Friday, September 28, 2007

11 Best Harmonies on Record

A lost art! Or an ignored one. I was hoping the boy bands might bring some of it back, but their harmonies ended up being big boring blocks of monotone sound. Strangely enough, most of the best modern harmonies don't even come from groups -- they come from the same singer tracking different vocals over each other. Sadly, this strategy mainly communicates a sense of internal division and alienation instead of the old joy of singing together.

1. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Ooh Baby Baby

(What comment is possible? It's on YouTube, unfortunately along with a bunch of someone's semi-erotic comic book art.)

2. The Everly Brothers, Cathy's Clown

(Pretty mind blowing. Apparently served as an inspiration to the both the Beatles and Elliott Smith, who are included below.)

3. Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, That's Heaven to Me

(Just picking one out of dozens of really beautiful performances.)

4. The Beatles, Baby's in Black

(What astonishes me about this song is that the harmonies sound like they're completely improvised, unlike, say, another classic like Because, where they are clearly planned out.)

5. The Beach Boys, In My Room

(Ach, touched by God! Or whatever the modern secular equivalent might be.)

6. The Marvelettes, Please Mr. Postman

(There should probably be more girl groups on this list, but my knowledge is very limited.)

7. Curtis Mayfield and the Attractions, I'm So Proud

(Curtis Mayfield is amazing. I love his doo-woppy period better than the more well-known funk one.)

8. Radiohead, I Will

(The "I keep falling over" harmonies on Black Star are also wonderful, but they're also pretty much the only ones in the song.)

9. Neil Young, Through My Sails

(Who knew that high nasal voice could harmonize so beautifully?)

10. Ron Sexsmith, Raindrops in my Coffee

(A gorgeous song. I recommend Sexsmith to anyone I can get to listen. Dylan just played this song on his radio show, which I was very pleased about.)

11. Elliott Smith, Say Yes

(Low on the list only because the harmonies occur during a very small part of the song - "crooked spin can't come to rest." But they always give me a bit of a chill.)


Matt K said...

Interesting list. My jazz musician friend insists that the best pop harmony of all time is on the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing." In fact, we've interrupted several parties with drunk listening sessions: "Tell me that you've heard every sound there is..." A great line for a great harmony.

DON said...

If you want to know wich rock and roll records had the best harmonies? Just ask all those famous groups and they will tell you Its the Beach Boys. BRIAN WILSON was the king of harmony and melodies hands down!

JM said...

Modern harmonies? Have you not heard the Avett Brothers? Also surprised you included Neil Young at the expense of CSNY..."Through My Sails" has nothing on "Judy Blue Eyes" or "Wooden Ships" for harmonies imo,