Alas! all music jars when the soul’s out of tune.
Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), writer
I borrowed the idea of listing singers who move you from Janet at The Art of Getting By. Here is my list. No list attempting to name favorite singers who come across as believable in song and lyrics can start without Billie Holiday heading the list. She originated and perfected the art of singing with emotion. Without her we might still be listening to a bunch of Bing Cosby and Pat Boone type of songs and no saloon songs or rock and roll for that matter. The rest of the list is in no particular order of emotions:
Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit: This song was written especially for Holiday and the pain and prejudice come through loud and clear. Frank Sinatra said many times that he learned to sing with emotion from watching and listening to Holiday. You can pick so many of her songs, when she sings that she is going to love you “Come Rain or Shine,” you believe her. When she sings “God Bless the Child” whose got his own, you know that child has something.
John Lennon – Cold Turkey: The temperature is rising, fever is high, can’t see no future…Cold turkey has got him on the run and we feel as though we now know what heroin withdrawal is like without having to experience it first hand.
Ani DiFranco – Untouchable Face: You feel as though she stopped crying long enough to get this song out. The venom of the chorus stings and you want to almost feel sorry for the guy/girl. She is one note away from being Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.”
Ann Sofie von Otter and Elvis Costello – Broken Bicycles/Junk: Costello combined Tom Waits’ song Broken Bicycles and Paul McCartney’s Junk, this is sung with poetic beauty and the lyrics are great.
Paul McCartney -- Yesterday: comes across as someone who has suffered through life and is now in the bars boring people with stories of yesteryear. Considering McCartney was in his mid-20s is truly exceptional. A plus for lyrics and A plus for singing with feeling to make this either the number one recorded song by other artists or second only to White Christmas.
Bob Dylan – Positively 4th Street: “You gotta a lot of nerve to say you are my friend.” I am not sure there was a more biting first line that not only captures many relationships, but easily translates to the corporate world.
Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven: Because this story is true the song is so much more potent. In case you don’t know, Clapton wrote this about his young child who fell out of the window of his Manhattan penthouse.
Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours: who among us has not wished that your boy- or girl-friend would call late at night apologizing. The stings and Sinatra’s voice in this song are very moving. What make this song all the more powerful is you know Sinatra had been there too.
James McMurtry – We can’t Make it here Anymore: To me this song says what is causing America’s slide into a second rate power while China takes all our and the world’s manufacturing. Hear the song and see the video on my July 4th post.
Miles Davis – Blue in Green: If this song doesn’t send you to the bottle when you are feeling down nothing will. The loneliness and desolation start at the first note.
The Kinks – 20th Century Man: This song just so perfectly sums up the issues of dealing with a modern society.
Neil Young – Needle and the Damage Done: for all those who didn’t go through cold turkey.
Lucinda Williams – Those Three Days: We all feel as though we were used.
Nina Simone – Sugar in My Bowl: combine this with Holiday, Sinatra, and Davis and you’ll either be singing Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” or Young will be singing about you.
Aerosmith – Going Down/Love in an Elevator: Living it up while I am going down for a chorus to be illustrates the rock and roll life. From various interviews Steven Tyler said the song came out of true-life experiences; the elevator even opened up on them in the lobby as they were going to town.
This is by no means a complete list, please add your favorites.