December 11, 2006
Buckley is the finest singer of the 1960s. That will raise
some eyebrows (including mine, if I think too hard about
it), and it's maybe a little exaggerated given the rarefied
company of other contemporary artists such as Aretha Franklin,
Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, and Van Morrison. But the point
is that everybody knows Aretha, Otis, Marvin, and Van, and
almost no one knows Tim Buckley.
is too bad, because his voice was a force of nature, and
his music was as restlessly creative and searching as any
music released during that incredibly fertile decade. You
want to discover the template used by sadsack romantics
from Nick Drake to Elliott Smith? Listen to Tim Buckley
or Goodbye and Hello.
want to hear jazz magically ported to the folk idiom? Listen
to Happy/Sad or Blue Afternoon. You want to
hear a guy who was as avant-garde and "outside" as Ornette
Coleman or Captain Beefheart? Listen to Lorca or
Starsailor. You want to hear one of the great soul albums
of the early '70s? Listen to Greetings from L.A.
if you want to hear it all merged and taken to dizzying
soulful heights, listen to Dream Letter, maybe my
favorite live album ever.
guy had a four-octave range, he oozed soul, and his early
ballads (Once I Was just slays me, after all these
years) were heartbreakingly lovely. That's a pretty great
combination, enough to convince me that there's at least
minor heartbreak in the fact that his music is all but forgotten
yeah ... Tim's son Jeff was (yes, sadly, was) pretty great,
too, and his debut album Grace is frequently listed
in the Top 100 Albums of All Time lists that curmudgeonly
critics like to compile.
here's the deal: Tim was better. You owe it to yourself
to check out his music.
Posted by Andy Whitman at 8:57 AM
Kohn said... is there really such a thing as a four octave
vocal range? Start with the famous "high c" which brilliant
operatic sopranos can sing. Count 4 octaves below that.
You get a note so low that it is 2 half steps below the
lowest note Mozart ever wrote for an operatic bass voice.
Johnny Cash does actually sing this note on one of my albums-
probably the lowest note I've ever heard sung.
Andy Whitman said... "is there really such a thing as a
four octave vocal range?" I don't know, Fred. You're probably
right. All I know is that the words "Tim Buckley" and "four-octave
range" are virtually synonymous. See
Rolling Stone (" ...live versions of "I've Been Out
Walking" and "Troubadour" showcase the joyous elasticity
of his four-octave range" and Follow
the Music ("A doomed angel with a four-octave voice
and a bad habit") and Zmag
("At the heart of this search was Buckley’s soaring
four octave voice") if you're interested. I've never tried
to gauge Tim Buckley's range by sitting at the piano and
playing notes when he was singing. I do know that he could
sing a whole mess 'o notes, and some of them were really
high and some were really low.
John McCollum said... Falsetto counts?
Kohn said... Falsetto counts? In my book, yes, which is
what makes things difficult. I can almost believe that a
person could have a genuine 4 octave singing range. I would
just like to see some real documentation, not vague claims.
tell you what does not count in my book: lowering one's
voice by drinking a lot of milk and honey for one session
and claiming this as the lower end of your range. Or growling
and shrieking into a mic and using a pitch analyzer to determining
high and low end of a range. And certainly not using electronic
means to raise or lower the extremes of your voice for a
McCollum said... Sitting on the couch I can eke out 3.8-ish
octaves, so I can imagine Buckley having 4 octaves. I can't,
however, imagine it sounding good. (My really low notes
sound like Johnny Cash after a four night bender, but they're
notes. My high notes sound like mating Chihuahuas, but they're
real notes.) Mariah Carey has a documented (recorded) 4+1
step octave range of real singing notes. She can, apparently,
squeak out close to 5. But I'm sure it's as painful to hear
as it is to sing.
Kolb said... Four octaves doesn't seem completely impossible
for men, although I am a little skeptical. I wouldn't be
surprised is someone like Bobby Mcferrin could go from middle
C+or- two octaves. I've personally heard a few men eek out
a high C (which is certainly NOT reserved for brilliant
operatic sopranos, although they sound better up there).
there are quite a number of choral pieces that go down to
the low C. Tchaikovsky's Vespers go to a B-flat. All that
to say: I was pretty skeptical at first, but I wouldn't
be too surprised if there were a few great male vocalists
out there with four octaves.
the other hand, the stuff about Mariah Carey is bull. She
may be able to produce some vibrations that register at
whatver Hertz correspond to a 3-high C, but that's not singing.
There's no way she goes below C one-below-middle-C, so I
don't believe more than 3.5 octaves for her.
one man's falsetto is another man's head voice is another
man's full voice. They're not really discrete styles of
singing. I'm interested in checking out Tim...but not for
his 4 octaves!
McCollum said... Fred, Interesting link. Listen to the Mariah
Carey clip. Not a fan of her music, and I think this sounds
pretty awful, but I'd be hard pressed to say it's not technically
'singing.' It's on pitch, and it's part of the melody. Some
of the other
links are pretty, um, asounding as well.
McCollum said... Oh, whoops. The last comment was mostly
directed at Jeff Kolb. Hi, Jeff. I'm John. All this having
been said, I really liked the Tim Buckley stuff. Heard a
little of it before, but I'm glad I gave it a second try.
Fred Kohn said... gentlemen, this stuff is all very interesting,
although academic. There is a more serious issue. about
10 years ago I had a conversation with a woman at work.
She told me that her 11 year old daughter had such an incredible
voice she had already developed a 5 octave range.
expressed some incredulity (perhaps with a bit less grace
than I should have) and asked her what the upper and lower
limits of her daughter's voice were. She replied something
like, "Are you doubting me? I love music. I listen to it
all the time. And I know what a 5 octave range sounds like
and my daughter has one."
made me sad for the daughter who had a mother who told everyone
who cared to listen (and everyone who didn't) that her daughter
had a 5 octave range. There is even the possibility of harming
her voice by constantly trying to stretch her range at that
(or more likely their publicity people) are making more
and more ridiculous claims about their vocal ranges. Apparently
s omebody somewhere made the claim that Mariah Carey had
a seven octave vocal range and enough people believed it
that snopes had to debunk it.
think that people who are in a position to debunk (or verify)
these claims should take every opportunity to do so.
McCollum said... Now SEVEN is a number I wouldn't believe.
Four or five is demonstrable. I'll take a great singer with
two octaves over a screecher with 9 octabes any day.
Kohn said... Wow this has been so much fun. Join us next
week when we discuss who the loudest rock band is. My money
is on "Truth
Cell" which regularly reaches levels over 200 decibels.