Not How It Sounds...Five Songs Whose Singers Fooled Me

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Have you ever listened to a song for a while or even years and because you've never seen the music video or a recorded performance of it, falsely assumed the singer was a particular gender or race because of how they sound? I've been surprised more than once to learn a singer's race or gender and I'm sure it's happened to lots of other listeners that just weren't privy yet to the performer's background. Wayne Newton's performance of "Danke Schoen" quickly comes to mind; a lot of people when hearing it for the first time thinks it was recorded by a woman. Here are five songs I heard countless times that fooled me until YouTube or Sirius set me straight...

Nick Gilder, "Hot Child In the City" (1978)

Who I Thought Sang It: Some woman with a Farrah Fawcett hairstyle
Who Really Sang It: A guy

For years I assumed that "Hot Child In the City" was a one-hit wonder for some little known female singer during the '70s, until I noticed the artist's name on Sirius just a few months ago. Nick Gilder...Nick as in Nicholas. Yep, fooled. He sure sings like a girl to me. And although the song is a catchy one, it would easily be included on a "Music for Pedophiles" compilation album, as it's about child prostitution that Gilder saw first-hand on the Hollywood streets. I hear that some of Gilder's follow-up recordings kind of mirror the same theme; needless to say I haven't bothered looking them up. Gilder started his career in a glam rock band called Sweeney Todd. Fun fact: after Gilder left the group to pursue a solo career, he was replaced by another Canadian-born singer, Bryan Adams.

The O'Kaysions, "Girl Watcher" (1968)

Who I Thought Sang It: A black man
Who Really Sang It: White boy

Not much to say here, really -- this is blue eyed soul at its best. Close your eyes and you'd never guess lead singer Donnie Weaver wasn't African American. The band is still performing today, with a different line-up.

The Pointer Sisters, "Automatic" (1984)

Who I Thought Sang It: A dude from the group's back-up band
Who Really Sang It: Ruth Pointer

Of course, I knew who The Pointer Sisters were when this song was released in 1984 but with apologies to Ruth Pointer who sings lead on it, for many years I thought it was a man from their back-up band doing the honors. Her voice is just so deep here that even when watching performances of it today, it's still a little hard for me to believe it's really her singing...but it is. Ruth told the song's producers that she would happily sing "the low part" and well, it worked.

Jane Child, "Don't Wanna Fall in Love" (1990)

Who I Thought Sang It: A black woman
Who Really Sang It: A white Canadian singer/songwriter with a crazy eccentric hairstyle and piercings

It wasn't long ago when this song popped into my head for some reason -- maybe because it's been a couple of decades now since I last heard it -- and when I saw the music video for the first time after all of these years, I was floored.

Was Jane Child an inspiration for Lady Gaga? I don't ever remember seeing her on TV when her one and only huge hit, "Don't Wanna Fall in Love", was released in 1990. I surely would have recalled that dreadlocked, punk version of a Crystal Gayle hairstyle and nose ring. Perhaps she didn't really achieve a higher level of fame because she refused to sing her hit on Top of the Pops, claiming the program was a "sellout."

Child has a website that says it was being 2007 (it looks like it was created in 1999.) A mysterious musical figure, for sure.

The Newbeats, "Bread and Butter" (1964)

Who I Thought Sang It: Initially a black woman; later a young black guy with an over-the-top falsetto
Who Really Sang It: A white blonde guy that kind of resembled Bill Clinton

I saved this one for last because a. it was my most recent discovery and b. it surprised me the most. The thing about this song is I consider it to be one of the most obnoxious musical works ever released; I mean, even the lyrics are silly and dumb. What self-respecting woman would only feed her loving man bread, butter, toast, and jam? She's a really lousy cook; the song informs us that she doesn't make mashed potatoes or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! It's hard to believe that this song was a monster hit both in the U.S. and the UK in August 1964 -- keep in mind the Beatles had already conquered both continents months earlier, so WTF? Add in the fact that this band goes into dork mode overload during their live performance by pointing fingers at their lead singer while singing the verses. And why are there two saxophone players on the stage when the song doesn't even feature a sax? It's almost painful to watch.

The Newbeats were comprised of two brothers, Dean and Mark Mathis, and its lead singer, Larry Henley. Henley eventually left the brothers to pursue a solo career (um...I know without a doubt that I could not stomach an entire album filled with this guy's voice, but different strokes for different folks, I guess) and later co-wrote the Bette Midler ballad, "Wind Beneath My Wings."

"Bread and Butter" was later used in an advertising jingle for Schmidt's Blue Ribbon Bread..."I like bread and butter, I like toast and jam, I like Schmidt's Blue Ribbon Bread, it's my favorite brand." Also, Devo covered the song for the soundtrack to the steamy Mickey Rourke flick "9 1/2 Weeks." Wikipedia is trying to tell us that the song wasn't used in the film but they're wrong -- I distinctly remember watching it on television of all places and it was used during a scene where Rourke's character is feeding various foods to Kim Bassinger while she's blindfolded.

A strange, kinky legacy for a strange (but not so kinky) song.

OK, Go Retro readers, am I the only one that has made similar errors upon first hearing songs? Please tell me I'm not alone.


  1. I thought Nick Gilder was a woman too. In fact, I was under that impression until I read his obituary, many years later.
    I'm the world's biggest Who fan, I've got most of their albums and some great concert DVD's, but when I was a little kid, I thought the singer was a black guy. I don't wanna sound racist here, but in the '70's you had white singers like Seals and Croft, Paul Simon, or Glenn Fry, and then you had blues and soul singers like Wilson Pickett and James Brown, and I guess the raw, rough, gutsy power Roger Daltrey sang with somehow made me picture him as a black dude. Again, I don't mean that in any kind of racist way, it was just my impression.
    You have to remember, I was a little kid on a farm out in Iowa, and I wasn't privy to much information about the wider world.
    Steve Winwood, in the '60's and early '70's, could do a pretty good Ray Charles impersonation, but of course there's nobody like the original.

    1. I don't think it's being racist at all, and I thought of adding the same apology in advance to this post, except I see nothing offensive about it. It is what it is and frankly I think it's a compliment to these singers (except for that Newbeats guy; his falsetto really grates on my nerves, LOL.) We really do live in an ultra sensitive, overly PC world most of the time. By the way, the late Terry Kath of Chicago was often referred to as "the white Ray Charles."

      By the way M.P., Nick Gilder is still alive.

  2. I both heard and saw Boy George singing "Karma Chameleon" back in the '80's and was convinced he was a girl.

    1. Yeah...I remember seeing the "Karma Chameleon" video for the first time and it was kind of an assault to my eyes! I love Culture Club.

  3. Good one, Jeff! The first time I heard that song was Bananarama's version but I may have thought the same as you when first hearing the original by Shocking Blue. And yes, she was beautiful.

  4. First time i heard "Never gonna give you up" on the radio , i was sure it was a Afro American male. Boy was i wrong..

  5. There was a hit soul song from the 60s called "Rescue Me" by a woman named Fontella Bass. One listen and you'd swear up and down it was Aretha.

    1. Indeed, her voice is a dead ringer for the Queen of soul's.

    2. Until I read this comment, I thought it WAS by Aretha Franklin!

  6. Until this year I thought the band Ozark Mountain Daredevils was fronted by a woman for the song Jackie Blue. Just listen and tell me what you hear!

    1. Oddly enough, and don't ask me how, but that was one song that I knew was sung by a man...but I can totally hear how one would think otherwise.

  7. Boy, was I ever off base! I somehow thought Gilder was dead, but I'm glad to hear otherwise. I guess I just confused him with someone else who kicked the bucket, you know how us old guys are. We can't keep straight who's alive or dead anymore. How embarrassing.
    I wasn't sure about the Ozark Mountain Daredevils either, when that song was popular. It sure is a great song, though.
    And I had to have somebody explain Boy George to me, when I was a teenager.
    That woman from Shocking Blue looked like she was a vampire.

    1. Dang it Anonymous I'm in that same boat with you! Always pre-empting some famous person's passing! Like I'm from the future or something, lol!

  8. When I first heard Air Supply I thought it was a woman

  9. As a child back in the sixties I loved Dionne Warwick's (Do Know the Way to) San Jose. I imagined the singer was a beautiful blond white woman, a real California Girl. My shock upon seeing that Diane Warwick, though quite beautiful, was very much NOT white was comparable to the shock I felt upon learning learning what sex was.

  10. What were/are y'all listening to these songs on - a paper cup and a piece a string??

    My perceptions of Bread & Butter were of younger white males, and the original 'Venus' singer, definitely male.

    Out of all the artists discussed in this blog, the only one you'll have trouble convincing me of is Nick Gilder. Are we sure he didin't just write his most famous song, and some chick didn't sing it?

    The under thirty crowd where I work swear that's a woman singing "Hot Child". The tonal inflections, the breathing between words, all of it.

  11. You know who has the 'whitest black voice' I've ever heard?

    Howard Stern's on-air co-anchor, Robin Quivers.

    Through no intent of my own, I was exposed to a very early episode of the Howard Stern program, back in the early eighties when it was on New York's WNBC(now the FAN), in the afternoons. For you Stern fans born after 1980, it was a very different show, as was Imus's: sure, they both talked a lot, but they still had to play at least a half-dozen records per hour of their time slot. Plus Howard had an actual snare drum and cymbal in studio - it's on YouTube! - that he would puctuate jokes and funny moments with. I miss that, and wish he'd bring that drum back!

    And I kept hearing what sounded like this white woman interjecting banter with Stern. It wasn't until the announcement of Sterns book "Private Parts" on TV when I saw Quivers talking about the book and the show. Man was I shocked! lol

    Goes to show you can't pigeon-hole anybody, not then and not nowadays.

  12. Wayne newtons jingle bell rock had me fooled for years


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