THE MALE FALSETTO
The male head voice serves as an alternative to the chest voice and grants ‘female’ characteristics to male vocals. Interprets like Berry Gibb (Saturday Night Fever; 1977), Phillip Bailey (Fantasy; 1977) or Prince (Kiss; 1986) formed their signature sound by using this vocal register.
Today, the male falsetto has established itself as a standard sound for male vocalists in many genres, mainly in R&B and mainstream pop.
The male falsetto voice has a long tradition in art music from the Baroque to Ligeti’s "Le Grand Macabre" (1974). Therefore in principle, the male falsetto singing is to be regarded as a non-genuine pop sound.
The male falsetto voice has developed from initially awkward-sounding attempts to a technically highly virtuoso vocal style and is now part of the basic repertoire of almost every pop singer. Influenced by vocal groups like The Four Freshman and singers like Jimmy Jones, the male falsetto spread into Rock&Roll and Soul in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
One of the most recognizable sounds was developed by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys (Good Vibrations; 1966). In the disco era, the male falsetto was one of the main components of vocal performances and from there found a firm place in R&B music.
Singers like Justin Timberlake and Sam Smith are exemplary for the use of this sound in modern mainstream pop.
There are three groups of falsetto singers:
- Singers who occasionally move to the falsetto register (Jimmy Jones, Del Shannon, Elton John, Leo Sayer)
- Singers who sing in both registers (Brian Wilson, Prince, Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake)
- Singers who sing almost exclusively in falsetto (Barry Gibb, Phillip Bailey, Jimmy Somerville)
In today’s production context, the falsetto voice is not treated separately.
Possible intonation weaknesses can today be relatively easily retouched with tools such as Celemony’s Melodyne. Overall, the falsetto sound can be classified as largely unaffected by technological changes.
Against the background of changing gender roles, male falsetto singing plays a central role, as it breaks with the typical ‘masculinity’ in popular culture and becomes part of the androgyny of many male pop artists.
|1955||The Four Freshmen||Day By Day|
|1958||The Platters||Only You|
|1959||The Four Knights||La La|
|1960||Jimmy Jones||Good Timin|
|1964||Beach Boys||I Get Around|
|1964||Frankie Valli||Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You|
|1976||The Manhattans||Kiss And Say Goodbye|
|1976||Leo Sayer||You Make Me Feel Like Dancin|
|1976||Elton John||Goodbye Yellow Brick Road|
|1976||Bee Gees||You Should Be Dancing|
|1977||Donna Summer||I Feel Love|
|1978||Bee Gees||Stayin' Alive|
|1978||Bee Gees||Stayin' Alive (A Capella Version)|
|1979||Bee Gees||Night Fever|
|1979||Robert John||Sad Eyes|
|1979||Michael Jackson||Don't Stop Til You Get Enough|
|1983||Jimmy Somerville||I Feel Love|
R&B and Hip Hop
|2003||Justin Timberlake||Cry Me A River|
|2014||Sam Smith||Stay With Me|
|2014||Pharell Williams (Daft Punk)||Get Lucky|
Falsetto Vocals in the Billboard Top 40 (1960 – 2014)
"It's so sexy"