Who’s the best rock vocalist in the world? Robert Plant? David Coverdale? Paul Rogers? Steve Perry? For me it’s none of the above. For my money the best rock vocalist in the world is John Waite. No, I’m serious. Given the body of work that he’s produced the 54-year-old Lancastrian takes the ultimate accolade in the HoJo ‘Golden Pipes’ Hall Of Fame.
You might think I’m taking the piss. After all, there are probably plenty of you who might only be dimly aware of Waite’s work and some of you who will never have heard him sing a single note. Waite’s star hasn’t been rising for 20 years already. His last big hit was back in 1989 when as frontman of AOR supergroup Bad English he hit the US Number One slot with ‘When I See You Smile’. But if you really want to hear why Waite is the best of the best that’s the very last place you should start. No, if you want to discover why White has the voice to die for, then you need to either a) go back to 1976 and Waite’s first major project The Babys or b) head to the late ’90s and the numerous solo albums he recorded after the massive success of the US Number One ‘Missing You’. While the style of music he performs varies massively – The Babys were Free goes poppier, the solo stuff classic American rock with a country tinge – Waite’s performances are never less than a sight for sore ears! This is a man who can reach into every corner of a rock singer’s canon and pull out a gem each time. He’s not a screamer by nature, but he can do a raw rocker like ‘Love Don’t Prove I’m Right’ with almost nonchalant ease. He’s not a country balladeer either, but listen to ‘Bluebird Café’ from his 1997 solo album ‘When You Were Mine’ and you’ll recognise instantly that this guy can turn his voice to anything he pleases. His is a rare talent.
So here are my five favourite John Waite vocal performances of all time. I could have chosen hundreds, but I do like to make things simple for you! If you’ve never heard John Waite sing before let’s hope this makes you check the man out. It’s easily done – three Babys CDs have just been reissued by our favourite label, Rock Candy (with liner notes by yours truly). If you already know his work, say hello to an old friend. And while you’re about it, why not show your appreciation of the man with our ‘Isn’t It Time?’ Saltyrockz T-shirt?
1) Isn’t It Time – The Babys – From ‘Broken Heart’ (1977)
A classic. Rock, pop, soul and blues rolled into an utterly irresistible piece delivered with total confidence by a vocalist at the very peak of his powers. All together now, ‘I just can’t find the answers to the questions that keep going through my mind’!
2) Change – John Waite – From ‘Ignition’ (1982)
New-wave tinged pop rock from the time when Waite was burning the candle at both ends in New York and discovering himself as a solo artist. Features a vocal that adds a touch of bitterness and danger to the mix to startling effect.
3) Fly – John Waite – From ‘Figure In A Landscape’ (2001)
A song of yearning and redemption in equal measure, delivered with just the right amount of controlled pathos to hint at loss and hope for better days. A vocal that’s so confident it hurts.
4) A Piece Of The Action – The Babys – From ‘Broken Heart’ (1977)
Unashamedly pompous balladry with strings sweeping all over the place and a big, thick drum wallop keeping the rock end of things up. It needed a brilliantly OTT vocal performance to do this monster justice and Waite provided it – with ease…
5) In Dreams – John Waite – From ‘Temple Bar’ (1995)
Waite gets to grips with a ballad that could have been a tad too schmaltzy had it not been for a brilliantly constructed arrangement and a simply dazzling vocal. Oh, and for the line “The world out there can kiss my ass”! No wonder Quentin Tarantino used it in on the soundtrack to True Romance.
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