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Singing with an accent

On Sunday morning, I stopped into a Starbucks for my morning coffee and ended up in line behind a middle-aged couple, who were trying to decide whether to buy a copy of Hugh Laurie’s latest blues CD on display.

After a moment of consideration, the barista said, “Have you heard anything from his album? It’s really very good. It has some great piano and he has a good voice. You can’t even tell that he has an accent.”

One moment later, the man handed it to the barista and said, “I’ll take it.”

This whole interaction was fascinating to me for a couple of reasons.

1) I have never seen anyone buy a CD at Starbucks. I’ve never even seen anyone ever pick up a CD featured at Starbucks to take a closer look. Have you? And for this man to purchase this CD, without ever hearing any of it? Truly a leap of faith.

2) I am fascinated that the barista felt compelled to say that Hugh Laurie sings without an accent. It’s a strange selling point. Is music more or less likable when sung with or without an accent? Does anyone really care?

I’ll admit that the ability to sing without an accent is an unusual talent. I’m not quite sure how it works. But I can only imagine it’s like the natural inclination I have when I hear a country song and feel the need to sing to it with the worst hillbilly accent that I can muster. Maybe that’s how Hugh Laurie feels when he sings the blues. Sometimes songs just sound better or feel better with an accent (even if it’s not your own).

But I’m sure part of this homogeny of accent-less music these days is a calculated move by studio execs to make music more palatable to an American audience.

And to that, I say calculated commercialism, be damned. I like hearing an accent in my music. I like the way the Proclaimers sound when they go all Scottish on “500 Miles”. I like hearing Herman’s Hermits singing about how Mrs. Brown has a lovely dah’er. And I like hearing the Arctic Monkeys’ Fake Tales of San Francisco, when I can already tell they’re not from there.

Am I the only one? How do you feel about hearing accents in music?

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Posted on 10, October 2011, in Music and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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