Thursday, March 20, 2014

Androgyny Rocks!: Boys Who Sing Like Girls

Adam Levine exudes a certain oily charm (which some might call douchery), but I love at least two things about him that don't involve abs, tattoos or smoldering good looks. First, the Maroon 5 frontman and People magazine's reigning Sexiest Man Alive is not ashamed to wave the rainbow flag and appear on the cover of a gay magazine (Out's September 2011 issue). Second, he's in touch not only with his feminine side but his feminine voice as well.

This past weekend, I watched an episode of The Voice from the current Usher/Shakira season (now airing on South African TV) in which Levine, who's like the demanding Harry Connick Jr. of the panel, attempted to comfort a young male tenor who hadn't gotten any of the coaches/judges to turn around. He said some people say he sings like a girl, too.

In Levine's case, all the way to the bank. Which also has happened to be case for some other male pop and rock acts who weren't ashamed to take it higher when it came to singing their heart out and wearing it on their sleeve... just like a woman.

Foster The People "Coming of Age" I'm still deciding what I think of Supermodel, Foster the People's just-released sophomore album (it improves drastically with repeat listens), but I'll give the attractive boy-band trio this: Despite the album's himbo-friendly title and a few scattered husky vocal turns (on "Goats in Trees" and "The Truth," to name two), frontman Mark Foster's upper vocal register remains his and the band's most-defining characteristic/asset.

White Town "Your Woman" Although the one-man British band didn't exactly sound like a woman, he (as in Jyoti Mishra, aka White Town) adopted a distinctly distaff point of view on this 1997 international smash (No. 1 in the UK and Top 40 in the U.S.) from the album Women in Technology. Then again, it could have been the story of a gay guy breaking up with a bisexual man who was about to swing back the other way. Either way, it was unconventional gender-unspecific pop at its most unforgettable.

Byron Stingily "Get Up (Everybody)" For me, '90s dance music was a woman's world (turned by male DJ's and producers), with the exception of the occasional George Michael reconstruction (namely the Forthright Club Mix of "Spinning the Wheel") and Byron Stingily, the former Ten City vocalist whose three late-'90s No. 1 dance hits included two with connections to Sylvester (see below): "Get Up (Everybody)," which sampled "Dance (Disco Heat)" and a remake of "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)."

Sylvester "Someone Like You" I was too young during Sylvester's disco heyday to fully appreciate late-'70s hits like "Dance (Disco Heat)" and "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," or the strange placement of the latter's parentheses, and pre-video, it never dawned on me to consider that a guy might be singing them. So the first time I actually saw Sylvester perform (via the video for his 1986 single "Someone Like You," released two years before he died from AIDS complications), his androgynous look was just as stunning as his full-on diva vocals.

Bronski Beat & Marc Almond "I Feel Love (Medley)" No, that was no lady (or Donna Summer) singing Summer's 1975 and 1977 disco classics ("Love to Love You Baby" and "I Feel Love," respectively) with Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond on the 1985 No. 3 UK single. It was Jimmy Sommerville, owner of a lonely heart (in song) and arguably the greatest falsetto to come out of the UK in the '80s. He was also the then-lead singer of Bronski Beat and the soon-to-be frontman of The Communards who, like Byron Stingily, once scored a solo hit (No. 5 in the UK in 1990) with a cover of Sylvester's twice-aforementioned "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)."

Crosby, Stills and Nash "Wasted on the Way" I'd never heard of CSN when I first heard the supergroup trio's 1982 Top 10 comeback single, and my first thought was Wow, this new girl group's harmonies are as tight as Bananarama's! "Southern Cross," the Top 20 follow-up, might as well have arrived via another band from another planet, like Mars.

Supertramp "The Logical Song" Is there a '70s classic-rock frontman more underrated than Supertramp's co-lead singer/main songwriter Roger Hodgson, whose stratospheric pitch on "Give a Little Bit," "The Logical Song," "Take the Long Way Home," "It's Raining Again" and others provided such a thrilling vocal counterpoint to Rich Davies' more conventionally masculine delivery as lead vocalist on "Goodbye Stranger" and "My Kind of Lady," among others? How ever did he manage to make it through an entire Supertramp set without passing out?

Prince "I Wanna Be Your Lover" You have to hand it to Prince. I can't think of another superstar who could sing in falsetto, wear suspenders with short shorts, and style his hair in a Farrah Fawcett flip, and still make all the girls go wild.

Nick Gilder "Hot Child in the City" For nearly six years, until Casey Kasem's American Top 40 Yearbook covering 1978 set me straight, I was certain this No. 1 hit was being sung by one hot girl about another.

Styx "Come Sail Away" Say what you will about anonymous '70s and early '80s corporate rock, but rock & roll has produced few lead singers as distinctive as Journey's Steve Perry and Styx's Dennis DeYoung. Compared to them, Foreigner's Lou Gramm could have been just about anyone.

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