Songs with overlapping but different lyrics sung simultaneously?
March 17, 2021 10:54 AM   Subscribe

I like REM's "Fall on Me" because they seem to be singing two or even three different sets of lyrics simultaneously. What is this called, and what other songs do the same thing?

I don't think this fits the description for call-and-response songs, where the backing singers chime in with answers to the main lyric, or songs where other vocalists echo a fragment of the song that has already been sung.

It's like three songs in one.

The chorus to "Fall on Me" goes like this:

Michael Stipe: Don't fall on me
Mike Mills: (What is it up in the air for?)
Bill Berry: (It's gonna fall)

I find the overlapping of different words and phrases really appealing to listen to. What other songs do this well? They don't have to be in English or even the pop genre specifically.
posted by Orkney Vole to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Counter-melody, perhaps?

Two songs that use this that come to mind:

REM also does this in "It's The End Of The World As We Know It"; during the chorus, you have one voice singing that song, and another voice singing "Time I had some time alone" over it.

Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair does this throughout:

"Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
(On the side of a hill in the deep forest green)
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
(Tracing a sparrow on snow-crested ground)

Without no seams nor needlework
(Blankets and bedclothes, the child of the mountain)
Then she'll be a true love of mine
(Sleeps unaware of a clarion call)"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:58 AM on March 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair/Canticle (which is Scarborough Fair plus The Side of a Hill). Edit: scooped!
posted by offog at 11:02 AM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Burn, Don’t Freeze from Sleater-Kinney.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:02 AM on March 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

i think Everything's Easy by Girlyman fits what you are looking for. The three-parts all come together at about the 3 min mark.

Tor Amos does some of this. Father Lucifer is the one song that comes to mind.
posted by archimago at 11:05 AM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

The Halo Benders do this on almost every song. So much so that Calvin Johnson invented a brand-new part for their cover of The Smiths' Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want(!)
posted by Text TK at 11:10 AM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

According to this analysis by an REM fan, the live version of Harborcoat does this too.
posted by johngoren at 11:12 AM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Game Theory - Room for One More Honey

I was also going to mention the Halo Benders. Trying to pick a melody to listen to is maddening with them.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:18 AM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Here's an AskMefi thread on the same subject from some years back. One of the answers even mentions "Fall On Me".
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:25 AM on March 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

A very extreme example! A Murder Mystery by the Velvet Underground. You can almost make out the separate lyrics with headphones because the two phrases are in separate channels.
posted by Don_K at 11:32 AM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

One of the most beautiful examples of this, to me, is Pink Floyd's Wearing the Inside Out.
posted by The Deej at 11:45 AM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

'Latyrx' is one of the standout tracks in the microgenre of two-people-rapping-at-the-same-time.
posted by box at 11:48 AM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Roches. We
posted by adamrice at 11:58 AM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Moldy Peaches Steak for Chicken (very juvenile, but fits).
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:04 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Kid Fears by the Indigo Girls (featuring Michael Stipe as one of the voices!).
posted by rikschell at 12:09 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Farmer Refuted in Hamilton kind of does this - there are parts where the two voices respond to each other and parts where they're going in parallel.
posted by trig at 12:17 PM on March 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

I've never heard a term for this.

If you like the previously mentioned A Murder Mystery by the Velvet Underground, Tindersticks did something similar in Marbles that's particularly brilliant with a good set of headphones.
posted by Candleman at 12:35 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Phish does this a LOT. Like, in most of their songs. They do a lot of cool things with vocals.

A few songs that come to mind would be:

Limb by Limb. Starts off with call and response but has a section in the middle very much like what you describe.

Dirt (towards the end)

Frankie Says (a small bit towards the end)

Meat (pretty much all throughout.)
posted by bondcliff at 12:47 PM on March 17, 2021

A Campfire Song by 10,000 Maniacs (hey, look, it's Michael Stipe again!)
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:49 PM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

You get this some madrigal music. In school we sang some PDQ Bach madrigals that blended different vocal lines into risque hidden messages.

In Italian opera it's fairly common for duets to sing over each other.
posted by ovvl at 12:50 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Counterpoint. It is used lots in musicals (One Day More from Les Miserable is an example with SEVERAL characters singing different lyrics at once/over each other).
posted by museum nerd at 12:59 PM on March 17, 2021 [9 favorites]

The vibe is different because one of the tracks is a sort of low-fi recording and therefore feels more like a sample, but Soul Coughing's "Janine" does this.
posted by babelfish at 1:03 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Powerpuff Girls did this when singing "Love Makes The World Go Round" (while defeating Mister Mime. No, not that Mister Mime).
posted by hanov3r at 1:13 PM on March 17, 2021

Stephen Hyden posited in his article The Best R.E.M. Songs Ranked that the reason that Michael Stipe and Michael Mills vocals were given the same priority was that (upon Peter Buck's suggestion) all of the members of the band would share the songwriting credits equally. I would look towards other bands that have the same arrangement.
posted by Quonab at 1:16 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

One singer in Gang of Four's "Anthrax" compares love to a disease that he doesn't want to catch while the other one simultaneously discusses the reasons why pop groups write songs about love.
posted by baseballpajamas at 1:25 PM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Pinback are really great at this. Tripoli and Loro are their classics, but almost all of their songs are have interlocking vocal, guitar and bass counterpoint like this.
posted by umbú at 1:31 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

No Comprende by Low is a great example of this.
posted by carrienation at 1:33 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

The basic originating concept you mention (different people singing the same lyrics in an overlapping manner) is what's called a round (a great example is Don McLean's Babylon, but stuff we learn in childhood like Row, Row, Row Your Boat or Freres Jacques are well known). I don't know that using different lyrics ever got a name specific to that approach, though--I flipped through my music books and couldn't find anything. REM seems to do it a lot--if you liked "Fall on Me," you might also enjoy "Try Not to Breathe."
posted by kitten kaboodle at 1:35 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

one of my fav examples of this is in the Wrens' "She Sends Kisses" -
"Number four...
- a Cape May address
- Your new one I guess
- all's well in hell and all here's hoping..."
posted by entropone at 1:44 PM on March 17, 2021

The Ting Tings' "That's Not My Name" does this at the chorus (this vocals-only version makes it clearer).

They Might Be Giants' "Spoiler Alert" is overlapping two-songs-in-one as drivers in separate cars head toward a collision.

Dawes does it during one refrain of "Things Happen."

(Thanks for asking this question! I love this kind of structure, too, and will enjoy exploring these answers...)
posted by AgentRocket at 1:55 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, and "Three Rounds and a Sound" by Blind Pilot, and sort of the end of "Diane" by Guster.
posted by AgentRocket at 2:00 PM on March 17, 2021

One more from REM! “Untitled” features both lyrics sung in the round and in the way described here.
posted by KatlaDragon at 2:09 PM on March 17, 2021

Seconding Musicals. Someone got my first one, "One Day More" (though actually I first thought of a parody for people with food intolerances, "One Grain More.")

The other example that leapt to mind was "My Eyes" from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. The two singers are on different, opposing narrative arcs; Penny's life is looking up as she found love in Captain Hammer, and Dr. Horrible is heading down as he has lost his chance with Penny and is deciding to kill her superhero boyfriend.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:14 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Doris Day "Everybody Loves a Lover"
posted by kathrynm at 2:45 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Another musical example: All for the Best from Godspell.
posted by FencingGal at 3:01 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

And the end of the Monkees’ Randy Scouse Git.
posted by FencingGal at 3:04 PM on March 17, 2021

A Reddit thread suggests:


I know the fugue as a compositional tool is more constrained by definition than what you're talking about, but it does get at the interplay qualities. I won't know the other two until I'm back at my laptop. :)
posted by rhizome at 3:10 PM on March 17, 2021

another one from Michael Stipe: his backing vocals with Kristen Hersh on Your Ghost are a great contrasting combination. Even on the parts where she's singing alone, the contrast between the rhythm of the spoken part and the guitar part has a similar quality.
posted by vincebowdren at 3:15 PM on March 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

what about intercrossing and different vibes across the left/right channels ... ?

The Clash - If Music Could Talk
posted by burr1545 at 3:19 PM on March 17, 2021

I have poor self control, so I just had to throw "4 Chords, 23 Songs" into the list. FWIW.
posted by forthright at 3:28 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you want contrasting but harmonising vocal lines, then that is one thing which opera has been doing so, so well for centuries. Shaffer's Amadeus:

In a play if more than one person speaks at the same time, it's just noise, no one can understand a word. But with opera, with music... with music you can have twenty individuals all talking at the same time, and it's not noise, it's a perfect harmony!

One of my all-time my favourites is the quartet "Bella figlia dell amore" which Verdi wrote for his Rigoletto, in which the duke (tenor) flirts with Maddalena (contralto) while overheard by the heartbroken Gilda (soprano) and her father (baritone). The four voices mingle and sing through each other perfectly, for example this recording
posted by vincebowdren at 3:38 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yusuf/Cat Stevens: Father and Son does this.

Like All for the Best mentioned above from Godspell, the same songwriter Stephen Schwartz gives us Two's Company from the Magic Show. These are both super fun because they are like two different songs at first, sung separately, and then sung at the same time and it just fits together perfectly.
posted by rekrap at 4:04 PM on March 17, 2021

Fiona Apple - Hot Knife.
posted by kaefer at 4:30 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sixteen 80s Songs With Countermelodies (SLYT)
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:48 PM on March 17, 2021

Alanis Morissette Front Row.
posted by FrozenConcentrate at 4:56 PM on March 17, 2021

My music history professor would have called this “polytextuality.” It was big in the medieval motets and parody masses.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:48 PM on March 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Porcupine Tree does this sometimes. in this example, its not till the end:

Here's another example, polyphony towards the end:
posted by hollyanderbody at 6:20 PM on March 17, 2021

I like this effect too! Some that I like:

Towards the end of Mannfred Mann's Earth Band's version of Blinded by the Light
From the Mikado comic opera, I Am So Proud is a favourite of mine, three singers who sing their songs separately then all at once. Plus, in this version, Eric Idle!
An opera example from Rigoletto, with four simultaneous singers of Bella Figlia Dell'Amore.
posted by ElasticParrot at 7:36 PM on March 17, 2021

The Cry Cry Cry cover of Fall On Me definitely makes me feel this and I think is with separately listening to. Some of the other songs on their single-self titled album fit the bill as well.
posted by skynxnex at 7:41 PM on March 17, 2021

Was there anyone Michael Stipe didn’t duet with back in the day? I always really liked the effect you describe in Future 40s with him and Syd Straw.
posted by Tuba Toothpaste at 9:59 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Brian Eno's Golden Hours has some of this and I've always really liked that aspect of this song.
posted by Chairboy at 6:09 AM on March 18, 2021

Evanescence does this in My Last Breath , and i absolutely love it. Also a tiny bit in Snow White Queen in the lead up to the chorus.

Whale- Crying at Airports More so at the end

Oasis- D'You Know What I Mean (There's also morse code during parts of the song, at the beginning and end definitely, but i think also during the lyrics, if i recall correctly, so another layer there.)
posted by BlueBear at 8:38 AM on March 18, 2021

I love songs with counterpoint! One of my favorite recentish examples by one of my favorite recentish bands:

The Beths--Little Death
posted by thivaia at 11:11 AM on March 18, 2021

Aaahhh I love this type of thing! Some members of the aforementioned Girlyman put out a kids album and have a whole song about this exact thing called "Counterpoint"

Also the Indigo Girls do this a LOT. Ummm off the top of my head I'm thinking of Ghost, Fugitive, and The Wood Song, I think?
posted by wannabecounselor at 3:11 PM on March 18, 2021


There's a great example from the soundtrack for the show Chess - "Quartet (A Model Of Decorum And Tranquility)", which is a sung argument between a Russian chess player, his assistant, the American opponent's assistant, and the referee, after the American competitor did something obnoxious. Here's a fun Zoom-based take on it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:09 AM on March 22, 2021

I feel like I read arguments about what this is called every couple of months and no one can seem to agree. We all love it, though. :)

more examples from my two favorite genres, musicals and pop-punk/emo/indie!
"Notes/Prima Donna" from Phantom of the Opera, which gets into *four* part overlap by the end, making it very fun to sing along to in one's car

"My Eyes" from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

"Something There" from Beauty and the Beast

"Lida Rose" and "Will I Ever Tell You" from The Music Man

large swathes of The Pirates of Penzance and doubtlessly many other Gilbert & Sullivans

Eisley - "Brightly Wound"

Taking Back Sunday - "Cute Without the 'E'" and a boatload of other TBS songs

blink-182 - "Feeling This"
posted by wintersonata9 at 5:01 PM on March 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

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