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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity

Question For the Music People

March 19th, 2007 by Maureen McHugh

I turned on the radio and came in on an interview with, I think Paul Kantner. He was talking about Jefferson Airplane (of course) and in particular about “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” and he talked about how Grace Slick could sing aggressively–that she could really get in your face but still not feel strident. He said that there was a little gentleness about her. I don’t know if I agree with that. It’s hard to associate the word ‘gentle’ with Grace Slick. But it got me to thinking and yeah, that quality seems pretty rare to me. Janis Joplin was aggressive and for me, she could be strident.

I was thinking about the kind of breathy style that a lot of women use when they sing, and I was trying to think if there were many singers that combined that powerful but still immediate and aggressive style today. I couldn’t think of any. So I came here to ask you guys.

Click on Grace to hear the song.

Posted in Daily Life, Maureen, Music | 22 Comments »

22 Responses

  1. Caroline Spector Says:

    Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders springs immediately to mind. And Cyndi Lauper.

  2. Rory Harper Says:

    Sadly, Janis’s voice hasn’t traveled down the years well, for me at least. I used to love her music, bu the last time I listened to some of her songs, they seemed….screechy. I feel like I’m committing sacrilege here.

    In regard to your question, how does Annie Lennox strike you?

  3. Terry Says:

    Well, I like the above mentioned singers (some of my faves there, particularly Lennox), but all of them started up _at least_ 20 years ago. I haven’t even heard new work by Hynde in a while. I like Amy Lee of Evanescence for a newer voice, powerful, strange, able to be lyrical and aggressive,too. Great voice.

  4. Krazmo Says:

    Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, maybe?

  5. Steven Gould Says:

    Janis still has a far greater emotional range for me than Grace Slick does. Grace’s voice is better but it’s not conveying as much.

    I still listen to Janis regularly — Piece of My Heart in particular. Or “Bye Bye Baby.”

  6. Terry Says:

    Darcy just did a school project on Hendrix, so I got a copy of Monterey Pop to watch. Hendrix was great, and Janis’s performance still made for goose-bumps.

  7. Maureen McQ Says:

    Yeah, Annie Lennox is great in just that way. Contralto, full of emotion. Chrissie Hynde definitely. But interesting how, as Terry observes, we’re thinking of women who have been singing a long time.

    Krazmo, I’ll have to find Karen O.

    I think black women are allowed to do this. I’m thinking of something like Missy Eliot and “The Rain”. A lot of it’s rap, but when she sings “I can’t stand the rain,” she has some of those qualities, I think.

  8. Madeleine Robins Says:

    I should ask Sarcasm Girl; I’m sure she’d have ideas. Sandi Thom, a new singer from Scotland, comes to mind (she’s got a song called “I Wish I Were A Punk Rocker With Flowers In My Hair” which conflates the Punk and Hippie movements). Maybe Fiona Apple or Regina Spektor…Again, I’ll shoo SG over here to weigh in.

  9. Madeleine Robins Says:

    Oh–Alanis Morrisette (no, she’s not new, but she’s still out there).

  10. rb Says:

    Kim Deal, of The Breeders?

  11. Maureen McQ Says:

    Mad, I’d say that Alanis, in full confrontation mode, say singing “You Outta Know” is pretty strident. The song calls for it, and its great. But strident is another way of saying bitchy, and it seems to be difficult for a woman to be agressive without coming across as ‘bitch.’

    And Fiona Apple has that kind of soft, sultry thing that’s not aggressive to me at all. I like Fiona Apple, I have a cd, but she’s not a powerful voice.

  12. Stuart Says:

    This is a question with a lot of dimensions. I think that the use of amplification in pop music has made it less likely that singers will learn the vocal control that makes expression work. Janis and Grace were both noteworthy in the fact that they found ways to be expressive in the context of bands that were LOUD.

    Modern CD mastering practice is such an abomination that even a singer with an expressive voice stands little chance of it being detectable by the time the “product” is released.

    Classically trained singers learn to sing expressively over a wide dynamic range without amplification. I saw Erie Mills sing Lucia di Lammermoor. At the climax of the mad scene is a crescendo that she started so soft she could not be heard and by the end a long time later was so loud that she had blown the first five rows of seats clear. Without amplification.

    To the list of pop singers mentioned I might add Pat Benatar who had operatic training and then switched. Like the others mentioned she dates back fairly far.

  13. Barb Says:

    Wow, you have hit my favorite genre here, power-singin’ women, aka “belters”. Other commenters have hit most of my favorites but I have to add Susan Tedeschi and Etta James.

  14. Rory Harper Says:

    Oh, I just had a flash — Every woman in the movie version of ‘Chiacago’, maybe. Though we have no idea how technologically augmented they were. But it was probably a lot.

  15. Bradley Denton Says:

    Among younger singers, Joss Stone is someone to listen to. She’s a work in progress (ain’t we all) . . . but her voice is a tremendous instrument that should keep getting better.

    Here she is with Melissa Etheridge at the 2005 Grammys:

  16. katie cowden Says:

    meg white of the white stripes. unfortunately, she doesn’t sing very often.

  17. Madeleine Robins Says:

    Try this:

    They’ve got a one-minute sample of “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker” that is both emphatic and melodic. Not strident, I think.

  18. Casey Hamilton Says:

    Shirley Manson of Garbage.

  19. Steven Gould Says:

    I can’t believe I didn’t mention Melissa Etheridge, earlier.

    Or, for that matter, I really like Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.

  20. Casey Hamilton Says:

    Actually, I can’t believe Bradley didn’t mention Ms. Etheridge. Minus 2 Kansas points.

  21. Bradley Denton Says:

    But I DID mention her, Casey — in the comment also mentioning Joss Stone. Ms. Stone is pretty good in the clip I linked . . . but then Ms. Etheridge comes on and shows EVERYbody what it’s all about.

    And yeah, she’s a Kansas homegirl — although she grew up in Leavenworth, which is a couple hundred miles from Towanda.

    One of the best shows I’ve ever seen was Melissa Etheridge at Bass Concert Hall here in Austin. (Opening act: Delbert McClinton.)

  22. Casey Hamilton Says:

    You’re right, my bad.

    I remember seeing that Grammy performance — that poor little (tall) girl just about got blowed off the stage by the bald lady.

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