Archive for the Songs Category

Aretha vs. Adele: Rolling in the Deep

Posted in Female Vocalists, Songs with tags , , , , on October 8, 2014 by dirrtyboy88

Aretha Franklin, a.k.a. the Queen of Soul is back! Her new album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics”, will be out soon and the first single is her cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”. Though I’m not quite sure why she’s covering it because I wouldn’t class it as a “diva classic”, especially when it is among songs by true legends such as Etta James, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Barbra Streisand and Dinah Washington. I guess it was mainly for commercial purposes as most of the other songs are quite old or not well known. Anyway, since the audio was released it has garnered mixed reviews from a lot of people. But who did it better and who is better overall?

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Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Adele’s version (even though I find her to be boring and overrated) and of course being the songwriter she does it well and connects with it, but you cannot deny Aretha’s genius musicianship when it comes to recreating other people’s songs. The fact that Adele’s version is still so fresh in people’s minds and was such a big hit, may be part of people’s problem – it’s already been covered so many times, and usually not particularly well or to the same level. Most comments I’ve seen from people on the internet are along the lines of “Adele wins hands down” or that “I love Aretha, but this is Adele’s song” and that “Aretha is just screaming” or “there’s too much auto-tune”. So, which version is better? Can Aretha still sing? Is Adele better than her? Here I’m going to break down my personal thoughts on the two different versions and the two singers so we can better understand the differences between them.

1) Use of auto-tune

Unfortunately, for some reason, there is quite a bit of auto-tune on Aretha’s version, which could have been to give it a more contemporary feel or cleaner sound – to me, I don’t see that as a huge problem. Whether the auto-tune was used for pitch correction however, is another thing. Aretha is rarely that flat, sharp or out of tune, so I highly doubt whoever did the vocal production thought she was off so corrected it – it’s just that it wasn’t done particularly well, and is sadly, all too obvious in parts. I agree with many who say she doesn’t need auto-tune what with being one of the greatest voices of all time and that her using it could diminish her reputation as a vocalist as some would say she can’t sing like she used to… Well, duh. So in terms of the production/mixing of her version, no it wasn’t as brilliant as Adele’s.

2) Emotion/connection to the song

A completely subjective aspect of singing, which does not necessarily relate to how good a singer or a vocal is. Of course, Adele wrote the song so her connection to it would be greater, but not necessarily glaringly obvious since it’s down to opinion. Then you have Aretha, who may not have a connection to the song’s lyrics but being the Queen of Soul and coming from a strong gospel background where they learn to connect with and understand the meaning of songs that they perform, surely you can presume she sat down and studied it enough to want to take it on and not just did it for the sake of it?

3) Musicianship

Both these women are good musicians and both are great songwriters but Aretha’s iconic interpretations of other people’s songs have sometimes overshadowed even her own material as well as the originals themselves (see “Respect”, “Son of a Preacher Man”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”) and while I have not heard many of Adele’s live or studio covers, the ones I have heard (“Fool That I Am” and “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” by Etta James, “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan and “Lovesong” by The Cure) have been pleasant to listen to but not exactly overly different, exciting nor musically groundbreaking. Adele may be one of very few true artists and musicians out there today, but Aretha still stands as one of the best of all time.

4) Vocals

First off, it should obviously be noted that they have completely different voices and styles – Aretha is a dramatic mezzo with a naturally larger, more powerful and voluminous voice that can reach low notes with solidity and resonance and also hit higher notes with great power and ease. Adele is a typical lyric mezzo with a smaller voice and a more lachrymose quality to her singing compared to the metallic, sometimes unyielding sound of a dramatic voice. Thus, comparing them can be open to debate. However, check out the videos below of Aretha’s range, use of runs and basically show-stopping vocal moments:

Adele is a good singer, but is she a phenomenal singer? No, I don’t think so. Aretha is and always has been the superior vocalist when you look at skill and technique – when it comes to range (both low and high notes), use of intricate and complex melisma, vocal delivery and lyrical phrasing, power, resonance and overall technique (breath support/control, larynx position, vocal placement), Aretha is better and there is no debate about it. Even at 72, after decades of smoking, ageing and natural wear and tear, her voice is still rather impressive. The clarity and timbre of her voice may have declined and she may be more nasal these days (an easier placement to sing in to hit higher notes), but the rest of it is pretty much there and in tact. Adele on the other hand, is limited in range, technical skill and isn’t the most technically proficient singer – her arsenal is simply the sultry, rich and husky tone in her voice and her delivery, which some may prefer over the more “dramatic” sounding and powerhouse voice of Aretha and that’s fine but to say Aretha can no longer sing or that Adele is an “amazing” singer or better than Aretha? Blasphemous!

5) Live

Aretha recently performed the song live for the first time on Letterman, and I kept saying that we should not judge her based purely on the studio version until she does it live – where there would undoubtedly be NO auto-tune, reverb or lipping. Of course, as mentioned before, Aretha is about three times older than Adele and both have very different voices as well as their voices being in different states, so you can’t expect a fair comparison between the two. However, Aretha certainly does a good job considering her age and way out of prime voice. The beginning is slightly wobbly and not particularly great when she tries to scale between multiple octaves in just one phrase, and yes some of the belts are rather wheezy and nasal, but the power and resonance is still there. As she gets more into it halfway through though, her voice picks up and becomes a bit stronger and she starts to shine when she creatively mixes in “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” towards the end and pulls off a classic church-style Aretha performance with quite surprisingly nice and well-executed belts.

Here’s a “nasal version” by Adele who isn’t 100% well here, just to make it a fairer comparison… Hehe:

In conclusion, Aretha’s voice may not be as stable as Adele’s but we shouldn’t disregard Aretha just because she’s so much older now and not as amazing or as practically unparalleled as she once used to be 30-40 or even just 20 years ago. I’m sure Adele still has a lot more to give and she definitely shouldn’t be overlooked as one of today’s great young talent (though I don’t hold high expectations from her on her next album, both lyrically or musically) but the Queen of Soul’s voice and musicality and is not one to ever be underestimated and I for one am definitely interested in hearing how she has recreated other “diva classics” for her new album.

What do you think? Which version do you prefer and do you think Aretha has still got it in her or is Adele the new Queen of Soul?

Vocal Spotlight: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Christina Aguilera

Posted in Christina Aguilera, Songs, Vocal Spotlight with tags , , , , , , on December 18, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

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To celebrate both Christina Aguilera’s 33rd birthday and Christmas next week, this Vocal Spotlight focuses on her blues-inspired version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” which she recorded for her “My Kind of Christmas” album in 2000. Christina performed this holiday standard – written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin and first introduced by Judy Garland in 1944 – a lot during her time promoting her Christmas album. On the majority of the album she shows off her vocal ability a great deal more than she did on her début and her tone throughout is light and pure and it is very much so on this song, in which we hear her voice span 3 octaves (Eb3-Eb6).

A lot of people criticised Christina for oversinging a lot on this album (or just in general really) but her vocals here are relatively restrained and controlled with minimal unnecessary inflections or runs. In 2000, she performed the song live with R&B singer-songwriter Brian McKnight, which made for a very beautiful and soulful duet between the both (though perhaps vocals are quite a bit more over-the-top than in the recorded version).

Christina also performed the song again just over a decade later in 2011 at Disneyland where her vocals are back to being more restrained and controlled than before (she was reportedly having vocal coach lessons around this time) and singing techniques showed signs of improvement, making it one of her best live vocal performances in recent years.

Vocal Spotlight: Dreamlover by Mariah Carey (20th anniversary)

Posted in Mariah Carey, Songs, Vocal Spotlight with tags , , , , , , on July 27, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

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20 years ago, one of Mariah Carey’s most popular and biggest hits, “Dreamlover” (her 7th No.1 single in the US) was released. It was the first single from her third album, “Music Box”, which went on to sell an estimated 30 million copies worldwide, making it her most successful album to date. “Dreamlover” – which is more “pop” than any of her other singles she had released before, with a bit of soft soul and R&B elements – showcases Mariah’s softer, more carefree and less showy vocals but at the same time still manages to showcase her wide range (over 3 octaves), unique tone and great technique.

The song may not be a huge vocal challenge for Mariah herself, but her soaring, sweeping voice rides along nicely with the instrumentation and is still enough to make you feel in awe of her talent. Mariah is known for adding in the use of her adept whistle register in practically every other song, but on this one she doesn’t overdo it and reins it in tastefully, only doing it at the beginning and along with the hook at the end of the chorus. She performed it many a time live during promotion of the single and album and has done since then, but rarely added in most of the whistles. I tried to find a good live version of the song to post but since some were dubbed over, I instead chose the David Morales Def Club Radio Edit Mix because I really like it. Mariah re-recorded another version of the song and made it more upbeat, funkier and more vocally aggressive for this dance remix, which although has no whistle notes, it does give her the chance to show off her brilliant use of melisma (without going overboard again). It’s a shame she never performed a live version of this song!

Vocal Spotlight: Come As You Are by Beverley Knight

Posted in Female Vocalists, Live Performances, Music, Songs with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

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Beverley Knight has always been one of my favourite female vocalists with her amazing voice that could put the likes of Adele and Leona in their seats and a strong gospel-influenced sound and soulful flavour to her music. It’s always baffled me at how she is still so underrated and relatively unknown throughout even the UK, let alone the world, compared to them and others.

Of her many songs that feature elements of pop, gospel, soul, funk, jazz and blues music, 2004’s “Come As You Are” (no, not the Nirvana song) – from the album “Affirmation” – is one of my favourites and is probably her biggest hit to date (it peaked at No.9 in the UK) alongside “Shoulda Woulda Coulda”, “Keep This Fire Burning” and her version of Erma Franklin’s “Piece Of My Heart”. This upbeat, rock-tinged soul and funk song, co-written by Robbie Williams’ right-hand man Guy Chambers, is reminiscent of old-school James Brown, with a more modern feel to it that fitted well, commercially speaking. When you listen to the song you can’t help but want to sing, clap and tap your feet along with it, particularly the middle eight, which has gospel shouts that hark back to Knight’s roots, and she really gets into it and gives it her all when she performs it live (see below). “Summer’s begun” the lyrics say, and yes, it really is a brilliant, soulful summer track. However, it’s her vocals that really shine throughout and prove her prowess and talent as one of Britain’s best – I mean, check out the G#5 she belts out with perfect technique, a great tone, as well as clarity, resonance and a lot of power that even Jessie J would be in awe of, for proof of her abilities.

And lastly, check out this amazing remix with a new vocals that she did and hits an effortless A5. Need I say or show you more?

Vocal Spotlight: Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over) by Donna Summer

Posted in Female Vocalists, Live Performances, Music, Songs, Vocal Spotlight with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

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Donna Summer was not only the Queen of Disco, but during the 70s she was one of the best vocalists around (in fact, ever, really) – she had a beautiful tone, great technique, and was very versatile too. Disco songs don’t necessarily need singers with big voices but when Donna sang them, she not only cemented the title of the ultimate “Disco Diva” but also managed to bring an element of both sexiness and soulfulness to them that others couldn’t. One of her lesser known songs, but one that proved how great, yet underrated a vocalist she really was is “Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over), which was released along with the bigger hit “I Feel Love”. Even though “I Feel Love”‘s popularity overshadowed this slow jam ballad and was of course amazing too, this song shouldn’t be forgotten about, so here I am to bring your attention to it if you’ve never heard it before.


The lyrics speak of not wanting a relationship to end and Summer asks her lover to, well, as the title suggests, sit down and talk it over. Her vocals are smooth, warm and full of emotion as she croons and pleads with all her heart, soaring effortlessly as she hits each and every note, both high and low, with ease. Vocally it may not be a hard song to sing but to pull it off in the same, soulful yet not “overdone” way Donna did it, is a tough thing to do. She rarely performed it live but below is a video of one time when she did and had the audition watching her in silent awe.

Vocal Spotlight: Higher Love by Whitney Houston

Posted in Live Performances, Music, Songs, Vocal Spotlight, Whitney Houston with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

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“Higher Love” is probably the most famous song of Steve Winwood’s career; released in 1986, the song was an award-winning hit worldwide. There have been a few covers of the song since, but what many people (including myself, surprisingly) don’t know is that Whitney Houston recorded a version of it for her 1990 album “I’m Your Baby Tonight”. Unfortunately, the song was cut from the final track list but was included as a bonus track on the Japanese version of the album. Why? I have no idea. Since hearing the song I have come to the conclusion that it is one of her finest vocal performances, especially on an uptempo number. Her version incorporates the dance-pop genre she was delving into in the early 90s (as heard perfectly clear on the album’s lead single “I’m Your Baby Tonight”) as well as harks back to her gospel roots with a choir singing backing vocals, which is quite fitting for the song’s title and lyrical content. Musically, the song is reminiscent of the gospel-influenced “How Will I Know” but with that definite typical 90s post-disco sound.

A lot of covers Whitney has done in the past (“I Will Always Love You”, “I’m Every Woman” and “Step By Step”, for example) have always at least matched or even surpassed the original and “Higher Love” is no exception. I really like the original of this song by Steve (with accompanying vocals by Chaka Khan), but of course Houston’s crisp, well-delivered vocals, immaculate tone and pure soul speaks (or sings, as the case may be here) to me more; you can feel the spirit of the song taking over her as she gets further into it and is singing along with the gospel choir. It is quite clear from this song and the album that Whitney was in her vocal prime at this time, before the toll of working too much (and other problems) began during “The Bodyguard” tour as she effortlessly belts notes higher and more consistently than she has done on other records. Houston also performed the song live on tour around the same time and in the video below, although she wasn’t 100% well (reportedly had a cold), she still puts in 100% effort and sounds great.

Mariah’s Ten Best Uptempo Songs

Posted in Female Vocalists, Mariah Carey, Songs with tags , , , on May 28, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

Mariah Carey is one of the biggest-selling female artists of all time as well as one of the world’s greatest, most influential and respected vocalists. She’s well-known for a lot of her ballads, such as “Vision of Love”, “Hero” and “We Belong Together” but here I’ve listed my top ten favourite uptempo songs by her that’s she’s released since her début in 1990.

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1) Emotions

Her vocal range in this song spans more than four octaves. Need I say more?

2) Make It Happen

One of the first time Mariah incorporates gospel music into a song as well as released one with inspirational and personal lyrics.

3) Fantasy

In the mid-1990s Mariah began experimenting more with R&B and hip-hop, which is what a lot of her more recent music is. “Fantasy” was one of the first of those genres and still remains a classic.

4) Someday

“Somebody” was the first uptempo single Mariah released and although she is reportedly not fond of the song herself, I am and really like that it delves into the new jack swing fusion genre.

5) All I Want For Christmas Is You

One of the most popular and original (non-standard or traditional) Christmas tunes of all time that in itself has become a standard shows the accomplishment of a true icon.

6) It’s Like That

“It’s Like That” was the first single from “The Emancipation of Mimi” and although this comeback song wasn’t as successful as “We Belong Together”, it put her back on the radio and chart and got her back on to the R&B and hip-hop scene again.

7) Fly Like A Bird

“Fly Like A Bird” is very much like a “Make It Happen” Part II, drawing in soul and gospel influences again with inspirational and personal lyrical content. The only main differences are the inclusion of bible verses and of course, the obligatory whistle notes.

8) Get Your Number

For “Get Your Number”, Mariah teamed up with Jermaine Dupri again for this club-banging R&B hit. I like the contrast between the song’s groove while she’s singing and the beat when he raps.

9) Honey

As cliché and as cheesy as it may sound, but Mariah’s vocals on this song are just like that of its title – thick, sweet, oozing and sexual.

10) Sweetheart

Lyrically and vocally, “Sweetheart” is very reminiscent of “Honey”, although the song is more Jermaine Dupri featuring Mariah than anything else. This was also the first of three times that the two of them have collaborated together.