5 Songs I Could Probably Sing if Someone Forced Me Too

There's this recurring dream I have every now and then where I'm at some club to see a concert and I unexpectedly bump into Frank Zappa.

During the dream, the two of us hang out and become fast friends to the point where when Frank goes up on stage to play his set, he asks me to come up there with him and jam -- which I'm totally excited and honored to do, all the way up to the point where I suddenly realize that I don't know how to play some of his more intricate songs at all.
At which point I usually wake up, feeling more than a little freaked out.
I'm sure if you analyzed the thing, there would be some very interesting insights and revelations about my personality that you could find -- but I've always thought of it as a representation of the conflict between my desire to be seen and heard and the the insecurities I have about how those talents might be received.

I was reminded of this whole dream/theme recently when I was driving around the other day singing along (as I usually do) with the music on my iPod when for some unexplained reason the thing cut off, leaving only my voice to carry the tune.
The results were not pretty.
It's kinda funny to think that I used to do musical theater, including several parts that required solo singing -- when the simple fact is that I have (in my opinion) a horrible singing voice.

Here's the thing though -- I like to sing. I also think (like I suspect a lot of other people do) that I'm kinda OK at it. Of course it's also very possible that I'm over-crediting my ability at it, because despite the fact that so many people are terrible singers (thank you week one of American Idol for the validation) -- is there anything else in the world that people desperately want to be good at the way they do with singing?

You can learn to be a good singer. You can develop specific skills. But when you get right down to it -- so much of what goes into the things we love in great vocalists are things they are born with. Natural talent.
Things you simply can't teach.
The problem is that most of us are aware of that. Most of us have experienced it firsthand, whether it be a parent singing us to sleep, the soloist in the church choir, or that one kid in school who seemed really quiet and invisible but then showed up at the talent show and floored the entire room with a song that you can't even believe is coming out of their mouths.

I've said it many times. I'm a fantastic singer when I'm inside my car. Put me in a box of steel and glass by myself and I'll put anyone to shame -- but stick me on a stage with a microphone and prepare to cringe. I don't know exactly what the difference is, but I've heard myself without the benefit of a car stereo backing me up, and it's not the kind of thing I'm really excited to share with others.

In fact, one of my secret million dollar ideas is to take the annoying car horn/beeping sounds that most car alarms use to ward off thieves -- you know, things that we've all learned to tune out and basically ignore at this point; and replace them with the sound of the car owner singing a song of their choice, and car theft will drop 1000%.

Picture the scene. Guy with slimjim breaks into my car, sits in the seat, hot wires the ignition and then is suddenly treated to a full blast rendition of my lame ass belting out repeated choruses of my favorite songs by the Clash.
"Shareef don't like it! (thinks it's not Ko-sher!) Rockin' the Casbah! Rock the Casbah!!
The way I see it, anyone who is willing to stay in a car while that screeching dirge is playing can basically keep it.

At the same time, like I said -- I'd still love to think that I could sing a few tunes if my life depended on it. That during those embarrassing drunk dials where I decide that the best way to communicate with the UPS Girl is through Stevie Wonder lyrics that the results she hears when she checks the voicemail doesn't immediately short out all the circuits on her phone.
Because lord knows, there are plenty of other ways I can mess up a phone when I put my mind to it.
So here, in no particular order -- are five songs that I'm pretty sure I could do a decent rendition of (if I can remember all the lyrics) if ever I came face to face with some sort of life-or-death karaoke situation where if I didn't sing a song in front of a crowd I would be killed (although to be honest, I can't really think of how that would work, or how I would ever be put into a situation where something like that would happen).
  1. Bill Withers -- Ain't No Sunshine -- I have a low voice, so this song is basically right in my vocal wheelhouse. That being said, despite it's simplicity and short length, it's still one of the most soulful tunes ever written. Basically this is a song that I want to be good at singing, so I've dedicated time to working on it in the car.


  2. Drowning Pool -- Bodies -- This is, no lie -- my son's #1 favorite song. I can't even count the number of times I've played this on guitar for him, but essentially double that number for the amount of times the two of us have sung this in the car together. He doesn't know all the words, but we kick ass when it gets to the chorus. I'm sure anyone driving near us is utterly confused, but ask me if I honestly care. This is our jam.


  3. Living Colour -- Love Rears it's Ugly Head -- Let me clarify something here. I can't really sing this song. At least not in a way that would do any sort of justice to the original. But some songs you sing, and some you kind of power through. So if I could get to a point one day where I could sorta attitude this song all the way through, I'll feel like I could die a happy man.


  4. Dean Martin -- Ain't That A Kick in The Head -- My dad's favorite singer was always Dean Martin, so as a result I listened to a ton of his albums growing up. From the Italian love songs, to the Rat Pack days, to all the bad movie songs and albums of standards, it was impossible to resist the charm of this famous crooner. Short of singing my favorite old jazz standard Masquerade (which I always thought Julie London did the best version of outside of Billie Holiday) I can't think of a more fun song to sing than this classic arrangement.


  5. This tune: -- Despite it's Broadway faaabulous vocal requirements (which normally aren't my style), this was one of my first really big onstage solo pieces back in my theater days. The odd thing about it was that Little Shop of Horrors was actually MacEwan's favorite musical growing up (he had cassettes of the Original Cast Recordings we used to listen to after school), so we actually used to sing songs from it in the halls just to be goofy a few years before Fritton ever decided to put on the actual play. I can't tell you how much fun it was belting this one out in front of audience after audience, knowing that I was not only making them laugh, but sorta scaring the hell out of them too.
I also could probably volunteer my time as second vocalist on about 30 rap songs that I don't actually know the lyrics to, except for those tag lines at the end where you just say the same thing the main MC is saying to give it more emphasis. Like if I was backing up Sir Mix-a-Lot, my whole singing part would basically be: "Lie, Deny, Sprung, me so horny, use me -- use me; 'Cause you ain't that average groupie, Even white boys got to shout, My anaconda don't want none unless you've got buns hon!!" (and you know, ..so on and so forth).

So now that you've seen my list, what are some of yours? Feel free to list them in the comments -- because there's always room for one more up here on this stage embarrassing themselves. I mean, it's not just me --
..Right?

[Listening to:  Skindred"Roots Rock Riot" ]

Comments

Amanda said…
Okay, so when I saw Living Color do that song live, the man just jumped up on a speaker and sat there and sang it. And yet, he was wearing a banana yellow spandex unitard and his facial expression that made it one of my very favorite songs.

Now...this list.
1. "Memory" from Cats. Just kidding, for a minute there I thought I was at all state chorus again.
Can't imagine why I would have to, but would love to be given the chance to sing the following:

1. "My Romance" Tuck and Patti version. Of course I would have to have him come play the guitar for me to get the right mood. This is almost a tie with "Take My Breath Away" but Patti does amazing things with the end of "My Romance" that I like to fool myself into thinking I can do and it gives me chills to sing it.
2. "Sleep to Dream" Fiona Apple
3. "His Eye is on the Sparrow". This is definitely a car song. Nobody does it like Mahalia. It is a sacred space.
4. "Bring Me Some Water" Power through it.
5. Okay, don't laugh...this is the most ambitious thing ever and Randy would tell me that the song was just to big for me (dawg) but if I could get through the first two words of "At Last", I think I could make it through the rest of the song without totally FUBARing it.
Amanda said…
Damn it. Somehow I dropped the "u". Living Colour. Fcking spell check.
Werdna said…
Since I can't sing, but I can stay in tune if required, and I've hit box-style karaoke more than a few times (probably 2 times a year for 10 years).

1) Born to be wild. Sang it in front of 10K people with Hard Rock Karaoke. I'd do it again. I asked them to take it slow and heavy. Worked fine. Power through it. ;)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xm5DPlNCmtk

2) She- Elvis Costello. It is "our song" -not me and you, me and my wife. I can actually do this okay. I admit to it being vaguely cheesy and on the Notting Hill Soundtrack.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oyck6zyDCMM

3) Layla- Clapton. Fast or slow version. in fact almost any of the actually clapton singing stuff is low and doesn't have too much range.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2sfelvHAlU

4) the song that is too big for me- Fake Plastic Trees- Radiohead. The falsetto part is the killer of course, but if you get the transition, it works fine.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDS4wOd_o1I

Such a beautiful song. It really is a shame I ever sing it.

5) Tomorrow Wendy- Concrete Blonde. I can sing and play this in my sleep. When I have to prove I can sing and play guitar, I break this out (you know). I'm not good..but, it is dependable even at pretty damn drunk. I sound nothing like Concrete Blonde.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO6qrtSTkew

I have a ipod list with stuff I should sing and play. oh and thanks for backing me on Distant Early Warning. I'm glad somebody else can play that....

Apparently I don't need a hype man because I sing depressing songs. Maybe I should switch one of my answers to Song 2 by Blur or Jet's Are you gonna by my girl?
whatigotsofar said…
Dude, you need some karaoke to make you feel like a better singer. I'm probably the worst singer in the world. I make that She-Bangs jerk look like a good singer. But, dude, get yerself to a karaoke bar, get loaded then go hog wild on the mike.

Here are the songs I love to butcher:
Mr Big - To Be With You
Elton John - Levon or Amoreena
Blue Rodeo - most anything from Palace of Gold
Live - Run to the Water
every song Tesla ever made
Bryan Adams - Somebody, but with that song, I sing my own lyrics. Sort of an ode to panhandling I call "Some Money"
Satorical said…
"Whip It," Devo
"Night and Day," Cole Porter by way of U2, except for the super-high falsetto at the end. That's also what keeps me from killing on Tom Sawyer.
Anything by Social Distortion.
Primus is also fair game, since it's all pirate ditties anyway.
Heff said…
Heff has an ear for music, but CAN'T and WON'T sing. No need proving what's obvious to me.
Hex said…
Amanda -- "Love Rears it's Ugly Head" was one of the few Living Colour songs that Corey did when I saw him on his Solo Tour. It's such a showcase for his specific strengths as a singer and an entertainer. If I was starting a band right now and had the chance -- I would call him in a heartbeat to lead the group.

As to your list -- Love, love, love me some Tuck and Patty (although there is a certain percentage of hate for Tuck, who is simply too good a guitarist for me to just accept with a smile. "My Romance" is one of the best songs on that album. -- And "His Eye is on the Sparrow?" I LOVE that track. You know that used to be the theme song for the old cop show Baretta, right? Sammy Davis Jr. sang it for that one.

ps - "At Last" rocks.

Werdna -- Born to be Wild is one of those songs that I think 99% of the people in the world have NO CLUE WHATSOEVER what the lyrics in the third verse are. It's a great tune, but how many times have we been at Karaoke and heard some dude go -- um, something something something, Heavy Metal Thunder! Something something something....

As for the rest -- I have my short list of Elvis Costello songs I love, and "She" is right there near the top. I dig his angry stuff a little more, but that's a great tune.

WIGSF -- You Canadians and your Bryan Adams. We'll never be able to take that away from you, will we?

That being said, anytime you want to get really hammered and then go on a karaoke stage and scream Tesla songs at full volume, (the rockers, not their horribly sappy ballads) I'm THERE.


Satorical -- "Night and Day" is an awesome song. It's literally astounding how many songs Cole Porter wrote, especially considering how many of them are still beloved today.
Hex said…
Heff -- Unacceptable answer. You gotta name something.

Luckilly, I have the perfect song for you to sing. It's called "Anti-Procrastination Song" by an old metal band called The Stormtroopers of Death.

You can find it on this page:
http://www.last.fm/music/S.O.D./_/Anti-Procrastination+Song

Don't be nervous, it's easy to sing :)
JerseySjov said…
Journey- Don't Stop Believin': a lot of people like to just sing the first bit and the chorus, but i know every single word and i can do it with feeling

Boston- More Than A Feeling- this is on one of the guitar heros and, while i sucked at playing the game, i could sing as i clicked my little plastic guitar

India.Arie- I am Not My Hair- it's kind of a strong black woman anthem...2/3 aint bad

Meat Loaf- Paradise By the Dashboard Light- my roommates and i can do a mean version of this

Bruce Springsteen- Thunder Road- i don't know every word; this would be my 'power through' song. bruce doesnt really enunciate too much so i think i could maybe get away with it if the crowd wasnt sober
Werdna said…
Anti Procrastination song is awesome!

Tuck is highly under appreciated as a guitarist. The two of them together are ridiculous (saw them at the moon in Tallahassee- great show).

Totally forgot Social D, although I'll never be able to sing them like Ness or Satorical. I have no idea how I left them off my top 5... must be because they aren't at karaoke.

Must have been the mopey tunes.


Cole Porter still rulez!!
whatigotsofar said…
Tomorrow night, Archibald's in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Only got one Tesla song, but I'm gonna rock the shit out of it brother.

It's not what you got, it's you give.
It ain't the life you choose, it's the life you liii-iiive!
unMuse said…
i can't sing. I don't sing. But, there's been a few times I've been forced via taunts from friends to sing karaoke and these are the one's I've chosen or "accompanied" on.

1. Dirty Laundry - Don Henley
2. Life in the fast lane - the eagles
3. Push it - Salt n Peppa
4. Black Velvet - Alana Miles
5. any Sublime
6. Tainted Love

OH GOD. I just remembered I sang Nelson's "More than Words" at a church retreat.

That being said, I know all of the words to thousands apon thousands of songs. I just can't.. won't.. don't.

(kudos to Tomorrow Wendy I love that song, but I would never force to anyone listen to me sing it.)
unMuse said…
shit.. and Nirvana's "Polly" at another church retreat.

(i grew up in a hippie church.)