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.

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.

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