Musical Blind Spots

Good acting, shame about the 'singing'

Am I blind or have I just closed my eyes?

This is a spin-off music game/chat from Magical Music Moments picking up on Doug Miller’s idea (did I mention his new book is available  from Amazon and all good bookshops which pay UK Corporation Tax now? – and I make an appearance in it alongside grander folk like Olympic gold medal rower Greg Searle). So here’s the game as set up by Doug:

Musicians for which you have a complete blind spot. My nominations – Bruce Springsteen, Otis Redding, Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro.

Of course the other half of the game is to persuade us we’re idiots for having these musical blind spots and why.

I’ll start with Tom Waits – great in Martin McDonagh‘s new movie Seven Psychopaths, wonderful in Rumblefish, but goddarn his ‘singing’ voice bugs the shit out of me. It always feels so artificial and inauthentic. I was listening to an old Inheritance Tracks podcast (BBC Radio 4) on my jog this morning, on which Ralph McTell played a Robert Johnson record he was given in lieu of pay at a gig in the 60s – that voice is everything Tom Waits would like to be – but ain’t.

Over to y’all…

Not an ounce of soul in her voice and often out of tune

Not an ounce of soul in her voice and often out of tune

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14 comments so far

  1. theluckhabit on

    As a fan of great soul music I was told not to miss out on Laura Nyro. I come from the old school that says that only black people can sing soul music (with the exception of Dusty) so I was on the defensive right away. I had heard the ‘Gonna Take a Miracle’ album in my early twenties and it hadn’t registered at all but sometimes a revisit reveals a completely different sound. Anyway I bought two Laura Nyro albums and almost as soon as they arrived I heard Alice Cooper on Desert Island Discs choosing one of her tracks and talking about her as though she was Arethra, Dusty and Mahalia Jackson in one person. She was not. Not an ounce of soul in her voice and often out of tune. Her version of ‘Dancing in the Street’ sounds like karaoke night after 15 pints. Patti Labelle saves her. Just what did she have? I can’t see it. Or rather I can’t hear it.

    • catalanbrian on

      I’m with you on her singing – usually out of tune or off the beat, and often both, so I am the proud owner of none of her recordings – there is not enough space to waste on those. However she was a good writer of songs, it is just a pity that she was not able to sing them very well. I think her legacy lies in those songs and in her undoubted influence on many other musicians.

  2. ArkAngel on

    Good robust assault. My late sister-in-law loved her records but she’s off my radar, someone else will have to ride valiantly to her defence.

  3. theluckhabit on

    A bigger assault coming on that terrible Christmas single – ‘A Fairytale in New York’. I don’t do ‘hate’ but I get as close to it as possible with that piece of rubbish. This could be a really cathartic blog Arkangel. I can feel myself limbering up for a few sparring sessions.

    • catalanbrian on

      I will await your assault before I leap to the song’s defence, so that I can tear it limb from limb – or at least try to!

      • theluckhabit on

        And I note that the Guardian posed the question on Friday ‘Is this greatest Christmas song ever’. No. It’s the worst. I never got Kirsty MacColl at all.

  4. ArkAngel on

    I know we can rely on you for Christmas spirit

  5. ArkAngel on

    @TLH On this morning’s jog was listening to Harry Belafonte’s Inheritance Tracks – he said Bruce was his favourite singer “in the universe” and made a strong case for him being the inheritor of the tradition of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Dylan and that whole strand of quintessentially American music. On top of that I’d throw in the fact he has a beautiful soul and gospel voice – he’s no rock redneck.

    • catalanbrian on

      I’m with you all the way on this. Bruce, through his songs, lets you know what it is like to be an American who hates all that is bad about America and who loves those good things about that nation. And as you state he has a fabulous voice.

      And Archangel, this leads me to take you to task on Tom Waits and his voice. Just listen to “Somewhere” sung by Tom. It is for me the best version of a great song and is a perfect example of his beautiful voice. Additionally he is a stupendous songwriter who gives a unique view of life from America’s gutter. I have most of his output and will continue to fill my wallspace with Tom Waits CDs and my earspace with Tom Waits songs. I think that it would be worth your while trying again

      • theluckhabit on

        I rarely sit in the middle on music but my own jury is still out on Tom Waits. I love some of his stuff. Some of it I find unlistenable.

      • ArkAngel on

        OK, I’ll follow your advice and report back – it’s good to have a focus in reassessing

  6. catalanbrian on

    TLH. Fairytale in New York is just as The Guardian quite rightly suggests probably the greatest Christmas song ever, but I can understand your reaction, because by their very nature Christmas songs are not to be listened to but just heard in the background . This does not fit into that mould at all as it commands you to listen, which is very difficult when it is being blasted at you whilst you are in the queue for the till at Sainsbury’s on Christmas Eve. It is a beautifully crafted song with great lyrics and is amongst the best songs released by a band that produced many.. But there again I am a fan of both the Pogues and of the late great Kirsty MacColl. The song fits the voices of MacGowan and MacColl perfectly and is sung with real passion, which cannot be said for most of the guff that is vomited up at Christmastime. Just sit down and listen to it, I am sure that your opinion will me moderated! I am not sure what the worst Christmas song is but there are probably at least twenty that would be first equal worst!

  7. ArkAngel on

    I’m really fascinated by the London Irish identity and like the interplay of accents in that song so it’s going to be two against one to start with at least.

  8. ArkAngel on

    @catalanbrian sorry, I just find Tom Waits’ voice artificial – he seems to be striving for Louis Armstrong but coming out more like some Disney bear. Great choice of song though, I love West Side Story and it’s a clever surprise to take a song we know from such a high male voice and doing a Lee Marvin on it. I understand why people like his stuff but it’s just not for me.


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