I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the connection between music and memory, music and emotion. The feelings music can call up, or even create, within us. One of the purest ways that can be accessed is through isolated vocal tracks.
Some of my favorite college memories are of going to acapella concerts. There’s something about the distilled rawness of vocals that cuts to the core of a song’s meaning and makes you shiver. For example, one of the concerts featured a rendition of “River of Dreams” by Billy Joel. I got chills when they sang, “And even though I know the river is wide/I walk down every evening and I stand on the shore/And try to cross to the opposite side/So I can finally find out what I’ve been looking for.” I felt transported, as though I was on that journey too.
The most powerful example of isolated vocals, though, is “Gimme Shelter”. Merry Clayton is the guest vocalist here and, arguably, creates the song’s power. In 20 Feet From Stardom she describes how she’d been called to sing the song late at night and wanted to demonstrate the full potential of her voice. At each chorus, you can hear her sing louder and more passionately until her voice practically cracks with power. Experience it for yourself below: