Groovin’ with the “L-Train”… Underrated Vocalists

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Shannon Hoon

The unique, raspy vocals from the Blind Melon frontman don’t receive the attention they deserve. The 90s were led by grunge and powerful, raw vocals from people like Layne Staley and Chris Cornell. Blind Melon was a softer, more alternative, folk rock and other than their hit “No Rain” they never really broke into the mainstream. Hoon had a strong voice almost reminiscent of Janis Joplins and what I consider to be a prettier, less squeaky version of Axl Rose. Hoon had great range but still sounded beautiful with simple tunes, which is an important thing. Vocalists can have an amazing range but if they don’t sound appealing then it doesn’t even matter. An example of a well done simple tune is displayed in Blind Melon’s cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says”. Their recording is a casual, lighthearted take on Lou Reed’s melancholic lyrics. Even with its casual nature, it is beautifully sung and is still easily one of my favorite covers. Another favorite vocal performance of mine would be “Mother” from the band’s Sippin Time Sessions. Hoons vocals especially shine in the last two minutes of the song. Overall, Hoons vocals made for a great performance in just about every song he performed on. 

 

Bjork

The eccentric Icelandic singer has a beautiful voice with great vocal control and although she is often noted for her voice, I still feel she deserves more recognition for it. Before her solo career, Bjork found decent success with her band The Sugarcubes. Their hit “Birthday” is one of my favorite performances from her, her unique singing style shining through even before her solo career. Her voice is very appealing and impressive in both the studio version and when performed live. Especially in their 1989 performance of it. Another great performance from her is on the track “Play Dead” which was a single that would be featured in a 1993 film. The live performance is equally if not more impressive than the studio version. Another personal favorite of mine, Bjork’s performance of “So Broken” on Jools Holland is a great example of the emotion and expression she carries in her voice and it also just shows off her vocal talent very well. 

 

Peter Steele

Bass vocals are often not appreciated as they should be and Peter Steele is yet another example of that. Frontman of the almost campy, but still influential band Type O Negative, Peter Steele led the goth metal band through decent success in the 90s, gaining a strong underground following. His low, sultry vocals were well acclaimed within the band’s fanbase but not so much outside of it. Steele actually became somewhat of a goth rock sex symbol. Being 6’8, a playboy centerfold, and having the deep voice and just overall presence that he did, Steele was indeed, rather popular with his female fans. A lot of his fans just thought his voice was hot, and that may have discredited him as a serious vocalist for some people. However, he actually had good vocal range and his unique voice and singing style was sculpted perfectly for the genre. Steele wasn’t a huge fan of performing on stage so there is not a ton of live performances from them but their performance at the 1995 Dynamo Open Air Festival displays his vocals quite well, especially during “Black No. 1” towards the end of their set. Another great display of his voice is their performance of “Christian Woman” in Stockholm in 1994. His vocals during this performance are even better here than in the studio version in my opinion. It shows off his range well and puts his rich voice on display. 

 

Tracy Chapman

An amazing vocalist and amazing musician in general, I would say Tracy Chapman has one of the most beautiful voices of all time. Chapman didn’t belt or scream with astonishing range like many well renowned singers but her strong and smooth voice carries its own weight. Her sonorous voice shone through most all her songs very well. Her 1988 performance in Oakland encapsulates exactly why she was such an important musical figure. Her singing seems completely effortless as she maintains her beautiful tone throughout the show and her talents really shine through. There really are no specific performances to recommend to show off vocal talent for Chapman because honestly all of her performances could be used as references. As I said before, she wasn’t a belting singer showing off range. She did have good range for sure but her voice was more centered around it’s auditory appeal. And though she is well known as an influential singer/songwriter with her track “Fast Car” being an extremely well known and well credited hit for her, I think, aside from her immense talent as a songwriter, that her vocals alone deserve more appreciation than they get.