Frank’s last bow seems a good time to think about yodelling. It’s not as prominent here as on some of his hits, but he gets to bend the lungs a bit at the end of some verses.
I haven’t run a survey on it or anything, but I’d guess that people now would see yodelling in pop music as either weird or a bit naff. So what happened to it? Listening to a CD called the Ultimate Yodelling Collection at the weekend, I was reminded what a good way it is of expressing loneliness as well as liberation. Historically it’s been as associated with the Appalachians as the Alps. The only problem with yodelling is its flagrant artifice – there are few vocal techniques that are so utterly and obviously a technique, an aesthetic choice, undisguisable as a natural or spontaneous response to a lyric.
The fate of yodelling as a pop technique is a microcosm of an overall effect I think the 60s had on pop. Blues and gospel-derived singing forms – heard as more directly connected to a singer’s self-expression – flourished. More theatrical tricks and styles – the yodel, the spoken interlude, the intricate harmonies of doo-wop – fell away as the decade progressed. All have had their moments in the spotlight since, but often as novelties or self-consciously ‘retro’ turns to earlier pop styles. The 60s were a time of thrilling, explosive diversity for pop music, but Frank Ifield’s commercial demise reminds me that there were standardising forces at work too.
So here’s to Frank Ifield, whose “I’m Confessin'” is a strong, straight-backed performance of a sweet song, yodels and all.