I’ve always liked the sounds of voices singing in harmony for as long as I can remember. I guess in large part it must obviously be because I grew up with such a musical family that liked to sing together all the time.
On my Mum’s side of the family were of course The Dooleys, made up lots of family members. They hit the big time in the 1970’s and 80’s with some very good pop songs and they appeared on Top Of The Pops a number of times. However I don’t really remember any of that as I was a bit too young at the time, but I do remember listening to the records.
Aged 5 or 6 and listening to their records, I remember loving the way that all their voices seemed to work together. I would try to figure out who was singing a particular harmony line by listening to the tone of their voice and then following the line and seeing how it fitted in with all the others. I remember telling this to my uncle Frank years later and he told me how he would go off into a quiet corner of the studio with a little Casio keyboard and work out all the harmonies that he could hear in his head.
When I think back to the music I used to listen to when I was a kid, there seems to be a familiar theme running through it. When I ask a member of my family what kind of music I liked, apart from an amusing incident of singing The Human League‘s Don’t You Want Me into a banana, the next most popular answer is ABBA.
For Christmas one year somebody bought me a double cassette of The Singles – The First 10 Years, which looking back now seems to be strangely optimistic considering they never recorded together again.
I remember even as a kid looking at that collar and thinking, no. I think I may still have my copy sitting in a cupboard somewhere. I played those tapes to death, but I don’t really remember listening to specific songs, all I remember is the sound of their voices.
Next up on the childhood favourites list would definitely be Queen. My Mum and Dad had a copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits on vinyl and I remember listening to it again and again in the front room of the house.
I think that the only song I was already aware of before listening to the album was Bohemian Rhapsody, so everything else was new to me and boy was it exciting. I remember listening to Bicycle Race and thinking it was one of the strangest things I had ever heard, and it still is I think. It’s such an odd song full of loads of different sections and different tempos, but I think it is the fun of all the harmonies that really makes it work. And that’s what I think of really when I think of Queen, I don’t think of the sound of Brian May’s guitar or Freddie’s voice, I think of the sound of all of those harmonies.
My Mum was also a big fan of The Carpenters and I would often wake up late on a Saturday morning to hear to sound of Karen Carpenter‘s voice booming from the stereo downstairs whilst Mum was doing the housework. Listening to their music now and having seen some documentaries and interviews, I think that they are pretty overlooked in music history, particularly Richard Carpenter’s production and arrangements. He was very pioneering in his use of studio technology and he used overdubbing and bouncing to great affect to build up huge rolling waves of harmonies that to me always seem like the vocal equivalent of Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound production techniques.
Speaking of good production, a few years later for my birthday my uncle Frank bought me a box set of The Beach Boys‘ Pet Sounds album.
The box set came out in the era of The Beatles Anthologies and following in kind it included loads of outtakes and different versions of the songs. However the really interesting was that it also included a mix of the album that was just the acapella vocals. It really is amazing just to hear the vocals on Wouldn’t It Be Nice and God Only Knows, they are really beautiful. It pretty clear why the album is so heralded as a masterpiece and thats before any of the amazing instrumentation is put in place.
So by now I should think that it is pretty clear that I like harmonies, however looking back I didn’t really take much part in the family musical offerings when it came to performing together, with the exception of a few times, I usually tended to get up and do a song on my own. So what happens however when it comes to recording my own music and doing lots of harmonies? I’m not in The Beach Boys, so I can’t ask them. Even if I were, I’m not sure I could put up with Mike Love and he would probably just end up suing me anyway, as that’s what he usually seems to do.
Well it would seem that the answer lies in technology and the reasons that I wanted to build myself a studio in the first place. However I’ve rambled enough for now, more of that next time.
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