Category Archives: Motown

Where’s the ‘y’ in R.E.S.P.E.C.T.?

Aretha Franklin’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T. is a popular choice for singing contests, but a lot of singers stumble over the ‘spelling’ part of the song. It feels too crowded, so they drop a letter, usually the C. Continue reading Where’s the ‘y’ in R.E.S.P.E.C.T.?


Windshield wipers, splishin’, splashin’

If I told you that 16th century English aristocrats created their own posher version of a French girl’s name, what kind of invention would you expect? Frideswide? Lettice? Josian?  Wrong.

It’s a name that gives nothing away. At first glance, it’s plain. So plain that it’s become a byword for anonymity in the US. But it’s a name that camouflages a wealth of possibilities for songwriters – it’s easy to rhyme, its diphthong expands, it’s easy to sing.

Any guesses?  Here’s a cryptic Italian clue:

Continue reading Windshield wipers, splishin’, splashin’

Diana Ross and the missing B

When you sing, you have a choice. The choice to bury a consonant and the choice to bring it out into the light when it suits you.

Listen, with your eyes closed, to the Supremes singing My World is Empty Without You. What’s missing from Diana Ross‘ life? A lover called Bay? eBay? A Turkish Bey? What word can you hear?

If you know the song, you know the answer. If English is your native language, you’ve guessed the answer. So ask yourself a different question: when does Diana choose to sing the word clearly, right through to the last consonant? Why then and nowhere else?

Continue reading Diana Ross and the missing B

Pharrell Williams & the 3 riddles of Happy

None of the words in Pharrell Williams’ songs are long or difficult, but there are often a lot of them. If you’re going to sing a cover of Happy, you need to give each word time and space.

Happy needs to feel relaxed and expansive. If you’re racing, blurring and stressing your way through the verse or the bridge, the song’s effortless mood will slide away from you. If English isn’t your first language: please don’t just sing the word happy loudly, every so often. Every word is important to the song.

Pharrell builds and boosts the light, upbeat feel of Happy by choosing and placing each word with precision. How does he fix them into place? We’ll look at his technique for framing the airy vowels, then at the first verse and the bridge. Watch the live video and ask yourself these 3 questions:

  • Pharrell adds a sound to the end of most lines. What and why?
  • Where does Pharrell take a breath in the line I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space? And where does he put the stress – hot, air or balloon?
  • What do you hear when he sings Bring me down, can’t nothing? What does the th of nothing sound like? How about the ng?       

Continue reading Pharrell Williams & the 3 riddles of Happy

Bend, Stretch and Chop with Frankie Valli. Or lose your job.

Imagine this: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are on tour in your country. One of the singers falls off stage at the soundcheck and breaks their leg. You’re the last-minute replacement. This could be your big break.

Frankie makes a last minute change to the set list. He adds The Night. You don’t know the song, but you smile at Frankie anyway. “My favourite song,” you say. You feel sick.

A roadie hands you a dog-eared copy of the score, with all the latest additions to the song. Frankie smiles. You gulp. Read the lyrics now. The first thing you notice? An awful lot of words.

If English isn’t your first language, it can be difficult, when you sing, to know where to bend words or break lines without damaging their integrity. You’ll need to squeeze, stretch and chop in all the right places if you want the words to fit the music in The Night. You’ll lose the job if you don’t get it right.

Smile. Borrow Frankie’s diamond-studded pencil. Get to work. Find a private corner. Listen to The Night. Mark your lyrics to show where the strongest stress falls in each line. That’ll be your scaffolding :

Continue reading Bend, Stretch and Chop with Frankie Valli. Or lose your job.