‘In the days of fat laces and neon, boom boxes and graffiti tags, I pined for the time when people sang a cappella in the streets.’
My teen angst was focused on fiddling with stereos, trying to bring the vocals more front and center. In the days of fat laces and neon, boom boxes and graffiti tags, I pined for the time when people sang a cappella in the streets. My favorite musicians were singers who could have been found snapping their fingers, singing on street corners.
I wonder if other music journalists had similar inexplicable childhood fetishes that set them apart from their friends setting into motion a lifetime of trying to sway others’ tastes.
To this day, any time I can get a certain kind of singer on the phone, I try to reignite a revolution of street singing and once or twice, they’ve listened!
Otis Williams is the only founding member left in The Temptations. When I asked him if The Temptations might do more a cappella stuff, I was thrilled to hear him mulling it over.
“You Are Necessary in My Life,” starts off a cappella,” he said. “I think that we are going to have a cappella on the next album, on a song that Sting did: ‘If You Love Someone Set Them Free.’”
I prodded, “How about a whole song or an album?”
“You can never tell. The album we are getting ready to do has some a cappella. So you like the a cappella on “Necessary?” Williams asked referring to his song.
“I do,” I said.
He considered it further.
“We do that in the show and people seem to really enjoy it,” said Williams.
And sure enough, the next Temps album featured a cappella singing. I am not saying that I single-handedly influenced The Temptations. But that certainly encouraged me to try again with childhood idol John Oates of Hall and Oates.
“Do you think you guys will ever record a cappella? I’ve seen you do a cappella live, but I don’t think you’ve ever put it on a record,” I said to Oates.
His voice lifted as he answered. The idea piqued his interest.
“Oh, that would be a cool thing to do. Maybe one of these days we’ll do a project like that. We’ll do an old a cappella record. That would be fun actually,” Oates said.
The 80s, and artists associated with the decade, took a lot of lumps because of its drum machines and synth-laden productions.But many of its idols, like Hall and Oates, Billy Joel and Huey Lewis and the News, came up in a time when singing, really singing, was en vogue, as opposed to today’s well-choreographed singers who stick to low-key whispers and whines that would never contort their pretty faces.
I love what I do. I love that I get to pick the brains of the people who graced the posters on my walls when I was a star struck kid. But now, that I’m a fully grown music journalist, I wonder if I can influence them to get them singing in the streets one more time to show today’s autotuned stars how it’s done?