Tuesday, December 02, 2008
It's Miller Time (That's Mrs. Miller To You, Whippersnapper!)
A recent issue of Rolling Stone counted down the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
The list, created from a poll of musicians and music writers (Rock Turtleneck was inexplicably not invited to vote), was surprisingly evenhanded and interesting. Sitting at the top of the list was the well deserved though slightly bold choice of Lady Soul, Aretha Franklin. Soul music was very well represented in the upper regions of the list, with Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, James Brown all very near the top.
I was very surprised that Paul McCartney, easily the most versatile white rock singer, didn’t make the top 10 (he was #11), though his soulmate Yoko Lennon landed at #5. Other white dudes in the top 10 were RT icons Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan.
And if someone could explain to me how Patti Smith can make the list (#83), but not Chrissie Hynde or Mama Cass Elliot, I would appreciate it. (Actually, please don’t.)
Michael Stipe, who was also surprisingly left off the list, praises Smith by saying “She was just real gutteral” he says, “Like all the body noises you make.” A singer that evokes coughing, burping, farting and puking? At only #83?
The biggest most glaring omission from the top 100 was surely, the most operatic, most boldly idiosyncratic interpreter of popular song the world has ever seen: Mrs. Miller.
They say good artists borrow and great artists steal. Well Mrs. Miller carjacked her material during her heyday in the late 1960s. Her sense of rhythm was nonexistent, her timbre was seizure-inducing, and her phrasing should have been illegal. But that didn't stop her from selling 250,000 copies in three weeks of her cheekily titled debut album Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits. Sadly, she passed away in 1996.
Back in the 90s during the Lounge Music resurgence, a friend gave me a Mrs. Miller compilation called Wild, Cool & Swingin.’ Luckily it is still in print. Once you have heard her “interpret” “Yellow Submarine,” “Moon River,” “Monday, Monday” and “Memphis,” you won’t be able to remember the originals. In fact you won’t be able to remember much at all, except perhaps the phone number for Poison Control.
My iTunes lists Mrs. Miller as “Easy Listening” but it is very much the opposite. Like seeing the Grand Canyon or Chernobyl, no words can capture the experience of hearing Mrs. Elva Miller do her thing. You have to experience it yourself. Hence the video and audio clips below.
To learn more about this neglected artist, visit mrsmillersworld.com.
Mrs. Miller, "It's Magic"
Jimmy Durante & Mrs. Miller: "Inky Dinky Duet"
Mrs. Miller mp3s
Kick your next party into high gear - or clear the premises:
"A Hard Day's Night"
"I've Got a Tiger by the Tail"