Bel Canto

13 November, 2008
Rat Fink

I love beautiful singing, obviously, because I’m a choral director, but it doesn’t stop there. A song has to say something to me in order to be meaningful, or else it’s just so many wasted measures. I love it when a student or friend tells me that a certain song makes him or her cry or feel empowered or angry or whatever. That’s what music is supposed to do: make us feel love, sadness, joy and peace — four of the most extraordinary emotions in the human experience.

I have to find an ethereal combination of lyrics, melody and harmonic structure in order to love a song. [There are exceptions for dance music, however, which I often love simply for the groove.] In other words, music has to talk to me. I cannot have music playing “in the background,” because it’s always in the foreground for me. Strange to say because I’m a musician, but I rarely have music playing in my house when I’m trying to accomplish things (which is often, unfortunately). The music always takes precedence and I can’t get my work done as efficiently.

So what songs “speak” to me? The list is so long and varied that it’s hard to even start it, but I will gi’ it a go.

For this particular little exercise, I will focus on individual singers only, not bands in general.

Bien. Vamos.

A Few of Fink’s Faves, in No Particular Order

  1. James Taylor – “Only One”
  2. Annie Lennox – “Walking on Broken Glass”
  3. Stephen Bishop – “Same Old Tears on a New Background”
  4. John Lennon – “Girl”
  5. Frank Sinatra – “Only the Lonely”
  6. Diana Krall – “Charmed Life”
  7. Stevie Ray Vaughan – “Pride and Joy”
  8. Bonnie Raitt – “Nobody’s Girl”
  9. Bobby Darin – “Beyond the Sea”
  10. Ella Fitzgerald – “Miss Otis Regrets”
  11. Jimmy Witherspoon – “Time’s Gettin’ Tougher Than Tough”
  12. Sting – “Roxanne” (although every time I hear it, I can’t help but think of Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours)
  13. Luciano Pavarotti – “Nessun dorma” from Turandot – quite possibly the most perfect aria in the history of opera. Click the link and watch it.
  14. Anita Baker – “Giving You the Best That I Got”
  15. B. B. King – “Payin’ the Cost to Be the Boss”
  16. Paul McCartney – “Maybe I’m Amazed”
  17. Dean Martin – “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”
  18. Bryan Adams – “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman”
  19. Billy Joel – “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”
  20. Tony Bennett – “Isn’t it Romantic”
  21. Sade – “Smooth Operator”
  22. Don Henley – “Desperado”
  23. Michael Jackson – “Remember the Time”
  24. Glenn Frey – “Heartache Tonight”
  25. Timothy B. Schmit – “Love Will Keep Us Alive”
  26. Harry Connick, Jr. – “Come By Me”
  27. Tom Petty – “Won’t Back Down”
  28. George Harrison – “Something”
  29. Paul Simon – “Still Crazy After All These Years”
  30. Elvis Presley – “Such a Night”
  31. Jamie Cullum – “These Are the Days”
  32. Alanis Morissette – “Uninvited”
  33. Etta James – “A Sunday Kind of Love”
  34. Michael McDonald – “Minute By Minute”
  35. Mel Tormé – “My Foolish Heart”
  36. Johnny Depp – “Epiphany” from Sweeney Todd

Yikes. This was a bad idea. I’m out of time and only about a third of the way done. What does this say about me? I’d rather not know. I might be mental, after all.

If you have a chance, list some of your fave songs and the people who sing them.

Now go and recognize you some beauty today.

Fink out.

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13 November, 2008 10:00 am

You bring up a solid point, but for me the songs don’t need to have lyrics. I’ll take a new spin and list my favorites that don’t need lyrics… 1. “Country Road” (performed by Maynard Freguson, not sure who wrote it.) 2. “Spirit of St. Frederick” 3. “My Funny Valentine” 4. “First Love Song” 5. “As All The Heavens Were A Bell” – Jay Bocook 6. “Aria” for Alto Sax – Bozza 7. The main theme from “Beetlejuice” 8. “Fanfar for the Common Man” 9. “Georgia On My Mind” 10. “Barbossa is Hungry” – Pirates (the first movie, the decent… Read more »

13 November, 2008 2:59 pm

Well you would know far better than I would why ‘Nessun Dorma’ is perfect as “lyrics, melody and harmonic structure” go, although I understand the lyrics. And I don’t dispute the glory of the aria, nor do I dispute Pavarotti’s interpretation as tops- no one, not Domingo, Del Monaco, Gigli or even Caruso can touch his (in far lesser hands, the aria can be a real drag–Paul Potts’ disappointing studio recording one recent example). I would go so far as to say Pavarotti’s voice was the most beautiful and magnificent voice of the 20th century, man or woman. but for… Read more »

13 November, 2008 4:12 pm

Is that Jamie Cullum at number 31? Crazy. I seem to remember a certain former student of yours singing the praises of Cullum, as a certain former teacher of his said he sounded “lazy”. But anywho, I guess here is my top 10, focusing on individual singers. 10.) When I’m 64 – Russell Brand 9.) Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatters – Elton John 8.) You Remind Me of Home – Ben Gibbard 7.) No Other Way – Jack Johnson 6.) Trying to Get to You – Elvis Presley (preferably from the ’68 Comeback special) 5.) Hard Knock Life – Jay… Read more »

13 November, 2008 6:37 pm

My all-time favorite songs all come from The Phantom of the Opera. In fact, the song “The Phantom of the Opera” is my favorite with “Masquerade” in second. I love all the songs from that musical. The music in it is amazing. After all those songs, comes the songs from Grease. My favorite out of those is definitely “There are Worse Things I Could Do.”


13 November, 2008 9:08 pm

Annie Lennox – “Walking on Broken Glass” >REALLY? Paul McCartney – “Maybe I’m Amazed” >i laughed when I saw this, cuz its ur ringtone when u call me hahaa love it 17, 18, 23 I must say mine include (in no order) Smile & When I Fall in Love – Nat King Cole Solitaire – Carpenters Time To Say Goodbye – Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman Pretty Women – Sweeney Todd (my new favorite!) A Love Lke Johnny and June – Heidi Newfield Amazing Grace Hallelujah – Damien Rice Imagine – John Lennon I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe How Do… Read more »

13 November, 2008 10:08 pm

The Texas Top 10:
10. You’re The Hangnail In My Life, And I Can’t Bite You Off
9. I Wish I Were An Oscar Mayer Wiener
8. My Hump (Black Eyed Peas)
7. Concert Bb Scale
6. The Magic Bus Ate My Doughnut
5. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
4. Chopstix
3. The Chicken Song
2. She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy

…and the #1 favorite:
1. Are You Ready For Some Football?! (Hank Williams Jr.)


13 November, 2008 10:33 pm

PS to Stein re: “…songs don’t have to have lyrics…”

Technically by definition, a song _must_ have lyrics of some sort, otherwise it is not a song, but referred to as a composition, a tune, piece of music, etc. Check some online music dictionaries like:
Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary


Dolmetsch Online

To RF: re #11 – I **knew** you’d cite “Porkchop”… man, did that bring back a few memories!!!

(PS… I hope the URLs that I tried to embed came out OK…)


13 November, 2008 11:58 pm

Walking on Broken Glass is one of those songs that gets stuck in your head for months. The chorus haunts me to this day.


14 November, 2008 12:56 am

Don Henley still sings the songs in the same key- so you’re saying that as singers get older they tend not to do this. On average, how drastic is the change- a half step down? a full step? more?


14 November, 2008 9:25 am

I read this yesterday and it kept me thinking for the entire day. I even talked to my friend and bass player Daniel about it, in whom we have had many philosophical conversations pertaining to this topic. It was birthed from my challenge to him in finding the most beautiful songs in the world. I would have to say that all of my leanings fall instrumentally, because I find that lyric can distract me and I am amazed when an instrumental piece can move me to tears (or joy). So your post caused me to really think about the beauty… Read more »

15 November, 2008 12:13 am

….I knew I had heard that somewhere!


15 November, 2008 12:15 am

Okay here are two in my list-
Cavatina from the Deerhunter

Concerto for guitar in D (3rd movement)


16 November, 2008 12:52 pm

By the way I forgot to thank you, RF, for the vocal range lesson- all news to me. A major 3rd is a big drop. And ‘lady tenor’ is a term I’ve never heard before. Lesson greatly appreciated!