Classic Singers 9 – Sally Doherty

The voice is an instrument in itself and some people use it just so much better than others. And every now and then you come across a singer that makes you take notice, somebody with a voice that just catches you. I remember this happening when I bought Plant Funk’s album Non Zero Sumness. Three of the songs had a voice that hypnotised me with its quality. It gave me goosebumps. That voice belonged to Sally Doherty.

There aren’t many singers who can hold my attention with their voice, but she is one. I can imagine that she would be able to sing unaccompanied and still entrance an audience. I regret that I have never seen her perform, but I live on the other side of the world. If I still lived in Stafford, I’d be making a point of hearing her sing live. Such is life.

However, some research led me to discover that Sally has been singing for a while and has collaborated with many different musicians along the way. There have been albums by Sally Doherty, Sally Doherty and Paul Kilvington, Sally Doherty and the Sumacs, the Sally Doherty Quartet, and in addition to this she has sung on albums by Planet Funk, Richard Hawley, and Donald Grant among others.

She sings in a variety of styles including Latin Jazz, pop, a bit of club music, and I’m sure her voice is versatile enough to sing in many more styles. Forgive me if I haven’t got more to say, but I don’t a lot more than that. I just love listening her voice.

So, onto the 5 songs. There are a limited number of songs featuring Sally Doherty on youtube, but I have found five to link to – all excellent and varied in their styles:

1. Under the Rain – This is from Non Zero Sumness, by Planet Funk. Sally Doherty wrote the melody and lyrics as well as singing. It’s an entrancing song that is like being taken on a relaxing train ride while at the same time trying to resist the urge to get up and dance. I don’t have a lot of this style of music, but  I still play this a lot on my iPod because as a song, it’s the complete package.

2. All Man’s Land – Another one from Non Zero Sumness. This is slower than Under the Rain, but almost hypnotic. It’s the verbal equivalent of having a massage. If I listen to this on a tense day at work, it brings me down to an equilibrium. I can feel my muscles de-stress.

3. Historia de a Amor­ – This is one in the latin jazz style and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand Spanish, but I believe that this song title translates as something like A Love Story…but don’t quote me on that. However, I don’t need to understand the language to appreciate the voice on this. Have a listen and you’ll see what I mean. A good voice like Sally’s conveys the emotion and the ‘vibe’. You don’t need to understand the words.

4. The Very Thought of You­ – Another jazzy song. Another great exhibition of singing. Another song I could listen to again and again. It’s very mellow. It’s lovely. I could go on, but I won’t.

5. Watching the Horses – This is a great combination of piano and voice, along with some strings (cello?) A slow track with rhythm is almost like a swell washing up on the shore. Not sure what style I’d call this, but it’s a little bit folky, perhaps?


If you want to find out more about Sally, her website is

One more Classic Singer to go, before I get into some albums. Who will it be?

Classic Singers 6 – Elvis Costello

Okay…let’s talk about Elvis Costello; the man writes a great song. He hit the headlines first with his album My Aim IS True which spawned such sings as Alison and Less Than Zero. Watching the Detectives was on the US release of this album. His visual style and rather unique voice were immediately recognisable. This was 1977 and he was competing with punk and heavy metal – and disco. But he has an ear for lyrics and a good melody; he consequently sold well.

The next album was This Year’s Model  which included such classics as Pump It Up and I don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea. It reached No. 4 on the UK charts. His next album did even better with Armed Forces reaching No 2.  This album had Oliver’s Army on it, which became an international hit. He followed it with Get Happy, another No.2 on the album charts in the UK. This was a more soulful album This was, in my opinion, the peak time for Elvis Costello, and he also produced The Specials first album. He also wrote the song Shipbuilding which Robert Wyatt released in 1982.

He went on with various band changes, releasing an album of country songs (Almost Blue), having more hits such as Every Day I Write the Book and is still singing now.  In 2002 he released the single Tear Off Your Own Head, It’s a Doll Revolution, subsequently covered by the Bangles on their album Doll Revolution. As sacrilegious as it sounds, I prefer the Bangles version (sorry Elvis). Elvis Costello still tours, records and performs. And so he should. The man has built a great portfolio of music.

The songs

Pump It Up This is an awesome piece of pop with a punk / ska influence released in 1977. It is possibly my favourite Elvis Costello song. The guitar riff and excellent backing band (The Attractions) make this an instant toe-tapper. There is no over-production and it just rocks.

She – This was part of the Notting Hill soundtrack – and is a ballad covered by Elvis Costello that shows his abilities in a different style of music. It is a laid back song that starts with a piano and his voice (and some quiet strings). In my opinion this song that really shows Elvis Costello’s voice.

Veroncia – co-written with Elvis Costello, this is pure pop released in 1989. I recall hearing this while I was at university in Plymouth.  Perhaps these guys should write more together. The horn part in this also makes a great contribution and is quite reminiscent of the Beatles at times.

Watching the Detectives  –  being a bit of a sucker for ska and ska influenced music, I love this song. It was one of his earlier ones, and captures the genre with his own quirky influence.

Oliver’s Army – I can’t not include this song. The overall package makes it, perhaps, one of the stand out singles for the late 70s. The melody is great, the lyrics, a bit of satire, and the performance fantastic.

Classic Singers 4 – Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly – this name is iconic in Australian music. I don’t know how well he is known in the rest of the world, but I can categorically state that this man is the consummate song-writer. He began his career in the late 70s as Paul Kelly and the Dots, before becoming Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls in the 80s, then on to Paul Kelly and the Messengers, before becoming simply Paul Kelly. The man is a legend! Do I sound like a fan? If was to nail down his genre I would say that he was folk / rock, but I don’t really like to use labels.

For me, his best album is Gossip, released in 1987, which has the great track Last Train to Heaven (sadly hard to get a good version on youtube) but he has released many, many more. Last Train, with its laid-back reggae inspired rhythm, didn’t make my five songs, but I encourage you look it up. Paul Kelly has been prolific so it has been difficult for me to finalise my top 5 (nothing new there).

I’ve left out Before Too Long, No You, Cities of Texas, Before the Old Man Died, Little Decisions, Adelaide, Song from the 16th Floor, From Little Things Big Things Grow. Suffice to say, where song-writing and story-telling is concerned, I don’t think there is anybody better.

The songs:

1. Careless – Taken from the album So Much Water So Close to Home, this is a gem of a folk/pop song with great use of the harmonica and some of his trademark fantastic lyrics. The rhythmic and melodic guitar intro sets up an easy-on-ear ride through the song.

2. Dumb Things – This is perhaps Paul Kelly’s best known song outside Australia, taken from the soundtrack to the movie Young Einstein. An upbeat pop/rock song that start with a great drawn out harmonica over thumping drums. It’s worth a listen to hear a bit of his more lively music.

3. To Her Door – Taken from the album Under the Sun, this is a song about a man who wants to come home to his wife after a breakdown in their relationship because of drink. In many ways this is an uplifting song, inspiring hope that things can change. It has some good guitar work and great use of keyboards.

4. They Thought I Was Asleep – What can I say? When I was researching this, I came across this song for the first time. It was from the Album Foggy Highway in 2005. I just listened, and re-listened, and listened again – it gave me goosebumps. This is one fantastic song, both musically and lyrically. If you aren’t emotionally involved in this song then I reckon there’s something wrong with you! Just my opinion. The harmonica work is, as usual, right on the mark.

5. The Execution – From Gossip. I love this song; I don’t know if others will, but it starts with a guitar over drums, and the starts along on a story of the assassin. In some ways it’s a ‘harsh’ song, but I just love the way it is put together, with no real chorus, and a number of changes of pace and then builds to a musical crescendo at the end.

Classic Singers 3 – Kirsty MacColl

Wow. Picking 5 songs was difficult (once again), Kirsty MacColl had a smooth voice that moved effortlessly between notes and she is sadly missed. She started out in the charts with the single There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis, an upbeat 60’s inspired pop song, and from there carried on with the 60’s inspiration, before moving on to more 80’s music, doing folk music and then on to Latin rhythms at the end of her career. Whatever style she sang, she pulled it off.

One of her well-known songs is They Don’t Know, but I haven’t included it as I think Tracy Ullman’s 1983 version was better. In fact Tracy Ullman recorded a number of her songs during her short pop career, including Terry and You Broke My Heart in 17 Places.

Kirsty MacColl collaborated with Johnny Marr on Walking Down Madison another change of direction. Other songs that I considered but eventually left out of the 5 were Innocence, Free World, See That Girl, Angel, Days, Mother’s Ruin, My Affair, and All The Tears that I Cried. If anybody doesn’t know Kirsty MacColl then I suggest you find a copy of From Croyden to Cuba – this is a triple CD set of her work. I’m proud to have it in my collection.

On to the songs:

1. Can’t Stop Killing You – Written with Johnny Marr, this starts with simple stripped back intro with a guitar riff and some snare drums. Then it kicks into a full drum beat and bass halfway through the first verse. The foot-tapping compulsion is almost irresistible. Kirsty’s vocal overlay all of this evoking conflict and emotional frustration.

2. In These Shoes – Kirsty’s sense of humour comes through in spades in this song about a woman who is being chatted up by guys in what is probably a bar in Central America / Spain. The latin rhythm and her delivery are priceless, along with the trumpet solo. You may well have heard on adverts, a sure sign that its catchiness is a winner.

3. A New England – Written by Billy Bragg, this is the first song that I can remember hearing her sing. I think it’s pop at its best –a jangly guitar with a bass that is mixed to provide just right amount of ‘oomph’ to help it along. And it has the immortal lyrics ‘I saw two shooting stars last night. I wished on them, but they were only satellites. It’s wrong to wish on space hardware, I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care.’

4. On the Beach – I love the upbeat vibe of this song. Kirsty MacColl’s harmonies soar ever upwards in this song, and the jangly guitar again gives this a great pop feel (a little bit of 60s influence I think!) And I relate to the subject matter, having moved from Stafford UK right around the world to Perth – and I spend a fair amount time on the beach too! Starting the day with a swim just makes the day. Going after work on a stinking hot day finishes is a perfect finish to the day. So, as you might see, anything about the beach is likely to appeal to me.

5. Fairytale of New York – Can’t not include this. Her duet with Shane MacGowan and the Pogues is gorgeous. They play off each other to make a perfect Christmas song. I never tire of listening to this, it’s uplifting and I often rue the lack of Christmas Songs being released these days. I can’t much more than this. It’s a classic song that deserves to be played.

That’s all for now…

Previous Classic Singers
1. Susanna Hoffs
2. James Reyne

My Classic Singers 1- Susanna Hoffs

Yes, it’s time to be subjective on a subject that is guaranteed to cause debate and outright disagreement – music. I am going to pick, every now and then, a singer whom I like and then choose five songs that best show their voice. Sounds like fun to me, let’s hope it is for you too – if any of you are reading. So who to start with?

I chose Susanna Hoffs – and yes, I can already hear you saying ‘George, you’ve simply got crush on her,’ to which I can say, ‘Well…yeah! But, more than that, her voice is just gorgeous and I could listen to it all day.’ So why Ms Hoffs first? No reason other than I was recently sifting through my collection and came across Different Light on cassette. From there I just did what I usually do and began wondering what the Bangles were doing now and started investigating. I worked through the Bangles reunion and albums and Susanna Hoff’s partnership with Matthew Sweet, which has produced some great moments. Then on to the recent album Someday.

The first time I heard Susanna’s voice was when I heard Going Down to Liverpool on Radio 1 one evening in my home town of Stafford, UK in about 1985 (probably) It was a bright moment on a cold rainy night. I didn’t know who it was who was singing backing vocals and harmonies, but the voice sounded great.

But enough rambling, which five songs did I pick – well, here goes in no particular order:

1. If She Knew What She Wants – This is on the album Different Light and I was surprised it didn’t do better in the charts in the UK. I preferred it to all of the other singles as the melody fitted so well with her voice.  She really gets the angst, frustration, and emotion of a story about somebody who is certain that there’s something better out there but can’t define it.

2. Raining –  This is a recent song, and a classic – very country and a great musical journey that proves she’s still got it. I used to think that I didn’t like folky / country music, but various people, notably Paul Kelly & Rodney Crowell, have convinced me otherwise. It’s not the genre, it’s the song that is important – the melody and the voice. This has both.  This song took me on a nostalgic journey, but not mine. I felt the raw emotion, the feeling of loss, and the almost unstoppable urge to pick up my guitar and start writing a song. Love it.

3. The Look of Love – This is a spankingly good version of this classic song. There is a delightful hint of huskiness to her voice in this song. I felt like getting a glass of good red wine and curling by a fire.  And you can’t beat a good saxophone – despite its over-use in the 80s!

4. Something That You Said –  This is off Dollhouse Revolution and is, maybe, my favourite with her voice. I was pretty much spellbound by this when I heard it and, to be honest, I can’t really put it into words. The best I can do is to say that this is one of those songs that picks you up and then takes you floating along on the cushion that is her voice…wow. Umm…speechless.

5. Manic Monday – Can’t really leave this out. For me it is the song that introduced me to Susanna Hoff’s voice. A great pop song that was written by Prince, but the Bangles made it their own, and I probably saw them performing on Top of the Pops and that was it – I was hooked. And if you track down the acoustic version on youtube you’re in for a treat.

Up next – who knows – perhaps Ian Dury, Paul Kelly, or maybe Cyndi Lauper (I once wrote a poem about her after one of her concerts, so Cyndi will be in the mix somewhere). But just in case Susanna feels somehow slighted, I have to come clean and say that I’ve never seen Susanna perform live – my loss I know – but if I ever do I promise to write a poem about her too – or perhaps even a song.

Now, I’m going to pick up my guitar and start writing more songs – probably bad ones. Even the cat looks petrified every time I go near the guitar – so that’s hardly a glowing endorsement.

See ya later


%d bloggers like this: