Showing posts with label castrati. Show all posts
Showing posts with label castrati. Show all posts

Friday, July 11, 2008

Falsetto A-Z

Surprisingly, one discovers the word falsetto, literally meaning “false soprano,” actually has two different meanings at One definition reads, “A male voice in an upper register beyond its normal range,” while the other reads, “The treble range produced by most adult male singers through a slightly artificial technique...” What precisely, then, are we hearing when we hear falsetto singing? For a form of singing that is so essential to popular music, I find it somewhat surprising that its status is so culturally ambiguous: abnormal on the one hand, “slightly artificial” on the other. To call it a form of singing by males that is artificial associates artifice with femininity, a linkage that Michael Jarrett identifies as ultimately deriving from use of the castrati in Italian opera, the castrati being emasculated men whose physical alteration when boys allowed them to sing like women when adult men. The castrati were known as voci artificiali, "artificial voices."

But as Majorie Garber has pointed out, the operatic use of the castrati eventually gave rise, after the social practice of creating them ceased, to the bel canto singing style, the style favored by Italian-American pop singers (255). And, as Michael Jarrett has observed, that style "helped fashion the rock universe" (231). He writes:

Dean Martin's croon profoundly affected Elvis Presley, but it also attracted the black gaze of desire. Chuck Berry comes from this tradition (though perhaps by way of Slim Galliard). And Marvin Gaye readily admitted: "My dream was to become Frank Sinatra. I loved his phrasing, especially when he was very young and pure.... I also dug Dean Martin and especially Perry Como (quoted in [Gerald] Early, ["One Nation Under a Groove," New Republic, 15-22 July 1991] 30) (231)

Doo-wop popularized falsetto because, according to Simon Frith, the male voice was broken "into its component parts such that the combination of all its sounds, from low to high" defined masculinity ("Brit Beat: High Signs," Village Voice, 7 June 1994). No wonder, then, that most successful male pop groups always had a member capable of singing falsetto; in the Bee Gees' case, when Barry Gibb (pictured) decided to sing falsetto with "Nights on Broadway" on Main Course (1975), the Bee Gees were, de facto, transformed into Barry Gibb's band.

Falsetto A—Z, A Primer
Little Anthony & The Imperials, “Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop”
The Bee Gees (Barry Gibb), “Nights on Broadway”
[Canned Heat (Al Wilson), “Goin’ Up the Country”] (see comments)
Lou Christie, “Lightnin’ Strikes”
The Delfonics, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”
Elvis (Presley), “Blue Moon”
Art Garfunkel (Simon & Garfunkel), “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
Eddie Holman, “Hey There Lonely Girl”
The Impressions (Curtis Mayfield), “People Get Ready”
Mick Jagger (The Rolling Stones), “Emotional Rescue”
Eddie Kendricks (The Temptations), “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)"
Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant), “Whole Lotta Love”
Curtis Mayfield, “Freddie’s Dead”
Aaron Neville (Neville Brothers), “Mona Lisa”
Roy Orbison, “Crying”
Prince, “Kiss”
Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Smokey Robinson (& The Miracles), “Ooo Baby Baby”
Leo Sayer, “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”
Tiny Tim, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”
U2, “Lemon”
Frankie Valli (The Four Seasons), “Sherry”
Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), “Good Vibrations”
Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), "Don't Worry Baby" (see comments)
X (John Doe), “White Girl”
Neil Young, “Tonight’s the Night”
The Zombies (Colin Blunstone), “She’s Not There”