Tag Archives: Singing

A Whole Week of Elliott Smith: Coast to Coast

“Coast to Coast” is kind of unexpected as the first song on the  album From a Basement on the Hill that was originally intended to be his next release after Figure 8.  Released in 2004, it ended up becoming a posthumous album, after he died from a stab wounds to the heart. 

“Coast to Coast” is a straight ahead rock song. It  has got big fuzzy, distorted guitars – and of course the multi-layered vocals which were one of his trademarks.  Smith also had his friend Nelson Gary recite some poetry explaining to Under the Radar in 2003:

“I asked this friend of mine to make up something he could say as fast as he could in fifteen minutes about people healing themselves or being unable to heal themselves. While he’s saying this thing there is a main vocal that goes over that.”

The song begins softly with what appears to sound like a distorted orchestra – something that would have been suited to a latter-day Beatles’ song.  And then the actual music kicks in, and the central riff pulls in you.  It’s chunky and distorted – confusing the listener, a theme which also appears in the lyrics.    

 Smith was known for his love of the Fab Four, even claiming that The White Album was the reason that he started making music in the first place.  Even the repeated non-verbal “ahhhhs” beginning at the 2:38 mark are very Lennon-esque.    The song even ends with piano gently playing while numerous voices speak over each other in the beginning – linking together a standard “rock” song with avant-garde effects.  It’s as if Smith was trying to combine the things that he loved about the Beatles in one song – the conventional song, the open heart lyrics, and the experimental.

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Women Singers: Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit”

If I had to pick my favorite female singer, without a doubt it would be Billie Holiday.  Once you hear voice, you automatically know it’s her.  Prior to Billie Holiday, jazz singers did not personalize the songs that they sang.  As a result of being forced to sing standards and Tin Pan Alley songs, she would often sing around the beat and improvise.

Holiday was often quoted as saying that she tried to sing like a horn – and if you listen to her recordings it makes sense.  It’s soothing and she she works around the song, and is not bound by it like many of her contemporaries.

Probably her most famous recording is “Strange Fruit”.  Holiday didn’t write the song  – although it’s associated most with her.   “Strange Fruit” is protest music before Guthrie, Dylan, and Lennon.  Abel Meeropol’s poem about Southern lynching already cuts to the core, but under Billie Holiday’s voice it becomes a tearjerker.

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