Too many tenors

One of the delights of pop music is it is easy to sing along to. And catch: Many are the earworms I have been unable to shake from my head.

The problem is that for years I have been unable to sing along. My singing voice is in too low a register. Too many tenors is the problem, most male pop and rock singers sing in a high register.

This was not always the case. Frankie Valli may have had a very high voice, but at least one of the other three Seasons sang low.  It was the same with the Beach Boys, Mike Love’s baritone was the counter to Brian Wilson’s falsetto.

At this point it would be easy to blame Simon Cowell; very few X factor singers have low voices. But the blame does not lie here, the fault lies with two of the most successful bands of all time, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

In the ’60s The Beatles were so successful that others followed in their style. It was not their fault that there were three tenor voices harmonising, the band was not put together as a commercial proposition, and Ringo did not sing on most of the songs. They happened not to have a low harmony, and the style stuck. You can still hear that 50 years later in music such as that made by One Direction.

It was the same with rock. Early heavy bands had high voiced singers Robert Plant and Ian Gillan of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple set the style of high powerful vocals that has been copied many times. People who want to sing heave have to sing high, it is part of the style.

I’m not against high vocals. I am a big fan of The Beatles, Zeppelin and Purple, but I can’t sing along.

I am of course generalising, there have always been a few exceptions. Talking Heads are one of my favourite sing along bands, but singing Psycho Killer gets me funny looks. Looks like I’m on a road to nowhere.

It is the same in Churches. Hymns arranged for choirs have parts for all voices, if you know the parts. If you are in the congregation singing the melody you may not find it comfortable. I don’t. Finding your throat going dry halfway through the hymn prevents the being lost in wonder love and awe that is supposed to happen. Modern worship song pitching has the same problems as pop and rock music. It is too high for some people.

But there is good news. And the good news is George Ezra. At last a male pop singer with a baritone voice has become successful.  I wish him every success, if he could get famous enough, say as famous as Johnny Cash or Roy Orbison others would follow. Then there would be music that all men could sing along to, not just the tenors.

So here’s George.


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