Summary: Popular Contemporary and Easy-listening Singer Songwriters
Several singer-songwriters are renowned in popular music (20th-21st century) for having had their songs interpreted in the various music styles that define it. It is the field is often so-called ‘commercial’ music. The singer-songwriter is no-longer the sole ‘creator’. They often share part of the process with a producer. The producer tends to make the song more ‘appealing’ and/or ‘entertaining to the mass audiences. This is also part of the general standardisation that has been deemed ‘necessary’ in view of internationalisation of markets.
Different styles of production will tend to define the music style of the song which fleshes out the song. The style typically mirrors a particular age. However, the heavier the production, the more the melodies and more often the lyrics are lost in the process. This seemingly benefits a more ‘general’ feel. The aim is to alienate as few listeners as possible. The reflective aspect of the singer-songwriter genre is often lost for the benefit of the entertainment aspect which many have deemed ‘less serious’. This has led these types of singer-songwriters to often be overlooked. Only the very, very best being acknowledged by obligation. There has even been a case of re-categorisation of music styles by labels to separate ‘serious’ music from ‘commercial’ (deemed soulless). Teenager-type music split from more adult sounds. Those separations mean to reconquer any lost audience. The creation of the ‘adult contemporary’ and ‘alternative’ music style were an example of such doings.
However, facts are independent of our opinions or acknowledgement of them. In addition and fortunately, although these songs might be better known by their popular interpretation, they have increasingly been heard stripped of the frills of too much over-production, over-harmonisation and/or over-instrumentation to reconcile the listener with the song or maybe just to fit in with yet another new trend. And so the experiment to create a style that unifies and attracts the audience carries on.
Every generation or so creates their set of popular music styles no doubt inspired from previous ones and their own contexts. Popular singer-songwriters therefore span various music styles including Adult contemporary (if ever it really exists) such as Dianne Warren. The R&B genre has R. Kelly and Babyface. Hip-Hop and Rap has the likes of Eminem, Missy Elliott, Drake and MC Solaar. Craig David once dominated the Urban scene. Bob Marley arguably made Reggae popular enough to be included here.
Some other known Artists in the genre include British diva Elton John, French songstress Mylène Farmer, American icon Michael Jackson, the so-callled King of Pop. British singer-songwriter, turned songwriter Cathy Dennis is the creator of more than one successful pop songs. Her most successful creation is Toxic. American princess of Pop Britney Spears popularised the song and Yael Israeli-Tunisian music artist Naiem brought it back to its essence.
It’s easy to forget that entertainers such as songstress Mariah Carey, Queen of Pop Madonna, the voice that is Christina Aguilera, or talented musician Alicia Keys, write a lot of their own songs.
Typical pop songs end up having multiple interprets. The most popular interprets of their era can afford the best producer and propel a song to its highest peaks. This cements their own position at the top. But the real popularity comes when an indie band or a less ‘pop’ artist takes it on. Cathy Dennis’ Toxic is one example. Yael Naiem is by far not the only non-pop interpreter of the song. Another example is Baby One More Time. This Britney Spears’ first single topped the international charts for its fair share of time. Later, indie band Travis interpreted it. The news were almost as astonishing as when the Manic Street Preachers took on Umbrella which Rihanna had taken to a very solid and obsessive top. An additional Rihanna “song”, Don’t stop the music had the same treatment. It is a fact that many consider it a negative and argue that Jamie Cullum’s jazz is ‘pop Jazz’ that brings the complex sound to the masses. However, his interpretation of the song is still a great one in this writer’s opinion. One way or other other, covers allow the audience to see the different faces of a song, independently from its label. This allows pop songs to be seen outside their commercial robes, for what they truly are.
first published 11th of November 2013 on Singer Songwriters Worldwide at worldsingersongwriters.com
Few artists can boast the collaborations that Siedah Garett does. Just the mention of her name reminds us of Michael Jackson. She did not just perform backing vocals on the legend’s Bad songs. She sang duets with him such as I just can’t stop loving you. She co-wrote songs for him. Two of these are the acclaimed number 1 Man in the mirror and Keep the faith. It is no surprise then when names followed including Quincy Jones, Donna Summer or Madonna. Her backing vocalist CV is impressive. This sometimes overshadows her songwriting. Yet the latter remains undeniable with its contribution to global hits and just for the sheer achievement of getting Quincy Jones’ approval before reaching Michael Jackson and getting the nod there too. She follows this with songs for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole and Paula Abdul. A lead vocalist, a backing singer and a songwriter, she’s a name well recognised but not quite fully appreciated.
Siedah Garett in 10 songs
Man in the mirror: Siedah collaborates with Glen Ballard to pin this number one hit for Michael Jackson. She also provides the backing vocals in this song
Love You I Do – Siedah’s songwriting is recognised with this 2008 Grammy-Award winner for Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. It is one of the songs from motion picture Dreamgirls performed by Jennifer Hudson. It was also nominated for Best Original Song both for the Academy Award in 2007 and the Satellite Awards in 2006.
I Just Can’t Stop Loving You: This Billboard number 1 song was written and performed by Michael Jackson for his 1987 album Bad and features a duet with Siedah Garrett. Jackson and Quincy Jones co-produced the song. It was also recorded by the two in French and Spanish.
Don’t Look Any Further: Siedah’s first hit was with this 1984 single performed by former Temptations lead singer Dennis Edwards. It features Siedah Garrett. Franne Golde, Dennis Lambert and Duane Hitchings wrote the piece with programming by Paul Jackson, Jr.
Sometimes: Siedah Garrett joined the acid jazz UK band Brand New Heavies for their album Shelter in 1997. She was the lead vocalist and songwriter. Sometimes was a minor hit.
Everchanging Times: Siedah was chosen to perform this 1987 hit Adult Contemporary ballad. The song is from the soundtrack of the movie Baby Boom, written by Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager & Bill Conti. It would be later reprised by Aretha Franklin featuring Michael McDonald
Innocent Side: Garrett released her first album, “Kiss Of Life in 1988 on Quincy Jones’ Qwest label. The album includes two reasonably well-received singles, Innocent Side being one of them.
I’m Yours: A wonderful ballad produced by Quincy Jones and featuring the enchanting voices of El DeBarge and Siedah Garret. Its release was in 1989. Siedah featured a few more works by Quincy Jones including the more upbeat I don’t go for that, Jook Joint, Listen Up and The Places You Find Love.
Rain Down Love: Freemasons feature Siedah Garrett’s vocals in this 2007 in this upbeat dance song. This is one of a set of upbeat songs that feature Siedah Garett during that time including Armand Van Helden’s I want your soul and Funky Bahia with Sérgio Mendes featuring will.i.am & Siedah Garrett in 2008.
Keep on Lovin’ You: Siedah writes and performs some amazing vocals in her catchy MJ tribute song. Bruce Swedien produces it for In The Mirror Music in 2012.
Simon Cousins is a musician that is open to people and true to his music and a real uncomplicated pleasure to listen. He has his own style and his personality transpires in his music. His performances have a playful and conversational aspect to them that give a convivial spirit to his music and the impression that he is no stranger to his audience (and once he sings, he certainly is no longer one). He turns familiar-sounding songs into a new experience which makes one wonder if, in his own words, he is looking for love in each stranger’s eyes. And as he maintains eye-contact with each and everyone and the attention of the audience, as a storyteller would in crucial moments, I wonder how one could be so relaxed and passionate at the same time, betraying both experience and care for his work.
It was all the more exciting as he agreed to do the following interview. You can see the sensitivity of a true artist when a mere interview template comes alive under their perspective and somehow there is always more to find even in a straight answer! The musician presents himself with such honesty and modesty, we must remind ourselves that this English artist was a member of Wiltshire’s Progressive Garage band Random Gender, American bluegrass/Country/Punk band The Onset and Folk/Roots/Rock group Ophiuchus before starting a solo acoustic career.
World Singer Songwriter Mag (WSS): How would you introduce yourself and your music?
Simon Cousins (SC): “A real uncomplicated pleasure to listen to” (Thanks Tiki).
I trust that something magic comes through music, whether through invoking laughter, tears, passion or dance, music has that potential. All the musician has to do is trust the music and let it come through. Easier said than done. But that’s something to learn about. It’s a craft I hope to improve on.
I was 15 when I started playing, a vain hope for popularity with the girls. That’s as good a reason as any. When the Onset broke up in 1994 I thought, “What did you want to be when you were a kid?” so I tried Archaeology, Ancient History and Philosophy, all wonderful subjects to study. But I ask you, what can you do with a Philosophy Degree…?
I would like to be a professional musician, but I’m definitely an amateur… I’m still learning.
SC: I don’t have any unique selling point; I don’t have a built-in obsolescence either.
WSS: A unique name for your music would be…
SC: Given Songs
WSS: The best thing (in music) since the singing slice bread is…
SC: YouTube – whatever you want to listen to is there
I love music; if there are lyrics too that’s a bonus in my book
WSS: How does it feel when people get excited over my music?
SC: I was really privileged to have the opportunity to play in the Green Futures Field at Glastonbury in 2011, and I got some lovely press articles in the Liverpool Echo, Wigan Evening Post and the St.Helens papers, the Reporter and Star. Regular guy does something unusual kind of angle. I ended up having four performances. The best show was the Thursday evening at the Tadpole stage. As the main stages weren’t open I had a very nice audience. I asked, “Is anyone here from Liverpool?”, and there was a little cheer; great! I asked “Is anyone here from St.Helens?”, and there was a big cheer, wow. I asked “Is anyone here from Wigan” and there was a loud boo! I knew there and then they were from St.Helens. At the end of the gig quite a few of people came over to tell me they’d seen me in the press. One lovely couple had cut the article out of the paper, laminate it, and brought it with them to show me, “We saw you in Star, so we thought we’d come t’see you.” It was very nice, very funny and very flattering. So I had a little glimpse of what it might feel like if people got excited about my music. If your are reading this and you were there, thank you
WSS: What type of music do you listen to?
SC: What amazes me is that no matter how many artists you listen to there is always more to discover. I’m listening to Tymon Dogg’s 1976 LP at the moment, entitled Tymon Dogg. I bought it way back in the late 70s because the cover was so beautiful. You can’t always judge a book by its cover, but luckily it was a great find. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s what I am listening to at this very moment
WSS: Who, to you, is the most undervalued music artist?
SC: I don’t usually think of musician in that way. How about this – the next person you think has a really fantastic voice on “The Voice” and no judges turn round – well if that’s not an undervalued music artist, then tell me who is?
WSS: What ignites your song writing flow?
SC: Most of my songs come through dreams, I keep the phone by the bed to record whatever I can recall as I’m waking up.
WSS: How do you prepare for your performances?
SC: Practice, practice, practice, and then trust it’s okay to put your head above the parapet.
WSS: What/who most helped you in your career?
SC: I tend to think of music as a pleasurable hobby. What helps most – I’ve found that “please” and “thank you” helps a lot. Who helped most – what can any musician say? I’ve played with loads of wonderful musicians and been helped by lots of wonderful people. Google: “The Onset”, “Ophiuchus” and “Random Gender” if you wish to read about them. (Wikipedia has the whole story)
WSS: How does it feel having such great accolades?
SC: It’s wonderful when your song is played on the radio. Given the amount of talented musicians out there I’m very lucky that it’s happened at all.
WSS: Success to you is…
SC: That moment of magic which come when everyone in the audience is listening, that feels like success to me.
SC: I would be happy if a film maker thought one of my songs was good enough to be used in a movie.
WSS: What do you wish you have been told when you started out and that you think would help anyone who starts out?
SC: Keep going, don’t stop.
WSS: What do you do when you don’t do music and that you are passionate about?
SC: Waking up is always a good start, then making the most of the day. I am very lucky to have a job I enjoy, friends I can trust, a family to love and a roof over our heads. Count your blessings.
I like cooking, pretty good at eating and drinking too… and making music videos from old silent movies. Here’s one I did earlier…
WSS: Any upcoming projects?
SC: I’ve just started recording some more songs, with the help of my friend, Mark Byrne, who recorded and produced my first solo CD “Given Songs”. I hope to release a second CD when it’s done.
The artistry of some performing songwriters sometimes get drowned in the advances of technology or the frills of popular music. It certainly does not seem to be the case for the lyrics and melodies of Tears For Fears’s songwriter Roland Orzabal. At first sight, the public may more easily find the soul of the Tears for Fears’ music in the more acoustic and live versions of their tracks, from the notable original Woman in chains (impeccably lifted by the voice of Oleta Adams) to the piano-based revisit of Mad World. Yet their classics remain uneasily forgotten and no change to Sowing the seeds of love can truly give that much more sense to a deeply topical and engaged song. With or without frills, the artistry cannot be (forever) denied especially with the robust foundations of a profound lyric, an engaged style and a catchy melody.
Roland Orzabal in 10 songs:
1. Shout – Many a time covered and sampled, this is only one of the tracks from The Big Chair, one of the best albums of the 1980s. 2. Everybody wants to rule the world – 3. Mad World (the original has its charms especially becoming Tears for Fears’ first hit single in 1982 and Gary Jules and Michael Andrew’s piano-based version truly captures its essence. Live versions remain the way to hear the true depth of this classic and the songwriting artistry of Orzabal. He wrote it at 19 and describes the song as “expressive of a period I call the teenage menopause, where your hormones are going crazy as you’re leaving childhood. Your fingers are on the cliff and you’re about to drop off, but somehow you cling on.” He was apparently inspired by the style of Duran Duran’s Girls on Film http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/dec/10/how-we-made-mad-world-tears-fears 4. Woman in chains – The original remains a classic. Its strength and moving nature are impeccably lifted by the voice of Oleta Adams 5. The Big Chair 6. Broken 7. Cold a favourite, and the second single from his (mainly) solo release Elemental, released in 1993, this track contains a few references to past members of the group 8. Closest thing to heaven – A track from Everybody Loves a happy ending the album that symbolises the band reunion with Curt Smith returning to tears for Fears. Everyone 9. Raoul and the kings of Spain – title track of the 1995 release 10. Sowing the seeds of love – This track is the reason I fell in love with the band: meaningful piece, with a-monotonous melodic movements and the heart and the mind both fed.
Coco Mbassi rightly describes her music as a « tree with deep African roots and branches that extend some towards classical music, some towards soul, gospel and jazz, and others towards Latin music and even pop music ». Now, discover this acoustic blend in her soulful voice, her Cameroonian roots, her ecclectic musical upbringing (from Haendel to Cameroonian traditional music to the Jackson 5) , and her deep partnership with her classically-trained bassist husband Serge Ngando Mpondo.
Her prestigious awards and worldwide recognition sees her winning Radio France International Découvertes Contest in 1996, the German World Music CD Critics Award in 2001 and being nominated for the BBC World Music Awards 2002. Each album release demonstrate how much she deserves this atention: the first one, Sepia, reveals her to the acclaiming critics, the second one Sisea establishes her and with the third one, Jóa, she goes straight to number 5 on the World Music charts.
She continues her solo career lifted by her band, incessantly touring the world and sharing her gift, building on the incredibly strong foundations of her chorist and backing vocalist days and the many singing contest she won as a child as well as a coveted main singing lead for Cirque du Soleil’s show Totem.
Coco Mbassi in ten songs
1. Blubridge – No better introduction than the first track of her 3rd album Jóa. 2. D – extracted from her first album Sepia, this is a love song with harmonies, minimal strings and piano doigté to give you the chill 3. Din Longè – one of the highlights of her 2014 release Jóa 4. Bazor – a hearteflt homage to one of the greatest Cameroonian singer-songwriters, Dina Bell reprising some of his lovely tunes in a clever, jazzy and minimalistic medley 5. O bi – A little rhythmic to lift harmonies and get you nicely and gently shaking. In this track 11 from Sepia, Coco Mbassi exhorts a friend not to be angry 6. Madoi – 7. Mande – Cameroon seems to meet African nature, Malian sounds and subtle Jazz sounds in this mature instrumentation from Mbassi’s third album 8. Makaki – clever use of the upright bass to accentuate the African rhytmic with subtlety to lift the harmonies and superb entry of the percussions and reverbing of the vocals afterwards. Lovely – 9. Tribalism A theme that darkens the history of Africa, rebuked with grace. 10. Na pii – Quieten down with this peaceful piece from her 2003 LP Sisea.