Think of Melissa Ethridge singing "Come By My Window." Or the Boss launching into "Badlands." Or Bob Mould singing, well, just about anything.

Why do they always sound like it's the last song they'll ever get to sing?

Perhaps it's a sister art to the scenery chewing of certain actors. Think of the "I may never act again" thespian excesses of Rod Steiger or recent John Voight, and you'll get the idea.

In many cases, I like these musical over-emoters. And there's no question that emotion belongs in popular music. But hey, the only guy I've ever seen who could compete with Bob Mould is a crazy man who stands at Park Avenue and 49th Street every morning, yelling at the gods like Lear.

Let's also not forget to mention lead singers who keep waving their tonsils twenty bars deep into the guitar solo. Come to think of it, every lead singer is probably in this category. But considering that solos can go on forever, maybe it's not the worst thing. An image that comes to mind is Steve Perry contending with the equally excruciating Neil Schon for the lion's share of bathos in Journey.

Here then, is my list of the ten great overemoters in rock. Stand back.

Melissa Ethridge - When she sings "Yes I Am," what she's saying is, "Yes I am going to chew up this mike, this sound studio, and everything else within a ten block radius." There must be a moat of saliva around her after she sings. I wouldn't know, because I don't want to be anywhere near. Some react to all this with, God she's really out there, man, she's really feeling it.

The Boss - Bruce gave a lot in his live shows. Looking back, too much.

Eddie Vedder - Considering how loud a band Pearl Jam were, it's interesting that you could hardly hear them while Eddie Vedder was swallowing the mike. Sure, he's an introvert, like I'm Lou Diamond Philips. Oh, Eddie, I know you want to connect with us, heal us, heal yourself, cross cultures, make it all OK... where was I going with all this, anyway?

Liza - OK, she's not a rocker. But if Judy Garland is the standard by which all over-emoters must be measured - which is certainly arguable - her daughter is no slouch either. As with Judy, over-emoting is taken as far as it can go, into the territory where performance becomes a kind of public nervous breakdown. As an artistic philosophy, it's certainly uncompromising. As something to watch or listen to, it makes one as uncomfortable as a Diane Arbus photograph.

Janis Joplin - Ethridge's model and hero, of course. I caught Joplin's act when I was in tenth grade, and was utterly convinced by it. Of course, I had not yet heard Big Mama Thornton, or Muddy Waters, or Robert Johnson, and if those great blues artists over emoted, you better believe it was for a good reason. My advice many years later -- listen to the real thing.

Elvis Costello - A tremendously talented songwriter, leader of one of the best rock bands in history, and let's face it, a consistently overwrought singer. Think of the otherwise superb "King of America." The CD may be one of his best, but it should come with a warning label: Be sure to wear a bib while listening. No wonder he destroyed a mike with nothing but his lungs while recording "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding." (One of his best songs, which, lest we forget, was actually written by ace producer Nick Lowe.)

Bob Mould - Here's one over-emoter who's not about theatricality. He's all about spewing. Spewing about unfaithful lovers. Spewing about unfaithful friends. Spewing about unfaithful bands. I mean, his is truly one of the great guitar sounds ever, and his huge melodic howl has never been equalled. But last time I saw him, good as he was, it seemed like he could go one spewing forever. So after "Hoover Dam," I left. How do you follow that, anyway?

Meat Loaf - Loaf is an actor/singer, so it only makes sense that he's a scenery chewer. And from the looks of him, he's chewed more than just scenery. Perhaps the only entertaining thing about Loaf is that he takes it all so seriously when he's on stage. Or maybe that's just the way Jim Steinman insists you sing his material. (Think of "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which Bonnie Tyler sang with a Loaf-like intensity.)

Tom Jones - The perfect retro star for the nineties, Jones is both one- dimensional and campy. Besides, he looks great in bell bottoms. But the point still remains, you gotta be good to stomach "Delilah." Real good.

Steve Perry -- He of the theatrically quivering underlip. He of the shag hairdo. He of the white elephant bells. For me, the high point of his oeuvre was the 30 second "Well I should've been gone" SOLO intro to "Oh, Cherie." I mean, he didn't even let the band fucking PLAY for, what is it, eight bars at the beginning of the song. It was his first solo album. Otherwise Neil Schon would have been all over it from the start.

Tension Summer 1997

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