Last year on American Idol, contestant Melinda Doolittle reminded me of Gladys Knight. That is the great thing about American Idol for someone like me who used to work as a DJ: Hearing a new vocalist who brings back the memories of another great vocalist.
Last night, another contestant (I think his name was Michael Johns) reminded me of a vocalist I haven't heard in years: David Clayton-Thomas, former lead singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears, which was one of the most unique bands to come out of the 60's. Most people have heard their standard hits, such as "And When I Die", "You've Made Me So Very Happy", and "Spinning Wheel". Between the band's unique fusion of multiple musical styles, including big band, rock, pop, and jazz, and Clayton-Thomas's strong vocal style, Blood, Sweat & Tears was a one-of-a-kind band. I won't call them the best of all-time, but I cannot honestly say I have ever heard anyone do what they did, as well as they did it. They certainly deserve kudos as a band that stands out in the history of music.
Consider this: How many other bands could take "And When I Die", and make it fun, without turning it into satire?
The key, in my opinion, was Clayton-Thomas. The band was good, but his voice gave the music the "gravitas" it needed.
For example, check out this video from 1972, with Jerry Fisher doing the lead vocals on "And When I Die":
Now check out this performance from 1970, with Clayton-Thomas doing the lead vocals:
Even considering the poor quality of the second video, the difference is obvious. Clayton-Thomas's "lounge singer with a growl" vocals were sorely needed to make the song work.
But don't get me wrong. Clayton-Thomas can't do ANY song and make it work. On the following video, from 1993, he does Carole King's "Hi-De-Ho", and it's pretty bad. Personally, I recommend skipping to about 6:27 into the video, where there is a good quality copy of "And When I Die":
From that video, Clayton-Thomas has lost a little of the power in his vocals, but he is still better than most vocalists today. But his voice is still unique among vocalists.
And if another vocalist makes it on American Idol with Clayton-Thomas's sound, I won't shed a tear (or any blood and sweat).
P.S. If you're interested, here are some links to other butchered versions of "And When I Die" by different "artists" (and I use the term VERY loosely): link, link, and link. It is amazing what people will shamelessly put on Youtube.
(Hat tip to Youtube.com for the videos.)