Sunday, August 16, 2009

An Aesthetic Theory Concerning 80's Pop Vocals

Today is the anniversary of Woodstock. Shout out to anyone who played that gig AND is still alive! Who'd have seen that coming, huh?

Personally I've been listening to more of the rock of
the eighties lately. As an amateur pop music historian, I can identify the period as having two prominent elements: excessive use of synthesizers, and a peculiar vocal style that can't quite be pinned down but is instantly recognizable. It's this cartoonish, hiccup-y yelp, best illustrated by Ric Ocasak of the Cars, or David Byrne of Talking Heads or Cindy Lauper, not really of anything but she just Wants To Have Fun.

This kind of vocal was all over hit records for a while and when you think of it, it's a really odd element to have caught on so thoroughly. I could see one band getting lucky with that, then maybe a copycat band grabbing a piece of the action, but there were like 15 bands working that side of the street. How, I yelp, could this have happened?

Here's how. Yes it was a weird and unique style of singing. But at the same time is was familiar enough to sell records, because those vocal tics were the punctuation of pop vocals since the fifties. Buddy Holly used to hiccup in his vocals. Julie London or Peggy Lee would sing too low for their range now and then. Everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Brian Ferry would sing a line too high. You already had a lifetime of hearing people sing like that.

It sounded fresh because you weren't used to having it be the whole song. It's like going to a fancy restaurant and being served a parsley salad. Sounds crazy but in the right hands it could be pretty tasty.

Alas, nobody wants to eat parsley salad forever. The novelty wears off and you start ordering the cobb again. The next thing you know, parley is back where it belongs, on top of the steak tartar or attempting an embarrassing live duet with The Dresden Dolls. Wait, that's not parsley, that's Lene Lovitch.

That's right, the whole post was an excuse to write the last sentence.

1 comment:

Publius said...

I have to say, I thought rock died in the 80s. There was only two guys still doing "rock" in the 80s and that was Bruce "screw America" Springsteen and Johnny Cougar's Mellon Camp. And I didn't like either of them then, find them intolerable now.

I did like the Eurythmics, for some reason, though. Also Men At Work's first album was fun. Pretty much the rest of the decade was crap.

At least Rap "Music" came in to show that the 80s music couldn't possibly be the worst crap evah! Yep, the 80s ain't as bad as Rap. So, the 80s got that going for it, which is nice.

All during the 80s I was still looking back to Joe Walsh, the Eagles, the Beatles, etc., etc.

I hate to say it, but I was glad when Kurt Cobain came up because at least it was something like rock again!