Larger voices callin'
September 29, 2009 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Looking for songs with really good vocal harmonies.

Any and all genres is great, but I'm especially looking for pop (50s to present) and older country that a beginner can learn how to harmonize.

Also, does anybody have tips on learning how to harmonize?
posted by Bearman to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
beach boys, beegees, repeat until music is done.
posted by Think_Long at 3:11 PM on September 29, 2009

+ entire beatles category, but especially early-mid career
posted by thedaniel at 3:18 PM on September 29, 2009

Beatles - Nowhere Man
Beatles - Because
posted by eightball at 3:22 PM on September 29, 2009

Beatles - If I Fell
posted by Lucinda at 3:29 PM on September 29, 2009

The Hollies.
posted by Skot at 3:29 PM on September 29, 2009

Queen, any accapella band out there, etc..
posted by Gravitus at 3:29 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: You'll be interested in this Metafilter post.

In short: The Everly Brothers
posted by Midnight Rambler at 3:29 PM on September 29, 2009

Also posted on the Blue: The Beach Boys. Sloop John B and God Only Knows are incredible.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 3:31 PM on September 29, 2009

simon and garfunkel too. This category may be too broad to be useful; harmonizing is used by every musician at some point in their lives.
posted by Think_Long at 3:31 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: The Fleet Foxes, especially their song "White Winter Hymnal." As a bonus, here's a neat video of one guy singing all the harmony parts himself.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:32 PM on September 29, 2009

Response by poster: This category may be too broad to be useful

Yeah. Maybe focusing on two-part harmonies. I'd really like to hear some good ones from the last decade or so, but the more the merrier.
posted by Bearman at 3:39 PM on September 29, 2009

Grizzly Bear uses a lot of nice harmonies.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:42 PM on September 29, 2009

The Louvin Brothers
posted by hydrophonic at 3:46 PM on September 29, 2009

Down On The Corner - Creedence Clearwater Revival
Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms (bluegrass classic, tons of different lyrics, some here)
Proud Mary, Ike and Tina Turner
Grey Funnel Line, by Cyril Tawney
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:53 PM on September 29, 2009

Exactly what Think_Long says. You're going to find plenty of amazing two-part vocal harmony in Simon and Garfunkle, of course, but you never know where else. Hell, even, Hall & Oates hit out of the park a few times.

And here are (the usually uninspiring) Kathy Mattea and (the actually pretty awesome) Tim O'Brien putting together some lovely harmonies on Battle Hymn of Love, of all things. So you never know.

Sometime in life you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.
posted by The Bellman at 3:57 PM on September 29, 2009

oh, duh, I should have thought of my screen name-sake - Think Long
posted by Think_Long at 4:01 PM on September 29, 2009

Another version of Grey Funnel Line with only 2 voices, for contrast
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:01 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: Maybe focusing on two-part harmonies

Guinnevere - This version is just Crosby and Nash.
posted by marsha56 at 4:16 PM on September 29, 2009

Close harmony:
The Ditty Bops
The Puppini Sisters
posted by svolix at 4:30 PM on September 29, 2009

pretty much anything by the indigo girls.
posted by potatopeople at 4:31 PM on September 29, 2009

Low and Ida.
posted by umbĂș at 4:35 PM on September 29, 2009

Are you interested only in "standard" harmonies, like the 3rd and 5th intervals above the melody? Or are you also interested in more complicated harmonies?

Alice In Chains, back when Layne Staley was still alive, had some amazing non-standard vocal harmonies. I would listen to some of those songs over and over trying to pick out all the harmony lines. I haven't heard the new album so I don't know if they've kept this aspect.

Möxy Früvous have some great harmonies, too. Much of the time they're 4-part, but they have some good 2 and 3-part songs, too. Check out "King of Spain", "Fly", and if you want a challenge with some crazy-hard chords, "The Gulf War Song". *sigh* I miss them.
posted by starvingartist at 4:41 PM on September 29, 2009

You're going to laugh, but I find the 'Mitch & Mickey' songs on the A Mighty Wind soundtrack completely gorgeous... The whole record is killer, but that's the two-part piece of it.
posted by mintcake! at 4:41 PM on September 29, 2009

Oh, and I second potatopeople about the Indigo Girls. "Rites of Passage" and "Swamp Ophelia" are, by and large, masterpieces.
posted by starvingartist at 4:42 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: If you want to learn to sing harmonies off the cuff, the best thing to do is to learn intervals. What you call harmony is really providing the missing parts to a chord; your ear recognizes that the additional voices being sung (2-part, 3-part, etc.) fit right into the chord that matches that place in the song.

Generally the easiest harmony to hear with your ear is a third, sung a third up or a third down from the melody. So first you want to train yourself to hear the third, recognize it when you hear it, and finally be able to fill it in yourself in a song.

If you follow marsha56's Crosby and Nash link above, you'll find that at least in the beginning, they are using almost exclusively thirds for the harmony: each is singing either a third below or a third above the melody. Another good example in three parts is Linda Ronstadt's version of the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved."

Once you can hear where the third is, you can move up to the fifth, which will often sound more interesting (I first started jumping straight to the fifth when as a teenager I heard Tori Amos say in an interview that fifths were sooooo much more sophisticated than thirds). To find the fifth, just jump two thirds with your ear, e.g. C-E, E-G would give you the G above C.

If you check out "The Sound of Silence," you can hear Paul Simon go up the minor third and then the fifth right away as Art Garfunkel stays on the root: Hello (both 1) Darkness (Paul goes up to the minor third) My Old (Paul is a fifth up from Art).

I'll try to think of a good example of two-part harmony on the fifth so I can post a link in a follow-up comment. I hope this helps in the meantime! You'll know you're doing well if you can separate out one of the harmony parts in the songs above and sing along with it.
posted by laconic titan at 4:53 PM on September 29, 2009 [7 favorites]

I'm a big fan of vocal harmony groups, also known as doo-wop.

The Orioles are wonderful, but their song "Too Soon to Know" is far superior to the one I put here.
As are the Penguins.
And then there are the Ink Spots.
And Little Anthony and the Imperials.
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:58 PM on September 29, 2009

If you want to hear more than two voices that are quite nice to listen to, try Les Mysteres de Voix Bulgares which raises goosebumps on my arms or Moxy Fruvous, which is just plain fun.
posted by plinth at 5:08 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: laconic titan has the right idea, if you can play guitar or piano or even if you can't just learn a few chords on them and learn how to place the various notes in the chord using intervals. When I practice singing I try to hit the various notes in the chord that I am playing on the guitar. Eventually you will be able to pick out which note it is that you want to sing off of and be able to go with it. good luck and have fun!
posted by occidental at 5:27 PM on September 29, 2009

Indigo Girls and The Wailin' Jennys. Both amazing!!
posted by pearlybob at 5:28 PM on September 29, 2009

blind boys of alabama. they did some great work with ben harper
posted by nadawi at 5:32 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: Also, does anybody have tips on learning how to harmonize?

By default, one person should sing the main melody, and the other person (who I'll call the harmonizer) should sing a third above (a major or minor third -- whichever is in the key). But the harmonizer should check each note to see if it happens to be one of the notes in the chord that's being played in the accompaniment at that moment. If not, try singing a fourth or fifth above instead of a third -- whichever one is a note in the chord.

Or, instead of closely paralleling the lead melody as described above, the harmonizer could try to find a single note that they'll be able to sing several times in a row while the main melody moves around. This should almost always be one of the notes in the accompanying chord(s). To choose one famous example, listen for Paul Simon doing a lot of this (below Garfunkel's melody) in Simon & Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence." (I disagree with laconic titan's analysis -- Simon is the one staying on the root for "Hello darkness my old friend.")

The above describes not all 2-part harmony, but the vast majority of it. It's really quite formulaic and simple.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:32 PM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not a huge fan, but nearly any Eagles song has very elaborate vocal harmonies. My favorite (as a harmony singer) is "Lying Eyes."
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:44 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: Also, re: learning how to harmonize: sing with everything. Find the harmony for every commercial on TV. Study country music and bluegrass and gospel and R&B. Learn to shift between the different harmony (and lead) parts on the fly.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:45 PM on September 29, 2009

you might also be interested in so-called natural harmonies

see tegan & sarah and the breeders and the proclaimers
posted by nadawi at 5:57 PM on September 29, 2009

Simon and Garfunkel. Somehow my brother and I always know who goes where when we sing along. I'm smiling just thinking about it :)
posted by Madamina at 6:15 PM on September 29, 2009

Anything by the waifs.
posted by kjs4 at 6:20 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: The Jayhawks, before Marc Olson left.
posted by umbĂș at 6:25 PM on September 29, 2009

Angel Band by Alison Krauss and Ralph Stanley.

Heaven's Bright Shore
by Alison Krauss and Union Station (harmonies in the chorus).

More than two parts, but for harmonic inspiration, check out Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver on The Holy City and That New Jerusalem.

Also Roll Jordan Roll by The Nashville Bluegrass Band and The Fairfield Four.
posted by apartment dweller at 6:58 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: The Carter Family is the root of classic country harmony. Every last thing they recorded is worth listening to. Also check out the Louvin Brothers like hydrophonic says, and I'd add the Stanley Brothers as well.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:07 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: The Roches. Emmylou Harris singing with Gram Parsons. I love vocal harmony, and I know as soon as I wander away from my keyboard, ten more artists will come to mind.
posted by Savannah at 7:15 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: A big one that hasn't been mentioned: Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, on his two solo albums "GP" and "Grievous Angel." They've been repackaged a few times, but the most recent, "The Complete Reprise Sessions" has a few gems that were left off the albums, especially their cover of "Sleepless Nights."

In terms of 50s/60s country and pop: Les Paul/Mary Ford, Porter Wagoner/Dolly Parton, the Gosdin Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, the Byrds, the Shangri-Las

~70s: Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Laura Nyro's album with Patti LaBelle ("It's Gonna Take a Miracle")

More recent: the Waxwings, the Low Anthem, Buddy & Julie Miller...
posted by pete_22 at 7:18 PM on September 29, 2009

ABBA has great harmonies. Seems to me that on "Fernando" and "Chiquitita" may use fifths rather than thirds, but I haven't listened for awhile. Check out their "Gold" album.

And thanks for your title; always happy to have that CSN song in my head.
posted by bryon at 7:30 PM on September 29, 2009

I taught myself to harmonize with Help (beatles).
posted by alon at 7:55 PM on September 29, 2009

Jonatha Brooke (and The Story)
The House Jacks
The Mamas and the Papas
any good bluegrass (Alison Krause et al)
Dolly Parton (see esp "Seven Bridges Road")
Steely Dan
Hall & Oates
The Finn Brothers
Paula Cole

To learn: The best way is to immerse yourself in some kind of a cappella group, where the vocals cannot hide, so you have no choice but to learn how to be precise.

Attend this event:, or something like it.
posted by FlyByDay at 8:38 PM on September 29, 2009

The Story's In the Gloaming and Damn Everything But the Circus (this video uses The Story's song but the video is unrelated) both use harmonies in ways that are lovely and haunting.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:42 PM on September 29, 2009

Best answer: Hey, just to add something to the above recommendations for Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. This is true as far as it goes. But remember, through the mid-90s Emmylou was largely recognized (unfairly, really, given the breadth of her talents) for being primarily a harmony singer. So don't constrain yourself to her duets with Parsons. Get her "Duets" album and go from there. (There's much, much more; "Duets" was just kind of a grab-bag sampler.)

If you want to download a few of the songs to get a sample, I suggest starting with "Love Hurts," "Green Pastures" and "If I Needed You."

[EDIT - The Amazon page for the Duets album has a review that begins: "Before raising her profile as a solo artist, Emmylou Harris established herself as the harmony queen of contemporary music, from her partnership with Gram Parsons through sessions with the likes of Bob Dylan." Just so you know that opinion isn't mine alone.]

- AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 8:43 PM on September 29, 2009

This is pretty far afield of pop, but just about anything by the Irish choral group Anuna will be full of delicious, intricate, colorful harmonies (and purposeful dissonances).



Noel Nouvelet

Eiri na Griine - The Rising of the Sun
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 10:02 PM on September 29, 2009

The Louvin Brothers
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:08 PM on September 29, 2009

Response by poster: You folks are great. Thanks a lot!
posted by Bearman at 6:23 AM on September 30, 2009

Paul Simon and the Dixie Hummingbirds - Love Me Like a Rock
posted by doctor_negative at 12:00 PM on September 30, 2009

Boyz II Men. Amazing harmonizing. Check out "Can You Stand the Rain", "Water Runs Dry", and their acapella version of "Yesterday".

Also, "Unloved" by Jann Arden and Jackson Browne.
posted by yawper at 6:03 PM on September 30, 2009

"A Song For You" -Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris
They were beautiful together, anything they did is great but that one is the first song that comes to mind.
posted by iabide79 at 12:40 AM on October 26, 2009

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