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5 deeper insights into Aretha Franklin’s legacy

Posted in Female Vocalists, Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 16, 2018 by Ain't No Other Tan

In the erm, touching words of Donald Trump, “The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead”. On hearing just a few days ago that she was “gravelly ill”, many knew that her passing was inevitable. However, the fact that she died on the same day as Queen of Pop Madonna’s 60th birthday and the same day the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Elvis Presley did in 1977, is both a fitting and slightly spooky coincidence.

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Of course, everyone is familiar with the vocal prowess Aretha possessed and the accomplishments she obtained over the decades in her career. But here are 5 deeper insights into her legacy that some may not be as knowledgeable about.

5) She was a brilliant pianist

For most singers, it’s not just enough to be able to sing, but the ability to play an instrument as well, adds to your credibility as an artist and musician. Aretha often played the piano in the studio or on the stage whilst singing, and did so very adeptly. When playing she was able to control the music, her band and her backing singers and therefore able to improvise and ad lib how she saw fit. And when playing she wasn’t just tinkling out basic tunes, but bashing out full-on structured songs.

4) She was a great songwriter

While a handful of Aretha’s biggest hits were covers of other artists’ songs, such as Respect (Otis Redding), I Say a Little Prayer (Dionne Warwick), Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield), Don’t Play That Song (Ben E. King), You’re All I Need to Get By (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell), Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel) and A Deeper Love (C+C Music Factory) – and many others were written for her – Aretha was no stranger nor amateur when it came to writing her own material. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone, Think, Call Me, Spirit in the Dark, Rock Steady, Day Dreaming, and Who’s Zoomin’ Who, are some of her most well-known songs that she wrote or co-wrote. She also had a hand in writing a number of album tracks over the course of her career. This was a rare talent to not only possess but showcase, particularly during the 50s, 60s and 70s, when most female singers didn’t write their own songs and nor did many play their own instruments as well.

3) She was a versatile musician

Although her musical and vocal style was obviously heavily rooted in gospel and old school soul, she was very versatile when it came to employing or fusing different genres together. She would still maintain a grounding in gospel and soul when delving into other genres, but showed she was a well-rounded musician and could nail pretty much any style she wanted. These include jazz, blues, funk, rock, disco, R&B, pop, country and even classical – as evident by her impromptu but acclaimed version of Nessun Dorma at the 1988 Grammys. This in turned inspired and gained admiration from countless artists from different genres, far beyond simply other soul, gospel and R&B singers, and is also what set her apart from some of her contemporaries.

2) She had an inimitable and rare voice type

Aretha was one of few singers whose voice types are hard to pinpoint. The darkness and weight of her voice as well as the most comfortable part of her range pointed to her being a mezzo-soprano, but she had the ease and ability to sing like a soprano or at least into the usual range of a soprano – with some believing her to be a “falcon soprano”, a rare hybrid voice that sat between the dramatic soprano and lyric mezzo. Others have said she was a dramatic mezzo (similar to a falcon) or a coloratura mezzo, due to her agility. Either way, she had a voice and abilities that were hard to match and made her unique; she was able to keep it restrained and sit in the lower reaches of her range similar to Dinah Washington and Gladys Knight or battle it out in the upper reaches with the likes of Patti Labelle and Chaka Khan.

1)She had vocal abilities that were seemingly limitless

Her rich low notes could rival those of contraltos and tenors or even baritones, her wide belting range had great grit, elasticity and power, her head voice was full, bright and piercing, and her breath control and stamina in her earlier years were impressive. And to top it off, her use of melisma was both groundbreaking and jaw-dropping. Her voice had flexibility in every area, octave and register – she was able to: execute fast, complex and accurate riffs, runs and trills that serviced the music whilst staying in key and keeping to the tempo; switch seamlessly between different registers; glide effortlessly up and down scales in one swift breath; and play around with dynamics. She not only helped popularise the use of melisma in modern-day music long before Whitney and Mariah did and took it to new heights in the 80s and 90s, but her note-bending, gospel growls, sustained belts and lyrical phrasing wrought with emotions on every note and word, set a standard for all big-voiced vocalists that followed her.

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Who sang “And I Am Telling You…” the best?

Posted in Female Vocalists, Songs, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 4, 2017 by Ain't No Other Tan

Since its debut production in 1981, Dreamgirls has gone on to become one of the most iconic musicals of all time since due to its progressive story about racial division and the music industry of the time, dynamic characters based on real life Motown and soul singers of the eras and of course, its incredible soundtrack. “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is the pivotal song that is considered one of the most vocally demanding songs from a musical – in fact, in contemporary music. The grit, range, power, resonance, breath control, stamina and agility as well as emotion to inject into the song and act it out are an extremely rare combination of requirements that a singer must meet in order to pull it off successfully…

And many have tried. Those who play Effie White, needless to say, have to have a BIG voice. A dramatic soprano or mezzo or spinto soprano are probably the voice types best suited to the song due to its intensity, climactic middle and ending and elongated sustained belted notes in the fifth octave at full volume. And let’s not forget this comes after an hour of singing already (for those who performed in the actual musical), with enough voice left to keep going for another hour. However, some with smaller voices have also attempted the difficult challenge, though unless they have a decent enough technique to at least support and hold the big notes easily, they may find it pretty suicidal for their vocal cords.

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Below is a rundown of some of the most prominent performances of the song and my ratings on their vocals to see who is the Queen of all Effie Whites and this song.

Jennifer Holliday (1981)

The original Effie White, Jennifer is a veteran of theatrical performances and she really always gives it her all when she sings this song – even in her later years. However, her voice is very marmite – it’s full of grit and she loves to grunt and growl, which makes her timbre sound ugly and even demonic at times when she constantly switches. So you either love the energy she puts into it or you are cringing badly at how rough she sounds – either way, it’s a marvel she can still pull it off in the same way as she did way back then.

Rating: 2.5/5

Lillias White (1982)

Effie 2.0, Lillias performed in the first US tour of the production. Lillias has a slightly more pleasant voice than Jennifer but her voice is quite light and a bit nasal, which if you didn’t know who she was you’d probably think she was Fantasia Barino. Vocally though, she was quite decent.

Rating: 3/5

Gladys Knight (1985)

Gladys certainly has a beautifully rich, smooth and soulful voice, but has never been considered a powerhouse vocalist so it was quite a surprise to know she had taken on this song. However, ever the consummate musician, she is able to cleverly mould the song to fit her voice for a restrained vocal delivery that retains the emotion and shows that she is in fact a versatile and talented singer.

Rating: 3.5/5

Whitney Houston (1994)

Whitney performed this as part of a medley so unfortunately we never got to hear her full version of the song. She cuts parts of it out – coincidentally the higher parts – but does extremely well in showing off her best assets, which are breath control to sustain the big mid-belts, soulful conviction and maintaining her full and rich tonal quality throughout, without sounding thin, shrill, growly or husky in parts, unlike many of the other singers who’ve sung this. It would have been great to hear her sing this when she a bit younger and her voice wasn’t as tired, as she does chop her phrases up a bit during the verses. On top of that, Whitney displayed her musical creativity with the arrangement and her tasteful addition of runs, which didn’t detract from the song or melody.

Rating: 4/5

Jennifer Hudson (2006)

Jennifer Hudson’s performance is probably considered the gold standard version of this song due to its immense popularity. She always puts 100% into singing it and has sometimes shown that the song is too hard even for her live, usually struggling to hit the high notes on pitch. However, over the years she’s definitely improved and what she nails the best is the sustained notes, holding them incredible ease. Only her shrillness on the top notes at times and enunciation are what often holds her back, though this may simply be due to her southern twang.

Later, both Jennifers performed this as a duet and did really well – of course Holliday still brought her strange facial expressions, grunts and overused “ha” to the table while Hudson didn’t sound great in the upper range but it definitely started off nice and smoothly and they vibed off each other well for a duet that surprisngly, didn’t result in them trying to out-scream one another.

Rating: 4.5/5

Amber Riley (2009 and 2016-2017)

Amber has a much lighter voice than most other women who have done this song, but she a good enough technique to hold her own. She sounds a bit nasal on the top notes but does add a bit of grit when needed, which is a contrast to her normal smoother vocal delivery. Overall, not the biggest fan of her rendition only because she sounds so youthful and girly, but at least she doesn’t sing outside of her ability or force her voice to sound different.

Rating: 3.5/5

Jessica Sanchez (2012)

Jessica gave quite a subdued version of this song on American Idol (particularly at the beginning and end of it). However, she did add quite a few growls when she has such a naturally light voice which didn’t sound too healthy. She later performed it with Jennifer Holliday, which basically resulted in Jessica awkwardly trying to mimic Jennifer’s mannerisms (see below).

Rating: 2/5

Tituss Burgess (2013)

The fact that this man manages to sing this song better than a lot of ladies says it all really. Thanks to his high tenor voice he is able to reach for the higher notes with ease and really gets into the performance as well. Of course, to some his upper range may be very impressive, though to others it might be a bit off-putting as it is not common to hear a male attempting to belt that high, often sounding a bit pushed and unnatural.

Rating: 4/5

Sam Bailey and Nicole Scherzinger (2013)

Unfortunately this rendition was quite jarred. Nicole really stole the limelight from Sam here and outsang her – and Sam had the biggest voice on the show that year. She didn’t do too badly though, but all emotion was lost in what was more like a battle to be heard than a proper duet. Nicole has some very surprisingly impressive chops on her though and really went for those high notes – just at the expense of feeling the song.

Rating: 3/5 (Sam) and 3.5/5 (Nicole)

Melanie Amaro (2014)

Although Melanie was paraded about on the first season of the US X Factor as a Whitney/Mariah wannabe, she really had a great voice to pull of songs only others on the show could dream of. She slayed with this performance in the comfort of her own home, showing why she was won the talent contest in the first place – great phrasing and precision.

Rating: 4.5/5

Cynthia Erivo (2015)

Cynthia is respected musical actress who has performed in The Color Purple but could most definitely get herself a part in Dreamgirls should she so want it, I’m sure. She gave a great rendition of this song in 2015 with very clear and well executed vocals.

Rating: 4/5

Marisha Wallace (2016-2017)

Probably the best of them all that I’ve heard perform this song, Marisha has pretty much everything that is required as mentioned above to do this song justice – her nuances and inflections as well as tonal and dynamic changes throughout the song were on point without a technical flaw or pitch issue in sight (as it were).

Rating: 5/5

Sarah Ikumu (2017)

For a 15 year old girl, this rendition is certainly impressive. Simon correctly says it’s one of the biggest songs in the world, but her confidence is what really makes this performance. Her overall vocal shows great potential – she has good breath control – but she is often off pitch and strained the higher notes, something that for a young voice can be damaging. Also, it sounds like she’s thickening her voice to sound deeper and heavier than normal.

Rating: 2.5/5

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WINNER: Beating off stiff competition from Jennifer Hudson and the legendary Whitney Houston, Marisha Wallace IS the Queen of Effies!

So those are some of the ladies who have put their vocal abilities to the test with this song – some doing very well, others not so much. But there are definitely others I’d love to hear attempt this song as I have faith they’d do great renditions:

Patti Labelle – a true dramatic soprano of pop music with some of the most extraordinary lungs of all time. I have absolutely no doubt Patti would be able to smash this song out of the park – even now – and I’m surprised she’s never performed it before.

Anika Noni Rose – she played Lorrell Robinson in the film version of Dreamgirls and has proved that she is a very capable vocalist with a rich, warm voice and great range and technique. It’d be very interesting to hear her tackle the song.

Beverley Knight – Bev is one hell of a vocalist who could undoubtedly take this song and do it more than justice. I can imagine her leaping up and down the song’s range with complete ease and adding carefully thought out and beautiful runs to it, as well as tasteful growls.

Beyoncé – She may not quite have the breath control to sing the sustained notes or the upper belting register to hit the higher notes but Bey has a very proficient technique and is a clever enough singer to be able to make this song her own, so can I imagine she’d give it her best shot.

Jessie J – Ok, not a huge fan of Jessie’s style and I don’t have faith she’d give a great rendition to be honest, but it would definitely be intriguing to hear her bring her own sound to this.

Fifteen songs by Christina Aguilera that should have been singles

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2013 by Ain't No Other Tan

A lot of Christina Aguilera fans have in the past, not always agreed with what singles she (or the label) decide to release – or don’t release, as the case may be in many cases. So here is my rundown of fifteen songs (1-2 from each album), which I think would have made great singles and done well on the charts, going by how popular they are with fans and critics, and how good they are when you look at them from a commercial point of view. Let me know below if you agree with my choices or what your picks would be!

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Self-titled début

So Emotional

Christina performed this song quite often during this era and it has that soft R&B sound that was popular in 90s to it that could have appealed to many.

Obvious

I read somewhere that Christina said this was her favourite song from the album, but I don’t think she ever performed it live, which is a shame because vocally it’s great and would have been another ballad to show off her talent and potential at the beginning of her career to further separate her from her lessor contemporaries (*cough* Britney *cough*). Although, admittedly, musically the song is a tad boring.

Mi Reflejo

El Beso del Final (“The Final Kiss”)

A beautiful song with beautiful vocals, although quite similar to the single “Pero Me Acuerdo De Ti”.

Cuando No Es Contigo (“When I’m Not With You”)

If you don’t know Spanish you’d probably be mistaken for thinking this song is a happy one, but apparently it’s not. I love the music that is quite good to dance to, very reminiscent of Shakira’s song “Objection (Tango)”.

My Kind of Christmas

This Christmas

On this album Christina began showcasing her blue, jazz and soul influences and her version of “This Christmas” was a good example of that. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” would also have been a good choice, since she performed it quite often.

Stripped

Impossible

Christina wanted this song to be the fifth single from the album instead of “The Voice Within”, but the label’s influence finally won and while that song is great as well, the Alicia Keys-penned “Impossible” could have helped her get into the urban market after the popularity and success of “Can’t Hold Us Down”.

Soar

Always a firm favourite with pretty much every fan out there, “Soar” is similar to “The Voice Within” but with more soul and gospel influences.

Back To Basics

Slow Down Baby

The jazzy, R&B track “Slow Down Baby” is one of the album’s standout tracks, particularly on the first CD and its very urban feel would have gone down well. The gospel-influenced “Makes Me Wanna Pray and funky “Here To Stay”, which was used on a Pepsi commercial would also have been good choices.

Nasty Naughty Boy

“Nasty Naughty Boy” continues to show Christina’s passion for sexually-charged songs in this era, although from the second album there weren’t many other songs that could have done as well commercially. The bluesy “I Got Trouble” and the gorgeous “Save Me From Myself” would have helped show off her softer side, especially when it comes to singing.

Keeps Gettin’ Better: A Decade of Hits

Dynamite

In my opinion, “Dynamite” was a better song than “Keeps Gettin’ Better” – the whole beat and sound, production, the lyrics and the restrained and relatively unprocessed vocals were, well, dynamite.

Bionic

Desnudate (“Get Naked”)

The Euro-pop sound of “Desnudate” had a lot of commercial appeal, particularly beyond just the US, where Christina didn’t venture out to to promote the album. It also showed her singing parts in Spanish, which a lot of people love her doing. “Prima Donna” and “Vanity” would also have been great choices, though their “boastful” lyrics may not have sat well with critics.

Stronger Than Ever

To be honest, there aren’t a lot of great ballads that would have suited being singles from this album but the emotional, rock-tinged “Stronger Than Ever” would have been the best contender. Unfortunately, it was only included on the deluxe edition of the album on the second CD so didn’t really stand a chance of being recognised  as much as others. The Linda Perry-penned track “Life Me Up” and the honest “I Am” may also have worked.

Burlesque soundtrack

Show Me How You Burlesque

Probably her best song on this album, this song was leaked months before the film was released and was an instant hit amongst fans who loved the music and the vocals. It charted in a few countries despite no official release, and actually performed better than the promo single “Express”.

Lotus

Army of Me

“Army of Me” screams “classic Xtina song” and was immediately a favourite of many fans and critics who hailed it as a follow-up to “Fighter”. Other good choices include “Sing For Me”, “Blank Page”, “Best of Me”, “Light Up the Sky” and “Empty Words”, though unfortunately the latter two were only included on the deluxe version.

Let There Be Love

A far better song than “Your Body” (although it wasn’t bad), “Let There Be Love” has again, been critically acclaimed. It’s a shame that despite the fact the song hit the No.1 spot on the Billboard Dance and Club Songs chart (a great feat when she hasn’t promoted it since November), the song was still left untouched. “Make The World Move” and “Around The World” could also have been decent singles.