Written by Liz Buckley

Arts

7 Wonders: Boys Who Get High

It’s 7 Wonders playlist time again and Liz Buckley’s back, talking men who hit the high notes.

Led Zeppelin photo: Swan Song.

Led Zeppelin photo: Swan Song.

Prince – Kiss*
Beck – Debra

There’s no beating around the bush: little dudes are good at falsetto. There’s something completely unsurprising about a smaller person having a higher voice, like lined up bottles of varying levels of liquid making different notes when you turn them into beer panpipes. Which we’ve all done, I’ve seen you.

Prince photo: Warner Bros Records.

Prince photo: Warner Bros Records.

Prince is particularly adept at singing in a higher register for what I suspect are entire years at a time without respite – he might even be ‘method’ like a funky Daniel Day-Lewis, and order his tiny lunch in a voice so shrill only dogs could wait his table. This is why Art of Noise & Tom Jones’ huge, deep-voiced/fried cheese cover version of Kiss is so entirely wrong. Contrary to advice, please act your shoe size.

Personally, I’m slightly frightened of Prince. Time has told us that he can pop up at any time without warning, perhaps in my desk drawer, and he does as many as FIVE encores at gigs, like an oversexed chihuahua that won’t let go of your leg.

Beck photo: Gina Ribisi/Capitol Records.

Beck photo: Gina Ribisi/Capitol Records.

Even his middle name is Rodgers. It’s horrific. People tell you to get over your fears by imagining that person or crowd naked but that’s hardly helpful when you’re frightened of someone who’s never, ever bought knitwear.

I was incredibly distressed then, when personal short-man favourite Beck made Midnite Vultures, an album that was essentially his purple period. It was even released in 1999, the bastard. The octave which Beck chose for single Debra was almost as high as my voice when I heard that he’s a Scientologist. Debra is listed as being “tongue in cheek” and having a “cult following” on Wikipedia, which is amusingly judgemental… I didn’t write it. I love you Beck, despite the way you test me. Kiss me.

Antony and the Johnsons – You Are My Sister

Antony photo: Secretly Canadian/Rough Trade.

Antony photo: Secretly Canadian/Rough Trade.

Being very much of a larger stature, Antony’s pitch always comes as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t previously heard the band’s music. There’s an ever-present vibrato wobble to the tone that makes Antony sound much more fragile than her appearance, and the orchestration behind the voice is beautiful, to the point you end up wanting to get on stage and turn the sheet music, in case it’s a bit heavy.

The name of the band is inspired by transgender rights activist Marsha P Johnson and Antony was championed by fellow transformer Lou Reed before success came, the theme throughout their work being freedom and metamorphosis.

When you listen to her voice, she does indeed sound like she’s soaring. It’s a triumph of strength in fragility and of clarity of identity and Antony is a beautiful heroine.

Led Zeppelin – Black Dog
Jeff Buckley – Last Goodbye

Even if you’re initially unsure whether Robert Plant’s falsetto was down to his tight trousers or having caught a chest hair in his jumpsuit, it quickly becomes very attractive. Unlike Prince’s honey-smooth falsetto, which I imagine to also be the singing voice of the Caramel Bunny when off camera, Robert Plant’s falsetto somehow manages to be as high as anyone after a stubbed toe AND have the gravel of a man who smokes as an experiment for medical science.

It’s the benchmark for all male heavy rock acts to follow and most of them end up dead on the rocks or eaten by a Kraken trying. It’s no surprise that voice of an angel(™) Jeff Buckley, The Face of Falsetto if you will, could do an amazing (and highly amusing) impression of Robert Plant.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Zeppelin were gods to Jeff Buckley, just as they should be to all right-minded and low-voiced people. Jeff Buckley was five foot seven, for the purposes of a control experiment.

Jeff Buckley photo: Columbia.

Jeff Buckley photo: Columbia.

Little Richard – Long Tall Sally
Paul McCartney – I Saw Her Standing There

Little Richard photo: Speciality Records.

Little Richard photo: Speciality Records.

Rodgers, Johnson, Little Richard – stop going on about dicks, Liz!

Well I can’t, as unlike Antony and Jeff, Little Richard’s falsetto is far from angelic. He’s gloriously dirty.

He totally bam-boom-zled the wholesome music fans of the age with his leg-over piano humping, full face of make-up, lothario pencil moustache, ostentatious stage outfits and gender-blurring.

The Beatles proudly took lessons from him in how to be sexy, even lifting his trademark high “woos” for I Saw Her Standing There while the young Rolling Stones were his support act and budding students.

It’s no overstatement to say Little Richard is the forerunner to all rock and roll and, sure enough, he’s the inspiration for the first song on the first Beatles album.

As a master of gospel, funk AND R&B and in command of both a raspy, alpha male scream AND high-pitched femininity, this performer had the lot.

Paul McCartney photo: Virgin EMI Records/Hear Music.

Paul McCartney photo: Virgin EMI Records/Hear Music.

Coming from a highly religious family in a time of segregation and its connected poverty, he could hardly have been more up against it, but he flamboyantly steamed through all barriers to remove the colour divide at his gigs and cross over from R&B chart placings to number one in the main pop charts.

All types of prejudice were no longer stopping this million selling artist – EVERYONE wanted to see him, together. His complete lack of inhibition was contagious. *throws Paul McCartney’s pants in the air* WOO!

* Apologies to Prince fans: shortly after publication, the ever-mercurial sex-pixie snatched his song back from our 7 Wonders Spotify list.

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Written by Liz Buckley

Department manager at an independent record company. Liker of Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. Very sudden laugh. Pasty but tasty. Quite tired.