What Makes a Good Song “Good”?December 6, 2022
We’ll Do It LiveDecember 19, 2022
I’m sure this list has already pissed off quite a few people and we haven’t even gotten started yet.
“Why’d you leave him off the list?”
“You really put him in the number 3 spot?”
People, people…calm down. This is MY personal favorite list. Not the definitive, who are the greatest vocalists of all time or anything, but just my own personal favorites. These are the vocalists who have inspired me the most. Okay? Are we calm? Swords have been sheathed? Guns holstered? Torches doused? Good, now we can move on with the list.
#4. Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge)
This is a guy who I consider to be maybe the best modern male vocalist alive and working right now, in any genre. His range. His tone. His control. The dude has got it all. Ironically, when I first heard Mr. Kennedy sing, I recoiled in disgust. Not because he was bad, but because I was a devout Creed acolyte and the other members of this new band, Alter Bridge were the former members of Creed(minus our good friend Scott Stapp of course). The song was “Open Your Eyes” off Alter Bridge’s debut album, “One Day Remains”. Now, I didn’t hear it from the album itself, rather I heard it through a different means. A bygone age where rock music was appreciated and celebrated across all mediums for us youths to ingest. I’m talking about Madden 2005, the yearly football video game release. That song, albeit an edited down version(a mixture of choruses and inter-laden “ooo’s” and “aahh’s”), was on the soundtrack that would play while you weren’t in an actual game. I found myself affixed to the sound of his voice and I was quickly converted. I felt dirty about it, but the sultry and silky nature of Myle’s voice was too much to deny and I decided to veer off the current path and take that other means of crossing over an untraversable span. I took that ALTERnate BRIDGE….I’m sorry about that. I don’t know what came over me. I mean I do know, but I’m not proud of it. Whatever. Anyway, from that point on Myles has been a huge inspiration of mine from a vocal standpoint, a frustrating inspiration, but an inspiration nonetheless. Frustrating because I lack the vocal prowess to sing most of his stuff, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. Here are two of my favorite performances of his. One is a studio performance, the other is a live performance. Enjoy!
#3. Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave)
I first heard Chris Cornell on MTV’s Total Request Live(TRL). I think this must’ve been in 2003 at some point, since that’s when the song was released, so I was in 8th grade. When I got home after school, I would always sit down to watch the countdown for top new music videos, or whatever it was that they did back when music was the main focus of Music Television. The video for a song titled “Like a Stone” from a band named Audioslave, came on. I was instantly drawn to the tone of his voice and this kind of lackadaisical drawl approach to his phrasing. It was eerie, and I loved it. I hadn’t heard anyone else sing like that up to that point in my life. I had no idea he even had other bands he fronted dating back into the late 80’s, let alone was a member of one of the Seattle 4 of the grunge era. His career is so wide-ranging, and so far-reaching, it’s insane. I really think there was nothing he couldn’t sing. He could take on any style and somehow nail it to absolute perfection. Transforming songs and molding them into his solo acoustic stuff is probably the ultimate highlight for me personally when looking at his career. The best example of that is when he took the instrumentation of U2’s “One” and matched it with the lyrics of Metallica’s “One”. That is a special talent, even though it was technically an accident. He made the error while trying to find the U2, “One” lyrics, but when he punched “One lyrics” into Google, the Metallica “One” came up first, but he decided to use them anyway. The result was breathtaking. I’d give anything to have heard a studio version of it. His ability to pull that high-pitch grit and somehow achieve a gravely smoothness to his voice is the stuff of legend. Soulful aggression. I definitely try to borrow from this guy at times when it comes to some phrasing, or rolling off endings of words. He was so good at that and it never sounded unnatural or “wrong”. Don’t even get me started on his vocal breaks (another area I borrow from). Masterful. Unfortunately, he tragically died a few years back, but he will forever be one of my favorites and may he rest in peace. Here are two of my favorite performances of his. One is a studio performance, the other is a live performance. Enjoy!
#2. M. Shadows (Avenged Sevenfold)
I only just realized this, but this one is yet another vocalist that I first caught wind of on a Madden game. So let’s hear it for that game series! This time it was on Madden 2004’s musical soundtrack, and the song was titled “Chapter Four” off of Avenged Sevenfold’s, “Waking the Fallen” album. Screamy and harsh, but yet somehow melodic. It was a sound I wasn’t really into at the time. Admittedly, I’m not much into screaming in general for vocal tastes even now, but that’s just me. This song had me hooked from the instrumentals right off the bat, but it was when the vocals kicked in that something changed inside me. The wonderful mix of aggressive distortion, melodic cleans and haunting harmonies swept me off my feet into the fandom of the band and especially of its singer. Shadows was one of those guys at the time in my life, who I also liked simply because he just looked so fucking cool. It seems silly to say now, but so much of what we are into in our teens is based on whether or not it “looks” cool, and I was no exception as a 13/14 years old kid. I was into all of it. The bandana, the tattoos. Dude was pretty jacked at the time too. A time where I was probably hovering around the 100 pound mark. Granted, I would barely eclipse the 130 pound mark by the time I graduated high school and I was 6 feet tall. String bean alert! Anyway, Shadows was beyond cool, but what made him really resonate with me was that his vocals were incredible. Through the years, my love for him as a vocalist only grew, with his techniques and approaches changing and improving with each and every album. I think my favorite iteration of his vocals was on their self-titled release. His ability to sing with pure grit across his entire vocal range is truly astounding and something I’ve tried to work on personally and somehow incorporate into my own frankensteined vocal style. A lot of it comes from his nasally approach to certain phrases or vowel sounds. It just clicks with me intrinsically and it has definitely bled into my singing for sure. His nasally approach was nowhere more apparent than on the City of Evil record, which admittedly, upon re-listening, sometimes it can be a bit much. Luckily, he finds his footing from there on out. In no way was his approach “bad” on that album, but you could tell he was still just finding himself vocally, especially coming from a more metalcore background on the previous records when they were just starting out. Oddly enough, that was the album where I truly fell in love with his voice and he carved himself a spot on my Mount Rushmore of vocalists. City of Evil marked the departure from the scream-heavy approach, and more to the Avenged Sevenfold that people know and love today, and I think they’re all-the-better for it. They have such a unique vocal style across the board. Not just with Shadows main vocals, but with all the incredible Danny Elfman-inspired harmonies on their songs too. His clean singing is such a wonderful compliment to his distorted grit and creates a striking contrast in sound that really gives their songs a quality that makes their band unique and stand out amongst the rock genres. Here are two of my favorite performances of his. One is a studio performance, the other is a live performance. Enjoy!
#1. James Hetfield (Metallica)
To no one’s surprise, this is my number 1 favorite vocalist of all time. Anyone who knows me or has heard Ronin’s music can likely tell that Hetfield has had a big influence on me. His delivery and approach to singing is legendary and has been emulated since they first burst into the scene with Kill ‘Em All in 1983 (6 years before i was even born!). Hundreds–likely 1,000’s–of rock/metal vocalists have emulated his sound, style and tone since then. I might go as far to say that no one’s style has been emulated more than Hetfield’s in the rock genre. I have proudly incorporated his style into my own vocal approach and techniques. Something about his voice is so perfect for rock and metal music. It was like placing guitar distortion on vocals and it worked beautifully. It was the late 90’s and I must’ve been about 10 years old. I was at my father’s friend Johnny’s house on a random football-sunday with him. It was one of those weird weeks where no one there wanted to watch the 4 o clock game. Usually, we’d go out back and throw the football around, but this week they decided to throw on a VHS concert. It just so happened that it was the Live Shit: Binge and Purge Metallica box set. It’s hard to even explain what happened to me in that moment but it stuck with me forever. I didn’t immediately become a fan, but about 2 years later, when I was in 7th grade, I heard a song that sounded familiar and it was “Enter Sandman”. It took me right back to that football sunday; in that living room watching that box set. The first notes of Sandman being played in an absolutely incensed arena in San Diego 1992. Then, Enter Hetfield. Power beyond comprehension. Presence beyond compare. I was awestruck and even though it didn’t have that immediate effect in that moment, hearing Sandman a couple of years later triggered those sensations and visuals. I was all in from that moment on. I began singing along with him religiously. I pretty much wore out my Sony Discman, along with my copies of Load, ReLoad and S&M on CD. It was a period of unimaginable exploration for me. I remember frustrating my chorus teacher in 8th grade because I was trying to add snarls or grit to vocals in choir and during my Nyssma solo. Even though she was 100% totally right, I wasn’t happy. It was a valuable lesson to learn though, and one that Hetfield was teaching me too. Everything doesn’t need to be smothered in grit. Use when appropriate. That was a mantra I took to heart. Hetfield, like Shadows, was another guy I idolized because I wanted to just be him. He was so cool that cool didn’t even seem fitting for it. It wasn’t a cool enough word. Everything about him oozed “bad-ass”. I can remember doing his power stance while headbanging and singing along to the songs with my cousin in his room for hours and hours. I modeled my “fashion style” of what I saw him wearing in magazines and pictures, but it all started with his voice. To this day, it still resonates as much as it did over 20 years ago when I first heard it. No one attacks a phrase quite like him. No one finishes a phrase like him either. Such a distinct vocalist. He may not be as traditionally technical of a “singer” as some, but the character he brings to the voice and the performances is what makes him one of the all time greats. He continues to influence and inspire me to this day and I can’t wait to see what comes next. His latest effort on Metallia’s recently released single “Lux Æterna” is incredibly melodic, while maintaining his trademark grit, and if that’s an indicator on the overall sound for the new album, I’m over the moon. The mother fucker is still out there on the road doing it at an incredibly high-level for a 59 year old man who has seen his fair share of the road already. Quite frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I love the man. Hetfield is the best. This being my number one choice, here are three of my favorite performances of his. One is a studio performance, the other two are live performances. Enjoy!
And with that, my Mount Rushmore of vocalists is complete.
Onwards and Upwards