This morning while walking the kids to school, I had Simon & Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy in New York” running through my head and, since I have no filter between them, out of my mouth. As I reached for the low note at the end of a phrase, it occurred to me that the range of the song’s melody — an octave and a perfect fourth — seemed unusually large. That got me to thinking about vocal range in pop music and wondering whether Paul Simon is more ambitious than most in that regard.
While mulling this over and considering various examples, I decided it would be fun to enlist my musical friends to see what the most extreme examples of melodic range — both large and small — we could think of in popular music are. So, musical friends, let’s play! Here are the rules:
- Your entry can include a maximum range song and a minimum range song. (Figuring out the range is helpful, but not strictly required.)
- You can’t repeat a song someone else has already mentioned in the comment thread already.
- The song must be common enough that most people would have heard it. Thus, either major record labels or something with a comparable degree of exposure.
- Note to especially talented friends, and corollary to rule #3: you may not write a song just for this purpose.
- Multiple entries are encouraged.
I’ll throw my hat in the ring with an initial entry that should be easy to beat:
- Large Range: Only Living Boy in New York, Simon & Garfunkel — an octave and a perfect fourth
- Small Range: Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry — a perfect fifth
In order to make this a bit more interesting, I’ll buy the winner their album of choice in digital format. The winner will be determined entirely by me, and my decision is final. Anyone who disputes it will be beset by my army of trained flying monkeys.