Three Diverse Elvis Songs for Your Brain and Your Pleasure: Elvis Singing Baritone and Tenor in “Crying in the Chapel,” then pure Baritone in “Don’t,” and then pure Tenor in “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” Amazing!!
(New guest blog by Ruddy Adam.)
Our brain loves variety, both subtle and unsubtle. In these three songs we have both. In “Crying in the Chapel,” by Elvis, we get very subtle differences we must listen closely for, because he glides between tenor and baritone like a ship sailing on calm waters with a smooth tailwind. In “Don’t” and “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” we hear Elvis singing one in pure baritone and the other in pure tenor, as if he had two different voices. If you listen closely to what Elvis is doing with his voice in these songs, your brain will love it, and will thus reward you by pouring positive chemicals down through your body, giving you pleasure, and aiding your brain and your overall health.
Comparing singers of the day to Elvis is an excellent way to help show what a superb talent he truly was, and with Elvis we’re covering singers and songs from 1955 to his death in 1977 to make comparisons. In this little piece I’ll make a few comparisons, as well as set the stage for how we’ll be judging and talking about singers we’ll be putting out over this coming year. Some we’ll listen to, as we already have, for the pure enjoyment of hearing them; others, we’ll analyze for the objective talents they have. All in all it should help all of us enjoy the music we listen to much more. That in turn will aid our brains, which is our goal.
Your brain also loves a good, natural voice that sings intone, which Elvis has and does, singing at the very high intone level of 9 and sometimes tapping out a perfect 10. Most other singers during his era, from 1955-1977, sang at about a level 5, one being the lowest, 10 the highest (perfect pitch or perfect tone), and three of those singers, Bob Dylan (Zimmerman), Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young never came close to getting intone, Dylan being from 4-6 degrees out and Young from 2-4 out, and Springsteen slightly less out of tone. Oddly, Elvis was Young’s idol and he says he strove to sing like him. Heavens! He failed! Young is a writer and actually mentions Elvis in a couple of his songs; at least he can recognize talent, but the boy has absolutely no singing qualities that I can find. Dylan is a very good writer, but his singing is worse than Young’s. Springsteen is a decent writer and passionate singer with a throaty voice, so there is an argument for his singing being worthwhile and enjoyable, however out of tone.
Now, let’s review a few things for those who love music, but have never studied it, especially for analytical purposes. Even learning to play an instrument you may not learn these things, so this is going to help them (and everyone) enjoy music even more. It will also lay the foundation for what we’ll be doing over the next year with our music.
Every singer has what musicologists call a “natural voice.” Whether we like a singer’s natural voice or not is quite subjective, and how much we like that natural voice is certainly subjective. I may say, “Elvis has a great natural voice.” Others may say, “His voice is certainly good, but I think other singers had better natural voices.” One may say, “I like Ricky Nelson’s voice.” Another may say, “I like Gary Puckett’s best.” That is fine.
That part of singing, along with the melody (the tune) of a song (and which one someone likes the best), is indeed subjective, but I try to get everyone (young people especially) to say and think along these lines: All of the above mentioned have wonderful natural voices, and because they are different and diverse in their abilities, I like listening to them all. (This type of thinking is much better for your brain and you. To diversify your music listening is one of the best things you can do for your brain, for you, and for your overall health.)
I want to remind everyone at this point, however, that it is pure instrumental music that heals the brain, rewires the brain, and spurs neurogenesis (the building of new cells). Therefore, to help your brain in those areas you must listen to the right kind of instrumental music. Which is light Jazz (no progressive Jazz), Classical music (but not symphonic Classical), nature’s sounds (running water, wind, birds singing, etc.). And definitely no music with a heavy bass sound.
But there are qualities in music that are not subjective: delivery, tone quality, decibel range, vocal range, phrasing, the ability to vibrate (vibrato) the larynx to make changes in the voice, the ability to manipulate the voice (control it or make it produce sounds that it does not ordinarily make), and the ability to hold a note to make it more attractive or to cut it off with grace. Not one singer of Elvis’ era could match him in these objective qualities. Roy Orbison could hold a note, and sang at a fairly high intone level, but that’s all. This is not to say that he was not a great singer, for he certainly was. But limited. Elton John is the only one who could move from baritone to tenor, but his natural voice was weak, and he had none of the other qualities.
For tone quality the teacher I studied trumpet, piano, and music appreciation under (Dr. Buck, whom I called Miss Buck), had a tone-quality machine that used a scale of 1-10 (one being the lowest intone quality, 10 the highest; anything else was out-of-tone), but her ears were so good she could peg the number on the scale of any singer almost every time without the machine. That was part of my music appreciation classes: listening over and over to singers and musicians, learning to peg tone quality and other objective qualities. Whether I thought a singer had a good or great natural voice was my own opinion, though I must admit, she and I most often agreed. But that did not matter; getting to the point that I could judge objective qualities was the goal.
I’ll tell you so you won’t get dejected trying to peg tone quality: It took seven months of my sitting there three to four days a week in front of Miss Buck listening to singer after singer (and at first merely guessing tone quality) before I could finally get close to pinning the right number down. I discovered over the last 60-years that most people, and I’m speaking of people who listen to a lot of music, don’t have any idea about perfect tone or tone quality. That’s the main reason singers can get by with making millions without a scant bit of talent. Neither do most folks understand vibrato, decibel level, or phrasing. This disability lessens their ability to enjoy music, and usually causes them to reduce their listening choices to one type of music, which does not help their brains at all.
Miss Buck’s decibel machine used a 1-5 scale for decibel range, one being singing as softly as possible and five being equivalent to a shout — though both the soft singing and the shouting had to be intone and they had to be true singing; and that’s the problem for singers, because anyone can shout (though not every person can speak in a very soft voice) but not necessarily shout intone. Ricky Nelson had a beautiful natural voice, and sang at a solid 8 on the intone scale, but he had no decibel range at all, and he had no octave range whatever. Neither was he able to use any vibrato or voice manipulation. Still, one of my favorite natural voices.
Soft-singing at a 1-level is not talk-singing, as Elvis did every now and then, or as those Miss Buck called the “orchestra-backed talk-singers” did most of the time: Frank Sinatra (the first to talk-sing after he lost his voice when his vocal cords ruptured in 1949), Steve Lawrence (Sidney Liebowitz), Dean Martin (Paul Crocetti), Mel Torme, Louie Prima, Tony Bennet (Dominick Benedetto), Al Martino (Jasper Cini), Perry Como (Pierino Como) and Andy Williams (the only protestant in the bunch, the only one not born in New York, and definitely the least promoted of the bunch). The only real singer in the bunch was Perry Como, who was a great baritone.
As far as Elvis’ decibel-level range, the “orchestra-backed talk-singers,” who were so highly promoted out of New York back in the day, could hardly get to a 3 on the decibel scale and remain intone (except for Como). Elvis could fly from one to five in live performances still singing at the very high intone quality level he was famous for: 9.
The “talk-singers” intone level was a high of about six on a 1-10 scale (only Como and Williams made it to 7), while, as noted, Elvis’ was a 9 and always drifted higher in a song, and never lower. When I was a pup sitting there watching that intone scale with Miss Buck, I listened to hundreds of singers, and Elvis had the steadiest voice when it came to staying intone at a high level of any pop singer we listened to (only opera singers were more steady; and some of them drifted down on the scale when they were hitting the highest notes in their range). And although the “talk-singers” all had nice natural voices (a couple them very beautiful natural voices, which we’ll get to later), none of them had any more vocal range than 2 octaves and most of them did not have that, while Elvis had the amazing range of 3 octaves (and hit 4 a few times), as we’ve shown earlier.
I urge everyone not to think about whether you like the songs or Elvis’ voice when you first listen to these. Rather — at first — just listen for what I’m pointing out below, because that is what is going to give your brain the diversity it loves. After you do that a couple of times, it will become secondary to your brain and you’ll get the benefits of the diversity without thinking about it.
If we place three levels under baritone and tenor, low, middle, and high, it’ll be easier to hear how Elvis smoothly glided between the two and how he sang within those categories. In “Crying in the Chapel,” he moves from high-baritone to low- and middle-tenor, but sings mostly tenor. This is something no other singer of his era could do.
Evidently it’s because people tend to copy what they hear or read from others, because you will often hear and read that Elvis was a baritone. (It has always been said about him!) However, Elvis was a baritone when he wanted to be; he was a tenor when he wanted to be. Miss Buck said that his voice fell perfectly in the middle of baritone and tenor, which enabled him to sing either one. In this sense he would be as ambidextrous people who can use their left hand as well as their right, and as ambinous people who can use their left and right brains equally well.
Classicists will say that all humans talk and speak in one category or the other yet may be able to move to another, which they would then be called a Coloratura Baritone or Tenor. Elvis was comfortable singing in either category, however. The Germans have a name for it: zwischenfach, which means someone who is perfectly between two singing categories. For our purposes, and it really doesn’t matter what Elvis is called, the point is that he could sing one as well as the other; and we want to benefit from that diverse talent.
In these three songs Elvis does not use his wonderful vibrato talent, something we have already shown his ability to do. Though Miss Buck disagreed in part, because she trained a few singers to be able to use vibrato (to a limited degree), yet she also failed completely quite a lot in this effort, but for the most part, it’s one of those things you’re born with. You either have the ability to do it — or you don’t. Elvis had it.
Song One: Elvis Singing Tenor and Baritone in the Same Song
“I Saw You Crying in the Chapel,” Elvis singing tenor and baritone in the same song, which is one of the amazing abilities he had. Notice how he controls his decibel level, keeping it at no more than 3. This was one of my favorites when I was a kid, mainly because I loved (still do) the way he sings, “I saw you crying in the chapel.” It’s how he holds the first syllable in “Cha-pel” and steals the first letter, “p,” in the last syllable (as in Chaap-el) and sings the end with only the vowel combination, “el,” which is something he often did in songs. It graciously smooths out the word “Chapel,” making it scrumptiously delicious to the ear.
“Crying in the Chapel” is a prayer, and one of Elvis’ favorite songs. Again, mine, too!
I want to remind everyone that Elvis did all these things on his own; he never had a singing lesson, and no producer ever offered him an idea regarding how to sing a song. He heard exactly how he wanted to sing a song in his head before he sang the first word. On the other hand, all the singers mentioned above had producers telling them how to sing songs.
“Crying in the Chapel” by Elvis, 1960 (2:20)
Song Two: Elvis Singing Only Baritone
“Don’t,” Elvis singing middle- to high-baritone. The first video is of Elvis rehearsing “Don’t” and laughing when he sings middle-baritone. Notice how he speeds up the timing early in the song; Elvis was in total control of his music. He was the conductor as well as the singer. That was part of the deal he made with his manager, Colonel Parker. However Elvis wanted to sing a song and whatever songs he wanted to sing and whatever accompaniment he wanted, he was able to do; but what songs got published the producers and Colonel Parker had the final say. Elvis regretted this later on, because they would not publish the many Blues songs he sang, because Blues would not sell back in those days. His daughter has talked about getting the unpublished songs out to the public, but I’ve not heard anything about that in years.
“Don’t,” by Elvis, 1958 (2:35) (practice session)
This is “Don’t,” the song as Elvis sang it. Notice how he has his accompanying singers singing middle-baritone throughout.
“Don’t,” by Elvis 1958 (3:00)
Song Three: Elvis Singing Only Tenor
“I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” Elvis singing only tenor on the Steve Allen Show. 1956 (3:30)
This is about as good as it gets. Elvis in 1956 joking around with Steve Allen, and singing his heart out. Imagine what those of us who saw him back then thought. Wow! There had never been anything like him. A Southern boy, physically beautiful, with a wonderful voice, humble beyond belief, and talented all the way around. And the songs just kept on coming. In 1961, as well as I recall, Elvis had three songs in the Top Five at one time on the pop charts, and two on the Gospel Charts. Difficult to imagine when you look back at it.
And you had people like Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Merle Haggard, and others who began their careers trying to copy Elvis. They tried to sing like him, they dressed like him, and tried to move like him. Each failed and ended up in Country.
Notice in the following song how Elvis’ accompanying singers are also singing (humming) in tenor. No vibrato here, but he does manipulate his voice when he bounces on the word “heart” at 209 — and also on “I” at 205. Check out how gracefully he cuts off the word “more,” rather than holding it. Watch at 330 where, evidently, the old microphone shocked him, which they did a lot up through the `60s. Elvis pulls his hand away, shakes off the shock, grins — and continues singing. A real trooper living out “the show must go on.”
Again, per usual, Elvis turns a simple song into a real beauty. Notice too, in this one, that you see Elvis’ humility and politeness. Now, as I have told you, Miss Buck was no fan, no groupie; she was a professional. But Elvis was in a different class in her eyes. Not only was he superbly talented and handsome, but he was genuinely humble and nice. Throughout Elvis’ life I’ve never heard anyone say anything to the contrary about him.
“I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” by Elvis, 1956 (3:45)
For our brains and our pleasure: Ruddy Adam
Bonus Song: Conway Twitty Singing “Lonely Blue Boy” Copying Elvis
Close your eyes. You’ll hear Elvis, and you won’t hear the later Twitty who sang out-of-tone with a nasal twang in Country. This song was released in 1960 as a pop song, and did very well. But Twitty still could not compete with Elvis. Besides, everyone knew he was merely a copycat. He moved over to Country and became a big star.
Listen closely, because you’ll hear Elvis’ vibrato, which Twitty does very, very well. Notice the excellent Elvis imitation on the first word of the last line. The greatest compliment for an artist: for others to imitate them. Elvis got plenty of compliments — but none of the complimentors lasted. They had to move on to other types of music, mostly country.
Very good song, actually.
“Lonely Blue Boy,” by Conway Twitty, 1960 (2:25)