Tag Archives: Singers

Where are the yellow bits?

The other night we were watching RocKwiz on SBS and the band and a guest singer did a cover of Goodbye Yellow-Brick Road, a major early 1970s hit by Elton John, which was a very nostalgic experience as I haven’t heard that tune much since the 1970s when by best friend was a mad-keen Elton John fan. Two things struck me: what a great and unusual song, with interesting lyrics and music that rather reminds me of another unusual and sad hit tune (How Soon is Now? by The Smiths), and what amazingly high falsetto singing the hit recording had, but the most interesting thing that I noticed when I heard the cover-version was that the bright-yellow pineapple-jelly bean-flavoured bits were missing.

They say you don’t notice things until they are gone, and I hadn’t realized that the falsetto bits of the original recording had been, for me, such a dominant (visual) feature, till I listened to a relatively colourless but enjoyable cover version, with decipherable lyrics. That amount of falsetto in a rock song is I think quite typical of the psychedelic era when the tune was created. Would it be pushing an idea to far to say this is a psychedelic recording? I don’t know why, but most of my favourite music, since I was a kid to now, has had some element of psychedelia; hypnotic repetition, extreme forms of singing, unusual instruments, unusual sound effects, extreme emotionality, etc.

Tunes that I listened to as kid or teen seem to be more often coloured than music from recent years, I guess because synaesthesia is less likely to form anew as one ages, just as new brain connections are less likely to form. It seems likely that I got the idea of that song as a yellow song from the title, but this merely abstract idea becomes an experience only when evoked by that singing, Elton’s yellow singing.

The yellow-deficient cover-version:

Vale Chris Cornell

For me the human voice in song is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For synaesthetes enjoyable experiences are often coloured. Many but not all voices of popular singers have specific colours, in my experience: men’s voices typically brown, women’s red, baritones deep brown, counter-tenors and falsetto yellows and whites, harsh Italian tenors shining gold, but there was only ever for me one orange singing voice – that of Chris Cornell, the late singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame. Orange is the colour of experiences that are so intense that they are close to painful.

How’s your ability in voice perception?

Guess a person’s age from their voice. New Scientist. 


I tried the test but got no score or feedback about how I did compared to others who’ve done the test. I think I did well, with most age judgements within 10 years of the correct answer, a few, maybe 4 I guessed the ages within a year or two.

I maintain that there are some women who have voices that sound much younger than their age. They are unusual, but they do exist. There is an interesting collection of reasons why men can have voices that sound deeper and older than their years. Hormones probably influence how deep a man’s voice is, and this effect can be confused with the effects of age. There is a common belief that alcohol can have a temporary deepening effect on the vocal cords, giving a deeper tone the day after a big night. I think there’s something in this theory, but I’m not sure how much it is supported by hard evidence. The Uncyclopedia’s recipe for a rich bass voice describes a lifestyle that is not for everyone: “The diet of a bass consists of alcohol, cigarettes, more alcohol, fried meat products, children, ex girlfriends, yet more alcohol and even more cigarettes.” The late Jim Morrisson had a reputation as a hard drinker and had a singing voice well beyond his years. Till Lindemann has a brown-coloured monster of a voice, and a family background in which people hit the bottle hard. Genetics clearly plays a major role in vocal pitch, often displaying a pattern of inheritance. I have known one family in which both the father and sons from infancy onward all had markedly deep voices. An unusually hoarse voice can be caused by a genetic connective tissue or collagen disorder. Inhaling Sulphur Hexafluoride can deepen the voice temporarily, but that’s a pretty silly thing to do. Lots of things besides the ageing process can alter the sound of the voice, so reading age in the voice is not always a simple thing.