Sunday, April 23, 2006

Murky Words Music Mix #1: Vocals That Don't Suck

I need to apologize in advance here. I try hard not to get on my soapbox when music is concerned. After all, one man's trash is another mans treasure... but this time I simply can't help myself. I was heading home from work on Friday, flipping radio channels, when I came across this song (entitled 'Download This Song' by MC Lars and featuring Jarret Reddick of Bowling For Soup. 30 second snippet provided by I don't dare post the entire song. It could cause hemorrhages.)

Seriously, it was all I could do to not stop the car and scream, "Enough!" I mean, just listen to the vocals in that chorus, or even the preceding white boy rap. It's terrible. How old is this guy? Seven? Are you sure? My elementary school chorus sounded more distinguished than that, and unfortunately such lead vocals have become commonplace in the rather disturbing trend that is "alternative radio" in the past ten years. Need more examples? You won't have to look very hard. Here's a little something from Blink-182. Oh, and why don't we stick with the random numbers theme and add a little Sum-41. Haven't had enough yet? Fine. Here's some Simple Plan.

Arggh!!! When the hell did Weird Al Yankovic become a top notch vocalist that others should aspire to? Seriously, if you release a "legitimate" song, and the vocals are bad enough to make it sound like it should be a parody of another song, then it's probably time to find another lead singer.

I know, I know. I sound like a grumpy old man bitching about "those kids and their music these days." But is it really too much to ask to find a lead singer who means business? The voice doesn't even have to be all that good, but actually giving a shit helps. The sad part is that, for the most part, the songs featured in those clips are all GOOD songs - or at least they have the potential to be - but when you have a lead singer that blurts out lyrics as if were singing along to Saturday morning cartoons, they're ruined.

Whatever. I'm going to stop bitching now because clearly these musicians have an audience. Record sales alone indicate that. Also, I can't sing any better than these guys can so there's an element of hypocrisy here that I'm feeling a little ashamed of. But, in an effort to convince myself that vocals are still an important part of song creation, I'm announcing, here and now, the first ever Murky Words Music Mix. The theme for this mix is quite simply, "Good Vocals." To follow are songs (no snippets this time - these are the real deal, folks) from some of my favorite crooners, or bands with good crooners in them. In some cases, the voice is simply magnificent, like something out of heaven. Other times, they're clearly coming from hell, but as mentioned before, the voice is so distinct, or they're sung with such emotion, that you can tell the singer clearly means business and cares about their craft.

This is not a "best of" compilation, or even a fair representation of all the good vocalists out there. It's simply a bunch of songs I like with singers who can sing. Download and enjoy. (Oh, by the way, I've had some of these songs available up on the sidebar before, but they're good enough to warrant posting again. Also, you better download 'em quickly. These will be coming down VERY soon - we're talking like a day or two.) Here we go:

Sufjan Stevens - Jacksonville: What can I say about Mr. Stevens that I haven't said before? This is off of his Illinois album, and honestly, there are better examples of his vocal prowess on this recording. But, I've posted all those tunes before and I figured I'd throw you a little something new this time. The album? Yes, as I've said before it's phenomenal. Buy It.

Garbage - The Trick Is To Keep Breathing: You're sick of me babbling about Shirley Manson, how she's Venus incarnate, how she'll be my future wife, how we'll have eighteen children and retire to her native Scotland. It gets tiresome, I know. But, I assure you, my obsession is certainly not just skin deep. The woman can sing. This is one of my favorite tunes from the band (which also happens to be very un-Garbage like.) Besides, it's not a mix if Shirley isn't featured somewhere. Buy It - or face my wrath.

Alice In Chains - Would?: There was a time when I wanted to be Layne Staley. As he died from a heroin overdose a couple years ago, it's safe to say that's no longer the case. But man, could the guy belt 'em out. I'm sure most of you are familiar with this tune from either the Singles soundtrack or the Alice In Chains 'Dirt' album, which really threw them onto the national landscape. This tune is a big reason why. Buy It.

Chris Isaak - 5:15: This is same guy who sang that "Wicked Game" song back in the early 90's and who all the women fuss and fawn over. This particular tune came off his follow-up San Francisco Days album, which I thought was pretty good but which most reviewers panned. Whatever - the guy has a good voice, and I'm masculine enough to admit it. Really, I am. Buy It.

Nat King Cole - Sweet Lorraine: Nat, Nat, Nat. One of the most underrated popular musicians of the last 100 years. I hadn't really heard much of him (other than that posthumous duet of 'Unforgettable' he "did" with his daughter that now features as the "Bride Dances with Father" dance at every wedding imaginable) until I started hosting a jazz radio show in college. Since that time, he's been one of my favorites. This song reminds me of a lazy summer day. Or maybe it simply reminds me of an old Country Time Lemonade commercial... which always pictured images of lazy summer days. Buy It.

Led Zeppelin - In My Time Of Dying: Classic Band. Classic Tune. Fine - this tune is known more for the instrumentals than the vocals but still, you can't go wrong with Robert Plant - even if he did need to wash his hair more often. Buy It.

Tribe - Jakpot: Former Boston band from the late 80's and early 90's that was absolutely ADORED by the local populace, but never did much outside of it. They released two major label albums that both did poorly (although why their first one did is beyond me.) I might very well have bestowed lead singer Janet Lavalley the enviable title of "future wife" instead of Shirley Manson if the band had stayed together. This tune, in addition to superb vocals, is a great example of how to slowly build a song up before letting it explode. Go 'head, Janet. (Miss Lavalley if you're nasty.) Buy it (also check out the additional download available in the

Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart: A perfect example of how a lead singer with a bad voice can still make it work. Ian Curtis' voice is... well... unique, shall we say. Yet, you'd be hard pressed to find someone better able to channel their energy and emotion into their singing enough to compensate for whatever vocal talents they may have lacked. This is their token "pop" song. Shame he had to go and kill himself with such a promising career ahead of him. And no, I can't wait for the Joy Division movie to be released. Buy It.

Chet Baker - Time After Time: Yet another heroin addicted musician - this one with a golden voice. Chet Baker would record an album, inject the royalties into his veins, go to jail for a few years and then go back and do it all over again upon his release. His longevity was simply mind-boggling given the seriousness of his addiction. Anyway, I don't know why I'm focusing on his drug habit so much. Just listen to the man's voice. Buy it.

Bessie Smith - Yes Indeed He Do!: WHAT a set of pipes on this woman. Nothing here but some great old timey blues. The lyrics, even in this day and age, would be considered risqu
é. Take a listen to one of her boxed sets sometime. You'll be thoroughly impressed. Buy it.

And just for the hell of it:

Iggy Pop - The Passenger: This song does not have great vocals. Trust me, Iggy Pop was nothing stellar. But this is a great tune and I thought you might like to hear it as it was originally recorded - as opposed to what it sounded like after MC Lars butchered it with his sample in the song I linked to above. Buy it.

So, there's the first ever Murky Words Music Mix. Will there be more? Don't know. We'll have to see how popular it is. Further, this took a damn good amount of time to put together and I'll have to see if another one is in me. But in the meantime, I hope you enjoy the songs that are available now and feel free to agree/disagree in the comments. Later folks.


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