March 27th, 2010 | By Kal
I thought I’d kick off this series of blogs about what I do with possibly my favourite ‘job’ within Rob and Kal – providing vocal harmonies. Within our music, my harmonies range from something subtle on tracks like The Island Without a Name and Can’t Help Me Now to something very clear cut and almost separate on Vedere.
What is a vocal harmony?
Well as the name suggests, a vocal harmony occues when two or more voices, that compliment one another, sing simultaneously – pedants, see wikipedia…
It’s something that’s not really talked about within mainstream music, but if you listen to nearly every track in the charts for example, it will have vocal harmonies – be they simply the same vocal sung by the same artists, or another member of the band chipping in on a different set of notes.
The obscure nature of vocal harmonies means it’s fun to cite influences. It allows me to mention major artists and bring you another talent that these guys have, that you may not have associated with them, or their image.
I remember the first time I really noticed or cared about a vocal harmony. I was at Rob’s house with a few friends and it was the night before our last ever day of school. We were waiting for the early hours of the morning to come so we could go to the school and set up some pranks for the next day. To pass the time we found ourselves watching an Oasis tour DVD. Listening to a rendition of Stand By Me, at first I wondered why Liam Gallagher’s voice suddenly had this extra power and sounded so much better at certain times during the chorus and second verse. Then as I listened more closely I realised that Noel was singing a harmony, to great effect. I have tracked down an acoustic version of the song on Youtube to illustrate that more clearly. Give it a listen:
As well as add power to a vocal, a harmony will also emphasise a line for a songwriter, Noel has also used vocal harmonies here in the second voice to create a bit of variation. The verses, one with just Liam singing and one softened by a Noel harmony are now different, giving the song a dynamic, as it is building from start to final chorus, even with just a guitar, two vocals…and a man sitting by a swimming pool on tambourine!
The way I see it, the other use of vocal harmonies or should I say the main use of them, is when they are the focal point. Perhaps Rob and Kal doesn”t have a song like this yet, although I’d say the closest we have is in the chorus if All I Ever Wanted. A tight harmony is one of the most beautiful things on the ear, and that’s why we all enjoy a barbershop quartet. Don’t think you do? Well each generation has had it’s edition of a vocal quartet or group. Motown fans need look no further than the Supremes, while those raised on 90s teen pop may enjoy listening to The Backstreet Boys – every genre has them, or I assume they do – I have yet to scope out death metal!!
My personal iteration of the vocal group is Boyz II men. Listen to this completely acapella version of their biggest hit End of the Road. I say totally because if I didn’t know it myself, I’d swear they were singing with a full band – they’re not:
Who are the biggest band in the world? I’ll leave you all to argue that, but one of the front running contenders (at least), who are gracing the Glastonbury stage this summer when I go are U2. And leaving religious beliefs aside, if God does exist, the gospel choir and the beautiful harmonies it creates would be his music. Listen here to Bono belt out U2‘s classic I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For with The New Voices of Freedom gospel choir from their Rattle and Hum tour:
To wrap up, I urge you to listen closely to any of the music in your ‘record collection’; to any of the artists you particularly like; to even those who you don’t care for so much. They’re all at it – vocal harmonies give music an added dimension, they give it a polish and more emotion at the same time.
Leaving all of these possibly pretentious adjectives aside, to me, vocal harmonies make music sound good.