11 June 2009
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.