Rock & roll invaded America in the 50s just as television was building its stranglehold on the culture. Once you heard a great song on the radio, the desire to actually SEE the artist intensified. Fans would suddenly be able to put a face with voice(s) they loved.
In 1956, Elvis sang multiple songs on the Ed Sullivan Show, and Sullivan egged him on to return later in the broadcast. Elvis started to deflect the host’s suggestion but quickly agreed.
Not long thereafter Elvis became so famous that he wouldn’t take orders from geriatric show hosts.
In the 60s. TV shows often used mixes of recorded music with some live overlay of vocals. Watch the The Mamas and Papas throw out some live lead vocals with recorded backup. Michelle Phillips eats a banana but her vocal contribution is unaffected. Awesome. She appears to be higher than a kite on this 1968 episode of the Ed Sullivan Show.
Stevie Wonder took questions from Soul Train audience members and then lip synced his huge hit Superstition. Later in the show he played piano and sang a live Soul Train tribute with the audience joining in.
45 years later, Stevie Wonder was brilliant singing Car Karaoke with late night host James Corden.
The calls to Corden’s wife and Stevie’s family were brilliant, plus Stevie still hits the high notes from songs he recorded in the 1960s. Outstanding fare.
Here’s a lost voice. The crystal clear tones of Karen Carpenter smoothed life in the 1970s. But even Karen opted to lip sync on TV.
My best guess is that the TV sound engineers couldn’t guarantee a slick sound for broadcast. That would give the artist (and her management team) the option to lip sync. Better to deliver a product that the customer expects to hear.
Let’s close with the best James Corden Car Karaoke segment ever. It is absolutely the best late night TV segment in decades. Watch the entire tape. Live singing and completely marvelous. Enjoy.
BONUS…Paul McCartney at Citi Field (2009)