Archive for Aretha Franklin

Aretha vs. Adele: Rolling in the Deep

Posted in Female Vocalists, Songs with tags , , , , on October 8, 2014 by Ain't No Other Tan

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?

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Whitney’s 50th birthday: her 15 best live performances (cover songs)

Posted in Live Performances, Whitney Houston with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2013 by Ain't No Other Tan

Today would have been Whitney Houston’s 50th birthday, so to mark this date and to commemorate not only the fact that she was such a flawless and consistent live vocalist and performer but also the number of artists she looked up to and was influenced by, I have compiled 15 of her best cover versions of other people’s songs that she performed live (not ones she recorded and/or re-released, except for “A Song For You”, which she performed long before recording it). Whitney was amazing at taking other people’s songs, paying tribute to them and making the song her own with her own vocal styling that was usually always at least just as good as the original, as she proved many a time in her cover versions that she recorded over the years. I’ve just put them all here alphabetically rather than trying to order them according to how good they are and instead of me going on about each one individually, you can just sit and watch them in awe for yourself.

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A Song For You

Whitney sings her version of this classic song, originally by Leon Russell (1991).

And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going (from “Dreamgirls”)

Whitney sings one of the most vocally challenging songs she’s attempted (1994).

Aretha Franklin medley

Whitney singing a medley of songs popularised by her godmother, Aretha Franklin (1997).

Diana Ross medley

Whitney singing a medley of songs popularised by one of her friends, idols and contemporaries, Diana Ross (1997).

Dionne Warwick medley

Whitney singing a medley of songs popularised by her cousin, Dionne Warwick (1997).

Gonna Be Startin’ Somethin’

Whitney singing one of her favourite Michael Jackson songs (1986).

Home (from “The Wiz”)

Whitney singing this song on her first televised appearance in 1983 (above) and again just over a decade later in 1994 (below) – pay attention to the vast difference, maturity and improvement in her overall voice and style in the two versions.

How Long Has This Been Going On

Whitney sings this jazz standard, written by George Gershwin and popularised by Ella Fitzgerald (1995).

I Am Changing (from “Dreamgirls”)

Whitney singing this vocally demanding song at the age of 21 in 1984 (above) and again in 1986 (below) – take note of the maturity of her voice, the improvement in her technique and her trademark style of playing with the notes and melody that had blossomed within those two years.

I Loves You Porgy/Summertime

Whitney sings these classics popularised by Nina Simone (1997).

Love’s in Need of Love Today

Whitey sings her version of this Stevie Wonder song (1994).

Lover Man

Whitney covers this jazz classic popularised by Billie Holiday (1991).

Never Too Much

Whitney mashes the lyrics to this Luther Vandross classic with the melody to “For the Love of You” by the Isley Brothers (1987).

Sweet Thing

Whitney singing (rehearsals) this Chaka Khan classic (1987/88).

(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

Whitney sings this classic Aretha Franklin song (1994).

Top Twenty Favourite Female Vocalists (1 to 10)

Posted in Female Vocalists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2013 by Ain't No Other Tan

This list is part one of two of my top twenty favourite female vocalists but does not include British females as I will make a separate list of those another time. The list is based mainly on personal taste and them as singers, rather than as artists (for example, Christina would be higher as an artist) but I do draw on some truths and facts about each singer as well to tell you why I think they rank higher or lower than others – and these opinions and facts are based on tone/timbre, vocal ability, versatility and live performances (as for many singers, they may have a great recording voice, but totally suck live). For each singer I have also provided a video of their best (or one of their best) live performances.

1) Whitney Houston

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Type: Spinto soprano (pre-1993), lyric mezzo? (post-1993)

A vocal beast, period. A mixture of things made Whitney stand out: her luxurious tone which consistent throughout her voice, her great range, her strong mid-range belts and practically unparalleled control, especially when using vibrato. But above all, it was how she delivered songs, particularly live, with so much emotion and added riffs, runs and inflections only when needed, and wherever she did so, still sounded magnificent and executed them great precision, perfect pitch and brilliant phrasing. Even though from the late 1990s onwards, her voice had begun to deteriorate, Whitney’s delivery was still on point (most of the time anyway).

Unfortunately, Whitney wasn’t as perfect as she may have seemed; her belting may have sounded great, but were done so through poor technique – which aided in her vocal decline, amongst other things.

2) Aretha Franklin

Aretha-Franklin

Type: Dramatic mezzo

Whitney’s godmother, Aretha was just as amazing in almost every way and it was from singing in church and Aretha (and her mother Cissy), where Whitney learnt her skills. And Aretha’s skills are pretty much the same as the ones I have listed for Whitney, but her range is wider, she could belt higher and her technique was better; it’s just Whitney’s timbre that I prefer over Aretha’s that pushes her into second place.

3) Mariah Carey

Mariah-Carey

Type: Lyric coloratura soprano

Out of all twenty singers, Mariah is probably the best when it comes to technical ability (perhaps only bettered in some parts by Céline), having almost no flaws whatsoever, except for some pitch issues in live performances and scratchier upper belts (in recent years anyway). Many singers very rarely reach the same peak as their own idol, but like hers, Minnie Ripperton, Mariah has earned her place alongside her as a true master of the whistle register, even if she does overuse far too much. What is astounding about Mariah is is the way she manipulates her timbre in different registers – deep and husky in the lower register (which is actually more like her natural voice), full and powerful in the middle, and light and airy in the upper registers.

4) Christina Aguilera

Christina-Aguilera

Type: (Light) lyric mezzo

First of all, let’s get Christina’s negatives out of the way – she employs poor techniques to reach many of her higher belts that are beyond her comfortable range and limits, which results in a scratchy and shouty sound and produces pitch issues, and sometimes she does go overboard on the riffs and runs, but when she keeps it clean, straight and reined in and within her comfort zone, she reigns supreme and is definitely more of an emotive singer than a technical one.

Of course, her main strengths are: her unique and gorgeous timbre (which she can also manipulate to sound different in different registers like Mariah) – based on tonal quality alone, this is the main reason why she’s known as ‘the voice of this generation’; great vocal power and range – and although she has proven to be able to hit whistle notes she unfortunately rarely does; and she is extremely versatile, having covered or touched upon countless different genres (although that’s more about her artistry). Also, while like some singers (such as Charice), Christina grew up listening to and emulating her idols, she still managed to develop her own sound and style of singing that the likes of Charice haven’t done.

5) Donna Summer

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Type: Lyric mezzo

The Queen of Disco, Donna Summer was a underrated vocalist but those who were fans of her music would know she had an incredible voice. A great, soulful tone which could sound sultry and sexy and some of her songs and smooth and warm on others, she had excellent technique too that helped keep her voice in good shape even in her later years.

6) Kelly Clarkson

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Type: Full lyric soprano?

Probably one of the best technical singers out there right now and excels in what the type of music she does best – soulful, rocky and country-tinged pop, a sound which reminds me a lot of Anastacia. Except Kelly has a far more pleasant and less gravelly tone.

7) Toni Braxton

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Type: (Low) lyric mezzo

Toni Braxton is one of my favourite traditional R&B divas from the 90s; I love her deep, rich tone, which is hella sexy, heavenly and soulful. Another singer who I am saddened by the fact that she hasn’t made any new music in such a long time.

9) Nicole Scherzinger

Nicole-Scherzinger

Type: Full lyric soprano

Why people call Nicole ‘Shitsinger’ is beyond me when this lady has a very solid voice with great technique – probably because she has had classical training as an opera singer with incredible power, range and control. To me, she sounds better singing opera, when her slight nasal tone she normally has is absent, as she is unfortunately underrated as a vocalist in the pop industry.

9) Beyoncé

Beyonce-Knowles

Type: Coloratura mezzo

Along with Kelly and Nicole, Beyoncé is also one of the best technical singers out there today with really good control over and knowledge of her own voice, and if it weren’t for Christina’s greater power, versatility and nicer tone, Bey would probably beat her to the pole position as ‘the voice of this generation’. However the best parts of her voice are her warm and smooth lower register and clear and bright head voice. Out of all them though, I am personally not a huge fan of her and the hype that surrounds her, but acknowledge her entertainment value at least.

10) Jennifer Hudson

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Type: Spinto soprano?

J-Hud’s power is unmatched by nearly all the ladies in this list, except Patti Labelle, and like Patti is able to belt ridiculously high, even though some notes can sometimes sound shouty or screechy. She has a singing style that is deeply rooted in gospel – and is the genre she excels in the best, which means she sings with an immense amount of soul , and a very strong mid-range that today is probably the closest to that of Whitney Houston in her prime. It’s just a shame she is so highly underrated.