Thursday, May 08, 2008

Two Outstanding Lesser Known Rock Voices

Voices that I could listen to all day and enjoy are those of Mike Smith, fromt he Dave Clark 5, and Burton Cummings of the Guess Who. Both men sang in the 1960s yet represent two different sides of the Sixties. Mike Smith of the DC5 represents the earlier sixties happy, moptop British Invasion rock, while Burton Cummings and the Guess Who are the post-67, drug influenced, socially conscious rock. I always laugh at people of my generation or younger who think that the Sixties were all sex, drugs and rock n roll. The epoch they are envisioning is more 67-74. The Guess Who were definitely a 67-74 band, and the DC5 were definitely a Brit Invasion, pre-drugs band. Two very different performers, yet I love to hear them sing.

Mike Smith had power and did that Bryan Adams sing with your throat all of the time trick, yet he didn't destroy his voice. He also had a softer side, which he pulled out for the ballads. They only had one number one hit because the Beatles were usually occupying the top spot, but the song "Because" is an absolutely perfect pop ballad. Smith wasn't all pansification like so many of today's pop singers; the man could belt out tunes. Many DC5 songs featured horns and drums that sounded like a military parade, and Smith could match the power with his vocals. Most of their tunes were 2-3 mins long tops, and with all of the horns, it didn't hit me until I started to listen to ska, but they sounded like a ska band before ska. Not full ska, but ska-lite. I think Smith's voice, while easily identified with the mid-60s, could have fit in any period, and it would have been fun to hear him on his own. Honestly, how this guy never got his own show at a casino in Vegas amazes me. His voice was crystal clear, great live and powerful. All he lacked was a bit of cheesiness for Vegas.

Burton Cummings is another import who had a tremendous voice that was strong live as well as in the studio. Even through aduio waves, he has an ability to emote the feelings of the song's lyrics. Whent he band took a bluesy route to their music, it fit Cummings' voice to a T. He has a bit of that lounge vibe to his sound. I always enjoyed how every song had this portion where he'd kick it up a notch just to let you know he could. Whether it was the last rap part to "Share the Land", the doh-doh-doh-dohs of "Undun" or the maniacal laughing in the song "Laughing", he managed to bring his A game and really make each song it's own event on an album. Cummings is another guy that I just don't understand why he didn't have a huge solo career. It must be timing with him, as his wife wasn't douchey enough for the late '70s pop-disco scene. He wasn't a singer-songwriter like James Taylor or Dan Fogelberg. Could the bluesy sound have been out of place int he late 70s? Maybe. I find that hypothesis a bit weak as Michael McDonald, Marvin Gaye and Barry White all had big hits in the late 70s. Odd.

I celebrate these songs, these singers, and these groups, because despite lame inductions to a rock n roll hall of fame (lame), these bands are not put into that classic rock rotation on FM radio like Zepplin, the Stones, the Beatles, ACDC, etc. It's as if they were great but just not the exact taste of those music tastemakers for classic rock that have survived. People will always know "American Woman", but will they know who it is by, or that the band that performed it had many other great songs? I don't know. Mike Smith may have passed on this winter, but he and Burton Cummings will live on my playlist forever.

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