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That completely flat "tonight" in the chorus of "Remember When Lovin' Took All Night"

Shadowboro

Member
Thread Starter
As a longtime lurker on this forum (which I guess I pretty much still am, since I've only posted a couple of times since registering) long before I registered, I recall this particular issue has been discussed here before - though I don't think there was ever an entire thread dedicated to it (or at least I don't recall one).

But I'm convinced I'm not the only one who is jarred & bothered (or perhaps "shocked" would be a more appropriate word for it) at just how flat that "tonight" in the chorus of "Remember When Lovin' Took All Night" sounds.

While I wouldn't go as far saying Karen was "the queen of vibrato" or that hers is the best vibrato I've ever heard in my life, I still think she had a great one and - perhaps more importantly - knew the proper amount of it to use in regard to the kind of material she had to perform (which is something that I know for a fact even singers with better vibrato than Karen often fail to do and either use too much or too little).

So how could this happen here ? To my ears, that "tonight" is the flattest she has ever sounded. Karen was obviously capable of using vibrato (hell, she even used it in this very song - "be" / "too" / "me" / "do" in the first verse & "time" / "then" / "good" / "again" in the second verse, not to mention the in the very same chorus - "right" / "alright"). So it's not that.

Was it an intentional, conscious choice on her part to sing it that way ? Did the producer request it ? Any other possible reason ?

I don't know, but it's just "sticking out like a sore thumb" so-to-speak whenever I listen to this otherwise perfectly fine song. Especially given Karen's reputation as a perfectionist and the obvious fact that we are talking about an iconic vocalist that is held in very high esteem by millions of people worldwide (myself included).
 

newvillefan

I Know My First Name Is Stephen
I think you’re confusing “flat” with “no vibrato”.

“Flat” means “singing below the intended note”, in other words “out of tune”. If you want a rare instance of Karen singing flat, there’s always the original Offering version of “Ticket To Ride”. Many of us have commented that she was off key in that song. But on this one? No. On that elongated note at the end of each chorus, there is absolutely zero vibrato, but that doesn’t equate to “flat” and was obviously intentional or she and Phil never would have recorded it that way.

Listen to the similarly long line in the last chorus of “Rainy Days And Mondays”...

always g-e-e-e-t...me down”.

No vibrato there either.
 
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Jarred

Your resident analyst right around the corner.
These are some comments I found recently on a blog/site that discusses Karen Tongson’s book that I thought were interesting and relate generally to what’s being discussed more specifically in this thread:

Her voice was like a cello, warm and rich and her use of vibrato was as perfectly calibrated as a cellist's use of the same feature. Some notes were sung straight-tone, but then she added just enough vibrato exactly where it was needed to warm the sound and perfectly round it out. Then she would add that little catch or glottal effect every now and then, which I have yet to see done to similar effect in anyone. It's unclear to me how much of this was purposeful, or if it was just how she sang. But it was unmatched.”

“Karen was absolutely NOT vibrato-free. She wasn't gigantically variating in pitch with her vibrato, rather it seems to be a vibrato of vocal intensity instead of pitch, which is kind of interesting.”
 

JohnFB

I was born to belong to the lines of a song...
@newvillefan nails this above - I just listened to the song again twice with good headphones - there is no flat "tonight" here (nor any other word/note).

There is hardly any detectable vibrato either. With Karen it was never needed, and it very seldom heard - her natural vocal tone was so clear and resonant and so beautiful that any more than just the slightest touch of vibrato would have been a distraction. The above quote from the Tongson book describes it perfectly!

The only thing I notice in this song, like most on the Solo Album, is the diminished strength or power in her voice - apparently a side effect of her abuse of her own physical health and the subtle toll it had to have taken...

And yes, her voice was like a vintage cello. I've said exactly that myself on a couple of occassions - nice to find agreement - an album of duets with Yo Yo Ma would have been wonderful!
 
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newvillefan

I Know My First Name Is Stephen
her natural vocal tone was so clear and resonant and so beautiful that any more than just the slightest touch of vibrato would have been a distraction.

Karen uses her voice to perfection on this song - joyous, clear as a bell, sitting right on top of the glorious backing track that always reminds me of summer days. Her backing vocal work on the choruses of the song is also sublime. If you have a sound system that allows you to listen to music using the out of phase stereo (OOPS) technique, do it - you will be amazed at what you hear.
 

Shadowboro

Member
Thread Starter
I think you’re confusing “flat” with “no vibrato”.

“Flat” means “singing below the intended note”, in other words “out of tune”. If you want a rare instance of Karen singing flat, there’s always the original Offering version of “Ticket To Ride”. Many of us have commented that she was off key in that song. But on this one? No. On that elongated note at the end of each chorus, there is absolutely zero vibrato, but that doesn’t equate to “flat” and was obviously intentional or she and Phil never would have recorded it that way.

Listen to the similarly long line in the last chorus of “Rainy Days And Mondays”...

always g-e-e-e-t...me down”.

No vibrato there either.
Well - as a non native english speaker - I sincerely confess that this is the first time I've come across "flat" being used as a synonym for "out of tune" (in fact the only synonym for "out of tune" that I was aware of was "off key"). The word "flat' itself didn't invoke any negative connotations to my mind (though I suppose it did come off that way when I used it in this thread), unless it was preceded by the verb "to fall" as in : "His / her / their performance / singing fell flat." But even then, I've always interpreted and understood that expression to mean "average / uninspiring / unimpressive" and never interpreted it as meaning "out of tune" / "off key". Doesn't help that the mot-a-mot equivalent of the word "flat" in my native language is not being used to describe "out of tune" singing. To my mind & logic, "flat" - both in regards to surfaces and in regards to singing - always used to describe a perfectly (or near perfectly) even thing / piece, without variations or modulations.

But I guess I'll just have to chalk this one up to me not having an entirely proper grasp of english yet and acknowledge my mistake. I certainly wouldn't presume to lecture a native english speaker on the proper use of the word "flat" in regards to singing.

I assume you were referring to that final "get" at approximately 3:14 min into “Rainy Days And Mondays”, which you say has no vibrato either. But does it really sound identical (disregarding that they contain different notes, of course) to that "tonight" in "Remember When Lovin' Took All Night", to your years ?

Because to mine, there is an actual amount of modulation (or maybe "vibration" is a better word ? I'm not sure after this whole "flat" not meaning what I thought it meant) in that "get" - not Whitney Houston in "I Will Always Love You" levels of vibration / vibrato, but still some. While that "tonight" on the other hand sounds completely devoid of any vibration - basically just a sustained note.

And I guess it will take a long time before I can stop my mind from immediately conjuring up the word "flat" and the image of the perfectly straight & smooth plank of wood that makes up the top of my desk whenever I hear a sustained end note without the least bit of vibration. In my opinion (and to my own taste, I guess), if there ever was a proper place to do a vibrato, that place would be on a sustained end note. That's why Karen's 5 secs sustained note on that "tonight" bothers me so.

Hopefully I've managed to convey at least part of what I mean, because otherwise both of us would have a hard time discussing this without being able to understand the point each of us is trying to make.

Also, I'm convinced you are right in saying it was intentionally sung that way (it was probably Karen herself who wished to perform it that way). Can't say I agree with this choice, but I can definitely see it doesn't bother a lot of people the way it seems to bother me. The song is still great and even with that "tonight" rubbing me the wrong way I still listen to it; it's not like she is out of tune or doing unnecessary "vocal gymnastics" like so many 21st century singers do. So I'm willing to overlook it in the end.
 

Shadowboro

Member
Thread Starter
Flat is a little under the note, sharp is a little above the note.
Oh, you mean like when describing notes on a scale ? But in that case, is hitting a flat note (for example B flat) considered "out of tune" singing (I thought it was considered "in tune") ?

And is "singing out of tune" meant to convey someone who is bad at singing (can't hit / stay on the notes properly) in the english language ? Because that's what I've always thought it meant, while "flat" in singing to me always meant either "singing with no vibration / modulation" or "singing unimpressive / uninspiring / averagely".
 

newvillefan

I Know My First Name Is Stephen
And is "singing out of tune" meant to convey someone who is bad at singing (can't hit / stay on the notes properly) in the english language ?

Even good singers can sing out of tune (“flat” or “sharp”), especially live. There are some very famous singers who don’t always sing in tune when performing live.

This is by no means the worst example I’ve ever heard but it’s one that springs to mind where a great singer is caught momentarily singing flat. Listen to the word “home” on the first line “schoolbag in hand/she leaves home in the early morning”.



For recent re-releases of the album The Visitors which included this as a bonus DVD track, the audio was quietly fixed using auto-tune software to correct the flat pitch on that particular note.
 
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JohnFB

I was born to belong to the lines of a song...
Oh, you mean like when describing notes on a scale ? But in that case, is hitting a flat note (for example B flat) considered "out of tune" singing (I thought it was considered "in tune") ?

And is "singing out of tune" meant to convey someone who is bad at singing (can't hit / stay on the notes properly) in the english language ? Because that's what I've always thought it meant, while "flat" in singing to me always meant either "singing with no vibration / modulation" or "singing unimpressive / uninspiring / averagely".
Shadowboro - the note called B flat (Bb) is one of the actual notes on the musical scale - (it is also known as A sharp or A#, but disregard that for now) - if a singer attempts to sing this Bb note and actually sings it at that pitch, the singer is said to be "in tune" - however, if the singer sings it a tad low and actually sings the next note down on the scale which is the A note, the singer has sung the Bb note "flat" (or "out of tune") - so we have two different meanings for the word "flat" here - a scale note Bb and that note actually sung lower than it's intended pitch, or sung "flat" (in which case it is being sung at the actual pitch of the scale note A - in this sense any note can be sung flat if it's sung lower than it's designated pitch - if that singer sang the Bb note too high he would be singing the B note (B is the next note up the scale from Bb) and he would be singing "sharp" and also "out of tune". The word flat here has nothing to do with the quality of performance or a performance that "falls flat".

Keep in mind that a frequently used technique used by experienced singers is to start a note flat deliberately and then slide up into the intended note - as a great example listen to Karen in "Superstar" at the beginning of each verse on the words "Long" and "Loneliness"...
 
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Shadowboro

Member
Thread Starter
With Karen it was never needed, and it very seldom heard - her natural vocal tone was so clear and resonant and so beautiful that any more than just the slightest touch of vibrato would have been a distraction.
You know, I actually agree with this statement of yours and I don't think that - in general - Karen's vocals would have benefitted in any way from an overuse of vibrato.

That being said, the above quote from you also serves to highlight my issue and the reason I created this thread : that "slightest touch of vibrato" you mention is completely absent from that particular "tonight" in "Remember When Lovin' Took All Night". It's just a sustained, "elongated" (as newvillefan put it) note.

And I'm glad at least newvillefan acknowledged this in his first reply to me, where he wrote : "On that elongated note at the end of each chorus, there is absolutely zero vibrato, but that doesn’t equate to “flat”." He also stated that it didn't bother him that it was performed that way and judging from the rest of the replies in this thread he wasn't alone. And that's absolutely fine with me; after all, music and musical taste is and has always been a highly subjective thing.

People are different and they like different things. Me, personally, I enjoy a little vibrato on sustained end notes, particularly in a chorus (and yes, in Karen's case, I suppose all that is needed is the "slightest touch" of vibrato, but slight as it may be, it still needs to actually be there in order for that sustained note to not stick in my ear the wrong way, particularly if it's at the end a of the chorus).

And if the entire song would've been nothing but a string of sustained notes with zero vibrato, then that "tonight" would fit right in and I probably wouldn't have any issue with it. But that's not the case, as I've already pointed out (but nobody seemed to acknowledge it or make mention of this outside of my initial post) Karen had already used that "slightest touch" of vibrato in this very song : "be" / "too" / "me" / "do", "time" / "then" / "good" / "again". So why then turn around and leave that sustained "tonight" in the chorus (that's practically begging for vibrato) without the slightest bit of it ?

It makes no sense to me, but I'm glad many people here aren't bothered by it. Though I could've sworn there was at least one person on this forum that had the same issue I did, and that it was briefly discussed about in a thread here (maybe on one of those album review threads for "Lovelines" or Karen's solo albums; or maybe it was a different thread; or maybe I'm just misremembering since I'm only human and this is far from the only forum I frequent - or, in this case, "lurk" on).

Anyway, I've enjoyed this exchange of replies with you and newvillefan and although I don't know what I have done that was horrible enough to have GDB2LV block me (kind of too much effort for him given how rarely I actually post here, but it's his prerogative), I'm still glad I created this thread. I was obviously wrong to make use of the word "flat" to describe the issue, but again that was due to me being a non native english speaker and not properly researching the meaning of that word in this context. I've learned my lesson and won't use it again.

So thanks again to you and the other members of this community !
 

JohnFB

I was born to belong to the lines of a song...
Anyway, I've enjoyed this exchange of replies with you and newvillefan and although I don't know what I have done that was horrible enough to have GDB2LV block me (kind of too much effort for him given how rarely I actually post here, but it's his prerogative), I'm still glad I created this thread. I was obviously wrong to make use of the word "flat" to describe the issue, but again that was due to me being a non native english speaker and not properly researching the meaning of that word in this context. I've learned my lesson and won't use it again.

So thanks again to you and the other members of this community !
Yes, an enjoyable exchange - your English is fine - it's sometimes difficult and can take time & experience to grasp all of the subtleties of English, for example the multiple meanings of the word "flat" (and there are many words with that same type of characteristic)...

There can be many reasons why someone blocks or ignores posts from a particular person, a few good but most not so much, including not being able to handle disappointing and/or painful truths - but why they have to brashly announce the act in addition to just simply doing it gets into some unsavory aspects of dysfunctional psychology better left unexplored.
 

Shadowboro

Member
Thread Starter
I’m glad you’re here, @Shadowboro! And may I say, your English is excellent. Far better them mine. And I’m a native speaker! 😂
Thank you (and JohnFB, too) for the compliment and kind words !

My interest in the english language actually began when I was a kid back in the 90's and used to watch all those wonderful american cartoons on Cartoon Network (from Hanna Barbera, Ruby Spears, Filmation etc.; all that good stuff). Picked up a lot of words, particularly from "The Flintstones" (as I recall there was a lot more talking in that one compared to other cartoons).

And of course my entire family was glued to the TV set watching "Dallas" being aired in the early 90's by the local tv station (that's where I probably learned words like "oil rig", "oil derrick", "tanker", "ranch" etc., since I sure as hell didn't come across any of those words in any english textbook I've studied from in primary school).

Generally affordable internet only became a thing in my "corner of the world" (Romania, in eastern Europe, just in case you are wondering) only in the mid 2000's, so up until that point my only interaction with the english language and american culture was via those cartoons, the occasional tv show (like the aforementioned "Dallas") and the terrific but short lived CMT Europe music channel (which introduced me to country music, of which I've been a fan ever since).

Sadly, no Carpenters records were available to me at the time (original vinyl & cd were usually impossible to get hold of at the time in my country, unless you had a relative who was either an airplane pilot, a sailor in the commercial marine or a diplomat / ambassador). My grandfather had quite a music collection on reel-to-reel tapes, but he was mostly into disco and 60's rock & roll music, so he had none of the Carpenters albums.

Still, I recall seeing those promo videos for "Close To You" & "We've Only Just Begun" (the ones from the "Make Your Own Kind Of Music" special, if I'm not mistaking, the ones where Karen is sitting on that giant "U" shaped prop) on VH1 a couple of times. I'll admit it didn't grab me at first, since I was mostly into rock & country at the time (things that seemed to offer a bit more energy and twang then "Close To You" to my 12 year old self at the time).

But luckily, once I had the chance to properly explore all of the Carpenters catalogue and found out there was a lot more to them then "Close To You" (especially on their first album and their unsigned years where their jazz influences are really showing) I became an instant fan and have been ever since.

Though that pesky "tonight" in the chorus of "Remember When Lovin' Took All Night" still bothers me, "dagnabbit" !

Anyway, I've rambled off-topic enough for now, so thanks again for the compliment !
 

moog

Well-Known Member
Others have mentioned the terminology of "flat" (meaning singing below the intended note, making it sound "off" and bad- as does singing sharp, or above the intended note) vs. what the "tonight" is, which is just sung with no vibrato (the wavering sound often heard at the end of long notes). The lack of vibrato is called "straight tone," as Jarred cited in Tongson's book.

I'm going to guess Karen sang "tonight" in a straight tone to not clash with the brass melody in the background during that note.
 
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