Guys Who Take It Up The Octave

It’s a mystery to me how some melodic tricks can sound shallow and manipulative in one song, and completely awesome in another.

When Dave Faulkner pops up the octave in Come Anytime, it happens far too late and does nothing for me, although it is pretty cool in What’s My Scene? Ditto most of the times Iva Davies does it (and he does it a lot), although it is pretty cool in Don’t Believe Any More.

These occasions, however, rock my world:

Nilsson, Without You: “can’t give any more … CAN’T LIVE …”

Billy Idol, White Wedding: “It’s a nice day to … START AGAIN …” (technically, this is a major 6th, not an octave, but it still rocks.)

David Bowie, Heroes: “I, I WILL BE KING …”

David Byrne, Road to Nowhere: First he sings “There’s a city in my mind …”, then he sings “THERE’S A CITY IN MY MIND …”

And perhaps the greatest of them all, Roy Orbison, Crying: “FOR YOU DOOOON’T LOVE ME …”

Not to mention “CRY-I-I-YIIING …”

Roy Orbison used to walk out onstage and sing – no patter, no lectures about the environment – then do that song last. The audience would go nuts and call for an encore, so Roy would go out and sing it again.

I’m keenly aware that I have no examples of females doing the same vocal trick. This is partly because of how the female belt register works, but it also just doesn’t seem to happen as often. I’d love to be wrong about this … Aretha, Annie, Ethel … nope. Lots of big notes and examples of what some show queens call ‘optioning up’, but not an octave:  Pat Benatar nearly gets there in the middle of All Fired Up, but this is really a marathon of optioning up .

At the end of Big Yellow Taxi, though, Joni Mitchell takes it UP and then down an octave. Not many guys could do that.


15 thoughts on “Guys Who Take It Up The Octave

  1. Hmm… “Road To Nowhere” and “Heroes” are two of my favourite songs ever, and those are two of my favourite moments in them. And I never noticed till now what they had in common.

    Mr Bowie gets a bit of help from Tony Visconti’s production, where he had three sets of mics, each further away from the singer, which get turned on one by one, so there’s more and more reverb and space in the vocals as the song goes on.

    • It helps, too, I reckon, that neither David is considered a stratospheric vocalist. All the more effective when they have to work for it. Robert Plant, on the other hand, was seemingly born up the octave.

      • Agreed, both of them have an overtone of desperation which really helps – Byrne in particular.

        “Desperate epic white guys in suits” – now there’s a subgenre.

        • I’ve just noticed that OMD did it twice in the mid-’80s, once in ‘So In Love’, and more famously in the chorus of ‘If You Leave’.

          Lead singer Andy McCluskey manages on both occasions to become less of a man, though.

  2. I’m an utter nong for not thinking of Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer”. First chorus, low octave. Later choruses, upper octave.

    The woman’s got chops.

    • No question about Agnetha’s range (huge) or about the range of Dancing Queen (huge), but I don’t think ABBA do the octave leap I’m talking about. It would have to go (low down) Dancing Queen, young and sweet … (Screaming high) DANCING QUEEN, FEEL THE BEAT … (or something similar somewhere else in the song.)

      I mean, Agnetha could do it. I’m just not sure she did do it.

  3. Oh, Peter … tell me “Friday night and the lights are low, looking out for a place to go …” etc isn’t an octave below “you can daaaance, you can jiiiive” … I’m not confident about this because I haven’t actually sat down and tried to work it out, but I’d lay money there’s an octave in there.

    • “you” is an octave above “Fri”, but that’s the extent of it, sadly. If the melody then repeated the entire phrase, up an octave, we’d be in business.

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