The ten best songs by soul divas
Friday 15 October 2004
1 TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD Rufus and Chaka Khan (1974)
1 TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD Rufus and Chaka Khan (1974)
First and foremost, this is a great song. The basis of all the tracks I've chosen here is that, primarily, they are wonderful songs. Chaka is one of the best vocal stylists ever. She hasn't just got a great voice, she's been an inspiration for many people. Just fabulous.
2 YOU GOT THE LOVE Candi Staton (1991)
This song in its original form is really heartbreaking. Candi's got one of those voices, not dissimilar to Aretha Franklin, which is steeped in gospel. But there's a lot more blues in there than Aretha - and all the pain and the troubles and the nonsense that she's been through in her life seem to emanate out of her vocals, particularly on this track. It's like she's looking at God and telling Him: "Drag me through this, mate."
3 I NEVER LOVED A MAN (THE WAY I LOVE YOU) Aretha Franklin (1967)
Oh God, what to say about this track! The conviction in those words - "I've NEVER, no I've NEVER loved a man". You believe every last breath, everything she enunciates. That's the key to being a really great singer, to being someone standing alone in your own class.
4 THE FIRST TIME EVER I SAW YOUR FACE Roberta Flack (1972)
Roberta's really different from all my other choices. She's got an almost classical voice, it's really smooth. When I hear it I wonder who she's singing about: it pulls you in. The testimony to her ability to communicate that first flush of love is that the track has been covered ad infinitum.
5 INSIDE MY LOVE Minnie Riperton (1975)
Minnie has been quite forgotten as a singer, but she's got an astonishing vocal range. She's got this beautiful, delicate, breathy delivery like she's in the throes of ecstasy, but when she hits the dog-whistle notes right at the top of her range on the words "inside my love", it makes you shiver.
6 MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO GEORGIA Gladys Knight and the Pips (1976)
I know she was with the Pips at the time, but the girl's a diva, right? In this song, it's like she stood up and said "Forget women's lib, I can't live without this bloke. I'm leaving." She's got that rich, husky alto voice - when she pleads her case at the end of the song, it really hits home.
7 MacARTHUR PARK Donna Summer (1978)
It's not soul as such, but I love the way she sings this disco track. She goes from this Broadway delivery at the start of the song to a real up-tempo feel in the middle. There are many colours to her voice, a real variety, and that's what I love about her.
8 MACK THE KNIFE Ella Fitzgerald (1960)
The way she covers "Mack the Knife" is quite extraordinary. This is a woman who comes from the blues/jazz era, but when you hear her phrasing on this track she has thrown the rulebook out the window. She sings in places where, by rights, no one should sing. By the end of the track you ask yourself: "Is that an instrument I'm listening to or a human voice?" She is an extraordinary singer.
9 SAVING ALL MY LOVE FOR YOU Whitney Houston (1985)
I know Whitney's disappeared off the radar now, but when she recorded this track as an 18-year-old she changed forever the way that female vocalists were going to sound. The first time you heard her incredible chest voice - all that controlled power, it was astonishing. And she was still only 18, with all that development to come.
10 MAD ABOUT THE BOY Dinah Washington (1992)
There's a smoothness, and yet a smokiness, to the way she delivers this track. It really resonates from the very first note, and as soon as she opens her mouth, you're caught. Dinah, like Minnie, is an often overlooked vocal stylist.
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