812 Overture and think of 4th of July? I can hardly wait for RF to tell me just how much of a geek/nerd I am…

    Reply
  2. Rat Fink Post author

    No no, Stein – you are definitely not geeky for being moved by instrumental music! I am as well.

    When I hear the 1812, I bawl because I know the story. The Russian anthem at the beginning, the church bells (or orchestra chimes – but I have the Cincinnati doing it from 1982 and they used real church bells and cannon fire) at the end…it’s incredibly moving.

    Now…playing the Wicked Witch of the West theme on your sax when I got upset with the actors…that was geeky. Heh.

    Reply
  3. Ross

    Well you would know far better than I would why ‘Nessun Dorma’ is perfect as “lyrics, melody and harmonic structure” go, although I understand the lyrics. And I don’t dispute the glory of the aria, nor do I dispute Pavarotti’s interpretation as tops- no one, not Domingo, Del Monaco, Gigli or even Caruso can touch his (in far lesser hands, the aria can be a real drag–Paul Potts’ disappointing studio recording one recent example). I would go so far as to say Pavarotti’s voice was the most beautiful and magnificent voice of the 20th century, man or woman.

    but for me, in opera, what meets your demands for perfection- and takes them one step further- is not technically an aria: Siegmund’s ‘Wintersturme Wichen dem Wonnemond’ from Die Walkure. I say it takes it a step further because years before Robert Frost wrote about the need for sound and sense in poetry, Wagner employed the idea: that you could drop a screen between how the words sound, and what they mean, divorcing the listener from understanding the language for example, and still, through rhetorical device, convey the sense of it.

    It’s amazing that a man filled with so much hate could produce so much beauty, and produce what i think is the towering artistic achievement in western music history (Ring).

    Beyond that, my list would feature “The Boxer”. How killer is that song? Paul Simon is still such a stud after all these years.

    Reply
  4. Kody

    Is that Jamie Cullum at number 31? Crazy. I seem to remember a certain former student of yours singing the praises of Cullum, as a certain former teacher of his said he sounded “lazy”. :)

    But anywho, I guess here is my top 10, focusing on individual singers.

    10.) When I’m 64 – Russell Brand :)
    9.) Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatters – Elton John
    8.) You Remind Me of Home – Ben Gibbard
    7.) No Other Way – Jack Johnson
    6.) Trying to Get to You – Elvis Presley (preferably from the ’68 Comeback special)
    5.) Hard Knock Life – Jay Z
    4.) The Man In Me – Bob Dylan
    3.) Walk Away – Ben Harper
    2.) Overkill – Colin Hay
    1.) Three Little Birds – Bob Marley

    Reply
  5. Rat Fink Post author

    Kody – 1. This post wasn’t about singers, but about the songs they sing. JC is definitely not one of my faves, but I do love that song. 2. That student was a pain in the rear.
    :P

    Ross – totally agree on Pavarotti being the best of the 20th century. There was no other like him. And Wagner — for a raging racist and wackjob egomaniac, he was indeed brilliant. Who else can boast that, after building an opera house (Bayreuth) in his own honor, one still has to wait *years* for tickets to his annual festival, where only his music is performed? Crazy.

    And Paul Simon is great. I’d pay to see him, even now. Another great one: Don Henley, because he still sings all his songs in the same keys he sang them in 30 years ago.

    Reply
  6. Krissy

    My all-time favorite songs all come from The Phantom of the Opera. In fact, the song “The Phantom of the Opera” is my favorite with “Masquerade” in second. I love all the songs from that musical. The music in it is amazing. After all those songs, comes the songs from Grease. My favorite out of those is definitely “There are Worse Things I Could Do.”

    Reply
  7. Rat Fink Post author

    Great songs all, Krissy – I didn’t even get into Broadway stuff – I’d have been sitting at this box all day and missed school….

    Reply
  8. meggy

    Annie Lennox – “Walking on Broken Glass” >REALLY?
    Paul McCartney – “Maybe I’m Amazed”
    >i laughed when I saw this, cuz its ur ringtone when u call me hahaa :) love it

    17, 18, 23 :)

    I must say mine include (in no order)

    Smile & When I Fall in Love – Nat King Cole
    Solitaire – Carpenters
    Time To Say Goodbye – Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman
    Pretty Women – Sweeney Todd (my new favorite!)
    A Love Lke Johnny and June – Heidi Newfield
    Amazing Grace :)
    Hallelujah – Damien Rice
    Imagine – John Lennon
    I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe
    How Do I Live Without You – Kenny G/Michael Bolt
    arrangement
    Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
    Puff the Magic Dragon – PP&M :D

    welp, cya lata, fink

    Reply
  9. Rat Fink Post author

    Ooo, “Solitaire.” That’s a goody! Karen Carpenter sang that like nobody’s biz. (And yes, I love Annie Lennox! “Into the West” from LOTR-ROTK is another fave.)

    Reply
  10. BoomR

    The Texas Top 10:
    10. You’re The Hangnail In My Life, And I Can’t Bite You Off
    9. I Wish I Were An Oscar Mayer Wiener
    8. My Hump (Black Eyed Peas)
    7. Concert Bb Scale
    6. The Magic Bus Ate My Doughnut
    5. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
    4. Chopstix
    3. The Chicken Song
    2. She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy

    …and the #1 favorite:
    1. Are You Ready For Some Football?! (Hank Williams Jr.)

    Reply
  11. BoomR

    PS to Stein re: “…songs don’t have to have lyrics…”

    Technically by definition, a song _must_ have lyrics of some sort, otherwise it is not a song, but referred to as a composition, a tune, piece of music, etc. Check some online music dictionaries like:
    Virginia
    Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary

    or

    Dolmetsch Online

    To RF: re #11 – I **knew** you’d cite “Porkchop”… man, did that bring back a few memories!!!

    (PS… I hope the URLs that I tried to embed came out OK…)

    Reply
  12. Ross

    Don Henley still sings the songs in the same key- so you’re saying that as singers get older they tend not to do this. On average, how drastic is the change- a half step down? a full step? more?

    Reply
  13. Rat Fink Post author

    BoomR – Silly man-beast. (although I really do love the #1!)

    Kody – WoBG is a stand-alone lesson in syncopation. In fact, the next time my choir needs one, I’m gonna bring that in. Thanks for the idea!

    Ross – definitely. There are several factors that cause the loss of higher-end range ability in singers, but the biggy is the decrease of free motion of the larynx and the musculature/cartilage around it. It kind of goes on lockdown, making reaching higher notes really difficult.

    Many singers (male and female) I’ve heard over the years have transposed their songs down as far as a major 3rd. Frank Sinatra was especially fond of doing this, and so is Barry Manilow, and a slew of others — girls included.

    Tony Bennett is another good example of extraordinary larynx control *and* thinning cords, meaning he not only can sing the higher notes, but sustain them as well. Men’s cords have a tendency to thin as they age; with women, it’s the opposite. Either way, the control factor presents problems.

    In 1995, I had surgery to remove two nodes from my vocal cords. (I spent a summer yelling across a marching field at a band of 125 kids, then singing in my own band on the weekends — ya makes yer choices and ya lives with the consequences.) After that, my voice started to drop noticeably. My soprano days are gone, but I think they exited early because of the damage done.

    I’m now a lady tenor (think Bea Arthur and Lucille Ball, but not quite as low). But it’s all good. My soprano section gets the occasional giggle out of hearing me try to model what they should sound like. It keeps me humble.

    Speaking of humble, how did this comment start out about Don Henley but end up about me??

    Reply
  14. Jan

    I read this yesterday and it kept me thinking for the entire day. I even talked to my friend and bass player Daniel about it, in whom we have had many philosophical conversations pertaining to this topic. It was birthed from my challenge to him in finding the most beautiful songs in the world. I would have to say that all of my leanings fall instrumentally, because I find that lyric can distract me and I am amazed when an instrumental piece can move me to tears (or joy). So your post caused me to really think about the beauty of lyric, melody, harmony colliding. The Pavarotti Nessun Dorma is definitely up there, although the beauty is not in the lyric as it does not stand alone. The beauty is in how LP delivers it. I mean come on, someone of LP’s caliber singing the grocery list in Italian will make you fall off your chair. I will think on this more, and it will enhance my day by the sheer exercise of it.

    Reply
  15. Rat Fink Post author

    Jan — if I didn’t tell you I heart you in my last email, I’m telling you now. “…grocery list in Italian…” HAA

    I love doing lists like this. They really force you to think deeply and make choices other than at random, or haphazardly. In the big scheme of life, it’s likely just another silly game, but let me tell you that since I started RtB back in February, I have learned much about my own bad self.

    To the meanyheads out there who say that blogging is useless because it benefits no one: bite me.

    Reply
  16. Ross

    By the way I forgot to thank you, RF, for the vocal range lesson- all news to me. A major 3rd is a big drop. And ‘lady tenor’ is a term I’ve never heard before. Lesson greatly appreciated!

    Reply

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