The singing voice of Kenny Rogers is the greatest of all time. This article will attempt to explain why.
I’m not a music theorist and I, like most people, enjoy music simply based on what “sounds good” to me. I don’t base my appreciation of a person’s voice or a band’s music on a “J. Evans Pritchard” scale of virtuosity and technical ability. It is completely a “feel” thing and, ergo, the title of my article is completely useless and flat out wrong since it is impossible to determine the “greatest” voice in music history (I thought that article title would get you to click the link and read the article, looks like I was right).
Having said that, no one is better at eliciting a varying degree of emotion in his music than Kenny Rogers. Below are a few reasons why this is true, followed by an audio sample of some of my points in action. If you make it through the article, be certain to listen to the audio. It is the convincing proof necessary to back me up.
I’ve been ridiculed before because of my insistence on this point, but Kenny Rogers has a voice that is absolutely brutal, not simply because of the content of the lyrics, but because of the nature of his delivery. Perhaps you might have an image of Kenny Rogers where he is decked out in fluffy sweaters singing a sweet little Christmas song. Not me. The first image I had of Kenny as a child is still the one that resonates with me. It is the image of him on the cover of his incredible “The Gambler” album. I mean, look at this album cover. Kenny has a look about him that says, “I know something you don’t, and if you mess with me, I’ll seal your fate.” The ladies are all mesmerized by him, the dude in the background is concerned about what Kenny might do next and perhaps jealous of his mysterious ways, and the dealer is perplexed at Kenny’s ability to dominate at the gambling table. And yet, all of this imagery is presented with a feeling of class and substance.
And if that image isn’t enough to convince you of his manliness, then this epic fight scene from “The Gambler” where Brady takes down Rufe will certainly be all you need to agree that Kenny is a beast. But we are talking about his voice, not his appearance. The thing that makes Kenny so brutal is not the presence of yelling or screaming or getting angry while he sings. Of course not, Kenny isn’t a death metal vocalist. But rather it is the way his voice will break and crack just at the right moment. I refer to this method of Kenny’s singing as the “Brutal Break.” An amateur might hear this rough-edged breaking of his voice as an example of poor singing, but just the opposite is true. I have tried for 30 plus years to make my voice do the “Brutal Break” on cue in the shower so I can be more of a man like Kenny. I still can’t do it. And neither can you. Only Kenny can make us shiver because of this gift.
Then, when you take this slight break in his voice combined with what he is saying, it is almost unbearable. Sometimes when I listen to Kenny I have to pause the music and take a few deep breaths. I mean, when you take the “Brutal Break” in his voice while he is singing the lyrics, “if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground,” nothing else anyone has ever sung can really come close.
The Spoken Word
So many artists have attempted to talk in the middle of their songs and so many artists have failed. Johnny Cash is the only one who can even come close to Kenny at this point, and even the man in black can’t quite pull off what Kenny is able to do. Some of my favorite spoken words from Kenny are:
“…but you could have heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door.”
“…for God’s sake, turn around.” (the all-time best spoken word performance ever.)
“…God our love is true.” (the second best spoken word performance ever)
“Son, I sentence you to life with Marianne” (Kenny speaks the “Son, I sentence you to life” part but then sings the last two lines “with Marianne.” But guess what? When he sings “Marianne,” he incorporates the “Brutal Break” described above. An absolutely unbelievable combination of Kenny talking and Kenny using the Brutal Break in one line. Whoa.)
Making Men Better Men
Kenny Rogers can sing a single line in a single song and make me want to be a better man, a better husband, and better father. For example, the first line of “Lady” typically makes me cry: “Lady, I’m your knight in shining armor and I love you.” I mean, let’s just cut to the chase. First line and boom, he declares who he is and expresses his love for his lady. And then there is “She Believes In Me” and for any guy who has had a dream, especially us musicians, and was blessed enough to find a woman who supported us, this song is the ultimate tear jerker. These lines are breathtaking: “While she lays dreaming, I try to get undressed without the light And quietly she says ‘how was your night?’ And I come to her and say, ‘it was all right,’ and I hold her tight.” It really defies any kind of explanation. Kenny Rogers makes me want to be a better husband and father, it’s that simple.
You’ve Got It, Mister
Perhaps the most important reason for my declaration of Kenny’s premiere voice is the “x” factor – that thing which just can’t be explained. As I was contemplating this point, I thought of this line from Young Frankenstein:
Yes, Kenny, you’ve got it mister. That’s the only way to explain the surpassing greatness of Kenny’s voice. After all, the greatest and the best and the elite cannot ultimately be explained, they just have to be experienced. That’s why when you listen to “Love Will Turn You Around,” you will immediately stop what you are doing and look for someone to hug. We don’t know why, it’s just Kenny’s greatness. That’s why when you listen to “Coward of the County” you will immediately look for a bully to kick the daylights out of.
So, if you have time, listen to the audio track below to hear examples of Kenny singing in the ways I mention above. I think you will agree that he is tough to beat!