These show-stopping selections demonstrate the awesome power of the human voice. Whether you like earth-shattering vibrato and unbelievable range or something grittier and more down-to-earth, these songs push the limits of the instrument we all cary with us. They might be great karaoke picks, or they might command rapturous silence. Either way, when it’s sweet vocals we’re after, these are our go-to picks.
Hot damn. Between shouts of “Oh baby!” and “Listen!”, Little Milton belts this one to the back of the room. When he sings about fighting lions in the jungle for his love, you can’t help but take him at his word.
I’ve got nothing against the Zombies, but I feel that Colin Blunstone really found his voice after going solo. This 1971 song is a prime example: it’s a break-up tune he wrote after getting dumped by actress/model Caroline Munro. With production that emphasizes Colin’s vocal parts, this song really gives you a sense of just how smooth and buttery his natural inflections are. His voice is perfect.
Change is a big, complicated, mixed bag of emotions. And no song captures the fear, excitement or inevitability of change better than this Sam Cooke’s classic. A lot of the song’s power comes from Cooke’s understated delivery. It isn’t sung in anger — there is no stridency about his tone. Instead, there’s weariness and pain, but with an underlying sense of quiet determination. All the chills.
Any song from Andy Bey’s 1974 LP Experience and Judgement is worth showcasing here. “Celestial Blues” is a spiritual, funky jazz masterpiece that exemplifies the beauty of Bey’s multi-octave range. He communicates a message of divinity and spiritual elevation without alienating novice listeners who may not be familiar with the intricacies of jazz vocal stylings.
There’s a great scene in the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom where Merry Clayton describes being called in the middle of the night to record with some hotshot British rock ‘n’ rollers. She arrives at the studio with curlers in her hair and blows everyone away with her voice. I love how she does the equivalent of a pinch harmonic on guitar with her vocal chords.
Her voice, her enunciation, her lyrics — everything — has the haunting, seductive warmth of a Mediterranean night.
The delightful bleep-bloop rhythms of DIY Moog pioneer Bruce Haack’s electronic machines are why the man is so celebrated by techno artists today. What’s most memorable is, though, is Haack’s effected voice on tracks like his one, from his psychedelic 1970 album The Electric Lucifer. Heard here singing (and scatting) through FARAD, his home-built prototype vocoder, he croons so earnestly about “powerlove” and other New Age concepts of his own invention that you have to take his message to heart. Haack might not sound so quirkily compelling without the aid of that robotic voice he created to express himself. It just goes to show that technology isn’t something separate from humanity — sometimes, it’s how we can be fully ourselves.