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The White Singing Voice of Rock and Pop

Lew Bundles

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Here is a Condensed version of post under CRUISIN MUSIC THREAD...What a solid review of Eric’s voice...The full article is posted under CRUISIN MUSIC...

8. The TransTenor

So as not to end on a negative note, I’ll put the category of TransTenor near the end. These are men who, in an age in which a high-pitched male rock voice is so sought after, are naturally gifted. These have an ability to sing at a higher range without much strain, but without losing their masculine tone or the personal color of their voice. I would consider these rare. Two of the best for last. Outstanding examples are Brad Delp of Boston and Eric Carmen.

Why not simply call them tenors? Because they go higher than a traditional tenor would normally go, and they don’t have the sound we associate with traditional tenors. This category is for naturally gifted singers that have beauty, masculinity, and personal color at high ranges without the sound of strain who don’t sing in the traditional tenor mold. It it would not surprise me if Eric Carmen had vocal training. One feature of the TransTenor is a long graduation between their lower, firm voice and their upper voice or falsetto. They seem to be able to overlap their two voices and blend them together more.


TransTenor Eric Carmen: Discipline, Range, Control, Purity, Feeling, Grace

Eric Carmen had one of pop’s best voices. In his exquisitely sung “Let’s Pretend” you can hear a number of outstanding vocal features. His lower voice can go very high without strain while retaining masculine sound plus his personality. He has a very high falsetto and he is able to smoothly-integrate it with his lower voice. When he switches between the two voices, you can barely tell. But the falsetto itself is very firm, not wispy, and can ring like a bell. If you listen you can hear how he treats his own voice with exquisite respect throughout. With every note he’s avoiding strain and bringing out maximum tone, character, and emotional expression.

Listen to even the first four notes. The Beatle-esque harmonies and ringing 12-string guitar, are delights. (I particularly like the voicings and suspensions in the “Come run away” and “We’re all alone” from his backing men.) The performance is full of detail. For example, vibrato is employed only once, and very skillfully, on the word “all” in “we’re all alone” at 1:23.

There is a great deal of vocal nuance and tone throughout, even though he’s at high range. Such voices are rare. Though Carmen was striving to have a band with the vocal character of The Beatles, this American’s voice was superior to both John and Paul’s voices and more cultured. There’s almost never a moment where his voice loses grace. At the bridge (“So take me now…”) Carmen switches to the Masculine Strainer mode to cater a tough rock sound, then switches back to non-force mode. It’s as if you can hear the old and the new singing ideals in one song. Were he to have to strain like that very much the other better aspects of his voice would die. Carmen’s range would have surely been appreciated by many metal bands. But the nature of a metal band’s volume overkill buries all the nuance in voices of singers like this, forcing them to become Strainers, then Screamers, etc.

Carmen achieved maximum tone and beauty from his voice at high ranges. You can hear how he treats his own voice with respect and continual awareness. That same respect and sensitivity gets transmitted as a message to the listener.

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Here's what Eric had to say about his voice:

"They're ALL pretty demanding! I never really thought much about singing these songs at 56 when I wrote and recorded them 25 to 30 years ago. Unfortunately. Some of them, like "Let's Pretend" were probably done in the wrong key even then. I didn't have any trouble singing "LP" in the recording studio, or sitting at the piano when I wrote it, but trying to sing it on stage in G, after "I'm A Rocker" and "Tonight" and "Ecstasy," was hard, even when I was 23. We probably should have changed the key onstage back then. In any case, I seem to be able to get to the B and C an octave above middle C pretty consistently these days, so most of the songs won't pose too many problems (that so bad is a C#). When I went to see Paul McCartney, I realized that he really didn't have too many occasions when he had to go much higher than the A above middle C (lucky devil)! I think the reason I wrote so many of those vocal parts up there, was that I was trying to imitate Brian Wilson's falsetto with my true voice. I never knew that natural tenors (of which I am one) don't have a falsetto. On the rockers, I was always going for my best Steve Marriott. We used to do "I'm A Rocker" in A back in 1972-73, and when I listen to the live tapes from back then I can hear what a struggle it was even then to blast that vocal out. When we rehearsed for the reunion tour I tried dropping it down to G, and, lo and behold, it sounded better than ever. So, my guess is that most of the songs will remain in the original keys, but if a song can be improved by lowering the key, I won't hesitate to do it." ec

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And here's an interview that answers questions about Eric's views on songwriting, touring, and, once again, a mention of his new-found falsetto:

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 8:00 am | Updated: 1:54 pm, Fri Mar 14, 2014.


CJN Staff Reporter | 0 comments

The voice hypnotizes even by phone. It belongs to Eric Carmen, the child prodigy from Lyndhurst who became a sensation in the Raspberries, the band he and guitarist Wally Bryson led from 1970 to 1975. As identifiable as those of contemporaries Elton John and Billy Joel, it’s a voice built for lyrics of desire and vulnerability, a blend Carmen perfected in his power pop and soft rock of the 1970s and 1980s. Mellifluous and wet, it’s also just right for “Brand New Year,” Carmen’s first solo recording in 16 years.

A ballad in unusual time, “Brand New Year” caps “The Essential Eric Carmen,” a two-CD, 30-track anthology set for release on Tuesday, March 25. The compilation opens with “Get the Message,” the B-side of a 45-rpm single he recorded in 1968 with Cyrus Erie, a band that also included Bryson, his chief Raspberries associate. It’s an energetic track Carmen dissects in candid, personal liner notes accompanying the anthology, noting the 2014 version is a great improvement on the original.

This “Essential” features all of Carmen’s hits, from the Raspberries’ “Go All the Way” and “Overnight Sensation” to “Make Me Lose Control,” a 1988 smash that lays Meatloafian bombast over sultry Latin rhythms conjuring an old Ben E. King track. The anthology affirms Carmen’s talent for writing songs of broad appeal, including the 1974 solo hit “All by Myself” (which incorporates a melody by Sergei Rachmaninoff); the confessional, literate “Boats Against the Current” from 1977; the souped-up ’50s rock of “Hey Deanie” and “That’s Rock N’ Roll” (also late-’70s hits for teen throb Shaun Cassidy); and “Ecstasy,” a hormone-heavy Raspberries tune recorded live in 2005 during a reunion tour.

Does the set signal a full-blown Carmen revival? It was hard to tell from a Feb. 27 interview with Carmen from his Gates Mills home. For now, he’s focused on spreading the word of the anthology and its stunning closing track.

Though he’d love to tour with the band with which he recorded “Brand New Year” in Los Angeles in December, Carmen said that at 64, he might not have as much appetite for the road as he used to. At the same time, he said playing dates with these musicians – all close to the iconic Beach Boy Brian Wilson – would be fabulous.

“I know the band would be great,” he said. “The question is, would it make enough money to afford it? It would be great fun, on a limited basis, because they’re kind of my dream band, these guys. On the other hand, I don’t see wanting to go on the road 150 days a year. It was fun in my 20s, but not so much now.”

Working with three members of the Wondermints, a vocal group of remarkable versatility that animated Wilson’s “Smile” tours nine and 10 years ago, and Beach Boys musical director Jeff Foskett was great, Carmen said, noting Wilson, the head of the Beach Boys, is one of his idols.

The “Brand New Year” project took seed last fall when Wilson and guitarist Jeff Beck co-headlined a date at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron. Backstage last Oct. 27, when Carmen told Foskett he was working on the collection, Foskett said he would love to work with Carmen, who calls himself one of “Brian’s groupies.” And when Timothy J. Smith, who produced the anthology for Legacy Recordings, told Carmen he planned to launch it with the Cyrus Erie track and needed something new to bookend it, Carmen thought of the Wondermints and Foskett.

But first, Carmen had to deliver his first song since the birth of his son, Clay, now 16. (He and his second wife, Susan, also have a daughter, Kathryn.)

The new song seems to have dropped from the sky on the night of this winter’s first big snowstorm. To hear Carmen tell it, that chilly November night prompted the confluence of emotion and thought in “Brand New Year,” a hypnotic, ravishing tune that starts somberly and ends on a note of renewal.

Not only does the song speak to Carmen’s empathy for two women he has come to know over the past several years, it also may help soften the aftershocks of a protracted divorce.

“Between having babies upstairs and not being able to play at 2 o’clock in the morning and what had happened to the music business in general, there wasn't a lot of impetus for songwriting,” Carmen said. Nevertheless, he told Legacy’s Smith he’d give it a try.

The night the weather knocked out the power and “I had no heat, no Internet, no anything,” so Carmen gravitated to the warmest place in the house, the living room, where he began to read by flashlight. Something about that “atmosphere, that complete vacuum” led him to put down the flashlight and “put my fingers on the piano for the first time in years,” he said. What issued astonished Carmen, a self-styled project writer, whether for an album or a soundtrack. “For the first time in at least 16 or 17 years, this song just kind of fell out,” he said of “Brand New Year.”

“By the time I finished that night, I had the melody, the verse and the chorus.”

Determined to craft something unmistakably different from “All by Myself” or “Go All the Way,” Carmen found himself writing in 12/8, a rhythm not common to pop music, with a major key and a minor feel, key changes, what he called “very sophisticated chords” – and, to his surprise, a falsetto this natural tenor has craved since “Day One, when all I wanted to do was sound like Brian Wilson in the Raspberries songs.”

The backstory of “Brand New Year” involves a trauma nurse who served in Iraq and Afghanistan Carmen met through Facebook and a local woman who “has had an absolutely hellish year,” he said, refusing to identify either. The nurse is struggling with what he called an antibiotics-resistant illness that has sidelined her for two years.

Reflecting on these women and the “four-and-a-half-year nightmare of divorce and what it inflicted on my children” informs “Brand New Year,” Carmen suggested. He thinks the tune strikes the universal note he always seeks, he said – and, in the first line, “drink a toast to all the ghosts we leave behind us,” leverages the notions of renewal and the holiday season. (The tune was released online on Dec. 31.)

“It wasn’t cathartic so much as the song happened very quickly,” he said. “It was much easier than most of the things that I’ve ever written.” Part of that involved rediscovering his love for the piano, and part may have involved a “lot of stuff inside me that hadn’t expressed itself,” he said. The bottom line is that the tune conveys “the hope everyone has on New Year’s Eve.”


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  • 4 weeks later...

Some really nice write-ups about Eric here. His voice is truly one of a kind, and I'm jealous of his ability to hit C5's in chest voice like they're nothing. I did notice on "Brand New Year" that there were some falsetto notes, but I had figured that maybe he had backing vocalists doing those. It's great to hear that he discovered that part of his register again! Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the only other time he reached into full-on falsetto was during the "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll" demo.

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