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#1
Old 09-15-2007, 12:16 AM
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Best harmonies by band and song

I'm a sucker for a good harmony, especially a three or five part harmony. Vocal harmonies that is.

I don't have the theory chops to sub-divide the different types of harmony, but I know what I like when I hear it.

The thing that triggered this post was hearing "Loving Touching Squeezing" by Journey on the way home from the store tonight. The last iteration of the refrain was very well produced IMO, especially for that time period. Almost anything by ELO is good as far as harmonies go, but then again, Jeff Lynne is one of the Godfathers of harmony.

Bad Religion used to be considered to be a punk band, but I think their appeal has been widened. They AFAIK, coined the term "oozin' ahhhs". Choruses that just drip with harmony, careful layering, and quality melody, are all too rare these days.

There are several tracks off of Imogen Heap's latest album that have super-rich harmonies, both dissonant and um... the other thing.

So, best harmonies. Band, song, artist, list the best here.
#2
Old 09-15-2007, 12:50 AM
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Although, to my personal taste, I think the choice of when to apply kick-ass harmonies often went a bit "cheese ball", I must admit that, at their best, The Beach Boys and The Mamas and The Papas were brilliant in the vocal harmony department.

Often overlooked, The Cowsills are amazing vocal harmonists. Give another listen to their cover of "Hair". I saw them a few years ago before Barry died. Thirty years older they were tight and strong as they ever were. Wish I had new recordings of the songs they had recorded in the 60s.

Speaking of The Cowsills, the baby of the family, Susan Cowsill, was in a band in the 90s called The Continental Drifters- a band that also featured Peter Holsapple of The dBs and Vicki Peterson of The Bangles (Vicki, now married to John Cowsill). That was a band that kicked ass in the Vocal Harmony department. You can listen to songs on the Listen Page of their zombie website. Check out their cover of Neil Young's "When You Dance I Can Really Love" and their cover of The Hollies' "I Can't Let Go". The quality of the audio sucks, but it might be enough to inspire you to lay down 99cents for a song or two.

Mentioned about, but deserving a mention of their own, of course The Bangles.

And Susannah Hoffs of The Bangles put out an album with Matthew Sweet called Under the Covers on which they covered their favorite songs of the sixties. The vocal harmonies on that album are superb- notable is their cover of The Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing". Four great songs can be heard on their MySpace page. In fact, I should start an entire Thread just about this album.
#3
Old 09-15-2007, 12:58 AM
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I think the Beatles had some lovely work in this area. I particularly love the close, rich harmonies in the Beatles' "Because." (And in "Sun King." Kind of hard to separate some of the songs on Abbey Road, really, since it's a big medley.)

Oh! And the Eagles in "Hotel California." Good stuff.

Last edited by choie; 09-15-2007 at 12:59 AM.
#4
Old 09-15-2007, 01:03 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by choie
I think the Beatles had some lovely work in this area. I particularly love the close, rich harmonies in the Beatles' "Because." (And in "Sun King." Kind of hard to separate some of the songs on Abbey Road, really, since it's a big medley.)

Oh! And the Eagles in "Hotel California." Good stuff.
Eleanor Rigby is probably my favorite song of theirs.

The Beach Boys, and the Mamas and the Papas, are great examples of period harmonies. Too bad that trend had to fade.
#5
Old 09-15-2007, 01:24 AM
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"Eleanor Rigby," good call! Still makes me cry a bit.

As a group overall, we gotta give harmonizing props to CSN and sometimes Y -- Crosby Stills Nash & Young. "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is one of their many examples.

And of course Simon and Garfunkel, especially "The Sound of Silence" and "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme." Gorgeous, haunting vocals.

As long as I'm talking folk... well, I've got to mention three onetime greats: the New Main Street Singers, Mitch & Mickey, and The Folksmen, groups that harmonized to greatest effect with "Fare Away," "One More Time" and "(Never Did No) Wanderin'," respectively. Especially the New Main Street Singers, who of course were a neuftet.
#6
Old 09-15-2007, 01:25 AM
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Elliott Smith should definitely get a mention here. XO, Figure 8, and Basement in particular have a bunch of songs with gorgeous harmonies.
#7
Old 09-15-2007, 01:40 AM
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For close harmony I defy anyone to out-do the Four Freshmen ("Blue World" is a fine example of their singing). The Beach Boys said they were highly influenced by the Four Freshmen.
#8
Old 09-15-2007, 02:33 AM
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The Proclaimers
#9
Old 09-15-2007, 04:07 AM
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Wilson Phillips - their eponymous first album was wonderful, for harmony as well as other things.
#10
Old 09-15-2007, 04:49 AM
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I'm a sucker for good harmonies, and used to sing in an a capela group (that got on Radio Wales a couple of times! I haven't let the fame go to my head though ). It saddens me how few people 'hear' good harmonies when listening to music, as opposed to treating them as just another instrument, or an incidental background to the lead melody.

I was going to mention Suite: Judy Blue Eyes as well. Watch C, S, & N performing this live at Woodstock in front of half a million people shortly after they'd formed. What an achievement. It's pretty much my favourite harmony ever, and part of that is because I've never heard three voices that meld together so well. Not so when Neil Young puts in an appearance...

For clever clever close harmony, listen to The Roches. The Hammond Song sends shivers up my spine (not a good recording unfortunately), with effective switching between unison and harmony - and wow, those girls can sing low. One of the best examples I've heard of their stuff is them accompanying the Indigo Girls on the track Airplane, where at one point they imitate a jet taking off, in three parts. Stunning. The Indigo Girls don't do too badly themselves for two voices, especially in their early stuff. Here's their classic Closer to Fine.

I also go gaga for 1940s close harmony - The Andrews Sisters singing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy is sublime.
#11
Old 09-15-2007, 04:56 AM
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Forgot to mention the (stalled) 40s-style revival in the UK, spearheaded by The Puppini Sisters whom I saw live last year. They're very entertaining, in particular their covers of modern pop in 40s harmony style (Beyoncé's Crazy in Love is a fave).
#12
Old 09-15-2007, 05:24 AM
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One of the best harmony groups around is The Eagles. Many of their songs feature complex harmonies, but perhaps the best example is Seven Bridges Road. Fantastic.
#13
Old 09-15-2007, 05:43 AM
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I could stay up till 9 AM with this one, but I'll just throw out The Kings of Convenience. They sound a lot like Simon and Garfunkel.
#14
Old 09-15-2007, 06:25 AM
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I have to chime in to add a big plus one to The Eagles. Oddly enough, when I clicked on this thread, an Eagles tune was playing in the iPod, and it happens to be the one I think features the most hauntingly beautiful harmonies..."The Heart of the Matter." Technically, it's a Henley solo song, but they performed it for the Hell Freezes Over tour (and taping) and - besides being an awesome song - almost makes me cry at how well they harmonize.
#15
Old 09-15-2007, 08:18 AM
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Fleetwood Mac.
#16
Old 09-15-2007, 08:51 AM
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The Everly Brothers
#17
Old 09-15-2007, 09:06 AM
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Oh and also Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson of the B52's.
#18
Old 09-15-2007, 10:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spoke-
The Everly Brothers
Right the fuck on. Most of the groups mentioned, including the Beatles, all gave props to this duo as being the inspiration for their harmonies.

One song not mentioned was an updated version of "Mr. Sandman" with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmy Lou Harris. Another was the duet with Ronstadt and Aaron Neville, "Don't Know Much".
#19
Old 09-15-2007, 10:17 AM
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Les Paul and Mary Ford.


Les Paul, besides inventing the solid body electric guitar, also invented a very crude multi-track recording.

His wife Mary Ford sang, and after recording the melody would record two more tracks of singing in harmony. Oh, anything after track one, had to be done in one take.
#20
Old 09-15-2007, 10:22 AM
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Blue Oyster Cult on Don't Fear the Reaper.
#21
Old 09-15-2007, 11:00 AM
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Queen, "The Prophet's Song", on A Night at the Opera. A kickbutt ostentatious heavy prog-rock anthem with spectacular harmony interspersed throughout. (Why the heck "Bohemian Rhapsody" gets all the airplay instead, I'll never understand)
#22
Old 09-15-2007, 11:08 AM
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Let's not overlook the obvious. The Temps, 4 Tops, The Miracles-- also Take 6. Ray, Goodman and Brown (The Moments) have a song called Special Lady that gives me goosebumps.
#23
Old 09-15-2007, 11:12 AM
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Excuse me? The Beach Boys, on every freaking song they ever recorded. Start with Surfer Girl and Sloop John B, then move to Surf's Up.
#24
Old 09-15-2007, 11:25 AM
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I think the Moody Blues deserve some mention here. To throw a few songs out, consider "Ride My See Saw" and "Gemini Dream".
#25
Old 09-15-2007, 11:34 AM
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One harmony moment that always gives me chills is in R.E.M.'s It's The End Of The World As We Know It, after the third verse, when the repeat the chorus in that minor dirge, before it get's all happy again. It feels like a glimpse of the real pain underneath some peppy facade and it get me right there. Just beautiful.

Also, I like the chorus for Van Halen's Dance The Night Away, though it feels like all facade, so whatever.
#26
Old 09-15-2007, 11:59 AM
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The voices of Exene Cervenka and John Doe of the band X sound heavenly together.

Last edited by Spiff; 09-15-2007 at 11:59 AM.
#27
Old 09-15-2007, 01:08 PM
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Frank Zappa's Mothers usually had a stable of highly skilled singers. Near the end of Billy The Mountain, they go into "A mountain is something you don't want to fuck with," and the tight harmonies are just lethal. Several other spots in that album, Just Another Band From L.A. are the aural version of watching high wire artists doing backflips.

Trio, with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris is pure treasure. The Pain of Loving You, To Know Him Is To Love Him, and Farther Along are seminars in vocal harmony.
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#28
Old 09-15-2007, 01:12 PM
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TLC
The Dixie Chicks
#29
Old 09-15-2007, 02:33 PM
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Queen is one of the best, for sure.

For single artists, Happy Rhodes is way up there. Queen were very influential to her because of their harmonies. Listen to this early song from 1988 (authorized mp3 link). She was all alone in the studio for her first 4 albums, and so did multitudes of overdubs and vocal harmonies with herself. She still does it on just about every song. This is a new song, and it's all her (in fact, it's called "Queen")
#30
Old 09-15-2007, 03:34 PM
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Eddie From Ohio are a folk band with some amazing vocalists in the group - there are four of them, and three of them have lead vocals on different tracks. When they put down tracks like Gravity or The Three Fine Daughters of Farmer Brown, the lead is nice, the harmonies on the chorus are even better, and then suddenly near the end of the song you realize that they've layered in four-part work that's like a tapestry, the instruments have stopped, and you're sitting in this valley of sound that's just unbelievable. The first time I heard "Three Fine Daughters" I didn't even finish the track -- they got through the a cappella section and I just dialed right back to that moment and listened to those fifteen seconds of music over and over.

The Indigo Girls' earlier work had some incredibly dense harmonies, especially their song Airplane where the Banshees (of Siouxsie and the...) join them for the backing vocals.

Oh, and some of the better college a cappella groups in the country have graduated alumni who form semi- or professional recording groups. For obvious reasons, the harmonies in these groups are exceptionally tight and well-written. Da Vinci's Notebook has a few songs that deserve recognition here, but if I had to pick one, it would be Liposuction. Superfast syllables, moving bass and tenor lines that you can barely keep up with, and funny lyrics that your kid would probably like.
#31
Old 09-15-2007, 03:42 PM
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If you're into vocal harmony, you're missing a trick if you haven't listened to The Nutmegs. Unfortunately, that collection I linked to doesn't have their best -- Down in Mexico. I can't find a link to a sample of it.

The category of Doo-Wop in general has a great deal of beautiful wonderful vocal harmonies. Check out:

Lee Andrews and the Hearts, particularly Try the Impossible.
The Moonglows - Most of All.
The Zircons - Silver Bells.
The Pardons - Diamonds and Pearls.
Six Teens - A Casual Look

Well, and a whole lot others.
#32
Old 09-15-2007, 03:52 PM
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I came in to make sure the Beatles' "Because" got its due (listen to the version on Love for an a capella version), but since I'm here:

Almost anything by Moxy Fruvous, an obscure (and defunct) Canadian band. Totally worth seeking out.

Last edited by initech; 09-15-2007 at 03:52 PM.
#33
Old 09-15-2007, 05:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bienville
And Susannah Hoffs of The Bangles put out an album with Matthew Sweet called Under the Covers on which they covered their favorite songs of the sixties. The vocal harmonies on that album are superb
Speaking of Matthew Sweet and vocal harmonies, mention must be made of The Thorns, his side project with Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins.

And the men of Trip Shakespeare sang background vocals on one of Matthew Sweet's albums, which was nothing special IMHO, but Trip Shakespeare's own album Lulu may just be the perfect pop-rock album, thanks to its wonderful vocal harmonies among many other reasons.

Coincidentally or not, many of my favorite bands have multiple lead vocalists, and such bands (including some already mentioned in this thread) often (though not always) are the ones with the great vocal harmonies.
#34
Old 09-15-2007, 06:58 PM
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I can't believe that no one has brought out Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin brothers band. All these guys did was harmonize. Their lyrical skill were weak, and the music was cheesy, but listen to the vocal on All the Gold in California or "Wish you were someone I love."

SSG Schwartz
#35
Old 09-15-2007, 07:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink
Speaking of Matthew Sweet and vocal harmonies, mention must be made of The Thorns, his side project with Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins.
I was going to suggest the Thorns, too.
#36
Old 09-15-2007, 07:52 PM
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While it is probably "cheezy" to most listeners who don't like Bluegrass music, the harmonizing of groups such as the Stanley Bros. and THe Country Gentlemen(forerunners of The Seldom Scene) sends chills up my spine. Maybe because I grew up in that period. And the continuation of such harmonies in the early Folk Music world also produced classics which have already been named.
#37
Old 09-15-2007, 07:59 PM
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Surf's Up

Sloop John B

Don't Worry Baby

God Only Knows - Carl singing lead.

God Only Knows - Brian singing lead.

I will but these guys up against anybody, any style, any time. It's a pity they are all dead, crazy or assholes now.
#38
Old 09-15-2007, 08:02 PM
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As for individual songs, how about Seven Bridges Road by The Eagles?
#39
Old 09-15-2007, 08:15 PM
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I've really enjoyed some of the YouTube links on this page. I've spent the last half hour or so bouncing from live peformance video to live performance video, and it's now occurred to me that there is a glaring omission in this thread

The Grateful Dead

Uncle John's Band
Ripple
#40
Old 09-15-2007, 08:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by samclem
While it is probably "cheezy" to most listeners who don't like Bluegrass music, the harmonizing of groups such as the Stanley Bros. and THe Country Gentlemen(forerunners of The Seldom Scene) sends chills up my spine. Maybe because I grew up in that period. And the continuation of such harmonies in the early Folk Music world also produced classics which have already been named.
OT: We spent the afternoon at a local festival that included lots of bluegrass. Frosty Morning is one to catch if you have a chance. They're really good.
#41
Old 09-15-2007, 08:43 PM
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Well heck, as long as we're doing YouTube clips, here are some from The Everly Brothers:

Love Hurts

Dream, Dream, Dream _and_ Cathy's Clown

('Til) I Kissed You

Wake Up Little Suzie

Bye Bye Love
#42
Old 09-15-2007, 10:34 PM
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The Flying Pickets - Only You.
#43
Old 09-15-2007, 11:33 PM
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On the proggier side of things -

Gentle Giant managed to combine unusual time signatures with some tight harmony.

Pure Reason Revolution manage to combine a folksy type of harmony while existing in the Pink FLoydish end of rock.

For two bands that never really broke into mainstream both King's X and Galactic Cowboys did interesting things with Beatles style harmony and hard rock.

Alice In Chains managed to make harmony disturbing.
#44
Old 09-15-2007, 11:54 PM
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The Association were the equal of any 60s group with their harmonies.

Of newer groups, I've heard beautiful work a number of times from Barenaked Ladies.
#45
Old 09-16-2007, 12:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chefguy
Right the fuck on. Most of the groups mentioned, including the Beatles, all gave props to [The Everley Brothers] as being the inspiration for their harmonies.
Yep.

Everyone always talks about the influence of blues and country music on rock and roll, but I think the high harmonies of the Kentucky-born Everly Brothers are an example of the influence of bluegrass on rock and roll.
#46
Old 09-16-2007, 12:11 AM
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Although they're a hard rock/metal(ish) power trio, King's X has always had very tight harmonies.
#47
Old 09-16-2007, 12:45 AM
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Off the top of my head:

Kirsty MacColl, A New England
10cc, I'm Not In Love
R.E.M., Harborcoat
Alice In Chains, No Excuses
#48
Old 09-17-2007, 06:47 PM
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Steeleye Span did wonderful harmony (my favorite, in fact), especially on "Below the Salt," "Now We Are Six", and "Parcel of Rogues."

The Byrds were another band with beautiful vocal harmony, mainly because of David Crosby, who has said he was born to sing harmony.
#49
Old 09-17-2007, 07:14 PM
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Stupid question:

Is the harmony any part of a song where two or more people are singing the same words at the same time?
#50
Old 09-17-2007, 07:58 PM
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Harmony.

Usually same words, same time, different pitch.
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