Favorite Female Music Voices

by Rick Bretz

Interesting voices have always been pleasant to hear. The selections below from the music industry are based on these measures: Passion, Versatility, Outstanding Live Performances, and the best one, does it catch your ear and pull you in.  A voice can be deep, gravelly, soprano, alto, clear, clean, distinctive, have range, and illicit an emotional response.  This list of ten can be longer because there are many voices that please the ear while doing daily activities.  These are just a few of the voices that make my list.

Maria McKee, Lead Singer for Lone Justice as well as a solo performer. Favorites: Shelter; Ways to be Wicked; Sweet. Sweet Baby, Show Me Heaven, Breathe, Wheels. She has an incredible stage presence and can sing a ballad or belt out a rock and roll tune that mesmerizes audiences.




Stevie Nicks, Member of Buckingham/Nicks, Fleetwood Mac as well as solo performer and back-up singer for many other artists. Favorites:  Dreams, Standback, Stop Draggin my Heart Around, Silver Spring, Landslide, Nightbird. One of the most instantly recognizable voices in the music business and an equally impressive song writer.

Ann Wilson (Heart), Lead Singer for Heart. Favorites: Crazy on You, Barracuda, Straight On, Magic Man, Never, Dream Boat Annie.  Her voice can send chills when she hits certain notes.


Bonnie Raitt, Pop and Blues singer and outstanding guitarist. Favorites:  Nick of Time, Not the Only One, Thing Called Love, Angel From Montgomery.  Her voice is clean and can handle a ballad or blue tune. She sets the mood with her voice no matter what genre she sings.

Janice Joplin, Member of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Solo Artist. Favorites: Piece of My Heart, Mercedes Benz, Ball and Chain. Me and Bobby McGee. Passion and memorable live performances define this legend’s reputation.

Linda Ronstadt, Member of The Stone Poneys and solo artist. Favorites: Poor, Poor Pitiful Me, Hurt So Bad, Blue Bayou, You’re No Good. She is the one performer who can take a classic hit  from another performer and make it her own.  She has been able to make her mark in many different musical tastes throughout her career.


Grace Slick, Member of The Great Society, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Starship. Favorites: White Rabbit, Somebody to Love, Wrecking Ball, Dreams, Seasons. Her voice on White Rabbit hypnotizes the listener while on Somebody to Love she shows off how she can do voice gymnastics when she needs it.

Adele, Solo Performer. Favorites: Rolling in the Deep, Someone Like You, Skyfall, When We Were Young.  Just listening to Rolling in the Deep should give you an idea of why she is considered one of the best voices to come along in a while. The Jame Bond theme Skyfall is fine example of her vocal skill also.

Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders), Lead Singer for Pretenders. Favorites: Back on the Chain Gang, Brass In Pocket, Don’t Get Me Wrong, Talk of the Town.  The Pretenders’ classic Back on the Chain gang features Hynde’s voice in all of its glory as she goes up and down the scale.

Aimee Mann (Til Tuesday), Favorites: Voices Carry, Coming Up Close, What About Love, Lucky, Love in a Vacuum.  Mann’s  voice cuts through the music on everything she sings, especially for Voices Carry and What  About Love.

Other interesting voices

Rickie Lee Jones, Natalie Merchant, Sara McLaughlin, Melissa Etheridge, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, Mama Cass,  Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde), Amy Winehouse, Christine McVie, Annie Lennox, Debbie Harry, Lady Gaga, Kate Bush, Christina Aguilera, Enya.


The Two O’Clock War

by Rick Bretz

I came across an interesting book with an even more captivating title.  The book, by Walter J. Boyne, and published in 2002 is titled “The Two O’Clock War.”  The first thought that enters the mind is:  Why Two O’clock?

Two O'Clock War Book Cover

The Two O’clock question is answered in the book but the subtitle made me want to read it the minute I picked it up from my father-in-law’s bookshelf, “The 1973 Yom Kippur Conflict and the Airlift That Saved Israel.”  What Airlift and by whom?

The Yom Kippur War or as some call it, The October War,  began on the holiest of Jewish Holidays on October 6th of 1973 and the Arab forces chose “Two O’clock”  for a reason.

The author, a retired Air Force Colonel, explains the Two O’clock time hack in the title is derived from a couple of factors.  One is that Israeli commanders and the government leadership never thought the Arab forces would begin a war at two o’clock in the afternoon.  President Anwar Sadat and Air Chief Marshal Hasni Mubarak elected to change strategy to achieve the element of surprise.  Also, they knew the Israeli leadership’s guard would be the most lax at that time on Yom Kippur.


Israel thought the Suez Canal provided a natural defensive barrier and would give them enough time to call up their reserve forces if they tried to cross the canal for an attack on Israel.  However,  in the case of  October 6th, soon after the explosives started hitting the concrete bunkers, 600 tanks started rolling towards the Israeli front on pontoon bridges crossing the Suez Canal.  At the same time, Syrian MiG jet fighters and Sukhoi bombers attacked the Golan Heights in the North.

Arab Forces led primarily by Anwar Sadat’s bold decision making wanted some revenge for the six day war and also wanted to reclaim some prestige and the land Israel won after soundly defeating the Arab coalition in June of 1967.  This War, lasting until October 26th, almost completely redrew the map in that region.

The book describes how the Israeli military and its government became overconfident in the years leading up to the Yom Kippur War.  Due to the Six Day War outcome, the Israeli leadership never gave Arab Forces from any of the surrounding countries any credit.  That overconfidence almost resulted in disaster during the first couple of days of the Arab surge once they crossed the Suez. Arab forces caught Israel by surprise and with supplies and support from the Soviet Union, the Arab coalition almost succeeded in overrunning the Israeli Defense Force if not for the heroism and bravery of soldiers and airmen of the Israeli Defense Force who lost their lives defending their young country.

Boyne’s account of how American and Soviet leadership faced-off in a proxy war with the Soviet’s supplying the Arab Forces and the American Military airlifting supplies, weaponry and ammunition to the Israeli government is a lesson in diplomacy and decision-making.  What’s eye-opening is the fact that, 10 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, hands were ready to send nuclear warheads down range in a last, desperate act to save their country.  Henry Kissinger working with the Soviets stepped in and clearer heads prevailed.

All of the key players have a primary role in this event in history: Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Leonid Brezhnev, Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat and Ariel Sharon.  After many meetings, and diplomatic trips back and forth from one country to another, Nixon ordered the US Military and specifically the US Air Force to airlift weapons, ammunition and other logistics to Israel as they were running out of vital supplies, arriving just in time to resupply the Israeli Defense Forces. The Israeli and United States military’s coordinated efforts resulted in supplies moving from the planes just after landing on the airfield in Tel Aviv to supply trucks and then forward to the battle fronts.

The United States Air Force’s leadership saved the day because, while the politicians were talking, they were developing a plan and putting their airmen on notice to be ready for an airlift to Israel. An Airlift of Yom Kippur’s magnitude just doesn’t happen overnight and it occurred while Vietnam required air support simultaneously. Working 24 hours a day for several days straight, the Air Force contributed to saving Israel and were thanked by Golda Meir through a special visit.  This book is worth the read to get a little history that forms Middle East politics as it is today.

Notable LInks:





It’s a MAD, MAD, MAD World

by Rick Bretz

Two movies, one bomb. The movies Fail Safe (1964) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) will always be linked together for the year they were released and the different take that each had on the same idea of nuclear proliferation. One really isn’t better than the other movie.  Each approach the idea of nuclear war during the Cold War in different ways.


There’s nothing like a discussion about Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and movies that speak to the topic. With all of this talk about Rocket Man, North Korea’s testing program and nuclear build up and proliferation, I think it is time to revisit two movies which came out at the same time that addressed the idea of MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. The two movies are Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  They are both classic movies and meet the idea of a doomsday scenario with fear and dismay.

One was a serious look at how mankind could be destroyed if weapon use, policies and procedures were not well thought out.  The other was a brilliant movie about the absurdity of it all and the personalities that could bring to fruition such a chain of events.

Both featured military officers who lost their composure due to personal issues.  At the same time, these officers were also with people who provided a reasonable voice during the madness. Strangelove, memorably, also featured Peter Sellers playing three roles.  In one of my favorite characters of all time, Sterling Hayden gives us General Jack D. Ripper, a general who doesn’t have all of his chess pieces.

In the interest of full disclosure, I consider Dr. Strangelove one of the best satire movies of all time. Just about every line in the script is brilliant.  The idea that man would destroy itself is a concept to horrifying to contemplate for an extended time.  Therefore, the only real course of action is to just ridicule and laugh at the thought.

Fail Safe

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fail Safe, directed by the equally legendary Sydney Lumet, is a serious study of policy, procedure and the decision making process required to save mankind.  Spoiler alert here…. Henry Fonda portrayed the President of the United States with a likable quality in a situation where he had to make decisions no one would want to make, namely taking out an American city to save the world.   The movie had the unfortunate luck of being released after Dr. Strangelove thanks to Kubrick employing the court system after he  found out the serious movie Fail Safe was being produced.  He knew the first one to be released would be the most successful.  Strangelove was released first and did well while Fail Safe didn’t not sell well.   Time has elevated both movies to cult status.  Fail Safe is considered a well thought out, intelligent perspective on nuclear warfare while Dr. Strangelove is considered a classic satire with several quotable lines in the dialogue.

Lines from Dr. Strangelove

General Jack D. Ripper: But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

President Merkin Muffley: Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.

General Jack D. Ripper: Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.

Major T. J. “King” Kong: Goldie, how many times have I told you guys that I don’t want no horsing around on the airplane?

General Jack D. Ripper: For God’s sake, Mandrake! In the name of Her Majesty and the continental congress, get over here and feed me this belt.

Major T. J. “King” Kong: Well, I’ve been to one World Fair, a picnic, and a rodeo, and that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard come over a set of earphones.


Lines from Fail Safe

The President: How did you get to be a translator, Buck? You don’t seem the academic type.

Buck:  I guess I have a talent for languages, sir. I hear a language once I pick it right up. I don’t even know how. They found out about it in the Army.

Gordon Knapp: We’ve told them how to blow up our air-to-air missiles, and with them our planes.

Professor Groeteschele: They know we might have a doomsday system, missiles that would go into action days, even weeks after a war is over and destroy an enemy even after that enemy has already destroyed us.

Gordon Knapp: The more complex an electronic system gets, the more accident prone it is. Sooner or later it breaks




Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)- is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender (see pre-emptive nuclear strike and second strike).[1] It is based on the theory of deterrence, which holds that the threat of using strong weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy’s use of those same weapons. The strategy is a form of Nash equilibrium in which, once armed, neither side has any incentive to initiate a conflict or to disarm.

Game theory is the analysis of how decision makers interact in decision making to take into account reactions and choices of the other decision makers. International conflict and other phenomena in international relations occur as a result of decisions made by people

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The Best of Cleopatra


by Rick Bretz


As Egyptian Queens go, my favorite is Nefertiti, a name meaning “A beautiful woman has come.”


In spite of preferences, there was another queen that gets most of the headlines and movie titles.  She would be Cleopatra.  It’s interesting to note that Cleopatra as a movie role has been taken on by many actresses.  She might be the most attempted historic role attempted by actresses, other than Queen Elizabeth I and the current Queen Elizabeth, since the first frame of celluloid was run through a projector. It’s interesting to compare how actresses interpret one personality in history.

The portrayals that stand out in history are delivered by Theda Bera, Claudette Colbert, Vivien Leigh, Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor.  Other actresses have also attempted Cleopatra such as Monica Belucci but I want to concentrate on the five.

The Face of Cleopatra? Find out.


Cleopatra was of Greek Macedonian heritage but quickly learned the Egyptian language and identified with the Egyptian culture. This effort endeared her to the Egyptian people. She was a shrewd politician who maneuvered her way to be the sole ruler of Egypt. Empress Catherine the Great, who ruled Russia in the 1700s, followed this example by learning the Russian language early on in her education and immersing herself in the Russian culture when she came from Prussia to marry the future Peter III.


The comparison among the five portrayals of Cleopatra is an interesting exercise but for the time they were released they were all noteworthy.

theda bera as cleopatra

Theda Bera-1917

Theda Bera, the silent screen’s first sex symbol, took on the role of Cleopatra in the silent film days in 1917.  This one is a challenge to assess because only a few seconds of her performance exists.  Since she was one of, if not the first, to take on the role of Cleopatra, you have to give her credit.   She set a standard for others to follow.




Claudette Colbert-1934

Claudette Colbert appeared on-screen in “It Happened One Night” and “Cleopatra” in the same year, 1934.  She showed some range that year.  Colbert had to have the look for Cleopatra but also at that time a speaking voice that recorded well for the movies. During the transition from silent film to “talkies” many actresses and actors were left behind due to poor speaking voices or voices that didn’t match their appearances on screen.  She had both, the look and the voice, and her portrayal shows it in the strong personality she shows on film in the Cecil B. DeMille production.  Cecil B. DeMille knew how to stage an epic. Although this film is shot in black and white, the pageantry of it competes with epics of today,  Colbert, however, takes over the screen next to her co-stars and displays a strong national leader from the beginning to the final frame.   In a nod to her hitchhiking scene with Clark Gable for “It Happened One Night”, she essentially did the same thing for Julius Caesar and Mark Antony as they applied their brakes to their horse and carriages to court Cleopatra.






Vivien Leigh-1945

If Vivien Leigh can seduce Rhett Butler, she can certainly do the same with Julius Caesar.  Although she has the look, she is not an actress that you think about when considering for the role of Cleopatra. She seems to play the part more playfully than being a tactful political rival and nation ruler. Leigh’s Cheshire cat smile seems to take away from cunning and ambitiousness.  Leigh does an admirable job as well as the supporting cast, especially Claude Rains as Caesar, but it is not the best of the lot.





Sophia Loren-1954

This Italian film is more famous for Sophia Loren playing Cleopatra and the dual role of the slave girl look-alike who tries, with help, to make her way into the royal palace pretending to be Cleopatra.  It’s more of a comedy than a serious epic but Loren as Cleopatra is intriguing.




cleopatra Elizabeth taylor

Elizabeth Taylor-1963

Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra is perhaps the most well known or notorious of the actresses depending on your point of view.  The film’s cost over runs due to production problems, actor’s salaries and the cost of building the sets ballooned the budget from 2 million to some reports say 44 million, and that’s 1963 money. Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t a disaster it eventually made money and garnered 9 Academy Award nominations.  The on-set romance between Taylor and Richard Burton notwithstanding, Taylor’s version of Cleopatra rivals that of Claudette Colbert in its sexual nature and she portrays Cleopatra as a political figure and manipulator.  She captures the film the moment she rolls out of the carpet.  At that time, she was as powerful in Hollywood as Cleopatra was in Egypt and her 1 million plus salary proved it.   Despite the negative publicity it remains an epic to this day.







The rankings:

  1. Elizabeth Taylor (Because it was shot in color and had terrific sets)
  2. Claudette Colbert ( A close second)
  3. Theda Bera (She was the first)
  4. Vivien Leigh (She ‘s Vivien Leigh, worth a look)
  5. Sophia Loren (Only because it was comedy and not an epic)


Crafting the Classic Song


by Rick Bretz

As I write this on a word document, I have always admired people who can string a few memorable words and put them in the correct order.  So with that thought, this is my take on the best songs by great lyricists. As with all of my lists, there are many like it but this one is mine.

Simon and Garfunkel-Sounds of Silence-1964

This is a tour-de-force in songwriting.  Every line of it is unforgettable and it starts with one of the best lines of all time, “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” As the songs reflects, the “words of the prophets are written on the subway walls” but when this was written down it was gold.


The Eagles-Hotel California-1976

Sometimes you just nail it.  This song is got everything great lyrics, perfect guitar rifts and defining the thin line between a dream and a nightmare.


McCartney-Lennon/The Beatles-Eleanor Rigby-1966

Of all the great lines in this song, one for me, still stands out, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from, All the lonely people, where do they all belong.” A simple question but not so easily answered.



Jackson Browne, The Pretender-1976

Jackson Browne has delivered many great songs over the years (That Girl Could Sing) but his triumph is “The Pretender” because it covers many themes.  One of the best parts, “I’ve been aware of the time going by, they say in the end it’s a wink of an eye, and when the morning light comes streamin’ in, we’ll get up and do it again, Amen”




Bob Dylan-A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall-1963

This is so good it has been covered by many artists through the years.  I prefer Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians version. This one starts right out with some terrific lines, “I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains, I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways, I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests.”  I have to admit it was a toss-up between this and “The Jokerman.”



Tracy Chapman-At This Point in my Life-1995

Most people like Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” song from 1988.  I like that one also, but I like this one better because it is reflective.  I have always liked her voice but these words hit you like a Fast Car. Words like, “Although I’ve mostly walked in the shadows, I’m still searching for the light, Won’t you put your faith in me.”



Bruce Springsteen-Thunder Road-1975

The opening song to the “Born to Run” album hooks you right away and reels you in for a listening ride.  This song’s opening lines are just the beginning for Mary to come along for the ride, “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves, Like a vision she dances across the porch, As the radio plays, Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, Hey that’s me and I want you only”




Alan Parsons Project-Time-1981

Written by Eric Woolfson along with Alan Parsons, “Time” expresses the true meaning of time passing by and the friends you meet along the way. I think about all of the people I have met in my life and how I would like to see them again.  This song can be sad and inspirational in one listening.  It’s about making the most of your time, “Time, flowing like a river,  Time, beckoning me. Who knows when we shall meet again. If ever, But time, Keeps flowing like a river, To the sea.”




Pink Floyd-Wish You Were Here-1975 and  On The Turning Away-1987

The title track from the album of the same name, “Wish You Were Here” laments their missing friend and how circumstances have over taken them.   “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” may be about Syd Barrett and could just as well be on this list but this song puts their feelings into one phrase.  The best lines are in the opening, “So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.  Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?”

“On the Turning Away” is an insightful song about looking away rather than doing something to make the world and society a better place.




Rickie Lee Jones-Last Chance Texaco-1979

I think everything Rickie Lee Jones does is terrific so I may be writing this with a little bias. From her debut self titled album, this song along with Night Train are my favorites from it, although “Chuckie’s in Love” was the hit.  This song uses personification to put human characteristics on an automobile.  It’s brilliant piece where instrument, voice and words meet to create a great song. “It’s her last chance, Her timing’s all wrong, Her last chance, She can’t idle this long, Her last chance, Turn her over and go, Pullin’ out of the last chance Texaco, The last chance”



Miranda Lambert-The House That Built Me-2009

This one is written by two songwriters but performed by Miranda Lambert and this favorite of mine might have something to do with the way she sings it.

The words can bring back memories, “You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can. I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am. I thought if I could touch this place or feel it. This brokenness inside me might start healing.”



Honorable Mentions:

Ice Cube-It Was a Good Day

Frank Sinatra-It Was a Very Good Year

Steve Forbert-I Blinked Once

Mamas and Papas-California Dreamin

Neil Young-Harvest Moon

Christine McVie-Song Bird

Phil Collins-In The Air Tonight

Travelling by Horse and Carriage and Other Changes

by Rick Bretz

When determining when the horse and carriage stepped aside for the automobile, you can point to accessibility and price. When innovators like Henry Ford figured out how to produce automobiles on an assembly line and still keep quality, this produced a product in 1908 that was sold for around 825 dollars for the Ford Model T. Affordability meant that the buying public could get one and that Henry Ford could still keep a hefty profit margin and by equation produce more jobs with enough salary to buy, you guessed it, more automobiles.

However, as Orson Welles’ film, The Magnificent Ambersons, points out in a side story in the movie, you still have to get the buying public to change what they have become comfortable with using for the past several hundred years. The movie is set at the turn of the 19th Century as the automobile is gaining popularity. Some see it as a fad and others see it as a the beginning of new era.

1913 Model T Ford takes a couple off on their honeymoon

As Joseph Cotton, who plays Eugene in the movie, states during a conversation, “With all their speed forward, they may be a step backward in civilization? It may be that they won’t add to the beauty of the world or the life of men’s souls. I’m not sure. But automobiles have come. And almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They’re going to alter war and they’re going to alter peace. And I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles”

He could be speaking about many inventions over the years. The buying public has proven over and over again that if it is affordable and it makes your life easier then customers will buy it and buy it again.

The introduction of the personal computer bore this theory out during the last 35 to 40 years. Some people were reluctant to buy a computer either because of the price or rationalizing that they were fine with the typewriter and paper copies. Soon, innovators in the industry proved that the personal or office computer could make your life easier, if not more exasperating when it breaks, most of the time. Soon, the ability to save thousands of documents on a hard drive and research information for something, like say, a blog, or even a college paper, made the desktop and laptop the latest era of the golden age of inventions. It happens throughout history all of time. However, that doesn’t mean, you can’t go back in time and experience what our ancestors experience. For example, for a long time I kept a typewriter on hand just in case this personal computer thing didn’t work out. Not really, but I do still have a turntable along with my I-Tunes. I just like the way Motown sounds on an LP, that stands for Long Playing by the way.

Another way to use the way back machine, is take a trip to Charleston, SC. (In an automobile)

Charleston, SC, offers visitors a number of opportunities to examine the city’s historical architecture and other significant sites. You can see revolutionary period homes, civil war architecture, and the aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown. One of the best ways to get a start looking around the city remains a carriage ride. The carriage-the way our ancestors moved from one town to another just a short century-and-a-half ago. It’s an hour ride that takes your around the central area of the city.

One of the many horses that pull site seers around is Sammy. Sammy came from a Northern Amish community. He worked on a farm for most of his life and from what our tour guide told us during the tour, this is a break for Sammy from farm work. His schedule for Old South Carriage Rides is generous. He works for a few days in the city and then he is taken out to a farm to relax for a few weeks.

As its website states, “Old South Carriage Company operates a 65-acre plantation, Sugah Cain, on Johns Island, 8 miles from our stable. For 2-3 months annually, our beautiful horses are free to run in large pastures or leisurely graze under century-old live oaks.”

On Sammy’s trip this time he took 16 people. He maneuvered around traffic, pulled over to let traffic go by, threaded the needle on tight turns that would make a bus driver envious, stopped when the tour guide asked him for people in his carriage to take pictures, and performed at a high level of excellence.

At the end of the tour, Sammy gets to rest, have a drink (picture above), maybe eat if it’s time, and wait. If you are visiting Charleston, SC, visiting the historical sites and looking at the architecture is worth of the trip.   However, having Sammy or any of the other horses from the Old South Carriage Tours gives you a lasting memory to take back with you also.

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