Today, my thoughts and blog wander toward ROCK STARS WE'VE LOST, as a deejay's mind ought to, I suppose.
I've been on the radio in Anchorage almost 20 years now (yeah, almost 20... started around '98, and before that I was in clubs and in Armed Forces Radio & TV Service). Like the WKRP In Cincinnati theme says, I've gone up and down the dial-- deejaying formats of 80's retro, easy listening/soft rock, classic rock and others. It has been a privilege to play for you many artists you love. I've spun countless fun songs that come, are enjoyed, and then drop off. But it's the great artists who create songs that last.
Sadly though, I've seen my share of icons pass away. It's always hard to open the mic and say my first words about them right after. Prince, Michael Jackson, George Harrison, Warren Zevon, Johnny Cash, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, John Wetton of Asia, and more have passed away during my tenure on radio.
What makes them not merely successful, but memorable and recognizably great among other artists? Is it writing? Singing? How they play the guitar, drums, or keyboards? I personally believe each of those are just a means to an end-- a vehicle that takes them to a destination, that being the connection made between artist and fan. It's that touching of your heart and soul that makes the artist part of you for the rest of your life.
Vocals and instruments are just tools for the songsmiths. The true mark of an artist is PASSION. We feel it because they feel it and can transmit that emotion right to us. Submitted as evidence, here's one of the greatest of the late & greats; Freddie Mercury of Queen. Strip away the instruments and listen to his raw vocals. It's easy to hear and FEEL along with him the passion of his tortured soul.
It's as if one listens with the heart as well as the ears. Test it on yourself again with the isolated vocals of Queen & David Bowie, another icon lost just last year, combined in Under Pressure.
Here are the vocals from Take It Easy by The Eagles. This is from what seems to be a dusty demo version and I detect about a 4-5% pitch up, making the vocals sound a bit higher. But you can still hear and feel the passion of the late Glenn Frey and his friends. I firmly believe that if the Eagles had ever blown a fuse and fried all of their equipment, they could still have put out a great concert using their voices and a couple of megaphones and nobody would want their tickets refunded... well, except maybe fans who came to hear Joe Walsh's guitar. Can't blame 'em.
In these days of autotune abuse, when lip syncing has become a crime punishable by career death (or at least a social media flogging), it's good to remember that the basics will always apply. If you put the best raw material in, you get the best refined product in the end. That applies to the audio tracks laid down by the artists.
But what sets them apart more than the gifts of good pipes and pitch, skill with notes, and a way with words is the PASSION that drives an artist to blend them all until they are just right, bringing what's inside the artist out. But if you want to further test that for yourself, I invite you to do what I just finished doing-- surf the web and find your favorite songs but add the words "isolated tracks," "isolated vocals," or "acapella" to your search.
All right, enough nostalgia. I've got a show from 2-7pm to do. ~Brian
ROCK TRIVIA: Before I close this blog, let me deliver a piece of Rock Trivia I found fascinating. Within the Eagles' song Hotel California is a tribute to Steely Dan!
It's true. Watch this clip of a Bob Costas interview with Glenn Frey and the writer will explain.