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.

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.

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.

“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.

Elliott Smith should definitely get a mention here. XO, Figure 8, and Basement in particular have a bunch of songs with gorgeous harmonies.

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.

The Proclaimers

Wilson Phillips - their eponymous first album was wonderful, for harmony as well as other things.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

Fleetwood Mac.

The Everly Brothers

Oh and also Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson of the B52’s.

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”.

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.

Blue Oyster Cult on Don’t Fear the Reaper.