Monday, September 12, 2011


I thought I would lighten the tone of the blog this week by writing about something that I like but haven't touched on in quite sometime.

What I find enjoyable about the particular components of a song has greatly changed over the years.

When I was younger, like my son's age, I used to appreciate the screaming guitars and the wailing drums (YYZ is one of my favorite drum instrumentals). As I grew older, that type of instrumentation began to bore me, so I started to explore the more traditional style of instrumentation*. You know, the type that requires a greater degree of skill than the average good musician has in order to play.

For those of you who may be newcomers to this blog, traditional means that any instrument that doesn't require electricity to play.

In addition to enjoying and appreciating that traditional instrumentation, I've also grown to love and appreciate good vocalization. No matter how well written a song might be, without good vocals, all you get is either a good poem or good piece of micro flash fiction.

And just line the fact that I enjoy stripped down instruments, I also appreciate almost stripped down vocals.

The reason why I say "almost stripped" down, is that for the moment I can't quite wrap my mind around a song that has nothing but vocal in it (I've listened to barbershop quartet music in the past decade, so it's not like I don't know what I'm talking about). For me to appreciate a vocal driven song, there has to be something in the background that is being used as a beat.

Doesn't matter what's been used to maintain the beat, so long as it's there, I can appreciate the vocal stylings of the song. I could be something simple as a hand clap (the song "The Scotsman" features the audience clapping their hands in perfect rhythm), something complex as an acoustic guitar, or any other kind of instrument in between.

One of my favorite vocal songs is this:

One of the reasons why its my favorite song from the 50's is that its the only song that I know of that uses a triangle and a metronome for a back beat. It doesn't overwhelm the song but stays just enough in the background to let the vocals shine through.

Now rap, in my opinion, is probably stripped down vocalizing in reverse. I'm not sure why music is added to a rap vocal, unless its to get the average person to listen to it.

Personally, I think that the reason why music is added to rap songs is that a fair percentage of people don't quite get poetry of any kind, which is really what a true stripped down rap song is. While the message in the reap song can be powerful, I think that the added music can detract from the message being given.

Now just because I enjoy and/or appreciate these types of music doesn't mean I enjoy every single effort that comes down the road. One of the radio shows that I absolutely detest is something called "Acoustic After Dark".

"Acoustic After Dark" basically features well known rock and pop performers performing crappy acoustic versions of their hits. Now I don't know about you, but I cannot stand badly arranged acoustic versions of rock and pop songs (Cumbersome by Seven Mary Three instantly comes to mind). To me, it sounds like these performances are just trying to take advantage of the latest fad without really doing the yeoman's work that is required to turn that song into something good.

Anyways, that is my five cents (adjusted for inflation) about vocalizing. Feel free to chip in your five cents as well, because I'm always on the lookout for having a lively conversation with someone, no matter what the forum may be.


  1. I think I'm still in the screaming guitars and thundering base stage. I find myself really unable to listen to most stuff that is purely vocalized. I do appreciate the voice as an instrument but I like when it compliments the music. That said, there are some singers, like STevie Nicks, whose voice I really like.

  2. Saw McCartney last month and his stripped down versions sound just a great as the big music that usually accompanies many of his stuff.

    69 years old and his voice still sounds amazing.

  3. I heard a beautiful song on the car radio yesterday - "While my Guitar Gently Weeps" by Carlos Santana, India Are and Yo Yo Ma. I used my handy iPhone app, Shazam, to identify what it was. I looked it up at home and it is on a Santana CD (with various artists) titled "Guitar Heaven, the Greatest Guitar Classics of all time." I thought I might order it, but saw no one gave the CD good reviews, probably due to the inclusion of songs like "Dance the Night Away." ??? :)

    Not exactly the same subject matter as your post, but this came to mind to share. Hope your day is good, G.

  4. Charles: For the most part, it's an acquired taste. I think what helped me was that I had heavy exposure to college radio for the past 15 years, which really opened my ears to other types of music.

    Don't get me wrong, I still like screaming guitars and basses, but vocally driven songs seemed to help me face the day in a better frame of mind.

    Bearman: That sounded like an excellent concert.

    It takes a great talent to be able to recreate songs in a more than acceptable acoustic versions.

    Lynn: I think I would've like that version better then the one by Jeff Healy.

  5. It's amazing what a voice, in song, can communicate. And it works both ways. I remember seeing Billy Joel a few years back. During The Piano Man, he stops all the music and just sits silent at his piano, listening to the 15,000 unaccompanied voices in the civic center in song, asking him to Sing us a song, you're the piano man. It was cool to hear.

  6. Joanne: I can well imagine. Some of the best live cuts that I've heard on the radio feature the audience singing for about twenty or thirty seconds.

  7. I'll have to defer to Mr. RK on this, 'cause he's a musician. I always wonder what kind of music Buddy Holly would have made had he lived longer.

  8. R: Wow, I should mark this down on the calender. R has no opinion on something. :D

    That is a very good question to ponder. I think that he was the type of musician that would've started expirementing and exploring the different types of genres that were out there at the time, or even create a few new genres.

  9. you have quite a knowledge about music, instruments and all...i only like listening :D

  10. Chintan: Thanks.

    It comes from exploring new genres of music in my old age. What I used to ignore while I was younger I now appreciate the complexities of.

  11. you, my friend, have touched on genius! the unplugged idea is much better when it is actually thought thru...

    great read! i sure have missed stopping by...

    the weather is turning and i will be fishing less and reading more...

  12. Bruce: Thankee.

    I will take a well thought out acoustic song done flamenco style that a crappy version of a top 40 pop/rock hit.

    If the weather is good for fishing then you really shouldn't be hanging around on a computer. Enjoying life in good weather is best thing that you can do.


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