What makes a great pop voice?

As a singer myself, I can be a real snob when it comes to pop voices. I have almost immediate judgments flying out of my head — and sometimes my mouth — as soon as I hear a new singer or band. I may enjoy the overall sound and production or even be willing to give a song another listen — but I’ll know just what I think of the singing the first time I hear it.

I admit, I can be a little unfair. Have I ever changed my opinion when my initial judgment was negative? Of course. Styles of singing have changed and different voices are required to deliver different musical styles and lyric messages. My taste in voices over the years has expanded. Sometimes I can even go back and “discover” voices that I had earlier dismissed. Case in point — the first few Carpenters tunes I heard seemed so thin and packaged to me. Later, I fell in love with Karen Carpenter’s superb control and depth. And even the early songs — that I once sneered at — now delight me. I’ve joined the millions who miss the heck out of that gal.

My favorite female pop vocalists include most of the expected names — Fitzgerald, Vaughn, Streisand, Holiday, Clooney, Anne Murray, Linda Ronstadt, Dusty Springfield, Natalie Cole, k d lang, … But there may be a few surprises on my list, too: Fiona Apple, Karen Carpenter, Ronnie Spector, Signe Toly Anderson, Gladys Knight, Sarah MacLachlan . . . You know this list gets really long, really fast. What you may have guessed is that, first, I look for good vocal quality, then artistic expression, then control, then warmth, then . . . This list is a little long, too.

But before you think my choices are entirely predictable, I’ll admit that I have my share of guilty pleasures, too. Here are a few of them — either songs sung by females or the singers themselves: anything by the Chiffons (but especially “He’s So Fine”), “I Honestly Love You,” By Olivia Newton-John, “Walkin’ in the Sand,” by the Shangri-Las, almost anything by Leslie Gore, Reba McEntire (her politics aside), and Kiki Dee. Remember her?

I’ll revisit this topic and also take a look at my favorite male singers in future posts.

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