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The Queen of Soul-ed Out?

Yesterday, I saw a link to a leak (why do they call it that? Just say it’s an early release or something, it’s not like a sniper’s hunting down these people) of a song from Aretha Franklin’s new album, consisting of cover songs. I looked at the track list, and Aretha made some good choices. What stuck out the most, obviously, was the first track, “Rolling in the Deep” by the ever-popular Adele. “This should be good,” I thought, not really knowing what to expect.

So I clicked on the link, and was presented with a studio cut of the song, which sounded pretty good for a 72-year-old, minus the annoying backing vocals, especially when they launch into “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” towards the end of the song, which has nothing to with Adele or the point of “Rolling in the Deep” or anything. I think they had to put it in there so Motown fanatics could hop on board, because change is scary.

And then I saw the comments.

Most of which implied that the recording used (with or without the Queen’s knowledge) the dreaded AutoTune, scourge of the music industry and sworn enemy of music purists. I took another listen, and I honestly couldn’t tell much of a difference. Every now and then, I would hear something that sounded a bit non-human, but for the most part, it’s Aretha, and very much so.

Other comments directed me to Aretha’s recent performance of the song on David Letterman. The first thing I noticed was “wow, Aretha looks great.” My second thought? “This does sound different.” Granted, that’s the thrill of the live performance; you hear things that might not be there on the recording. No two performances sound alike, and there were a few moments where Aretha backed up from the mic and I missed a word, or she rushed through a lyric, or something. It sounded similar, but not the same as the recording, but it’s still the Queen of Soul.

My thoughts?

Of course, AutoTune is evil, but that’s only when the powers that be use it for nefarious purposes, like making a bad singer sound good or making someone sound completely different (in a good or bad way) from how they actually sound. However, there are probably some benefits to pitch correction. If time is of the essence, it can be a quick fix on a 95% perfect take, just so everyone can go home an hour earlier. On the original cast recording of The Pajama Game, there’s one song that always bothered me, “Once-A-Year Day.” In the recording, Jerry Orbach (who was not a young man at the time), stops mid-word to wheeze. It’s a very obvious wheeze. and it’s also very obvious that it’s not in the song. If they had used AutoTune, they probably could have corrected it, or at least modulated it a little bit. That’s the good side of AutoTune; masking one obvious mistake from an otherwise perfect take.

Even if there was some pitch-matching software involved, it’s still a very good recording and sounds very much like the singer. Also, she’s seventy-two years old, and with age comes vocal changes and fatigue, so I think she’s earned the right to use AutoTune to make a decent song then have a raspy, pitchy track that critics will tear up.

Hear it for yourself here:

The Studio Version

The Letterman Version

What do you think?

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Radio Radio

I upgraded to an iPhone 5 shortly before New Year’s Day, and transferred all my data onto it. I have 680 songs on it already from my previous iPhone, but they’ve barely been listened to.

That is because I have discovered the free, wonderful, FREE, new, FREE feature on the new iPhone, iTunes Radio. According to its Wikipedia, it’s been available to Apple users since the launch of iOS 7 on September 18, 2013, so I haven’t been living under a rock for too long.

Radio has a very special place in my heart for a long time. It made car trips bearable, whether it was playing in the car or on my pre-Walkman handheld radio. Listening to the radio helped my bond with my mom. As an adolescent/teenager of the 1960s and 70s, the oldies station was the go-to station. Hits by the Beatles always made car trips go faster. My mom’s favorites, however, were Motown hits: Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Shirelles, Martha and the Vandellas, and of course Diana Ross/The Supremes. The first song I remember learning all the lyrics of (and I know A LOT of song lyrics) were “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, followed by Phil Collins’ “(You) Can’t Hurry Love” – kind of odd for an early 1990s kid, but that’s the music that’s always stayed with me.

The Queen of Soul

The radio itself was exciting – it was always heartwarming when an old favorite came on, or that song that you’d really wanted to hear that day. It was unpredictable; they could play five awesome songs in a row, then a bunch of duds. Sometimes it seemed to be all commercials. There were times when we’d hear the same song several times in a day, then not hear it again for awhile. Usually it would be a welcome reunion, as if with a long-lost friend. Sometimes there were songs that were good on first listen, but hearing them over and over made me despise them. For some reason, the oldies station liked to play two Herman and the Hermits songs, “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter,” and “I’m Into Something Good.” It became so bad that I cringed whenever I heard the opening chords of “I’m Into Something Good,” the radio was turned off immediately and not turned back on for at least four minutes, to prevent scanning stations and happening upon it once again.

In recent times, I’ve had worse luck with radio stations – in Houston, there were about three good ones, but in Madison, there are absolutely no good radio stations. So I’ve had to resort to iTunes for long rides, and when I get bored, the occasional battery-life-draining YouTube song. Even though iTunes radio doesn’t solve my problem on the road (it only works via WiFi, but who knows, that might change), it’s completely redefined the soundtrack of my life. Instead of listening to Sade singing “Smooth Operator” and having to press repeat until I fall asleep, I put on Jazz Vocals and I’m out by the second song. I wake up in the morning with a half-dead battery since I’m not in my apartment where my lamp-charger is, but that’ll change next week.

They’ve got an impressive array of stations with extensive choices, but I’ve got a few that I just keep going through until I’m bored of the station or have used up all my skips for the hour (not the day, fortunately!). My go-to stations are 80s Pop Hits, Jazz Vocals, Smooth 90s Pop, 90s Radio, DJ @iTunes – Decades, Smooth Pop, Smooth 00s Pop, Smooth 80s pop, and Spin the Globe. I also have Hits of the 80s, World Showcase, African Radio, and Pop Singer/Songwriter, but I usually end up skipping through those, resulting in a smart selection of music because you can tell it to never play a certain song. Call me late to the game, but that’s a new one for me. It even shares that info with other stations; now that I’ve asked it not to play “Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden, a song I truly madly deeply despise, on 90s Radio, whatever station has that song in their rotation, like Smooth Pop or Smooth 90s Pop, will adapt to this information. You can also save songs that you like so you don’t forget the titles when you want to listen to them elsewhere.

The late great June Christy. Seriously, how cute is she?

It’s alerted me to songs I haven’t heard from artists I know, such as Selena‘s “I Could Fall in Love” (I kind of always associated her with “Dreaming of You,” which I don’t particularly like – sorry for judging you so quickly, Selena) and “Brave,” by Sara Bareilles (which I just added to the list since it just came on Smooth Pop). And like any good radio station, has turned me on to some artists I’ve never heard before, like Mads Langer (“Heartquake”), Orlando Cachaito Lopez (“Mis Dos Pequenas”), Bahamas (“Caught Me Thinking”), Wasis Diop (“Everything Is Never Quite Enough”), and since I’ve really gotten into vocal jazz in the past year, some great singers that have somehow been hiding from me, like June Christy, (“Something Cool”) and Anita O’Day (“Let’s Face the Music and Dance”). There’s a duet of Carmen McRae and Sammy Davis, Jr. on a cute song called “Happy To Make Your Acquaintance,” which upon further investigation comes from a little-known musical, The Most Happy Fella, (it sounds awesome as a jazz duet – it’s from a musical, obviously).

I used to have a rule that if you ride in my car and the radio is playing, you must sing or get out of the car. (Usually not strictly enforced.) With iTunes Radio, my OCD side has started with making rules. The first one is: if it’s a song that’s already on my iPhone, I must skip it, because it defeats the purpose of The Radio.

Unless it’s a really, really good song.

I’m so bad at following my own rules, but sometimes it be like…