Yanks and Limeys

      • I’m the first, and I think we got a couple of the second here;
      • Why is it that most Brits talk with an accent, but don’t sing with one? -Or I should say, “most that I have heard of”? Is singing with an accent more common there than in the US? I was once told that having a prominent accent is kinda a “hick” thing even in Britain, just like having a hick accent in the US. Is that true? - I think I have only heard a couple of singers that had the accent while singing (That “I would walk 500 miles” song, for one). - For that matter, most peoples (that I have heard) seem to lose their accents while singing. - MC
  • “Huh?”

Huh? Which is the accent and which is the straight-dope talk? Are you a hick?

I speak a West Coast version of General American. I hadn’t noted the talk/sing distinction, but of course, so much of lyrics these days are incomprehensible in any dialect.

One thing I note more these days is that a good but not overdone British style of speech, say BBC-level, is actually less subject to misrecognition of content by me than is even a radio-announcer rendition of General American. It has been commented that western US speech is influenced by Spanish, which has simplified its vowel structure. The Queen’s English has the most overdone complex vowel repertoire of about any language on earth. Simplying it, however, creates vastly more homonyms in a language that is already inundated with them, maily, I guess, as a result of its dual word-root ancestry in the Germanic and Latinic branches of the Indo-European language group.

Ray (How can I sing a song o’ sixpence and come out even to the pound these days? No rye, no DUI.)

The Proclaimers (who sing “500 Miles”) are from Scotland. So is their accent.

However, there is a good reason for radio people sounding the way they do. Generally speaking, Americans are uncomfortable with spoken word products that do not sound like the boy or girl next door. Take, for example, Mel Gibson whose voice has been dubbed into “American English” for the US version of the early Road Warrior movie. (Although he spent some time in Australia, it’s not like the guy’s incomprehensible.) The bottom line, as usual, is marketing. The occasional British-sounding British act (like David Bowie or Oasis) makes it through the airwaves but it is such a rare occurence that it seems like a novelty.

As well, most of the early British Invasion boys were trying to rip off American bluesmen and tried to get that “accent” down to give their msuic that air of legitimacy.

But Hungry Boy, I listen to a lot of obscure British indie bands that have no hope of ever making it onto US radio, and probably couldn’t care less, and they still don’t have British accents when they sing (well, a lot of them anyway). So you can’t put it all down to marketing.

I don’t know that the premise of this board is correct. MANY prominent English pop artists have unmistakeable regional accents when they sing. Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits always sang with a heavy Manchester accent, as did Davy Jones of the Monkees. The Beatles’ Liverpudlian accents came through in their vocals. And Johnny Lydon/Rotten sure didn’t sound like a Yank!

And it isn’t as if American vocalists sing without regional accents: listen to any country station, and you’ll see what I mean.

In SOME musical genres, however, accents are less noticeable, or far more muted. In SOME cases, this may be because the singer is trying hard to mimic other vocalists. Example: Robert Plant and Mick Jagger rarely sound English when singing (though they sound VERY English when speaking), in part because they’re trying so hard to imitate the American blues singers they grew up admiring.

ruadh, you speak the truth.

Currently, the choice to sing with or without one’s natural born accent has much to do with genre as marketing. Therefore, an American band like Rancid can sing with thick, British accents (just like the boys from The Clash) and no one bats an eye. The reason: “Punk” singers are supposed to sound like that.
Punk sort of took the British accent away from the old “skiffle” music scene and allowed it to be a legititmate angry voice. That voice spoke to a generation of young North Americans in the same way the old blues guys spoke to the young Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelinites, etc. (I think it could be argued that David Bowie, Ian Hunter, Marc Bolan and a few others helped bridge that gap between pop and punk.) Certain British accents now scream Punk like certain Southern accents scream country. Crossover artists might use one or the other for a particualr effect.

However, when rock was young, that wasn’t really an option. In fact, when rock was young, regional American accents were not an option either. Dion was considered cool because he sounded like he was from New York – but he was something of an anomally. Yes, Pat Boone’s covers of Little Richard sold better than Little Richard. A big part of that was due to Little Richard’s “accent” which was decidedly “African American.” In those days, it was a whole lot easier to market Pat Boone. Which brings me back to my original point.

I once saw Julie Andrews explaining the difference between singing with a British and an American accent. She articulated the difference between “I could have dahnced all night” and “I could have dawnced all night” – in each case she still had room for more. She complained that Brits found her too American and that Americans found her too British. Therefore, she tried to split the vowel sounds down the middle so that she could please as many fans as possible.

In her case, the bread’s buttered on both sides of the pond.

Sheena Easton’s spoken accent is Scottish (no great surprise, since she is Scottish)but her singing voice sounds American to me.

Part of the reason singers sound like natives is that they are trained to sound their vowels in pretty much the same way no matter where they’re from. Classical training doesn’t distinguish accents – there is one proper way to sound a word. So Americans, Brits, Scots, Irish, Kiwis, Aussies, etc. end up sounding a lot alike when they sing. For that matter, I don’t hear a Swedish accent when Abba sings – for the same reason.

Many, probably most, professional musicians have had some training in diction while singing. Julie Andrews (see above post) has obviously had a lot and she can control subtle nuances that others cannot. If you’re going to sing for a living you’re going to learn to control your instrument.

If you want an example of the difference between a singing voice and a speaking voice you only have to think of (shudder!) Jim Nabors.

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham

Implicit in the foregoing is the notion that you have been trained to hear accent-free singing, even though the pronunciations are different than you normally hear when someone is speaking.

Wanted to make that clear.

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham

Also, isn’t cadence a part of accent? And in singing, the music would dominate, so that the natural (accent) cadence would be supressed?

Just a WAG.

A couple of years ago Ozzy Osbourne (a native of Birmingham, England) was on a chat show and one of the questions asked was why does he sing with an American accent when he speaks with a strong Birmingham accent.

His answer was that to be successful you needed to - or something along those lines.

Success being record sales with the US being the largest market.

As a singer, I was about to say what pluto already said, so I’ll just shut up.

Actually, not just yet. I will add that if I were to talk by sounding the words the same as I do when singing, I would sound awfully damn weird.

OK, now I’ll shut up.

In some ways, a classical singer sounds more British than American, at least as far as placement goes. But most classical singers spend most of their time not singing in English to begin with, and when they’re singing in English, as often as not they’re singing American pop. In addition, just as English continues popular in India because it is culturally neutral, so American English is popular in Britain because it is class neutral and region neutral.

Rock and roll is the invention of American blacks. Young British performers in the 60’s often imitated that sound, as best they could. (Check out the recordings of the first incarnation of the Moody Blues – half their tracks are Motown covers.) Indeed, the main reason for the wild success of the “British Invasion” was that the Beatles, et al., sounded much more like the real thing than the Dick Clark - Frankie Avalon - Pat Boone bleached version that was being pushed on American teens as “rock and roll”.

And, of course, Americans have just as much of an “accent” as any other speakers of English.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

I notice a heavy accent in all those Scandinavian bands (Abba, A-Ha, Ace of Base, etc.) Remember Roxette with their “Tasty like a raindrop, she’s got the ‘luke’…” line? To me it sounds like they’re singing phonetic pseudo-English with a lot of misplaced umlauts thrown in for good measure.

Although they’re German, The Scorpions seem to suffer from the same syndrome.

“Here I am, rock yooo like a hoooricane…”