No, I’m not referring to the old HBO crime drama. I’m referring to the vocal technique epitomized by Mickey Mouse (originally voiced by Walt Disney himself), produced by using the soft outer edges of the vocal chords. It’s a natural, almost effortless sound, and yet it allows singers to reach notes that would otherwise be impossible.
I was listening to Pandora the other day and heard that catchy 60s novelty tune “Lightnin’ Strikes” by Lou Christie. In the song, a guy asks for undying devotion from his girlfriend, then admits that when he sees a girl who’s “put together fine,” “I can’t stop!” “Stop!” the female back-up singers shout. “I can’t stop!” he repeats, slipping up into his hilariously manic falsetto. (My wife hates the lyrics; I think they’re a hoot. But that’s not the point of this post.)
Christie was a smoldery, opera-trained Italian guy whose producer suggested he sing “like Frankie Valli” to give his songs “that extra something.” Frankie was the lead singer of the legendary Four Seasons who dragged 50s doo-wop into the 60s by ramping up to falsetto on their impossible-not-to-sing-along choruses (“Sha-a-ree, Sha-ree-bay-bee! Sha-a-ree, Sha-ree-bay-bee!”).
And that’s my point. The choruses of pop songs need to ramp up, to build. And hitting falsetto is one of the best ways to accomplish that. Back in the 80s, when Suzanna Hoffs of the Bangles turned up the heat on “Eternal Flame” by crying (in falsetto), “Do you feel the same?” I wanted to yell, “Yes, I do!”
Can guys be sexy in falsetto, too? Well, Mickey’s pretty innocuous (unless you’re Minnie), and inhaling helium won’t necessarily bring da heat. But then there’s Smokey. When Smokey Robinson asked his girl in smoldery falsetto back in ’65, in the song “Ooo, Baby, Baby,” if she would forgive him, millions of girls screamed, “Yes, Smokey, we will!”
Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees, the Beach Boys, Justin Timberlake, Prince, Adam Levine, Taylor Swift–all have used falsetto as that something extra to take it to the next level.
You may not be a singer, but whatever your calling, whatever your passion, I would encourage you to find that natural, almost effortless something extra that helps you get to the next level. Don’t settle for good. Go for great. Keep going. Don’t ever stop perfecting your craft. Be sexier (metaphorically speaking), funnier, more exciting, more intense.
Be a falsetto!