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Words and Music

January 12, 2012

As a bit of background, before you read what I have written here, keep in mind that I made my living by playing music on the radio for a quarter of a century and I heard the best on a daily basis. There once was a time in the history of the world that the lyrics to songs not only made sense, but could be clearly understood by the common man. I very well remember the gold standard in singers.  Stars like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Nat “King” Cole, and many others sang the lyrics like pure poetry. Today, for the most part, they have been replaced by a tiny minority of singers whose song stylings can still be understood by anyone who understands English. I can think of two singers who carry on the traditions of the past. There are more like Harry Connick and Michael Bouble, but not much more. The majority of modern-day singers in English have several very bad habits, chief among them is placing their lips on the microphones they use. This is a highly un-hygienic practice.  For some reason, they have been taught to belt the quietest melodies into oblivion by hollering unintelligible lyrics at decibels that match the roar of a 747 taking off. The other night, I saw an American talent contest on television and the winner received accolades from the judges and the audience alike though I couldn’t understand one word she sang.  As a general rule, the only ones who don’t sing that way and have resisted the practice are those in country music. In the Philippines, however, the old way still holds forth and it’s not just in English. I have watched and listened to countless people both professional and amateur who sing a song and enunciate the words the way they were written. Even though I don’t speak or understand Tagalog, it is obvious that the singers in the Philippines have been taught to sing without slurring or shouting. This is certainly not to say they all sing well because just one party with a karaoke machine disabused me of that thought.  It has been my observation that there are as many tone deaf singers in Tagalog as there are in English, but at least the words are understandable. I won’t even get into rap music because, in my opinion rap is simply gutter poetry and I dismiss it outright.

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