10 Breathtaking Isolated Vocals

Ever thought some of that old warbling magic might get lost when extraneous stuff like producers, engineers, fellow band members and all that get involved? More and more clips are emerging on YouTube where iconic vocals have been isolated from all the baubles (and guitars, drums and electronic washes) around them, and they’re giving us the chance to appreciate the singer’s skill anew.

Sometimes, with all the actual music stripped away, you understand why the vocals have been buried by bells, whistles and effects but equally there are moments when what remains is fresh, fascinating and a breathtaking world away from what we thought we knew. Here are ten naked vocals to illustrate the special alchemy each singer brings to the party.

Freddie Mercury


1The Beatles – ‘Don’t Let Me Down’
John Lennon’s barely disguised love threat to Yoko Ono is shown in all its stark passion, his voice cracking under the strain of fearing he’ll be left high and dry. Macca provides sterling ‘Helter Skelter’-raw support.

2Whitney Houston – ‘How Will I Know?’

When Whitney died earlier this year, this crept onto the blogs to show us what we’d lost: an earth-scorching belter who could express trepidation and joy with one flick of that melismatic larynx.


3Green Day – ‘American Idiot’

Billie Joe Armstrong is no one’s idea of a technically precise classically trained singer but even his strangled delivery sounds like he means it, man, and nowhere more than on the splenetic ‘American Idiot’, giving it both barrels to a crowd mixed low.

4AC/DC – ‘Let There Be Rock’

In which the God of rawk saw that it was good, and no wonder, with Bon Scott gargling razor blades and setting the standard for blues-metal hollering. Even without Angus Young’s deathless gonzo riffs it works.

5Queen and David Bowie – ‘Under Pressure’

Here’s chance to hear two of rock’s great showmen attempt to best each other away from the twin beasts of Brian May’s licks and John Deacon’s peerless bassline. Bowie shows authority enough but it’s Freddie Mercury’s astounding vocal leaps into the beyond that lay you flat on your back, a long-stemmed microphone at your throat.

6Oasis – ‘Wonderwall’

The great rock singer left in the wilderness. He’s no Maria Callas in the pure singing stakes, but Liam Gallagher has cojones to burn – erm, should he want to – and even winningly gauche like he is here he’s got enough force to hit the back of the arena.

7Michael Jackson – ‘Billie Jean’

You can hear Quincy Jones’s input slinking away in the background but this is still a giddy insight into Jacko’s quirks and idiosyncratic technical mastery. Hear him work those hiccups into some kind of beatboxing frenzy all by themselves.


8Nirvana – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

Kurt Cobain’s pain and disease explodes into a paint-stripping vocal that laughs in the face of throat lozenges. We knew ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was as much about his howl as his moshpit-flooding riff or Dave Grohl’s battering drums, but here’s the proof.


9Radiohead – ‘Creep’

Well, it’s just great to hear Thom Yorke’s isolated, alienated vocal all alienated and isolated. It’s what he would’ve wanted.


10The Rolling Stones – ‘Gimme Shelter’

Like Jacko (and not often you’ll hear that), Mick Jagger is a singer all about his own tics and rooster spasms, and it’s absorbing to hear him stretch his St Vitus’ Dance over the dark soul-blues of ‘Gimme Shelter’, holding his own against his gospel-tinged co-vocalists. Top of his game.