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671831 Posts in 27041 Topics by 3971 Members - Latest Member: kindofgreen September 20, 2021, 06:55:36 AM
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Author Topic: Jan & Dean are terrible singers  (Read 1126 times)
bonnevillemariner
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« on: September 15, 2021, 07:28:25 AM »

Sorry, it had to be said.

With all the focus on the Beach Boys' middle era lately (Feel Flows Box Set), I decided it's high time I start at the beginning and retrace everything from the early days up to Sunflower/Surf's Up. Naturally, I started with Jan & Dean.

I think everyone agrees that J&D were pivotal in the development and popularization of the surf rock sound, but they. simply. can't. sing.

That said... I absolutely love them. I've immersed myself in their music for the last few days, and I can't wipe the smile off my face.

Were J&D aware they can't sing? I can't help but wonder if this was more of a feature than a bug. Thoughts?
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« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2021, 07:44:04 AM »

Okay, good; I'm not the only one. Can't stand Dean's whiny falsetto, and Jan was off-key A LOT.

Years ago I once posted in another forum about how I just don't get the attraction with Jan and Dean. A couple of people said yes, they were not good singers, but they were a good *act*, especially if you saw them in concert in their hitmaking days; they were more of a comedy act than anything else, really, from what several people told me.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2021, 09:10:30 AM by 37!ws » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2021, 08:54:16 AM »

Were J&D aware they can't sing? I can't help but wonder if this was more of a feature than a bug. Thoughts?


I absolutely love Jan & Dean as well, and while I think it's hyperbolic to say they "can't sing" -- clearly they can -- I can see what you're getting at.  Jan was a spirit who just loved to make music, and I think it's probably patent that he's not one of those people that's a born lead-singer.  He gets the job done, for me, though.

On the other hand, the Dean question is interesting because of course so often it's not actually Dean (who certainly never developed a commanding head voice) -- it's your PF Sloans and your Matadors who are singing on those records.  And again, those people all get the job done for me, but it is true that none of them are quite as polished as Beach Boys became -- and I can imagine that's because they didn't spend as many grueling hours in the studio learning the craft.

I also don't think it's fair to call them a comedy act, even if they were a very good live show that made a lot of people laugh.  I think Jan would be the first to happily call some of what he did "Schtick" -- in fact if I recall correctly, he would write that in guitar players parts to indicate that they should do what he normally asked for.  But schtick aside, Jan was very very serious about making music and doing it well.
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« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2021, 09:12:22 AM »

And the topic of Jan & Dean is where my opinions part ways dramatically with what seems to be a lot of the Beach Boys' fanbase. When I listen to Jan & Dean at their best, I enjoy the music and what's in the grooves. When I watch that unsold TV pilot or TV movie from '66 where they have the full Wrecking Crew on stage with them and Hal Blaine playing a comedic foil to the cast, I really enjoy it. They cut a few really good singles, no doubt. The studio guys "played up" for Jan and turned in some classic performances.

But...(in no particular order, and just my opinions for discussion)

1. The off-key singing is one of the main elements that seems to be in direct contradiction with the notion that Jan Berry was going for a superior outcome in the art of studio recording and crafting records.

It's as if you spent hours baking the finest wedding cake you could bake, with premium ingredients and the skills of a superior baker in the kitchen, and when you deliver the cake the icing is all messed up, the groom's name is spelled wrong, and the whole cake leans to one side.

*Most* people who are non-musicians listen to the words first when hearing a record, and the words come through the vocalist(s). If it's as out of tune as some of those J&D records are, the whole impact is lost, much like the wedding cake which had the finest ingredients but the finishing touches which everyone sees first are all f**ked up and sloppy.

Why didn't Jan spend more time getting in-tune vocals that were delivered with confidence and that passion that marks a classic vocal recording? Who knows.

And if the "well, they were a comedy act" answer is offered as a reason why the vocals fell short, I'd counter with the examples of Spike Jones, Allan Sherman, Weird Al Yankovic, etc. All of them were comedy acts too, that was their entire "schtick" (as in, Spike Jones didn't cut serious records), but their bands always played in tune and their vocals were in tune and well delivered, whether on the parody recordings or on their originals.

If anyone needs proof, listen to Jan & Dean's "Folk And Roll" album. The vocals are literally bad, and I'm not being biased, they are literally out of tune more than they're in. That record should never have come out if the vocals were rushed or done half-assed.

And that's why J&D are not the legends or as well remembered as some of their peers from the 60's. They fell just that much short on critical elements like the vocals.

Just my opinions, and I have more but most have already been expressed on this forum in past years. And I'll repeat, I also enjoy listening to them at their best, but the attempts to elevate J&D to the levels of their peers is not justified by actually listening to their releases from the 60's. They were very raw and proto-punk/garage in the 50's, and I dig that energy and vibe, but the rest falls short.

In my opinion.
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bonnevillemariner
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« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2021, 11:59:37 AM »


Why didn't Jan spend more time getting in-tune vocals that were delivered with confidence and that passion that marks a classic vocal recording? Who knows.

I'm stumped, too. Listening to their entire catalog, it's clear that they never made any serious effort to improve their singing.

Joshilyn, one reason I think they "get the job done" for me, too, is their amateur singing has the air of youth and carefree innocence-- like a couple of buddies singing about their life with little concern for what someone might think.
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« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2021, 12:28:11 PM »

Bob Dylan and Neil Young aren’t great either, but the songs, lyrics etc are the highlight.
The business needs average singers. It appeals to us who are just as average and only sing in the shower. 😅
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« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2021, 02:10:02 PM »

As someone who has been a fan of The Beach Boys for most of his life, and got into Jan & Dean only within the last few years, there is certainly no question that even at their most ragged The Boys could sing circles around Jan & Dean (and many of their other contemporary sound-alikes as well) but I would argue that Jan & Dean have plenty of passionate vocals (some of the more passionate ones are sometimes also the more out-of-tune ones) and would agree that for me, these qualities that are detractors for some are more of a personal flavor that makes their songs all the more unique. I'd say in my (unprofessional) opinion they are better-than-average singers, but maybe just didn't really care all that much. As a wise man once said, "It's just a ride..."
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« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2021, 04:37:24 PM »

Okay, good; I'm not the only one. Can't stand Dean's whiny falsetto, and Jan was off-key A LOT.

Years ago I once posted in another forum about how I just don't get the attraction with Jan and Dean. A couple of people said yes, they were not good singers, but they were a good *act*, especially if you saw them in concert in their hitmaking days; they were more of a comedy act than anything else, really, from what several people told me.


I’ve never been able to get into Jan and Dean. Before I became a fan 26 years ago (!) I thought The Beach Boys were lame mainly because I thought they were just like Jan and Dean, too middle of the road WASPy with no kind of edge at all.

In all fairness it WAS the 90s
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« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2021, 05:27:56 PM »

Bob Dylan and Neil Young aren’t great either, but the songs, lyrics etc are the highlight.
The business needs average singers. It appeals to us who are just as average and only sing in the shower. 😅

I agree on the first point. Also: George Harrison. And mind you, I ADORE George Harrison...but listen to his lead vocals, even as late as Abbey Road and All Things Must Pass, and you'll hear some flatting of notes, and the like. No Roger Daltrey or even Paul McCartney here. But that's OK.

I also agree on the second point. People like George, Ray Davies, even John Lennon half the time were not what is generally thought of as "exceptional" singers. But that's OK - they get the job done (especially on their own songs), and justify people like me singing my own songs!  Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2021, 05:44:25 PM »

As someone who has been a fan of The Beach Boys for most of his life, and got into Jan & Dean only within the last few years, there is certainly no question that even at their most ragged The Boys could sing circles around Jan & Dean (and many of their other contemporary sound-alikes as well) but I would argue that Jan & Dean have plenty of passionate vocals (some of the more passionate ones are sometimes also the more out-of-tune ones) and would agree that for me, these qualities that are detractors for some are more of a personal flavor that makes their songs all the more unique. I'd say in my (unprofessional) opinion they are better-than-average singers, but maybe just didn't really care all that much. As a wise man once said, "It's just a ride..."

The point in bold is probably the key issue I have in this discussion and with Jan & Dean in general. There are people telling us how much care and attention Jan Berry gave to his studio productions, writing out each and every part for the musicians to play and mixing everything with such meticulous attention to detail, really taking the craft of recording and arranging pop or teen music into an art form.

Then you hear the out of tune vocals, and vocal tracks which sound like they really didn't care all that much, and it almost immediately destroys the other point by example.

Again the question becomes why would such care and attention be given to the instrumental tracks only to put vocals on those tracks that too often sound like they were half-assed?

« Last Edit: September 15, 2021, 05:46:18 PM by guitarfool2002 » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2021, 05:54:46 PM »

I also agree on the second point. People like George, Ray Davies, even John Lennon half the time were not what is generally thought of as "exceptional" singers. But that's OK - they get the job done (especially on their own songs), and justify people like me singing my own songs!  Smiley

John Lennon, really? He's universally regarded as one of the best singers in rock history, and I have to agree. Even for studio recording, which he didn't care for, Lennon's pitch, phrasing, and diction in terms of singing rock and roll was almost perfect, and his singing voice in general was pretty much considered exceptional by most.
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« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2021, 08:20:03 PM »

I also agree on the second point. People like George, Ray Davies, even John Lennon half the time were not what is generally thought of as "exceptional" singers. But that's OK - they get the job done (especially on their own songs), and justify people like me singing my own songs!  Smiley

John Lennon, really? He's universally regarded as one of the best singers in rock history, and I have to agree. Even for studio recording, which he didn't care for, Lennon's pitch, phrasing, and diction in terms of singing rock and roll was almost perfect, and his singing voice in general was pretty much considered exceptional by most.
IMO, John Lennon is the best singer of flat out rock and roll not named Little Richard or Elvis Presley.
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« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2021, 08:23:31 PM »

As someone who has been a fan of The Beach Boys for most of his life, and got into Jan & Dean only within the last few years, there is certainly no question that even at their most ragged The Boys could sing circles around Jan & Dean (and many of their other contemporary sound-alikes as well) but I would argue that Jan & Dean have plenty of passionate vocals (some of the more passionate ones are sometimes also the more out-of-tune ones) and would agree that for me, these qualities that are detractors for some are more of a personal flavor that makes their songs all the more unique. I'd say in my (unprofessional) opinion they are better-than-average singers, but maybe just didn't really care all that much. As a wise man once said, "It's just a ride..."

The point in bold is probably the key issue I have in this discussion and with Jan & Dean in general. There are people telling us how much care and attention Jan Berry gave to his studio productions, writing out each and every part for the musicians to play and mixing everything with such meticulous attention to detail, really taking the craft of recording and arranging pop or teen music into an art form.

Then you hear the out of tune vocals, and vocal tracks which sound like they really didn't care all that much, and it almost immediately destroys the other point by example.

Again the question becomes why would such care and attention be given to the instrumental tracks only to put vocals on those tracks that too often sound like they were half-assed?



It almost makes you think about Brian producing an entire album (or SERIES of albums, god forbid!) of songs like "Teeter Totter Love"  LOL
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« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2021, 08:50:25 PM »

Not to get too much into the "debate" but I'm pretty sure that the bad singing on Folk 'n Roll was at least partially intentional - they were sending up the genre.

I would wager that at least some of their imperfection is a defense mechanism against the same; if they're not *trying* to be perfect then they can dismiss criticism for it. And for me, they succeed in walking the line between irreverent and competent.
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« Reply #14 on: September 16, 2021, 06:41:16 AM »

I'm not trying to pile on, and I'm also not suggesting anybody was making a full, direct comparison between Jan & Dean and the other vocalists cited as examples. But I have to say, *every* other vocalist cited in this thread is by any measure a far better singer than Jan or Dean, including any of the Beatles, Ray Davies, Neil Young, and even Bob Dylan.

In particular, someone like George Harrison grew into a fine, skilled singer, and even in his early days when his lead singing voice (though still far better than Jan or Dean) was clunky on early stuff like "Do You Want to Know a Secret", he learned very early on to sing some great multi-part harmonies with John and Paul. And, even as a lead singer George had a level of skill and experience and even self-confidence that I never heard in something like Jan & Dean. Listen to the Beatles' Decca Audition; Harrison arguably carries the band on lead vocals. Remember that a fact kind of lost to history (if you don't listen to pre-EMI stuff or read Lewisohn) is that Harrison was a *bigger* part of the act pre-EMI. He kind of got cut out of the act to some degree when they started cutting albums and doing more formulated live setlists.

I think there's a HUGE difference between a bunch of 60s rock/pop singers who were not formally trained but had obvious raw vocal talent and in many cases honed their skills through playing lots of live gigs, etc., and something like Jan & Dean where they weren't exactly playing 8 hours per night in Hamburg, Germany, and weren't exactly doing anything near the breadth of song types a band like the Beatles were doing, switching from show tunes to country to rock and roll to originals, and so on.

Jan & Dean were very much a "they get the job done" sort of act vocally (and sometimes perhaps not quite rising even to that level); whereas the Kinks or Beatles or Neil Young or whomever were fine, exceptional singers that often if not usually just didn't come from formal training. HUGE, HUGE difference between these two things.

I'm not even sure who to compare to Jan & Dean. To try to find something else in the BB world to compare, I guess I'd say it hews much closer to something like Jack Rieley's vocals on "Tree", or the wonkiest of the Honeys/Spring vocals. And really, I truly feel like that's kind of being too unkind to the Honeys/Spring stuff.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2021, 06:42:04 AM by HeyJude » Logged

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« Reply #15 on: Today at 05:56:06 AM »

Definitely agree with HeyJude - 'Bob Dylan couldn't sing' is a bizarre misconception that's somehow taken hold in popular thought. Much like 'Ringo is a bad drummer'. At his peak, Dylan was in tune, evocative, and technically strong - i.e. you can hear that he's projecting his voice and using resonance in a way which we'd consider 'correct' in contemporary western singing. He sounded like a professional vocalist, in other words. Sure he was never gonna be Stevie Wonder, but he used his instrument to its full potential. Jan and Dean did not; they sounded weak and amateurish.
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