My Favorite Female Vocalists

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of vocals. Oftentimes, this becomes clear to me when listening to instrumental music. After a while, something seems to be missing. So I thought it would be fun to think about my favorite vocalists and feature some of them in a post. And since much of the blog is focused on male artists, I decided to keep the list to females. While I can’t deny a certain bias for artists I generally dig for their music, this selection first and foremost is based on vocal ability that grabs me. And with that let’s roll.

I’d like to kick things off with Annie Lennox, who of course is best known for Eurythmics, her pop duo with Dave Stewart, which became a powerhouse during the ’80s. Following Eurythmics’ hiatus in 1990, Lennox launched a solo career. Here’s Why, a beautiful tune that nicely showcases her amazing voice. She wrote this song for her solo debut album Diva released in April 1992.

Alicia Keys is an artist I rarely listen to, but every time I do what typically stands out to me is her vocal performance. One of her most compelling songs I know in this context is called Fallin’. Written by Keys, it was included on her debut record Songs in A Minor from June 2001. Listening to this tune gives me goosebumps!

Carole King needs no further introduction. I’ve been a fan from the first time I heard her 1971 album Tapestry. Since my sister who had this record on vinyl was a young teenager then, I must have been eight years old or so. I didn’t understand a word of English. But King’s beautiful music and voice were more than enough to immediately attract me. From Tapestry here is Way Over Yonder.

Next, I’d like to highlight an artist I bet most readers don’t know, though frequent visitors of the blog may recall the name of the band she’s in: Tierinii Jackson, the powerful lead vocalist of Southern Avenue. This contemporary band from Memphis, Tenn. blends traditional blues and soul with modern R&B. I’ve covered them on various previous occasions, most recently here in connection with a concert I saw. That lady’s voice is something else, especially live! Check out Don’t Give Up, a great tune co-written by Jackson and Southern Avenue guitarist Ori Naftaly. It’s from their eponymous debut album that came out in February 2017.

Another artist I dig both as a guitarist and a vocalist is Bonnie Raitt. In fact, I have to admit, I’ve really come to love her over the years, so there could be a bit of bias at play. But I don’t care what you may think, Raitt does have a great voice. One of my favorite songs she recorded is Angel from Montgomery written by John Prine. It appeared on Raitt’s fourth studio album Streetlights from September 1974.

Perhaps the artist with the most distinctive voice in this playlist is Stevie Nicks. No other vocalist I know sounds like her. The first tune that came to mind was Landslide, a timeless gem she wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac on their second eponymous studio album released in July 1975, the tenth overall in their long catalog.

An artist who to me was both an amazing performer and a great vocalist is Tina Turner – I say was, since she retired from performing in 2009. I was going to feature a song from her 1984 Private Dancer album, but then I thought what could possibly be better than her killer version of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary. Her initial recording is from 1971 as part of Ike & Tina Turner. Instead, I decided to select this clip capturing an amazing and extended live performance. I’ve been fortunate to see Tina Turner twice, including this tune. It was mind-boggling! Every now and then, she liked to do things nice and easy. But somehow she never ever seemed to do nothing completely nice and easy. Why? Because she liked to do it nice and rough. Go, Tina!

No list of my favorite female vocalists would be complete without Linda Ronstadt. Here is her beautiful cover of When Will I Be Loved. Written by Phil Everly, this great tune was first released by The Everly Brothers in May 1960, giving them a top 10 hit. Ronstadt’s version, which was included on her fifth solo album Heart Like a Wheel from November 1974, became even more successful, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s not hard to see why!

The next artist in this playlist may be the biggest surprise, at least for folks who have read previous posts: Christina Aguilera. Yep, an artist I have never covered, since I generally don’t listen to her music. But I think she’s one of the best female vocalists I know. Beautiful is a powerful ballad written by Linda Perry, the former lead vocalist of 4 Non Blondes, who has a pretty decent voice herself. Aguilera recorded the track for her fourth studio album Stripped that appeared in October 2002. To me, singing doesn’t get much better!

This brings me to the final artist I’d like to highlight – Aretha Franklin. No playlist of female vocalists would be complete without the Queen of Soul either! In addition to being a songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist, Franklin was an incredible singer. Here’s her cover of the beautiful Sam Cooke song A Change Is Gonna Come from her 10th studio album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, released in March 1967. I was reminded of this great record by hotfox63, who covered it the other day.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

When Bs Should Have Been As

While I suspect most folks can tell an anecdote where they feel a teacher or professor did them wrong, you probably figured this post isn’t about academic grades, though it is somewhat related to grading. I’m talking about the good old-fashioned single from the last Century. Yep, it’s hard to believe that in the age of online streaming and digital downloads there was once was a time when music artists would release singles on vinyl and people would actually buy them!

The most common format of the vinyl single was the 7-inch 45 rpm, which according to Wikipedia was introduced by RCA Victor in March 1949 as a more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for 78 rpm shellac discs. Historically, singles had an A-side and a B-side, and placing a song on the A-side implied it was better than the tune on the flip side. In December 1965, The Beatles disrupted this tradition when they released the first so-called double-A side: We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper. The 70s saw yet another type called double-B, where you had one song on the A-side and two tunes on the B-side. Also known as maxi singles, the initial format was 7 inches and, starting from the mid-70s, 12 inches.

Do singles even matter you might ask. At the end of the day, it’s all music, so who cares how it’s called. Well, I guess I’m a bit of a music nerd, so I get excited about it. That being said, I never got much into buying 45 rpms myself. In retrospect, that’s a good thing, since the handful I ended up were all pretty awful.  Three I can still remember include I Was Made For Loving You (Kiss), Heart of Glass (Blondie) and How Could This Go Wrong (Exile) – indeed, how could things have gone so wrong? Well, to my defense it was the disco era and, perhaps more significantly, I was like 12 or 13 years old and slightly less mature!:-)

Before I go any further with this post, I have to give credit where credit is due. The initial inspiration for the topic came from a story on Ultimate Classic Rock about B-sides that became big hits. Then I also remembered that fellow blogger Aphoristic Album Reviews has a recurring feature called Great B-sides. Both together made me curious to do some research and there you have it: a playlist of tunes that initially were released as B-sides, which in my opinion would have deserved an A-side placement or perhaps double-A side status. This doesn’t necessarily mean I feel the corresponding A-sides were inferior. With that being said, let’s get to it!

What better artist to kick off a rock playlist than with Mr. Rock & Roll, Chuck Berry. In September 1956, he released Brown Eyed Handsome Man, a single from his debut album After School Session. The B-side was Too Much Monkey Business, which I personally prefer over the A-side. Both tunes were written by Berry. Like many of his songs, Too Much Monkey Business was widely covered by others like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Yardbirds. Naming them all would be, well, too much monkey business!

Another 1950s artist I dig is Buddy Holly, a true rock & roll and guitar pioneer who during his short recording career released such amazing music. Here’s Not Fade Away, the B-side to Oh, Boy!, a single that appeared in October 1957 under the name of Holly’s band The Crickets. Not Fade Away was credited to Charles Hardin, Holly’s real name, and Norman Petty. In February 1964, The Rolling Stones released a great cover of the tune, their first U.S. single and one of their first hits.

In November 1964, Them fronted by 19-year-old Van Morrison released a cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go, a traditional that had first been popularized by delta blues artist Big Joe Williams in 1935. While Them’s take was a great rendition, it was the B-side, Morrison’s Gloria, which became the band’s first hit, peaking at no. 10 on the British singles charts. Following the song’s big success, apparently, Gloria was re-released as a single in 1965, with the garage rocker getting its well-deserved A-side placement. G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria, G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria – love this tune!

Another great B-side is I’ll Feel A Lot Better by The Byrds, which they put on the flip side of their second single All I Really Want To Do from June 1965. It was written by founding member Gene Clark, the band’s main writer of original songs between 1964 and early 1966. Like the Bob Dylan tune All I Really Want To Do, I’ll Feel A Lot Better appeared on The Byrds’ debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. I’m a huge fan of Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker jingle-jangle guitar sound. Another reason I’ve always liked The Byrds is because of their great harmony singing. It’s the kind of true music craftsmanship you hardly hear any longer these days.

My next selection won’t come as a shock to frequent readers of the blog: I’m The Walrus by The Beatles. Other than the fact that The Fab Four are my all-time favorite band, there’s another valid reason I included them in this playlist. You can file this one under ‘what were they thinking relegating the tune to the B-side and giving the A-side to Hello Goodbye.’ Hello? According to The Beatles Bible, not only was John Lennon’s push to make Walrus the A-side overturned by Paul McCartney and George Martin, who both felt Hello Goodbye would be more commercially successful, but it created real resentment from Lennon. And frankly who can blame him! After the band’s breakup, he complained “I got sick and tired of being Paul’s backup band.” Yes, Hello Goodbye ended up peaking at no. 1 but also as one of the worst Beatles singles!

Next up: Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the B-side to Proud Mary, a single released in January 1969. Unlike the previous case, I think this is a great example of two killer tunes that are each A-side material. Written by John Fogerty, both songs appeared on CCR’s second studio album Bayou Country that also came out in January 1969.

In October 1969, Led Zeppelin issued Led Zeppelin II, only nine months after their debut, and one of their best albums, in my opinion. The opening track Whole Lotta Love was released as a single in November that year. The B-side was Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman). It may not be quite on par with Whole Lotta Love, but it sure as heck is an excellent tune with a great riff. The song was co-written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

The Needle And The Damage Done is one of my favorite songs from one of my all-time favorite artists: Neil Young. It became the B-side to Old Man, which Young released as a single in April 1972 off Harvest, his excellent fourth studio album that had appeared in February that year.

Also in April 1972, David Bowie came out with Starman, the lead single from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album and my favorite Bowie record. The B-side was Suffragette City, a kick-ass glam rocker. Like all tracks on Ziggy Stardust, it was written by Bowie.

Of course, this playlist wouldn’t be complete without featuring a tune from one of my other all-time favorite bands, The Rolling Stones. I decided to go with When The Whip Comes Down, the B-side to Beast Of Burden, which was released as a single in September 1978. As usually co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, both tunes appeared on Some Girls, the Stones’ 14th British and 16th U.S. studio album from June that year. That’s according to Wikipedia – I didn’t count them myself!

Sources: Wikipedia, Ultimate Classic Rock, Radio X, Smooth Radio, Forgotten Hits, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

My Playlist: Creedence Clearwater Revival

The first Creedence Clearwater Revival song I heard was Have You Ever Seen The Rain. This must have been in Germany around 1974. My six-year older sister, who at the time was in her early teens, had the single. The B-side was Hey Tonight. I liked these two tunes from the very beginning. I also recall listening to Proud Mary and Bad Moon Rising on the radio. I dig this band to this day, and they’ve been on my mind for the past few weeks, since I learned about the Blues & Bayous Tour ZZ Top and John Fogerty will do together later this year.

The story of Creedence Clearwater Revival or CCR started about 10 years before they would become one America’s most successful rock bands. Their first incarnation was a trio called The Blue Velvets, formed in 1958 by Fogerty (guitar), Doug Clifford (drums) and Stu Cook (piano), who all were students at Portola Junior High School in the San Francisco suburb of El Cerrito. In the beginning, they mostly played instrumental music. Their first studio recording experience occurred in 1959, when they backed up African American singer James Powell on a single. Later that year, John’s older brother Tom Fogerty, who himself had been an aspiring music artist, joined the band as their lead vocalist, and they became Tommy Fogerty and The Blue Velvets. At the time, John was not singing yet.

Tommy Fogerty And The Blue Velvets

The band started to record some demos written by the two Fogerty brothers. A small Bay Area record company, Orchestra, decided to release a few of their songs, but they didn’t fare well. In 1964, the band signed with Fantasy Records, an independent San Francisco jazz label. Prompted by the record company, they changed their name to The Golliwogs. Fantasy released a few of their songs, but except for Brown Eyed Girl (unrelated to the Van Morrison tune), the music didn’t make any commercial impact. Eventually, most of the band’s members took on new roles: John became the lead vocalist, his brother changed to rhythm guitar, and Cook switched from piano to the bass.

In 1966, Fogerty and Clifford were drafted into the military and joined the Army Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve, respectively. During their six months of active duty, the band was put on the back burner. In 1967, the financially struggling Fantasy was purchased by Saul Zaentz, a salesman for the company, who had organized a group of other investors. Zaentz liked The Golliwogs but told them they needed to change their name. And so they did, to Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Creedence Clearwater Revival First Album

The band name had three different origins. Creedence was derived from Credence Newball, a friend of Tom’s. Clearwater was inspired by a beer TV commercial that used the words “clear water.” And Revival reflected the four members’ renewed commitment to the band. They didn’t waste any time to act on it and went to the studio to record their eponymous debut album. Even before it appeared at the end of May 1968, CCR’s cover of the Dale Hawkins tune Susie Q, which they had cut a few months earlier, already received radio play and a good deal of attention. It appeared separately as a single and became their first hit, peaking at no. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 – the only CCR top 40 track not written by John Fogerty.

Following their breakthrough, CCR started touring heavily and shortly thereafter began working on their sophomore album Bayou Country, which was released in early January 1969. The band continued an intense touring schedule, which notably included the Atlanta Pop Festival (July 1969) and Woodstock (August 1969). Even though CCR was a headliner at Woodstock, none of their songs were included in the documentary and the accompanying soundtrack. John felt their performance had not been up to standard. Apparently, they had ended up playing at 3:00 am in the morning after the Grateful Dead, when only few people had been awake. It would take until 1994 when four of the tunes from that night were included in a commemorative box set titled Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music.

Ten days prior to Woodstock, CCR’s third studio record Green River was released. Four more albums followed: Willy And The Poor Boys (November 1969), Cosmo’s Factory (July 1970), Pendulum (November 1970) and Mardi Gras (April 1972). By the time this last record appeared, serious tensions over CCR’s artistic and business direction had emerged between John Fogerty and Cook and Clifford. In late 1970, Tom Fogerty already had left the band, which since had been a trio. In mid-October 1972, CCR broke up officially. Time to get to some music!

Susie Q, CCR’s breakthrough song from their first studio album, was recorded in January 1968 and appeared in June that year. Originally, the tune was released by Dale Hawkins in May 1957. It was co-written by him and Robert Chaisson, a member of his band. Due to CCR’s extended version, the single was split in parts one and two, which appeared on the A and B-sides, respectively.

Proud Mary from Bayou Country was the first of five no. 2 hits CCR scored on the Billboard Hot 100. Apparently, the band holds the record for achieving the most no. 2 singles without ever getting a no. 1 on that chart. Like pretty much all songs on the first four albums, the tune was written by John Fogerty. Various other artists have covered Proud Mary, most notably Ike & Tina Turner.

Green River is the title track of CCR’s third studio album from August 1969. The Fogerty tune is one of the no. 2 songs.

Down On The Corner is the opener of Willy And The Poor Boys, CCR’s fourth studio record and the third album the band released in 1969. The tune was also released as a single and became another hit for the band, climbing to no. 3. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Fortunate Son, another track from Willy And The Poor Boys, was the B-side of the Down On The Corner single.

Cosmo’s Factory, CCR’s fifth studio record from July 1970, became the band’s most successful album, topping the Billboard 200 and the LP charts in the UK, Canada and Australia, among others. Here’s a clip of Up Around The Bend.

Another tune from Cosmo’s Factory I like in particular is Who’ll Stop The Rain.

The aforementioned Have You Ever Seen The Rain? is from the band’s sixth studio album Pendulum, the final record with Tom Fogerty. If I could only choose one CCR song, it would probably be this one. I totally dig the Hammond in that tune!

Here is Hey Tonight, another outstanding song.

I’d like to conclude this playlist with Someday Never Comes from CCR’s final album Mardi Gras. Unlike the band’s previous records, songwriting and production were shared among Fogerty and Cook and Clifford, something Fogerty had fiercely opposed in the past. While Fogerty’s previous leadership may have been dictatorial, the record’s mixed to poor reviews indicate that a democratic approach wasn’t working well for CCR. Perhaps tellingly, Someday Never Comes and the other Fogerty tracks on the album are the best.

Despite CCR’s relatively short four-year career, they sold 30 million albums and singles in the U.S. alone. The band is ranked at no. 82 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists from December 2010. In 1993, CCR were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly, Fogerty refused to perform with Cook and Clifford during the induction ceremony. His brother Tom had passed away in 1990.

Sources: Wikipedia, Creedence Online, Rolling Stone YouTube