Friday, January 16, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special United In Group Harmony Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental fille de joie appointment secretary Fah Lo Suee and I are off to Washington, D.C., and the house of conservative bow-tie model George Will, who will be auctioning off plates and silverware used by President-elect Obama at a dinner earlier in the week. I believe there will be alcoholic beverages served during the proceedings, so posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days.

But until then, as always, here's a fun project for us all to contemplate:


Self-explanatory, I think, so no arbitrary rules this time. Extra points, however, if the example you pick features just one guy overdubbing himself. And BTW, I am quite insufferably pleased with myself that there are actually two songs on the list recorded in this decade.

Okay, here's my totally top of my head Top Eight:

8. Shoes -- Too Late

You knew this was going to make the cut, right?

7. Joan Osborne -- Hallelujah in the City

From her 2008 album with the guys from the Hooters, the same creative team that did Relish. A spine-tinglingly gorgeous song, I think, and the harmonies on the middle section strike me as what the Byrds would have sounded like if they were girls.

6. The Byrds -- I Come and Stand at Every Door

And speaking of The Byrds. Examples too numerous to mention, obviously, but this one -- to my mind, still the greatest anti-war song ever -- has always turned me to jelly. David Crosby has often said he was born to sing harmony, and lord, does he prove it here. He only chimes in on one line, at the very end, but when he does the song opens up almost psychedelically. (For another, similar, example of Crosby's absolute genius at this sort of thing, check out his one line contribution on "5D," from the same album.)

5. Fairport Convention -- Percy's Song

It starts acapella and then gets even more gorgeous as it goes along. Funny how so many Dylan covers have such great harmony, now that I think of it.

4. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles -- The Tracks of My Tears

As perfect a record as has ever been made.

3. The Beach Boys -- All I Wanna Do

Again, Beach Boys examples are too numerous to mention, but if you can hear the "My moon and stars shine nightly" part without the hairs on the back of your neck going bolt upright, seek medical attention. And is that the greatest echo/reverb you've ever heard? Yes, I think it is....

2. Fountains of Wayne -- Stacy's Mom

A band to which the phrase "Beatle-esque" has never been applied, of course.

And the number one Mormon Tabernacle Choir record by a pop artist or group is obviously, and I mean OBVIOUSLY...

1. The Beatles -- Because

The acapella version from Anthology. On top of being ridiculously talented in just about every other area imaginable, these motherfuckers were capable of the most gorgeous harmonies ever heard by sentient mammalian ears. Disgusting.

Awrighty then -- what or who would your choices be?


Anonymous said...

What ... no Queen? "Somebody to Love", for example.

TJWood said...

I'll try to come up with three:

1. If it's harmony vocal groups we're talking about, the Mamas and the Papas have to come in somewhere: For now, I'll take "California Dreamin'"

2. There's no way that the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle wouldn't escape mention from someone, but I'll get it in right now: "Maybe After He's Gone" is the most fitting choice here.

3. We'll go with something from Steeleye Span: Off the top of my head, I'll take "Bedlam Boys", there may be others more deserving out there.

dave™© said...

Great pick with "All I Wanna Do"... I always liked the "AM radio" break towards the end of the Raspberries' "Overnight Sensation".

Anonymous said...

Well, the Who didn't really have a reputation as a tight vocal group, but they did some mighty fine work over the years: Behind Blue Eyes of course; the opening of A Quick One, especially the version on the revamped Live at Leeds; Pete's overdubbed harmony line to his lead vocal during the bridge of The Punk Meets The Godfather, to name a few.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

All kinds of Zombies, right, but I especially think of Time of the Season.

And -- ala Steve's point about David Crosby -- I’ve always dug the brief but perfect harmony that completes Tom Petty’s Free Falling line about all the vampires walking through the valley, i.e., they move west down < harmony> Ventura Boulevard < /harmony>.

Sal Nunziato said...

"All The Children Sing"- Todd Eundgren.

The "la-la's" on the bridge are off the hook.

"Step Inside" by The Hollies

steve simels said...

BTW, allow me to apologize once again for using the Shaggs song for the clue.

That was...unfair, I think is the word I'm groping for.

Anonymous said...

Lots of Hollies ... "Pay You Back With Interest" in particular.

And, since you threw down the gauntlet re. someone doing his own harmonies, while I hate the song, I think you have to acknowledge that, from strictly technical standpoint (notice how I'm covering my ass here), Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" is pretty impressive.

Okay, I'll slink away now ...

NYMary said...

It's a perfect list, though I might quibble with the order (but you know I can never be really reasonable about Shoes...)

NYMary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NYMary said...

Oh, BG is right. "Look Through Any Window" anyone?

But other than that, perfect.

Anonymous said...

Right off the top of my freezing head?

Fadeaway by the BoDeans.In fact, anything by the BoDeans will do on this list. Any doubters need to hear them do their thing live.

Nicollette Larson on Neil Young's Four Strong Winds. Singing harmony to Young's lead is a tall order, as proven by many artists who've tried it and badly failed, but Larson was pitch perfect and the track is a classic.

The Band's Whispering Pines There wasn't a great singer in the group, but the vocal harmonies on that one add just the right touch of haunting fragility to that song.

The Beatles' harmonies on And Your Bird Can Sing, almost a throwaway track on Revolver, are astounding.

And I'll take Pure Prairie League's Amie as well ... gorgeous, perfect.

Noam Sane said...

Steve, no apology necessary. It was worth it to hear that song again. I'm a longtime NRBQ-head, so the Shaggs are like fact, they opened a few years back when NRBQ had a 30th-year reunion concert.

Anyway, I digress.

Patience & Prudence, "Tonight You Belong to Me". Just plain purty.

Anonymous said...

BTW, according to George Martin, Because has the 3 singing Beatles overdubbed twice, for a total of 9 voices in perfect harmony.

I'll second megisi's Pure Prairie League, and add another country-rock nomination for Poco, esp. on their wonderfully happy live album Deliverin' -- listen to the vocals on C'mon, when they go acapella for the lines "I believe that you and I as men can love one and another/Satisfy, have peace of mind/Love your neighbor as your brother" -- the words may be corny (and sexist) but the harmonies soar.

Anonymous said...

Love Hurts -Graham Parsons/Emmylou Harris

Wheels - Flying Burrito Brothers

Love Me Do- Beatles

Wooden Ships - Crosby Stills & Nash

Gonna Take a Miracle - Laura Nyro/labelle (album)

Anonymous said...

Beach Boys - - Good Vibrations
Everly Brothers - - When will I be loved, Dream dream dream
Righteous Brothers - - You've lost that loving feeling
Simon & Garfunkel - Sounds of Silence
John Prine w/ Iris Dement "in spite of ourselves"

David Rasmussen said...

Puppini Sisters-- Pick A song

Anonymous said...

"I Can't Let Go" - Hollies
"For Shame of Doing Wrong" - Richard & Linda Thompson
"White Girl" - X (I've always maintained that John & Exene can't sing for shit individually, but they harmonize beautifully. Go figure.)
"Heart Full of Soul" - Yardbirds
"Respect" - Aretha Franklin
Any Tom Petty record with poor doomed Howie Epstein. RIP.

Feral said...

Grateful Dead - Uncle John's Band
Matthew Sweet - Evangeline
CSN&Y - Find the Cost of Freedom
Guess Who - Do You Miss Me Darling?
Beatles - She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
and the song that took overdubs to the extreme for the first time,
10cc - I'm not in Love

Anonymous said...

crosby still & nash -helplessly hoping

Wendy said...

"Row, Jimmy, Row" by the Dead ... not known for their singing, for obvious reasons, but that one is gorgeous. Just about the only time I found Donna Godchaux impressive.

Linda Ronstadt's "Heart Like a Wheel" ... okay, she can't sing rock and roll to save her life, but when it comes to ballads and country rock, her voice is incomparable. The entire album has knockout harmonies (from Emmy Lou Harris and Maria Muldaur, among others), but the title track and "When Will I Be Loved" stand out for me.

And, in turn, her singing (along with James Taylor) on Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" is also a standout.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that duet harmony on Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons on Love Hurts, no matter how many thousands of times I've heard it, still astounds me.

It's on the verge of falling aprt on every note, it's so fragile, and yet it never does. You want vulnerability in a song, that's about as good as it can get.

A for the comment on John Doe and Exene Cervenka's duets, that is some strange alchemy, isn't it?

Kid Charlemagne said...

I have to go with the Association's "Along Comes Mary."
I never get tired of that song.

Kid Charlemagne said...

Oh, forgot! Steve, how could you leave out the Left Banke? "Desiree" perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Would it be a cheat to add the choir at the end of "You Can't Always Get What You Want"?

Libby Spencer said...

Gwen, that one works for me. I love that choir. Meanwhile, with all the obvious choices already taken, I'll add:

Jane Siberry and kd Lang - Calling All Angels

Pentangle - Light Flight

Cranberries - Linger

I don't know that the harmony on this one is particularly nice, but I love the song and I liked the contrast in this pairing.

John Prine and Bonnie Raitt - Angel from Montgomery

And I'm not sure if she did her own harmony tracks on this but I think she may have.

Sinead - Emperor's New Clothes

MBowen said...

I've always liked the "Hold it, hold it, hold it, hold it" breakdown in Graham Parker & The Rumour's Hold Back The Night, and it turns out there's a good story about it.

GP, after listening to the finished product liked what he heard, but there seemed to be another vocal track in the breakdown that he didn't remember anyone recording. He guessed that the producer might have added an extra take by keyboardist Bob Andrews that he didn't notice being recorded. A few months later, he asked Andrews about it, but it turned out that it wasn't him. GP just shrugs, says "That's odd", and forgets about it.

Flash forward a dozen years or so. GP, now living in America, turns on the radio, hears "Pour Some Sugar On Me" by Def Leppard, and starts laughing, because he hears the same voice in the back-up vocals during the chorus as was on "Hold Back The Night" - it's Mutt Lange, who produced both records. In fact, you can here Lange on a lot of his recordings, from the early days with City Boy and the Boomtown Rats to "You Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC, "Jukebox Hero" by Foreigner, and most of the Def Leppard hits.

Libby Spencer said...

Oh and I'd nomimate Roger Waters and his backup singers - What G-d Wants.

steve simels said...


That Mutt Lange story is priceless.
And totally believable. Massed vocals were his trademark...

Libby Spencer said...

One more for the road.

Dixie Chicks - Landslide

geor3ge said...

If we're talking Grateful Dead harmonies, Uncle John's Band is good, but Cumberland Blues is better.

Anonymous said...

Listening to my iPod today, and "John Barleycorn" by Traffic came up. The vocal harmony between Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi was spine-tingling...