I featured songs with great backing vocals on 666 ABC a couple of Sundays ago, and got some great ideas by exploiting facebook friends. Naturally, the subject of whether some vocals constitute backing or simply excellent ensemble vocals came up, and I decided to be a purist about it. Many songs contain both.
My playlist (most of which I didn’t get to play, radio being a slave to the clock) consisted of:
ABBA – Take a Chance On Me
Elvis Presley – Hard-Headed Woman (this one is included just for the first “Oh Yeah!” from The Jordanaires)
The Beatles – Paperback Writer
Beach Boys – Good Vibrations (I mean, seriously. Brian Wilson. Dude.)
Aretha Franklin – Respect (Duh.)
Ike & Tina Turner – Proud Mary (All four of those women. Goddesses.)
Paul Simon – I Know What I Know
Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side
Talking Heads – Once In a Lifetime
ELO – Sweet Talkin’ Woman
David Bowie – Changes (would I love this as much if it were not John Lennon?)
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Kate Bush – Sat In Your Lap (She wrote. She produced. She danced. She pioneered music video. In her early ’20s.)
There are many, many others, and many other songs from those artists. But there are also two songs worthy of mention for something special they do.
The Turtles – Happy Together
This is the only song I know where the backing vocals precede, rather than follow, the lead vocal. When the lead is at “belong to me and ease my mind”, the backing is already up to “ease my mind”. This continues throughout the song. It’s as if the backing vocalists can read minds, man.
Phil Seymour – Precious To Me
This is the only song I know where the backing vocals are required for the rhyme to work. The lead vocal alone is “Precious to me, and I can’t let you go”. With backing included, it’s “Precious to me (I love you so), and I can’t let you go.”
Alright, so I’m a trifle obsessive. But at least I’m listening.