August 20, 2010
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.
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.”