From Aretha Franklin to David Bowie: The Special Power of the Voice in Music | LOS40 Classic

“There is no musical instrument so close, with which we have so much connection, and that moves us as intensely as the voice”. If we think of the great songs of our life, all of them will share special, unique voices, modulated in a certain way that touches our heart and through which we can reach different sensations. Pop music would not be understood without those physical instruments that come out of our throat and express all kinds of emotions.

But… What makes a voice unique? What is that link that unites all the voices of pop as great sensory vehicles? The documentary The magical voices of pop, created by the German Werner Lackner, explores all these questions from a broad perspective in which producers and musicians share their experiences about the history of pop and how the voice has been a changing, but indispensable part of it. We can see it through the platform ARTE.tv for free.

In its first chapter, it starts from the premise of the power of pop as a genre in which anyone can be present, without having a prodigious voice like Whitney Houston’s. It is only necessary to have a message, something important to say, and use the vocal cords to do it. We go through the experiences of great artists who have already left us as Freddie Mercury, David Bowie O Janis Joplin, but also of others in active such as The Weeknd O Beyoncé. All of them, at different times and with different styles, have stood out for the power of their voice.

To develop this idea, the music producer Foam T consider that “a voice is magic when it is unmistakable”, and for this, it does not depend on the genre in which it moves or on whether we are facing a better or worse singer. We must also take into account the context and the moment in which we listen to that song, the feelings we have had and what we link it to.

Improvisation versus virtuosity

In arts as personal as music, it is too academic and simplistic to speak of perfection. Producer DJ Koxe denies this concept. “In the music, the voice is always what is considered the most authentic, because it is what comes from the soul, of the body, is not channeled through an instrument, and that magic is that what happens is unpredictable “.

To value his theory, he uses as an example Damon Albarn, the former member of Blur and creator of Gorillaz: “Her voice does not represent beauty, but it has a totally new quality to it. They are new sounds, they seem aliens“he says.

A singer is not a robot or a perfect machine, so the timing of a song is important and depends on many factors. As the producer believes, “the public is not stupid and knows when something is authentic and when it is not. Something very creative comes out of the insecurity of the artists, it has a lot of potential “.

The evolution of the voice in music

The documentary also takes a tour of the history of music. Starting from Billie Holiday, that great voice from which Frank Sinatra he fell in love with a club in New York in the 1930s. A little later it would be he who would melt the hearts of his fans. With Sinatra the concept of crooning, a way of singing that resembles a whisper, in which it seems that the artist is very close to the listener. In the 40s, he became the first great pop star, and for the first time it was possible to be dazzled by the power of the voice through the radio or with a record. Teens can already be with their idol alone at home, a concept that Elvis presley He knew how to take advantage to succeed.

However, times change, and young people need more forcefulness in the songs, not so much harmonious melody anymore. Chuck Berry Y Little Richard They are two great names that will stand out in some time, those of the postwar period, in which it is necessary to identify with voices that resonate in the middle of an oppressive environment. At this time, the Rolling Stones they begin their long journey.


Frank Sinatra, posing next to a microphone at Columbia Recording Studios. / William Gottlieb/Redferns

The voice as the highest political expression

Let’s not forget the other side of the coin. The force of pop has as a direct consequence that black voices are relegated to a niche. As the documentary tells, there is a racist stereotype of what a black voice should sound like that remains to this day: that idea that black is more natural, more wild and authentic. Within this trend, Michael Jackson he was clever: he came from a black history and looked for the ‘white virtues’. How can I represent my soul music in a more polished way? He managed to escape the gender and skin color typecasting of the 80s and rose to stardom with Thriller.

From another point of view, voices that were far from that model also appeared in the 60s, using the voice as instrument to create songs protest against governments. Bob Dylan He stands out in this area as a non-virtuous artist, but with great strength in his voice. He develops a narrative singing style, like a troubadour. In your topics, the singer disappears and the political message remains.

Moved by historical events, the great voices of music also evolve to other places. After the Vietnam War and civil unrest in America we will meet a Jim Morrison with great strength, which showed all its power in The DoorsBut that he didn’t quite fit in, that he didn’t get along with the world. Another example will be Jimi Hendrix, which shows that to stand out in the music industry you just have to have something important to say. The documentary also reviews the masculinities of Robert Plant, the leader of Led Zeppelin, Scorpions Y Sex Pistols, great personalities in their time.

David Bowie, playing the song ‘Rebel Rebel’ in 1974. / Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

And if we look at the less conventional, it is inevitable to talk about Björk. The Icelandic artist is the maximum exponent that one can sound beyond the genre. Transgressing the limits is key for one of the greatest transformers of pop: David Bowie, a true genius who knew how to go beyond the established patterns with his voice.

Has the whole history of pop been told? Has your magic been used up? The digital age raises new questions and new possibilities of expression for people and the voice. All this thanks to the democratization caused by technology and the media diffusion of music.

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