The Greatest Vocal-Only Performances In Rock: Oasis, Kate Bush, Nirvana, Queen And David Bowie

This is good. I am a fan of vocals isolation. Even imagine how would some very popular songs sound like without any instrumental background.

God bless Rock Band, Guitar Hero et al for giving geeks the power to extract individual song stems and upload them to YouTube.

A stem, if you’re wondering, is the technical term for an individual track in a song – aka it’s the vocal part on its own, a capella and stripped away from the rest of the music. Or the guitar line, or synth, or drums. Back in the day, the only way you could get hold of these recordings were if someone literally stole the multi-track tapes from a studio and bootlegged them. Nowadays, people just hack the aforementioned games, which all house the individual files in order for people to play properly.

What we’re left with is an abundance of incredible isolated performances on streaming sites. So, here are eleven incredible isolated vocal tracks, stretching from The Beatles to Queen to Kate Bush and The Clash.

The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter (Merry Clayton backing vocals)

Legend has it that Clayton, a bluesy session singer who’d gotten to know the Stones in the late 60s, had a miscarriage shortly after recording this. Cracked emotion has never sounded so extraordinary on record.

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

Stripped of producer Butch Vig’s humungous guitar and drum mixes, Kurt Cobain’s vocals sound weirdly over-produced here – particularly on the “hello, hello” bits, which are heavily double-tracked. That’s more of a reflection of the studio techniques of the times than quality, by the way. Overall it’s nothing short of a shit-kicking performance from Cobain.

Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through The Grapevine

The best vocal take of all time? Perhaps. Certainly, Gaye’s voice on this is as pure as music gets, switching effortlessly from falsetto to coarse growl.

The Beatles – Oh! Darling

This is the sound of Paul McCartney at his most ripped and raw. “When we were recording ‘Oh! Darling’ I came into the studios early every day for a week to sing it by myself because at first my voice was too clear,” he once said of the track, adding: “I wanted it to sound as though I’d been performing it on stage all week.”

Michael Jackson – Beat It

Just check the backing vocals here, which were somewhat hidden in the finished version.

Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure

Perhaps the most striking thing about this is how different Freddie and Bowie’s techniques are – the former as taught and regimental as you can get, while the latter ambles in like a brilliantly skewiff dramatist. It reaches a peak as they – with Queen drummer Roger Taylor making an appearance too – battle to outdo each other in the shrieking stakes, right around the three minute mark.

The Clash – Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

A bit of an anomaly, being as Mick Jones’ vocals here sound completely weedy compared to titans like Freddie and Jacko. But with him, it’s ALL about the ‘vibe’ (plus the multiple yelps, wheezy deep breaths and whoops which help it along).

The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice

I wrote about Brian Wilson’s genius when it came to arranging vocals in our piece on ‘Good Vibrations’. Nowhere is that more apparent than on this.

Blondie – Heart Of Glass

Surely, with its epic, cooed backing vocals and sky-high, streetsmart verses this is Debbie’s Harry’s finest moment?

Kate Bush – The Sensual World

In which a fan has tried to invert the recording to bring up with Bush’s mesmeric vocals. Pretty good job too – her voice sounds like honey here.

Oasis – Live Forever

‘Live Forever’ might just be Liam’s greatest achievement on record. It’s easy to just accept him now, seeing as he’s been singing/shouting like it for decades, but here, with Noel’s guitars deleted, you really get a sense of how much natural talent he was born with. Most other vocalists in this list would have likely relied on studio atmosphere (or equipment) to absolutely nail the right kind of performance. With Liam, it seems different – almost as if you could have just stuck a microphone in front of him wherever he was, told him to open his gob and listened in awe to what came out.


Chris Cornell covers other artists

Since we’re on the Temple of the Dog reunion anyway, I just looked for Chris Cornell covering other artists. A month or two ago I had him here doing Nothing Compares 2 U and Lady Stardust as tributes to Prince and David Bowie.

First, we have his own version of Billie Jean, of course, for Michael Jackson. His powerful version however stresses the way to do it, in the same manner Jimi Hendrix did All Along The Watchtower by Bob Dylan.

And we have his take on Eagle’s Hotel California and his own Audioslave’s Like A Stone here.

His colleague’s (Pearl Jam’s) Better Man.

Byron Welichko There is NO ROOM For a ‘DISLIKE’ icon on ANYTHING He does IMO?!!

John’s Imagine…

Now we have his version of I Will Always Love You. I have no idea if it’s a tribute to Whitney Houston or Dolly Parton, or simply a cover of it.

Eddie Vedder covers other artists

After Chris, just listened to Eddie Vedder’s own covers. Both PJ and Soundgarden served as the building foundations of Temple of the Dog apart from Andrew of course who died too soon.

Bob’s Forever Young.  Xylok3, months ago, said, “ill always think of eddie vedder as the guy who sang ‘society’ and who reminded the world, via masters of war, and this, and other covers, that Bob Dylan is a never ending force.”

John’s Imagine.

My favorite Bob Marley Song as an intro-teaser with Eddie’s own Better Man. The audience just took over at the start reminiscent of Oasis’s Don’t Look Back In Anger live performance in Manchester.

Elvis Presley, Can’t Help Falling In Love. The audience knew what a good cover and a classic song is.


See Temple of the Dog Cover Led Zeppelin, Bowie at First Reunion Gig

By 6 hours ago

Temple of the Dog – the grunge supergroup featuring Soundgardenand Pearl Jam members – reunited Friday night at Philadelphia’s Tower Theater for the first gig of their 25th anniversary tour and their first official concert together.

The set list for the group – which had previously only staged one-off reunions during Pearl Jam concerts – revolved around tracks from Temple of the Dog’s lone self-titled 1991 LP, as well as surprise covers of acts like Led Zeppelin (“Achilles’ Last Stand”), Black Sabbath (“War Pigs”), David Bowie (“Quicksand”) and more.

Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron and Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Jeff Ament formed Temple of the Dog as a tribute to late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, who died of an overdose in 1990; Cornell was Wood’s onetime roommate, and Ament and Gossard were Mother Love Bone members prior to Pearl Jam.

Throughout the concert, Temple of the Dog also performed Mother Love Bone tracks, and Cornell spoke about that band’s legacy as well as Temple of the Dog’s brief stint together.

“When the album Temple of the Dogcame out, it was about a little more than a year before it started getting a lot of airplay,” Cornell told the crowd, adding that MTV initially ignored their “Hunger Strike” video. “But then a band called Pearl Jam and a band called Soundgarden started getting a lot of fucking airplay.”

Cornell then shared an anecdote about an MTV intern who happened to realize that Temple of the Dog featured Pearl Jam and Soundgarden members and recommended that the channel add “Hunger Strike” to their rotation.

“They started playing the video and then a lot of people heard the album, which was good,” Cornell said. “It was good for us and it was good for Andrew [Wood] because I felt it got his story out there and people could seek out his music.”

(Temple of the Dog performed “Hunger Strike” without guest vocalist Eddie Vedder, who might have been celebrating the Cubs’ World Series win at the parade in Chicago Friday.)

Also during Temple of the Dogs’ reunion show, the band covered tracks by the Cure, Syd Barrett, Harry Nilsson and Free and delivered a rendition of Cornell’s Singles soundtrack solo cut “Seasons.”

Temple of the Dog’s brief reunion trek continues Saturday night with a second show in Philadelphia.

“Hunger Strike”


“Achilles’ Last Stand”

“Reach Down”

“All Night Thing”