Recently I was in the studio working with a band from Portland, and we began making fun of commercial heavy rock bands and a certain singing style that has become prevalent. (Fish in a barrel, right?) "You mean 'yarling'," I explained, and gave examples. They laughed and said that was it exactly, but that they had always termed it "Seattle" singing. I have to give credit to my friends Josh and Alex of the Hot Rod Lunatics for coming up with this term.
To "yarl" is to sing melodramatically with a sort of barely suppressed letter "r" sound lurking beneath every other syllable. When I mention it, people always know exactly what I mean. Steve Turner describes it as singing as though your lower lip is stuck way out.
It's an annoying, exaggerated vocal affectation that some current heavy rock singers are using, thinking it is emotionally expressive, or bluesy, or something. "Hey, I'm singing soulfully, like Paul Rogers," they think. Paul Rogers did not yarl. Bob Halford did not, though he did other unspeakable things with his voice. Robert Plant (another style model that no one has successfully cloned) did not yarl. Ian Gillan did not yarl. Bon Scott did, somewhat, but to call his singing mere "yarling" is like calling WWII a "disagreement". Ditto for Iggy. Al Green did it, but he's Al Green and we're not.
Nonetheless, as far as annoying white rock singers go, we have the late seventies to blame for this phenomenon. I think the original criminal was Ronnie Dio. Listen to the way he sings "Man on the Silver Mountain" or "Heaven and Hell" like there's hidden, extra letter "r"s in every other word. The other culprits at the time were Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale on Deep Purple's "Burn" album, as well as all their subsequent efforts in other bands. Dio was kind of the archetype though, and as such could get away with it (for awhile).
Disclosure: In 1995 I produced a Bruce Dickenson solo album. You can't find it anywhere, because the record company folded soon after. Those record companies are such comedians. Ha, ha. Anyway, on his first album with Iron Maiden, in 1981 or so, he yarled a little bit like Dio. We joked plenty about this in the studio. He later found his own style, becoming known as "The Air Raid Siren", and left the yarling to others. (But seriously, Bruce is a great guy.)
Who can we point the finger at today? The singer for Creed is the current expert. "Crahn yrou trake mree higharr" he yarls in their big radio song. Days of the New come to mind. Godsmack. There are plenty of others. The problem is that the current crop of yarlers are copping their shtick from our homeboys Layne and Eddie V, who are actually quite restrained at yarling; Eddie hardly did it at all after the first PJ album. Chris Cornell never did it, nor Arm. Lanegan and Cobain sure as hell didn't need to. Nonetheless, it's now "Seattle Singing" to some people. Sigh.
Friends don't let friends yarl. Please, stop the madness.
My article on "yarling" a while back struck a nerve; plenty of people thanked me for giving them a word to describe the offending vocal style. It was pointed out that earlier yarlers included the Guess Who's Burton Cummings (not entirely fair, but true at times), David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Uriah Heep's David Byron. Someone else suggested Al Green, but I'm sorry, you don't mess with Al.
Some Creed fans and record company people were less amused however. I recently got a package from BMG distribution. How did they get my home address? Inside was the new Creed single, "With Awms Wahd O-pawn." It has a hideous "strings" version, a hideous "acoustic" version, and the slightly-less-hideous "rock" version of the song. It says prominently that $3 from the "sale" of this LIMITED-EDITION single (sent to me, and who knows how many others on the promo list, for free) will go to a "charitable foundation" set up by singer Scott Stapp to aid "children and families" called "The With Arms Wide Open Foundation." (www.witharmswideopen.org, currently no info on the site.) The flyer enclosed with the single says "Help for Children. Hope for Families" but gives no details.
The guy has the promotional knack of a televangelist: he creates and names a charitable foundation after the song that is being promoted as his current single! (Why didn't Mudhoney think of this? "The Touch Me, I'm Sick Foundation: Reach out and touch someone...") On the other hand, at least he's not putting all his money up his nose; you gotta give him that... even though his band is sorta Whitesnake without the snake.
(BACKFIRE was a quarterly rock 'zine, distributed free 1998-2003 in clubs and record stores in the Seattle and Portland areas.)
2003 Postscript... someone just pointed out to me another possible forefather of Yarling. It may have been Iron Butterfly, on "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" (1967?), who started the whole odious trend! (Note: the title was derived from "In a garden of Eden"... now ya know!)