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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Which sixties singers can still sing in their sixties?

An opera professional said to me recently: "No operatic tenor would dream of performing one of their old songs in the same key that they first recorded it but Paul McCartney does it all the time."

We notice it in McCartney's case because he's so clearly trying to emulate his younger self in every respect. Most of his contemporaries have stopped trying. Robert Plant's still got a good voice but it's not the same one that he used to front Led Zeppelin with, which probably explains why he hasn't rejoined the band. Bob Dylan's reed is broken but can still sell a song somehow and he probably likes sounding like an old man. But when Joni Mitchell re-recorded "A Case of You" in 2000 you could tell the way she sung the word "Canada" that she couldn't get near the bell-like top note of her 1971 recording. It seemed like a terrible capitulation.

James Taylor is one of the few people who was performing in the sixties who still seems to sing in the way he did in his pomp. Nick Lowe sings better than he did in the days when he was having hits. Both of them seem to sing their age. They record quietly, which makes a a difference. Georgie Fame's almost seventy. If the evidence of his new album Lost in a Lover's Dream is anything to go by, his voice has lost nothing since the sixties. He doesn't have to stretch because the most he's competing with is a guitar and bass and the songs, standards like "Cry Me A River" and "My Foolish Heart", are the kind of saloon-scaled material that are well within his range. I even like this one, which is about winter sports. Listen for the plosive at 3:17.

12 comments:

  1. I haven't heard him recently, but I'm told that Stevie Winwood can still do it.

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  2. Paul Carrack, 61, is still doing pretty well. Excellent documentary about him on BBC4 a few weeks ago.

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  3. Ray Davies. Maybe because he was never a conventionally great 'voice', hearing him live in the present day doesn't sound vastly different to listening to his 60s recordings. And of course his age suits his songs and storytelling even more now.

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  4. You're right about Nick Lowe (no stranger to my blog) or Georgie Fame ; in fact Fame was Van Morrison's band leader for a couple of tours, and hearing VM sing Moondance now and Moondance then, you can see how the timbre has changed dramatically.

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  5. She's not quite from the 60s, but at 65 Patti Smith sounds better than ever. Her singing has improved with age.

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  6. Colin Blunstone is still amazing.

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  7. Duffy Power has just had his first new album in almost 40 years released ('Tigers', Market Square Records).

    His voice has changed, naturally, in those years but it still has, in a different way, the 'power', edge and class it had in the '60s. He recorded in the 50s too, but would say himself that he became 10 times the singer when he found the blues and toured with that kind of material in 1963/64.

    But topping all of the people mentioned thus far must surely be Petula Clarke: a new album in her 80th year, recorded with the gentler end of modern pop production, and still able to sell a song without anyone having to 'make allowances' for age. Amazing.

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  8. I think Glenn Campbell still manages. The voice sounds 'worn', perhaps even a trifle frayed, but he certainly hits the notes, or at least he was the last time he was on Jools Holland's show.

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  9. Jeff Lynne's voice was impressive on the recent BBC live set. If anything he's singing better now than ever.

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  10. There are quite a few classic rock singers still doing it - best example would probably be Steven Tyler from Aerosmith - check the new tunes for evidence. He has nodules removed from his vocal cords after every tour and somehow seems that seems to keep him going. And when you consider the self-abuse over the past decades it's actually fairly astonishing!

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