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Friday, July 10, 2009

Nobody sings like Mama Cass

Today I am mainly listening to Mama Cass. There don't seem to be any voices that are lovely in the Mama Cass way anymore. I hear belters, divas, the peddlers of empty melisma, the ones who gargle to denote high emotion and faux-naïf pixies by the score, but I don't hear a woman with a voice that can make you sit up straight and take on the day with a smile on your face like Mama Cass did on "Getting Better".

Everybody has to convince us that they're mining some inexhaustible source of inner pain. There may well have been some of that going on with Mama Cass but she didn't let it show. The best thing a singer can do is make people feel better and the first person she needs to make feel better is herself. Nobody did that better than Mama Cass on "Getting Better". It's not perfect. It's got slight slips and even wanders off the note briefly. Nobody's gone back and fixed it. It's the sound of somebody making the best of things, which we don't hear often enough. And what a love song Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill provided her with. Few people can sing the word "groovy" without parenthesizing it. Mama Cass could. Just as great songwriters can pack a line with a lot of syllables great singers like Mama Cass manage to sound as if they're discovering that line for the first time. "Now there's something groovy and good 'bout whatever we've got". Indeed.

18 comments:

  1. I agree she has the most pure, beautiful voice that could move you to tears if you thought too hard about it. Watching those programmes devoted to them recently it became clear just how good she was and how sadly she's missed. There's been no one like her since.

    Her California Earthquake, Make Your Own Kind Of Music and Welcome To The World are my particular favourites, and showcase her talents to the full.

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  2. I agree that she has one of the best female voices we've heard. My particular favourite is Shooting Star. The purity of her voice is enhanced by the imprefections and I also think there's a slight sadness there. I wonder, if she'd still been alive whether she'd still be belting them out.

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  3. I'm saying you were listening to Johnnie Walker this morning. It made me lean back in my seat, close my eyes and and put my hands behind my head too. Unfortunate that I was driving to work at the time...

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  4. As a matter of fact, I wasn't. They might have been reading this blog.

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  5. I like the contradiction of the phrase "warm & wilder" the whole thing nevers fails to simply cheer me up.

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  6. Your interpretation is of course much more probable...

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  7. Seeing as I never listen to music radio and some radio producers sometimes look at this blog that might explain it. But it probably doesn't.

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  8. She's one of the few singers who make my eyes well up and the hairs on the back of my neck stand.

    Her voice is a kind of aural honey.

    Thank you for reminding me of her. I'll listen to her tonight I think.

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  9. Listening further I'm struck by the fact that she's got the warm golden tone of a show singer in the days before they had microphones. You can imagine her singing "I'm as corny as Kansas in August...."

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  10. What does "melisma" mean, pls?

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  11. It means dragging the bleeding carcass of a single word over many notes. See Mariah Carey.

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  12. Or Whitney Houston? She can do it when the single word in question is "I".

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  13. I was going to see she had a real old-timey feel but this says it a lot better...

    From memory, there's a a few things with this kind of feel on 'If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears' ...

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  14. Yes beautiful voice. Let me add a word for John Phillips...writer of some sublime songs.

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  15. Disappointed in following this up that she died of a heart attack and not of choking on a ham sandwich apparently. Another urban myth demolished.

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  16. Anonymous4:34 pm

    I've been looking high and low for her version of Judee Sill's "Jesus was a Crossmaker". It's a wonderful thing that performers like Sill have been posthumously celebrated, but it's often at the expense of the truly popular acts of the period. It's like Linda Ronstadt never happened.

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  17. Sarah Simmons who was just eliminated from the Voice last week has many of the characteristics in her voice as Mamma Cass. I do hope to be hearing more of her. Perhaps a cross between Stevie Nicks and Mamma Cass. Lovely

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