Nina Simone: Never one who could be described as a shrinking violet, the fiercely intelligent Simone had always seen her voice as a weapon, be it for political concerns or for addressing matters of the heart. That savvy shines through on songs such as the thunderous race-relations treatise “Mississippi Goddam” (listen for her great quip “This is a song from a show but the show hasn’t been written for it, yet”), sung at a time when Berry Gordy was still shying away from anything other than mass-market pop, and the even more blunt “Four Women”, possibly one of the least ambiguous political songs ever recorded. She could also turn on the charm too: turning “I Loves You Porgy” into something dripping with sex appeal, or taking George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” out of it’s hippy trappings and into to realm of the exultant and life-affirming, even for those not normally attuned to “religious” music. On a speed dating personal level though, to me she is at her greatest on “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”; starting with that now familiar (to British listeners at least) piano line, with her vocals slow but surely rising to a beyond-the-clouds finale of brass and a vocal celebration of the possibilities of, well, pretty much life itself. Not one for the easy route for sure, but always way ahead of her time.
Karen Carpenter: Another unfortunate for being derided as “kitsch” by fools for years, she was possibly in possession of pop’s purest voice. While no other vocalist would have been able to pull off songs like “Close To You” and “Top Of The World” with such innocence and not fall into the realms of corny, she was also unafraid to show her dark side, with a surprising amount of rather gloomy songs, from the I-know-I’m-wallowing-but-can’t-help-it blues of “Rainy Days And Mondays” to the almost suicidal implications of “Goodbye To Love” (“No-one ever cared if I should live or die” indeed). However when the moment required, she could also go completely left-field too; who at the time could have foreseen a cover of Klaatu’s none-more-gauche “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft” becoming, not only a huge hit, but also their biggest critical success? Her genius seemed to lie in her ability to turn the everyday into the profound, as evident on “Let Me Be The One”, a song of very little lyric, but of huge emotional impact in her hands. One can’t help but wonder what she would have went on to do, as at the time of her death she was still firing on all cylinders creatively. One due for a re-evaluation methinks.