11 June 2009

Let's hear it for the (uncredited) boy/girl


I heard Criticize by Alexander O'Neal on the radio earlier today. A fine song it remains (sorry, VS) but it has always mildly troubled me that there are two hardworking singers performing and yet only one gets the credit. I'm sure the lady in question continues to be well-reimbursed with international playlist payments, but still nobody knows who she is. And she even sang the chorus, the bit everyone knows, while the headline turn just adlibs around her...

Crediting someone on a song who performs a vital role but is not the star turn requires a degree of subtlety. Firstly, if you're cruel and selfish, you can just take the O'Neal route and pretend they aren't there at all. Other examples of this include Torch by Soft Cell (the woman who sings the chorus at the end and, crucially, turns it into the first person); Shiny Happy People by REM (yes, we all know it's Kate Pierson from the Lancaster Brothers, erm, the B52s, but *they* don't, and since when have REM had a female singer anyway?) and Dead Ringer For Love by Meat Loaf. Yes, we all know now it's a pre-scalpel Cher, complete with buck teeth, who's doing the girly second verse, but we didn't then unless we were told by a kindly soul on the wireless. She'd had more number one hits than Marvin Lee Aday but got no crediting at all. And to this day I've no idea who the "sooner or later you'll be screwing around" bird is on the Bat Out Of Hell II album. But I reckon I shouldn't have to find out.

Elsewhere, Denise Marsa is only just now, after 30 years, having her all-compassing contribution to Dean Friedman's more-acceptable-the-older-it-gets Lucky Stars recognised and namechecked, even though its conversational nature makes it as obvious a two-parter as any duet could be. Sting sang without namecheck but was given a songwriting credit (for dreary, unromantic legal reasons, not because he actually wrote any of the song) when he popped into Dire Straits' studio to ask how the new album was coming on, and was instantly roped into doing the MTV-plugging bobbins on Money For Nothing. Everyone now knows it's Carly Simon singing on the terrific Kissing With Confidence by Will Powers, but few will ever learn of Powers' real status as Lyn Goldsmith. Dunno who the geezer flogging the puckering technique is, mind...

More ruthless is the habit of crediting no vocalist at all, even though they are the only one on the record. Perhaps most famous of all of these is Killer by Adamski, which chose not to even acknowledge there were any vocals on the record at all apart from a tiny "introducing" label on the reverse of the 7" sleeve.

Such was Seal's subsequent impact that DJs everywhere credit him as a matter of course when playing the record now, even though the record company went as far as to try to ban Jakki Brambles from mentioning him when they were on Top Of The Pops. Her finest career moment came when she stubbornly ignored this order and did a girly "wow, cop that singer!" routine to camera after their turn was over. All the more galling was that Seal wrote the blimmin' words he was singing, yet the label were only interested in the scrawny bloke in round glasses doing beepy noises at the synth in the corner. On a similar tack, there was no minuscule "introducing" credit on the sleeve or sycophantic DJ help for poor Maggie Reilly, the deliverer of a fine vocal on Moonlight Shadow but still invisible next to composer and sole creditee Mike Oldfield.

Then there are the credited performers who are nonetheless put in their place. A perfect example of this is the dribbly ballad Don't Know Much, a 1989 No.2 hit for Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Nevil. But wait, no! It's actually Linda Ronstadt featuring Aaron Nevil. He sings as much of the song as she, opens it with a super pleading vocal on the first verse, but is still only cast as the "hired help" to a Ronstadt record. If the duet or collaboration features a "featuring" (or, for that matter, a "with"), it means that they have been credited out of necessity, as without them the song can't happen. This is prevalent with "guest" vocalists on dance records ("here's D-Mob featuring Cathy Dennis!") but less so, and therefore more disrespectful, if used on an equal-parts duet. Imagine Fairytale of New York without Kirsty MacColl. Go on.

Of course, some vocalists may be so embarrassed by the record they chose to flaunt their throaty virtues that they're probably grateful for the anonymity. I suspect Michael Fenton-Stevens, voice of The Chicken Song, falls into this category.

6 comments:

Phil Norman said...

Excellent list (but no Mac Band featuring the McCampbell Brothers?) Of course, Adamski's chickens came home to roost when his real vocal talents were revealed on Space Jungle.

On a late-'80s tip, there's the mystery William Shatner impersonator on Lovebug Starski's Amityville, who was never given credit. Granted, the impressions were pretty dire, but the charade of Mr Starski trying to mime them himself on ToTP, when it was clear he couldn't even remember what they said, was pretty transparent.

And then there's the added complication when the 'featured' artist is replaced by a more desirable model who never went near the record - the whole Technotornic feat. Felly/Ya Kid K debacle...

Bright Ambassador said...

This is a bit of a coincidence as I've heard Moonlight Shadow (I stop work to listen as I still find it an ace record) played twice on Radio2 over the past week. On both occasions the DJs (Wright and Vine) have back-announced it as being by Maggie Reilly and Mike Oldfield. So she's getting the credit she deserves these days.

And I'll just say that I reckon Critisize is a fantastic soul record.

Valentine Suicide said...

Actually, I don't mind 'Criticize'. Not a huge fan of the soul genre, but that one and'Feel So Real' always stuck in my mind as good dance pop songs.

Not quite in the same realm as some of the disco classics, like 'Stomp' by The Brothers Johnson or 'Can You Feel It' by the Jacksons.

No sarcasm either. I must be coming down with Swine Flu?

DaveCook said...

Matt, you're a good and decent chap, but you're wrong. Not Idi Amin wrong or even £6M for Chopra wrong, in fact only a bit wrong, but wrong nonetheless. The vocals are only a part of the song. Generally a guest vocalist will have been given the words and the vocal melody will have been already worked out. They just come in and do their bit. Why is that any more deserving of mention than the drummer's contribution? As for Seal, when did he last credit the keyboard player on a release? One thing I would err criticise Alexander O'Neil for is the way that he seems to have supplanted Cherelle as the main artist on "Saturday Love" I certainly remember it being released under her name at the time. I had always assumed that it was her returning the favour on "Criticise" but I couldn't say for sure.

Matthew Rudd said...

Simple - nobody wants to know who an uncredited drummer is, but they're anxious to find out about an uncredited co-vocalist.

DaveCook said...

How dare you? A gross insult to anally retentive music fans everywhere.