Music Suggestion Thread Go: Multiple Simultaneous Vocals
December 23, 2008 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in hearing more music with multiple vocals going on at once, with an effect like singing "Row, row, row, your boat" in the round except not with the "in the round" structure. Two examples are within.

MGMT - Love Always Remains has two voices going at once starting just before 2:00.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-la-la Band with Choir - Babylon Was Built On Fire / Starsnostars has three voices at once, but that's just a lyrics sheet because I didn't find it on Youtube. Don't worry, you probably wouldn't like Silver Mt. Zion anyway.

I'm not particular about genre, just pick good songs.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim to Media & Arts (57 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Straight No Chaser - 12 Days of Christmas. Timely!
posted by Liver at 11:42 AM on December 23, 2008

I love when this is done well also.

Pink Floyd "Wearing the Inside Out" and (not quite as overlapping) "Keep Talking."
(YouTube concert footage exists for both. No YouTube at work, so I can't link them.)

U2 "The Fly" (studio version; the live version very often trades off vocals instead)
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:46 AM on December 23, 2008

Savatage (The Wake of Magellan, Dead Winter Dead) and their more popular incarnation, Trans-Siberian Orchestra do this a lot. The genre is progressive rock/metal.
posted by tybstar at 11:50 AM on December 23, 2008

Queen - The Prophet's Song (it's off Night at the Opera). Totally awesome polyphonic breakdown about two thirds of the way through.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:54 AM on December 23, 2008

"Why Don't You Smile Now" by Spiritualized (sorry, no youtube link)

"Al Sharp" by The Beta Band

"Softly In the Night" by The Cookies (and/or, The Three Belles)

"White Mice" by the MoDettes
posted by applemeat at 12:00 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ugly Casanova, "Cat Faces."
posted by stopgap at 12:01 PM on December 23, 2008

There's one song off the Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Once more with Feeling" soundtrack that uses that to great effect. I think the song was "Wish I could stay", but I'm not 100% sure.

Also, Yes did this stuff all the time - typically with Chris Squire and Jon Anderson singing vocal counterparts. Relayer and the Yes Album have a couple of examples.

sidenote to Jon_Evil - That Queen song is actually a single track run through a delay effect - Freddie Mercury was goofing around in the studio with some of Brian May's effects and came up with the idea to harmonize with himself - quite brilliant stuff, actually.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:02 PM on December 23, 2008

Probably obvious, but some bands make (or made) a habit out of the technique: The Mamas and the Papas, Sleater-Kinney, Stereolab, Simon & Garfunkel...
posted by applemeat at 12:03 PM on December 23, 2008

Guster's Happier has this starting around 2:17. I think some of their other songs do too, but I'm blanking on which ones.
posted by vytae at 12:07 PM on December 23, 2008

Also, the last verse of "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz has him singing the verse while the backup vocals sing the chorus, for the same kind of effect.
posted by vytae at 12:08 PM on December 23, 2008

"Fine Girl" by Frank Zappa

"Knots" by Gentle Giant

(by the way, I love that Silver Mount Zion song. The whole "This is Our Punk Rock..." disc pretty much blew my mind)
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:19 PM on December 23, 2008

Oh! Forgot the links:

"Fine Girl" (puppetry!)

posted by Dr-Baa at 12:20 PM on December 23, 2008

The album versions play it down compared to live performances from the 80s, but R.E.M. in their friskier & more adventuresome years did the "two difference vocal lines at once" thing in some songs. "Harborcoat," "Fall on Me," and "Hyena" in particular come to mind as examples. If you have any live shows from back in the day, you can often hear it pretty clearly, though admittedly Mike Mills' counter-melody often gets drowned out in the mix.
posted by aught at 12:22 PM on December 23, 2008

Dick Around by Sparks.
posted by ktrey at 12:26 PM on December 23, 2008

"On Reflection" - Gentle Giant
posted by lordrunningclam at 12:28 PM on December 23, 2008

You're not thinking of a vocal counterpoint are you? From your example, I don't think you are. But check those out, there's a bunch at the bottom of the article. Blinded by the Light cover from Manfred Mann is not on there for some reason :(

I believe there are a number of Sonic Youth songs like this... but I can't think of any right now.

Also, for the pop-punk minded, Midtown's "Come On" (can't find it on Youtube right now) has three separate set of lyrics going at the end: might be worth listening to.
posted by teabag at 12:28 PM on December 23, 2008

The Chain by Ingrid Michaelson
posted by messylissa at 12:30 PM on December 23, 2008

Yeah, if it is vocal counterpoint then any number of songs by the Beach Boys feature this. Actually as an off-kilter example "Surf's Up" features this device (as does much earlier stuff by them and of course it's all over Pet Sounds.)
posted by ob at 12:33 PM on December 23, 2008

Queen's "Somebody to Love" probably qualifies. Much of the backgrouns vocals are repeats or layers of the lead vocal, but they occassionally veer off into different words.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 12:34 PM on December 23, 2008

I wasn't expecting to be beat to the Yes recommendation!

"We Have Heaven" on Fragile
"Leave It" on that 90210 album
"Siberian Khatru" on Close To The Edge

are all good examples

also, check out Take 6 (if you have a hard time getting passed the context, listen to "David and Goliath" it's just some very awesome music/singing!!)
posted by supermedusa at 12:38 PM on December 23, 2008

I'm not sure if you'd consider The Roches' "Hallelujah Chorus" "in the round" or not.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:47 PM on December 23, 2008

The opening song to "...And the Battle Begun" by The Rx Bandits.
posted by Brettus at 12:54 PM on December 23, 2008

"Custom Concern" by Modest Mouse—probably one of my favorite songs now that I think about it—may do the trick. Listen for the This'll never end/This'll never-ever end/This'll never Stop moment that follows these lyrics:

Goes through the parking lot fields
didn't see no signs that they would yield
and then thought

That is one of the best parts of the song, too. Thanks for inadvertently reminding me to dust it off.
posted by defenestration at 12:54 PM on December 23, 2008

Aside from being great in general, The Halo Benders do this in nearly every song.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:55 PM on December 23, 2008

The first thing I thought of was Huun Huur Tu but I think I may have mis-read the question. Huun Huur Tu is a group of Tuvan throat-singers and their amazing music is created by each of the individuals singing multiple harmonies at the same time. Yes, one person singing two different harmonies simultaneously. One like a didgeridoo, the other like a flute. Not really lyrics, more of a chant. Put a group of those together and you get this (acquired taste warning). Answers a totally different question but is tangentially relevant and worth a listen. When you hear this music in-person, you feel it inside as a pleasant little tickle.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:00 PM on December 23, 2008

posted by Jaltcoh at 1:10 PM on December 23, 2008

-Spiritualized's "Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space"
-Neil Young's "Danger Bird" (in the chorus)

Scott Miller (of Game Theory/Loud Family) does this a lot, too--some notable examples are "Dripping with Looks" and "Where They Go Back to School but Get Depressed".
posted by equalpants at 1:11 PM on December 23, 2008

Simon and Garfunkel, "Scarsborough Fair" qualifies, IIRC.

Also, a lot of European vocal music from the 17th and 18th century is going to qualify.
posted by rjs at 1:56 PM on December 23, 2008

When Orbital plays Halcyon at their live shows, they usually add a mashup break in the middle (about 4:20 on this video) where they mix Bon Jovi and Belinda Carlisle.

Also, my high school chorus did a killer rendition of "Carol of the Bells" that had different parts singing different lyrics.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:16 PM on December 23, 2008

Doreen by Frank Zappa.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:23 PM on December 23, 2008

Great question, I love songs like this! It happens a lot in musicals. Check out Rent's Christmas Bells from 4:25-5:50 and Another Day from 3:08-3:55.
posted by Nickel at 2:26 PM on December 23, 2008

Agreeing with Musicals. They make use of this often. I've seen/heard many musicals and I can't think of one that doesn't use this effect...

... ok, I thought of 1 but I'm not telling.

I haven't seen much main stream pop in the thread so here are a few:

Mariah Carey - Heartbreaker (combines bridge, chorus, and background 'melody' at end)
Tears for Fears - Head Over Heels (2nd verse)
The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name (during the later choruses)
posted by simplethings at 3:11 PM on December 23, 2008

You're almost certainly thinking of vocal counterpoint, or something very similar. Pandora's underlying database, The Music Genome Project, has a "gene" for vocal counterpoint, which means that if you put in one of these songs and then "thumbs up" every result that also has it, it'll catch on to the common feature and eventually you'll soon have an endless stream of songs like this.
posted by abcde at 3:31 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Mellotron Scratch" by Porcupine Tree has some pretty nice vocal polyphony, especially toward the end.
posted by teraflop at 3:36 PM on December 23, 2008

Cloud Cult — "Take Your Medicine"
Decomposure — "The Wars" (not quite as "tight", but a great build to it)
posted by Johnny Assay at 3:46 PM on December 23, 2008

Just Dance by Lady Ga-Ga has some interesting things going on starting around 3:06.
posted by smackfu at 3:52 PM on December 23, 2008

Just to put in a plug for the truly old school, since you said you weren't particular about genre: Medieval motets

Before the renaissance came around and the word 'motet' started to describe something more like vocal counterpoint, the avante garde set were listening to things like this.

For added weirdness, the religious latinate base line under (one or more) unrelated secular melodies in the vernacular is pretty much par for the course.

Unrelatedly, another example from a musical is the reprise of 'Tonight' in West Side Story - listen through to the last minute or so.
posted by heyforfour at 4:23 PM on December 23, 2008

"On the Rise" from the second part of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog has a nice duet with this effect between Neil Patrick Harris and Felicia Day
posted by toomanyplugs at 4:28 PM on December 23, 2008

Mates of State. Particularly the stuff from "Our Constant Concern". The first time I heard it, it really freaked me out...
posted by moof! at 4:43 PM on December 23, 2008

Phish liked to do this sort of thing. Simple is the first song that comes to mind.
And Camper Van Beethoven had a song where they did this. I think the song is Peace And Love (lyrics) One story is being sung through the right channel while a different story is being sung through the left channel and under the proper influences it all comes together in a way that is sure to leave you smiling.
posted by Sailormom at 4:55 PM on December 23, 2008

The Indigo Girls do this all the time. In their song "Kid Fears", there are three lines towards the end.
posted by samw at 5:00 PM on December 23, 2008

LA's Bodies of Water performing their 4-way harmonies on "These are the Eyes," live at the Eagle Rock Music festival '07. For a cleaner version, visit their MySpace page.
posted by doncoyote at 5:58 PM on December 23, 2008

The end of "I'm Mad" by the Animaniacs does this in a lovely way -- you know, if you're open to cartoon singing. (2:50 on this link
posted by Gucky at 6:04 PM on December 23, 2008

The Algorithm March (With Ninjas)
posted by Mwongozi at 6:32 PM on December 23, 2008

The eponymous Latyrx by the hip-hop duo Latyrx is a rather stunning example of this. Headphones are recommended (as is a better quality version than the youtube one I linked).

Also, I Bad Religion has many songs with two singers overlapping in vocals.
posted by kprincehouse at 6:45 PM on December 23, 2008

Somewhat: Think Long (bad audio sample) and Ha Ha by Mates of State
posted by photomusic86 at 6:58 PM on December 23, 2008

As I just bought their Christmas CD, I would recommend New York Polyphony.

They are four amazingly talented gents who I saw perform at Fordham University recently. Their currently line up is primarily plainchant, but they also do some traditionals and baroque music. Very little of what they sing is in English, though.

It's also "churchy" music, so, if you aren't into that, you might not like them all that much.

(other thoughts:

The Confrontation - Les Miserables (there are lots in there, actually, but I'm drawing a blank- a heart full of love and one day more might have a little bit)
I think Jesus Christ Superstar and Phantom of the Opera might have a few...
Marry the Man Today from Guys and Dolls, Christmas Bells from Rent, What is this Feeling from Wicked, and the Letter from Sweeney Todd are all other songs from musicals that have at least some of what you are looking for.

Finally, I know that pieces from Handel's Messiah, such as "The King Shall Rejoice" and "And the Glory of the Lord" do this a bit, and if you really want a crazy time, watch Z. Randall Stroope's The Conversion of Saul - its written for an 8 part chorus, and very few parts are singing the same words at the same time.)
posted by firei at 7:28 PM on December 23, 2008

Any bluegrass band or old-time band with singers probably does this: some good examples are Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys, Flatt & Scruggs and The Stanley Brothers.

My out of the way suggestion is to pick up a recording of Gyorgy Ligeti's Nonsense Madrigals. It's a collection of poems by Lewis Carroll and others set to six voices. This one is my favorite, but that's not a great performance of it.
posted by invitapriore at 7:28 PM on December 23, 2008

Not my usual genre, but I heard Lee Ann Womack's song I hope you dance the other day and it has this effect in it.

In fact, the backing vocals (sung by a male vocalist in a different style and to a different melody) fooled me into thinking the radio was playing two songs at once by mistake... but after a couple of listens I like the effect.
posted by mmoncur at 1:33 AM on December 24, 2008

I love this style and I do it a lot in my own stuff, mostly because I can sing counter melodies better than I can play them! Anyhoo, an iconic example for me was always Liz Phair's Flower.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:33 AM on December 24, 2008

Oh, and in keeping with the christmas theme, Bing Cosby and David Bowie's stellar Little Drummer Boy.

''s a pretty thing'
posted by freya_lamb at 4:10 AM on December 24, 2008

One of the better pop/rock examples I've heard recently is Nada Surf's See These Bones. Check it out from about 4:04 onward, where two or three different elements of the song are sung together until the end.
posted by anthom at 11:29 AM on December 24, 2008

Late to the party, but this is one of my favorite techniques when done well. It was addressed directly previously, and gives me a chance to re-post one of the oldest examples I've ever found, from Rameau -- starting at about 1:00 into the video he uses a technique that you could argue Bernstein (and Les Mis, and Gilbert and Sullivan, and on and on) ripped off wholesale, including using it to close Act 1.

What's you're talking about isn't just vocal counterpoint but the construction of multiple independent "modern" melodies (eg, melody + bass line, rather than strict counterpoint) that can be sung simultaneously make a "fight chorus" -- nobody I've asked has ever come up with a good term to describe this, though everyone agrees it happens everywhere. Someone needs to get to work on their dissertation so we can have a term to describe this.
posted by range at 1:19 PM on December 24, 2008

Moldy Peaches - Steak for Chicken
posted by davey_darling at 7:22 PM on December 24, 2008

@range - I think it could be classed as a vocal form of polyphony. This is a pretty standard term in music with lots of historical precedent.
posted by freya_lamb at 5:59 AM on December 26, 2008

The Monkees did an interesting short layered vocal piece called Zilch. It's all rhythm, no melody. Zilch can be found on their Headquarters album.
posted by StickyC at 3:53 PM on December 29, 2008

TOCT, I don't know if you'll find this late answer but I was just listening to a lovely example of what you are looking for:

Be Thankful as performed by Omar & Angie Stone

posted by supermedusa at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2009

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