Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Back Me Up on This, Will You?


Doug: Back in 2013 we ran a post about surprise back-up singers. Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, Phil Collins, James Taylor, and many others made our list of suggestions for conversation. Today we're not talking surprises at all, but those regulars who appeared... regularly on the songs of certain bands or solo acts.

Doug: Below I've pictured some vocalists/band members who came to mind when, well, this post came to mind. We'd like you to expound on favorite performers of your own, but also favorite performances. We all know that Paul McCartney sang lead on many, many Beatles hits. But one of my favorite performances from Sir Paul is his backing of John Lennon's lead on "One After 909" (the 1963 version).












For those who occasionally enjoy a little AM pop...

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

My favorite back-up singer is easily Mike Mills of REM. I love songs in which a) Michael Stipe sings one line in the chorus and Mills sings another; b) Mills sings lead and Stipe sings back-up. His higher voice stands out from Stipe's but they also harmonize beautifully. My favorite example is probably the chorus and bridge in "Fall On Me."

I've always liked Grace Slick singing back-up in Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers." She's such a better singer than the guy doing lead vocals that she completely overwhelms him!

- Mike Loughlin

Ozone said...

U2's Edge. His voice isn't as strong as Bono's but it complements it beautifully. They blend very well. I began to appreciate the tandem after listening to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" dozens of times as a teen (and a thousand since then). They've teamed up over the years to give U2 a much fuller sound on songs like "Stay" and "Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," among many others. Also, Bono's voice now lacks the full strength it once had when he was younger and Edge reinforces his singing significantly during their concerts. -JJ

Redartz said...

Michael McDonald, backing up Donald Fagen in Steely Dan. The Dan, of course, had a changeable personnel list, but Michael appeared on Steely Dan's recordings frequently; including on two of my favorite albums ("Aja" and "The Royal Scam"). Michael added nice depth and contributed to the jazzy smoothness of the sound...

Edo Bosnar said...

Greg Rolie in Journey. He had/has a much better voice than that other guy that Karen likes so much... :P Seriously, though, my favorite songs by Journey are 'Feeling That Way/Anytime,' in which they share lead vocals, and 'Just the Same Way,' in which Rolie sings lead while Perry does back-up.

Although she didn't come to the fore much, I think Kim Deal was a solid back-up vocalist for the Pixies, plus she also did some lead vocals, like on 'Gigantic.'

By the way, when Mike L. mentioned REM, it reminded me of two examples that I completely overlooked for that other "Wait, That Sounded Like..." post from 2013: Stipe did back-up vocals on Kristen Hersh's "Your Ghost," and - sticking with the REM connection - Kate Pierson from the B-52s did guest vocal's in REM's "Shiny Happy People."

Doug said...

Edo, I'd echo exactly what you said about Gregg Rolie. I wish he'd stayed in the band. As with other bands, the "power ballad" (also hated by Miss Karen) really changed the landscape for acts that had begun as rockers and segued into pop machines in the 1980s.

Part of this discussion needs to also be the mentioning of vocalists who provided back-ups over their own lead. What's the collective opinion on that practice?

Doug

Humanbelly said...

From a purely musical standpoint, Doug, it's great-- especially with involved harmonies, 'cause all of the singer's unique overtones match up perfectly in the different parts, and it can create that perfect blend that composers, conductors, etc. yearn for. Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time"-- a quasi-barbershop where he provides all of the voices-- is a really great example of that. Andy Williams' "Can't Get Used to Losin' You", where he sings the melody and the upper harmony line is another. Personally, I love it.

HB

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, I don't think I really have an opinion on the practice either way, but as HB noted, it can be done to great effect. My favorite example is We Have Heaven from the Yes album Fragile. Every single vocal part is sung by Jon Anderson.

Anonymous said...

Doug, I seem to remember reading somewhere that Lennon never liked the way his recorded voice sounded unless it was double tracked. In his case, I would say that technique was used to great effect.

And I never realized there was a 1963 version of 909. I was only familiar with the Let It Be sessions. Learn so much here at the BAB.

Tom

J.A. Morris said...

Sure she's a great lead vocalist in her own right, but Darlene Love is arguably the greatest backup singer of all time. Just look her list of credits at her wiki page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darlene_Love

Plus, Love sang backup on a "Bronze Age" classic, 'Basketball Jones' by Cheech & Chong!:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1er9jyCJI_E

Anonymous said...

Edo, another Michael Stipe vocal performance you may be interested in is the song "Trout" by Neneh Cherry (best known for ubiquitous '80s hit "Buffalo Stance"). It's pretty weird...

Kim Deal's a favorite back-up singer of mine, too. I love how she and Frank Black sound when they sing together, especially on "Bone Machine."

Also, Pete Townsend of the Who could provide an almost fragile counterpoint to Roger Daltrey's bombast. Anyone else heard the Ramones cover of "Substitute?" Townsend showed up to shout the title word in the chorus and it sounds cool.

- Mike Loughlin

Kenn Dunn said...

Both successful lead singers in their own right, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris did backing vocals for Little Feat for several albums/tours, with the most ubiquitous example being "Dixie Chicken". Bonnie has covered several of the group's songs as lead vocalist on her own albums. (Bonnie also did backing vocals for Jackson Brown, among others.)

Edo Bosnar said...

Mike, good call on Townsend. He's a solid vocalist in his own right (love the switch in Eminence Front, with him singing lead and Daltrey doing back-ups).
And yes, Deal and Black Francis sounded great together - it's too bad they were apparently at each other's throats for most of the time the Pixies were recording and touring.

Doug said...

Tom --

Funny, as I heard the Let It Be version of One After 909 after I'd heard the 1963 version. Which one do you like better? I'm partial to the 1963 version, but I don't know if it's just because I heard it first.

Doug

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