I've always wanted to sing. Within the past couple of years, there have been more episodes of warbling alone in showers and dank basements than I can count. Not long ago, I even took voice lessons until my teacher, training for an opera audition in Boston, left me behind with a borrowed pitch pipe and a hefty bill.
Rhythm-and-blues-flavored numbers seem to work best for me. There's a lot more room for innovation in an old gem like "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" than there is in the more tightly structured, current three-minute hits. The same is true of three-chord trash rock, which by its nature lends itself readily to spontaneity, if not exactly to melody. Innovation for me usually comes in the form of phrasing--basically the ability to improvise for an individual sound.
So, for a fledgling rock singer like myself, a chance to spend a few hours in a recording studio was the perfect dream. My friend Rosie retrieved me at London's Heathrow Airport and announced that our vacation plans included a studio visit to sing for a local garage band.
It's nothing to worry about, explained Rosie, 'Sanity Clause' just needs some delicate female chimes for its 45 single. I viewed the approaching session with a mixture of braggadocio and terror. After all, I know my voice pretty well: female, yes, but delicate?
My musical experience up to this point consisted of a handful of local appearances singing with a friend's art-rock band, and my coup d'e'tat: a 45 single containing my amateur but heartfelt rendition of Bruce Springsteen's song, "Fire."
"Give It Away," the song in progress when we turned up at Pathways Studio, was a fast-tempo rocker. My mission was to supply some rousing ooh-ooh-ooh's at the end of every third line by the lead singer.
The other members of the backup chorus were three stylish post-punks who wore some great eye makeup but couldn't sing to save their leather soles. After some deliberation, Nicky Holloway, Pathway's engineer, confidently opted for dismissing the chorus and recording my voice alone, then doubling or even tripling the track. Hopefully, this would lend some fullness to the otherwise sparse arrangement.
I had my doubts. Could I blend into the structure of a song that was this new to my ears? As it turned out, my single-syllable contribution to "Give It Away" added just enough punch without overpowering Paul's lead vocal work.
Nicky double-tracked my spots and, as an afterthought, added enough echo to gracefully camouflage the flat and bored-sounding tone that marred the song's close. (Nervous exhaustion, I'm sure.) Believe me, it was an uphill battle persuading Nick to let me attempt a couple of new takes. But eventually he acquiesced and it was a good thing he did, since the retakes no longer marked me as a Val Gal hopeful.
Nick actually preferred my more desperate-sounding retakes. So did the band. Even their groupie--platinum and precocious--gave it her okay.
My voice will probably never sell out a theater or produce a gold album. I still consistently lose track of my high notes, not to mention my breath. On a good day, however, I still really do believe that my gravelly voice--weak melodically, but long on style--will give Britain's Marianne Faithfull (my current idol) a run for her money.