What was with that weird male vocal affectation in 80's music?

Many male singers in the 80’s had a peculiar sound to their voice.

It kind of sounds like a part of their voice is on the verge of jumping up an octave but never does. That’s the best way I can describe it.

Here are some examples:

Tears For Fears: Shout

Rick Astley: Never Gonna Give You Up (I apologize for the incidental Rickroll…)

Talk Talk: Its My Life

What was up with that?

My guess would be simply that they are singing at the very top of their range, which is harder to maintain than if they sang in a more comfortable range.

Pre-Emo singing?

The* Tears for Fears* track is an odd choice. I was just watching Orzabal and Smith on an Aussie TV show from the 80s and they are singing that song just how they sounded talking. There is no affectation at all that I can detect.

As far as Talk Talk goes I just think Mark Hollis wanted to be Bryan Ferry, and why not.

The only thing I heard in these songs that sounds like their voice might want to jump an octave is in “Shout”, first line, when he (Orzabal) sings “Shout, shout, LET it all out”. There’s almost a yodel when he sings the LET. I don’t hear it the second time (when the other guy who’s name I can never remember sings it).

Is that what you’re talking about?

I’ve always noticed in the Talk Talk song that the vocal almost seems forced, as if it’s totally out of his normal range of singing. It doesn’t sound bad though. I’ve always liked that song.

There is also a lot of tremolo in “Shout” and “It’s My Life”. I forced myself to sit through the lengthy intro the Rick Astley song and listened to the first verse and had to turn it off without really noticing anything about it except that it sounds like he’s singing WAY deeper than he should be able to and might even be trying to sound like Michael McDonald.

Moreso than the pitch of the voice, is just a certain inflection that a lot of British singers seem to have had in the New Wave songs. Example: Bitter Heart by Seona Dancing (yes, that is a young Ricky Gervais singing) or every song by Depeche Mode or Billy Idol.

There is a certain vocal style but I just can’t put my finger exactly on what it is.

I think it’s an evolution from punk vocal styles, where singers tended to substitute inflection for pitch (because they couldn’t really sing). These stylistic inflections became adopted into new wave, sometimes exaggerated into that slightly goofy affect you’re talking about (think of the B-52’s with “Love Shack,” for instance).

It’s called “I’m pretending I’m Bowie” vocals.

Just trying to see if I know what you guys are hearing: is David Byrne another example of this? Also Ric Ocasek and Devo’s “Crack that whip!” singer?

That’s what I hear it as, too.

Of course, everything refers back to Bowie for me. I’ll admit that. :smiley:

Best sendup of Bowie ever.

That’s perfect.

That’s utterly perfect.

It sounds as though they’re singing from the throat, rather than from the belly - I realise these terms probably aren’t an accurate description of how the sound is being produced, but I do believe it’s quite a common concept in professional vocal circles - and although I am not a professional singer, I can feel the difference when I sing in either way.

Singing from the throat produces a more nasal, pinched sound - a bit like falsetto, but without the high pitch.

It is the Bowie influence. (He turned 63 yesterday.)

I believe (but am willing to be corrected) that singers refer to these as “head tones.”

I’m not sure we’re hearing Rick Astley’s voice entirely as it naturally sounds - he’s had the whole Stocck/Aitken/Waterman process done on him - not that I’m saying this accounts for all of his vocal style, just maybe that it has played a part in the sound.

Incidentally, if you give Rick Astley a pitch shift (changing nothing else), he sounds almost exactly like Kylie Minogue, and vice versa:

Rick Minogue
Kylie Astley

If you are talking about what I think you are talking about, it’s merely using more chest voice than head voice when hitting higher notes. Chest voice is the voice you normally speak with, and resonates primarily in the (upper) chest. Head voice is a higher, thinner voice that resonates primarily in the head. The most obvious time to hear it from a non-singer is when a female mimics a choral or opera singer.

It all has to do with how the vocal apparatus works. The vocal folds are just two membranes that open and close, vibrating to produce sound. The air comes from the lungs, where it squeezes through the vocal chords when they are open, picking up the vibrations when they are closed, and passes those vibrations along to the air outside the mouth, so they can make it to your ear (or, more likely a microphone).

To produce low notes, the chords have to be fairly loose, and they overlap a bit to keep from making the air hole too large (and letting too much air through which creates a raspy sound and dries out the chords, which need to be wet to function). To produce high notes, the chords have to be fairly tight. If they overlap too much, it takes a much larger amount of air to get them vibrating properly (as the air has to be able to get out.) The larger amount of air adds pressure to the chords and makes them tire out more quickly, and can actually cause damage if overdone.

So, anyways, few non-classical male singers use the full head voice, as such a voice is very thin sounding, and takes a lot of work to make pleasant. In the 80s, the style went even further, into something closer to a controlled yelling. As for why? Probably the same macho culture that was going on elsewhere–it takes a lot of brute strength to force those high notes.

As for Astley’s characteristic voice, the other thing he did was sing with a very open mouthed style. It’s pretty easy to mimic–it’s just Elvis without the drawl. Or the voice women tend to use when they are mimicking the male voice but can’t get low enough. That style is another “macho” thing.

But I think it’s the extra air pressure that gives the impression that the singer is going to “jump up an octave.”

a-ha jumped the octave in 1985 with “Take on Me”.

I’m Casey Kasem, Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for those stars.