Why are so few baritone singers in pop/rock/soul music?

The exceptions are notable:  Brad Roberts of Crash Test Dummies, a deep rich voice intoning life’s strange side.   Nick Cave, also.  In the 70s, there was Barry White…whew, his thang was hanging low.

Brad Roberts - No blonds among the baritones

Neil Diamond - sideburns are a must also

Barry White - the ultimate bass-baritone intonations

And who can forget Neil Diamond going back to the 60s.  There’s a man for ya.  No wussie songs – well, except for “You Don’t Bring me Flowers” (albeit a duet).

Did the “boy soprano” thing start with the street corner doo-wop groups, or before that, with barbershop quartets (i.e. somebody had to sing way up high to fill in the chords)?  Frankie Valli (Four Seasons), and my hero, Brian Wilson, took the notes to new heights in the 60s, usually relying on falsetto.  Most Motown male artists were all about it too.

But then the harder rockers figured out how to add some grit to their alto range.  There was shrill Robert Plant, raspy Rod Stewart, manic Roger Daltrey, attitude-flaunting Mic Jagger, country-boy John Fogerty. Tons of others.

The fact is, most male vocalists push beyond tenor territory and concentrate on the alto range.  This wasn’t planned ahead of time – but it just so happens that this range sets itself apart nicely from the pitches and the sonic blend within instrumental backing tracks.

Ever notice how easy it is for popular male and female singers to sing duets with close harmonies?  It’s because the guy spends all day singing in the same range as the girl.  .

Assume you’re a guy with average gonads and hormones.  Try singing up there where

Daryl Hall is.  Attempt Neil Young’s Helpless without resorting to falsetto.

Karoke-wise, it’s a lot easier to sing a James Taylor song – he’s down a little lower.

The real anomaly is Michael McDonald. Somehow he sings high up in the alto range but maintains a certain manly gruffness – although his vocal sound has also been described as “marble mouthed.”


The winner of the “most prevalent LP in $1 bins” award goes to an unlikely candidate, from the early 60s no less – Vaughn Meader’s flash-in-the-pan comedy-impersonation album of JFK, The First Family.  Honestly, I counted over 12 copies at Amoeba Music in L.A, and they usually thin these out when it gets ridiculous.  I think that I’ve seen a copy literally every time I’ve been through the $1 bins in any store. And in the 25 cent bin.  It was a huge seller…7.5 million copies in months…the fast-selling LP of any record at that time (early 1963).

Then JFK was assassinated. I know I never played my copy ever again.   Anybody want to buy it?  After that terrible November afternoon, the record was pulled from the shelves.  And Vaughn Meader went from huge fame to not being able to get an entertainment job doing anything – and sank into a deep depression. It’s a piece of pop culture, for sure, for sure.

More of my little series on the $1 used LP bins at used record stores.

It’s rather heartbreaking to see Karla Boniff records so frequently in these bins.  A wonderful singer/songwriter – she didn’t sell that well as a solo artist, so a high percentage of the record buyers must have unloaded her LPs.  Linda Ronstadt covered several of her best songs on Hasten Down the Wind (see last post). All of sudden we see lots of Dave Mason albums too, another album-rocker who obviously is now deemed unworthy of taking up shelf space.

Karla Boniff's first and best album, 1977

I thought Joan Armatrading was an interesting fringe artists, but you see tons of her albums in the $1 racks.  Her voice maybe got a little annoying – funny, when Tracey Chapman jumped onto the scene with her huge “fast car” hit I thought, well, this is a “Joan Armatrading” (their voices are very similar) who knows how to make the Top 40.

But what goes around, eventually again SPINS around (on turntables everywhere).  Hall & Oates, once a staple of the $1 bins, has made a comeback.  The vinyl has been gobbled up – maybe thanks to a nostalgic revival helped by Inara George.

Hall & Oates vinyl is moving again

And here’s the topper – recently at Amoeba a hip 20-something young woman DJ was playing various quirky elevator-music tunes in the store, pop hits covered by The Hollywood Strings and Ray Conniff – this was her thing.  Wow.  That’s an inexpensive hobby – simply head for the 25-cent bins.

For years, the $1 clearance LP bins in used record stores have been a kind of indicator of which artists are ending up in the “scrap heap” of music history, artists who once sold well but whose albums are no longer wanted by the owners, and the LPs (and their CD versions) have no collector’s value.  Mainstream big-selling artists like Barbara Streisand and Barry Manilow have been filling up these bins since the early 90s.

Go to Amoeba in L.A. (the biggest used music store anywhere), and you can now buy the entire catalog of Linda Ronstadt, Dan Fogelberg and Judy Collins for a buck a piece, no problem, good condition. Strangely, now older, popular folk acts like the Kingston Trio (on thick vinyl) are there, as well as over-produced 60s hit-makers like Petula Clark and Glen Campbell.  Same with smooth-jazz artists Al Jarreau and John Klemmer, and tranquilizing Rita Coolidge. Come and go singers Maria Muldaur, Melissa Manchester and Eddie Money – get ’em all.

So, consider this.  If you still love and use your turntable, and some evening you get in the mood for Linda Ronstadt (but had never owned her music), you could go to Amoeba and buy most of her 70s and early 80s output on LP, complete with great photos and artwork (nice foldouts), for about $10.  Yes, the winner of a dozen Grammys.

It’s been almost two years since I posted here.  Amazing that there is still significant traffic every month to this blog site, people scanning through the photos, brought here by the tags and keywords.  Lots of changes in my life, but one thing remains constant, the LP collection keeps growing.  My back can verify this, because I just moved them.

When it’s time to relax, messing with the vinyl discs and the large-canvas artwork allowed by gatefolds is the ticket.    Besides the specific artists,  I have a group of quirky collections that don’t have much to do with the actual music but make it fun to paw through the bins at used record stores and flea markets.

They are:

==Die-cut Album Covers  (see previous posts below)

==Gatefolds, Trifolds and Multi-Page Covers with full-bleed* photography or artwork

==Worst art direction on an album by a major-label artist  (really bad covers);  I love Nick DiFonzo’s “worst album cover” books.

Here’s the weirdest one:

==45rpm singles with first names in the song title.  (Think “Michelle,”  “Lola” etc).  Stored in alpha order, so anyone can find a record where someone is singing about them or paying them tribute.  Someday I’ll own a high-capacity juke box for 45s,  and guests will be able to pick out “their song”  and watch it queue up and play.

*full bleed = a printer’s term meaning that the image goes right to the edge of the paper; there’s no border or margin

Major Collections (Artists):

==Miles Davis

==Beach Boys / Brian Wilson

==Joni Mitchell

==Jimmy Webb

==Keith Jarrett (this is what I have been focused on lately; he is the inspiration for my own solo piano work)

==Amy Grant

By now you’re thinking that I’m rather schizo-flaky; several of my friends don’t get the Amy Grant thing – quite a juxtaposition to Miles Davis, for instance.  More on this later.

==James Taylor (sentimental favorite)

==Aaron Copland (I’m always finding more LP recordings of his symphonic and piano works)

==Firesign Theater (the “music” of layered, highly-produced media parody)

Also: Little Feat,  Yes, and other LP-era artists, plus CD collections of Sarah McLaughlin,  Cake, and many great new artists that are only on their 2nd or 3rd CD, like Jamie Cullum.

Please feel free to share your collections here, either obvious or odd.

Another die-cut notable. Procol Harum’s 1971 album (name it) – guitar manifesto-man Robin Trower’s last with the group. He had made his mark, though. Earlier, the gritty Hammond B3 had challenged the electric guitar’s rock supremacy in hits like “Whiter Shade of Pale” in the late 60’s and early 70’s (think Three Dog Night’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” early Seger, and anything by Lee Michaels), but alas, Hendrix and the horde continued to rule in the end.

Procol Harum Broken Barricades

Seen by themselves, the die-cut holes look like the shape of something that would come out of your nose (below). But s’okay.

Procol Harum Broken Barricades inside

Played on a early 70’s “Mister Hit.”

Unitra Mister Hit Record Player

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Ah, la Musette. Petite phono.Amusette Record Player


The music from this gang is cool again. Actually, it never stopped being so. Group updated its name every year.

Sergio Mendes Brasil ‘66 Fool on the Hill

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Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti

Bill (his extensive blog is Rock-of-Ages) encouraged me to haul out more elaborate Zep efforts. So…


What’s the name of the infamous 1975 Led Zeppelin double album, with all the little windows on both sides of the cover? It’s actually 36 different album covers for the price of one…that’s the number of front and back cover combinations you can make by inserting the two inner sleeves and a light cardboard insert (each with people in the windows, printed on both sides). Lots of famous folks, and the Zeppelin boys…profiles, in drag, etc.

Kind of like an interactive Sgt. Peppers cover. Those were the days when they spared no expense for a top-selling rock act.

The buildings pictured are located at 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place in New York City.

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In print advertising, they say that a direct mailer or a brochure that has a tactile factor, or that gives you something to do with your hands, has “thingness.”

Hmmm. Consider the Rolling Stones 1971 classic Sticky Fingers…with the Andy Warhol cover. Something to play with. Definitely a “thing.” The famous working zipper…the one that tended to dent the album cover on top of it during shipping. The album that many modest record store owners refused to display (not particularly a family-oriented concept).

My wife didn’t buy many rock n ‘roll albums back in those days, but I love her just a little bit more because she captured one of zipper covers….obviously an important part of any die-cut album cover collection.
Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers Zipper

Stones fans from the early 70s may well have been listening to their LPs on this sharp Panasonic SG-999D turntable/receiver/ amp.

To see this album cover and many other famous ones get violent, check out the 2-minute romp through rock history Battle of the Album Covers on YouTube.

Panasonic SG-999D ’60s AM-FM record player

Tone arm toothbrush

My mother-in-law demonstrates how a nice lightweight tone arm, no longer pokin’ them record grooves, can be outfitted to caress the gums, help remove plaque, and prevent gingivitis.

From aural to oral….so to speak. You can tell she’s enjoying herself.

Got any other ideas for recycling old record player parts?

Arvin Record Player

Arvin Radio-Phonograph – complete with curves.

Also check out Bob Vinyl’s Whole Lotta Album Covers blog. Some great outrageous finds.