Friday, February 20, 2009

Guilty Pleasures Part Thirty-Seven: The Sound That Only Men Can Hear

Before we get too far into this, you should read Night Writer's piece about Annie Lennox. Go ahead, hit the link. I'll still be here when you get back.

Glad you're back. So, let's talk about romance. Specifically, let's talk about girls. When we're talking about the distaff side, certainly the visuals make a difference, but pure beauty alone won't always trip a guy's trigger. It might be the scent of Chanel No. 5, or it might be that sly, come-hither stare that strips your conscience bare. But what really clinches the deal is the voice. Especially a singing voice.

We can all think of technically brilliant female singers who don't do a thing for you. Then there are women who could sing a grocery list and get your attention. The quality is ineffable, I guess. Explaining it isn't easy. But you know it when you hear it.

In his post, Night Writer identified Annie Lennox as a woman who has this quality. He's right - no doubt about it. Listen to this song and tell me it doesn't get your attention. Try not to pay too much attention to the twee video itself:

Now, let's compare and contrast. Around the same time as Eurythmics were in their heyday, a beautiful woman with a big voice was out front of another synth-heavy band. That woman would be Terri Nunn, and her band was Berlin. Consider this huge hit from 1986, from the soundtrack of the movie Top Gun. A lot of the atmospherics are similar, but do you hear the magic in the voice?

Technically, Nunn is every bit as good a singer as Lennox. But while Lennox's voice gets my attention and keeps it every time I hear it, I find my attention wandering when I listen to Terri Nunn. I feel the same way about a lot of contemporary female vocalists.

It's funny, though -- the voice that gets your attention can come from a lot of different places. On the thread to Night Writer's post, our good friend Gino mentions another 80s singer who is largely forgotten today, but who definitely had that special quality. She was just a teenager at the time and she was working for the morally dubious Malcolm McLaren, but even as she sang a trifle she had undeniable command, despite McLaren's obvious jailbaiting. It's Annabella Lwin, out in front of Bow Wow Wow, in a remake of the old Strangeloves tune. She's on the beach but this ain't Annette Funicello. No sir.

Again, compare and contrast. A contemporary of Annabella was Belinda Carlisle. Watch this and tell me who holds your attention:

Thought so. Now let's turn the way back machine to about 1960. You want a voice? I got one for ya. Here's Dinah Washington, with her partner Brook Benton, with an R & B smash that I'd be willing to wager many of my readers probably haven't heard before.

Dinah died young and she's largely forgotten these days, but she had it. Oh my yes.

Then let's take it way back. It's 1943. We're in the big band era and most of the best bands had vocalists. Frank Sinatra was working with Tommy Dorsey back then and Benny Goodman had himself a very nice young singer with a purr that really got your attention. It's Miss Peggy Lee, asking the musical question:

Think that didn't get your dad (or your grandpa's) attention?

As always, pick your fave. Or tell me someone else who gets your attention.


John Bunch said...

Hi Mark, I was reviewing some videos to show for my 2nd year German class at SMU and ran into a Marlene Dietrich song. Wow, was she good.

Annie Lennox was great. Great voice. Too bad we never got to hear it, because Prince was constantly wafting over the Beloit campus in 1984. ;-)

- John Bunch

Night Writer said...

Annie not only "was" great, she still is. Her solo albums have outsold her Eurythmics work, and her vocal on "Into the West" from The Lord of the Rings finale shows there's no dust on the pipes.

Another really sexy voice is Carly Simon's. She could have excelled in any era, Mr. D, including the 40's. Go to and listen to her album "Torch", especially "The Blue of Blue" and "Hurt." Here's a link:

Gino said...

annabella does it to me hands down every time. she IS better than lennox.
gotta keep in mind, she wasnt jail bait to me (or you) when she hit the scene. and i fell in love.
and i already had an asian babe fetish by then.

i saw annabella about three yrs ago. i was so close to that angelic being i could smell her sweat.
at 40-something, she hadnt lost a thing, and i sat there with my 'italian stallion', mesmerized, and in love again.

listen to 'baby,oh,baby', 'do you want to hold me?' and then tell me you cant hear it.

i wasnt the only dude my age in that small theater that night. and i'm willing to bet i wasnt the only one feeling what i was feeling.

Mark Heuring said...

Hey John,

Yep, a purple rain was falling in those days. Unless you were hanging out by Fifi (remember her?) and then it was all "Red Red Wine," by UB40.

Dietrich would get your attention, that's for sure, especially early on. I remember seeing Der Blau Engel (I believe the last film she made in Germany with von Sternberg before they came to America) and it was mesmerizing.

NW, I like Carly Simon, too. May have to give her a closer listen. The only problem I have with her is that some of her songs were a little hokey in a sophomore-year poetry class sort of way, especially "That's The Way I Always Heard It Should Be." But since this post is more about sound than sensibility, I can definitely see your point.

Gino, you're right -- she wasn't jailbait for us. Based on your recommendation, I'll have to do a little more, ahem, research on the matter.

Bogus Doug said...

Well if you're going to go all the way back to Peggy Lee, I'm going to put in a plug for Keely Smith, the unforgettable female singer for Louis Prima's band. She put the sex into what was otherwise almost a comedy act.

John Bunch said...

Hi Mark,
As a diehard Vikings fan, I am not against some "purple rain" from MN.

- John Bunch

Mark Heuring said...


Keely Smith is a good call. A really good call. I'm off to the YouTubes to find some.