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Higher and higher

Here is a music cliché that pisses me off: that a singer who is able to hit high notes must have a problem with testicular position, constriction or development. Or maybe I’m just being sensitive because I can do a mean falsetto and the contents of my scrotum are in perfect working order (too much information, right?). In honour of all men who can hit the high notes, here are some of the best:

Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire has a good claim to be the king of falsettoists. Check out the live version of the magnificent “Reasons” when he goes into duel with the alto sax. But Bailey demonstrates the skill it takes to sing falsetto not when hitting the glass-shattering high notes, but when he goes down deep (listen to his “ba-a-a-aby” just before the sax comes in).
Earth, Wind & Fire – Reasons.mp3

They say “Keep On Trucking” was the first disco hit when it reached the US #1 in 1973. By then, Eddie Kendricks had already established his legendary status as a member of the Temptations. The falsetto you hear on “Get Ready” is Kendricks’. I’d say in the battle of ’60s falsettos, Eddie wipes the floor with the chipmunkish novelty yelpings of Frankie Valli.
Eddie Kendricks – Keep On Trucking.mp3

Closer to the Valli sound was Eddie Holman, who had a hit with the cute “Hey There Lonely Girl” in 1970. This signalled the emergence a whole string of falsetto-dominated soul acts throughout the ’70s. Most, like the excellent Chi-Lites, the Delfonics, the Manhattans or the more poppy Stylistics, alternated the high pitches with deeper voices. Some, like Blue Magic led with the falsetto “” and it was beautiful. These acts enjoyed a fair run of success. Poor Jimmy Helms remained a one-hit wonder. His exquisite falsetto on “Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse” suggests that this was a musical tragedy.
Eddie Holman – Hey There Lonely Girl.mp3
The Chi-Lites – Stoned Out Of My Mind.mp3
Blue Magic – Sideshow.mp3
Jimmy Helms – Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse

By the ’80s, the falsetto had become unfashionable, perhaps because of its association with disco acts (if so, then unfairly so). There were a few exceptions, but even then, only a handful found commercial success. One singer cruelly denied such recognition was Paul Johnson, the bespectacled British soulster whose joyful 1987 single “When Love Comes Calling” was one of the finest recordings in its genre in the decade (oh yes), and arguably the finest falsetto performance of the past 25 years. I can think of only one rival to that claim: Prince (or “symbol”, as he called himself then) singing “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”.
Paul Johnson – When Love Comes Calling.mp3
Prince – The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.mp3

Lastly, an artist whose gentle countertenor would sometimes slip into a most restrained falsetto and back again: Curtis Mayfield. This song is not a falsetto, and I’m posting it gratuitously because it is a most beautiful song most beautifully performed. Released just a few weeks before the accident that robbed Curtis of his mobility in August 1990, this belongs in the canon of Mayfield’s absolutely greatest hits. But nobody seems to have picked up on that. You judge:
Curtis Mayfield – Do Be Down.mp3

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  1. Casey
    July 10th, 2007 at 23:53 | #1

    This is some cool sounds.Really good stuff!Props!

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