Why rock vocals are in such a high register?
August 31, 2009 9:18 PM   Subscribe

Just a curiosity - why do you think that the overwhelming trend in rock 'n' roll / pop style music with male lead vocals is for the male vocalist to sing in a tenor / high tenor / contratenor or higher range - viz. Steve Perry, Triumph, etc.? I just wonder because that isn't the trend so much in other popular music - blues, R'n'B, country, traditional folk, etc. It's simply puzzled me for years and I wonder if MeFi has any theories?
posted by BrooksCooper to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
it's closer in pitch to a guitar solo.
posted by rhizome at 9:45 PM on August 31, 2009

Stand in front of a mic in a practice room surrounded by guitarists turned up to 11 and drummers who can't stop bashing the skins like cavemen and see how quickly you do the same. It's to get yourself heard. Anything lower just won't cut through.
posted by merocet at 9:49 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's to get yourself heard. Anything lower just won't cut through.

yup. it's about cutting the mix ... and maybe something to do with Robert Plant's tight pants.
posted by philip-random at 10:39 PM on August 31, 2009

ha - I was just wondering about this, as I'm singing along with some music, and not really being able to get some of the high notes, but I'm a girl, and the singer is male. interesting answers so far.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:51 PM on August 31, 2009

If you think there's no high lead vocals in R&B, you need to listen to more R&B. (Otis Redding! Smokey Robinson! Al Green! Howard Tate! Prince!)

For that matter, doo-wop had some stunningly high male voices, as did golden age gospel. A lot of the early blues singers got way, way up into their falsetto range. Older country music has a lot of high voices too, although I guess you don't hear it as much now except in bluegrass.

Long story short, Robert Plant and all the Rock Gods that followed in his footsteps were plugging into a long American tradition of ecstatic, soulful high tenor singing. Which isn't to cast aspersions on them — not by a long shot. They made really awesome use of that tradition — in part, like everyone else is saying, by making the wonderful discovery that you can play your guitar REALLY DAMN LOUD and still be heard if your voice is high enough. I'm just saying, this stuff didn't appear out of nowhere.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:09 AM on September 1, 2009

Response by poster: Being a baritone (and a forceful one at that) who dabbles in tenor ranges I had never thought about competing with the guitar - makes sense.

And Nebulawindfdasdfsdf - I agree - not ignoring the R'n'B greats, or jazz greats, or the entire catalog of American bluegrass (with its nasal and high pitched twang) just struck by the utter absence of mid-to-low pitched male voices in Top 40s ish rock and pop.

Makes sense- if the dominant instrument is a strongly amplified guitar at the high end of the range then the voice needs to be there to compete as well.

Thanks all!
posted by BrooksCooper at 12:18 AM on September 1, 2009

Just to provide a little counterpoint, while I agree that the trend in rock is for high-pitched vocals, there are definitely notable exceptions. Consider James Hetfield, Eddie Vedder, Jim Morrison, Rob Zombie, and Phil Anselmo, for instance. Most of them end up singing high notes at times, maybe even most of the time. But, they have at least some songs where the vocals are mostly in the lower end.
posted by epimorph at 3:34 AM on September 1, 2009

If you think there's no high lead vocals in R&B, you need to listen to more R&B. (Otis Redding! Smokey Robinson! Al Green! Howard Tate! Prince!)

Same goes for the country and blues mentioned.
posted by poppo at 5:11 AM on September 1, 2009

Pop music is marketed to teenagers, and teenagers often like their men androgynous or otherwise non-threatening.
posted by box at 5:53 AM on September 1, 2009

Ian Curtis would beg to differ.
posted by Lieber Frau at 9:49 AM on September 1, 2009

There was a comment in an earlier thread with a completely different take on the issue--there's (apparently) a corrolation between falsetto singing and the relative macho-ness of a culture.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:10 AM on September 1, 2009

On the other hand ...

(vocals start at 0:39)

As someone who has always found this annoying because he has a rather bass singing voice, I also think it has to do with competing with the guitar.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:19 PM on September 1, 2009

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