I was listening on YouTube to one of my favourite pop songs and noticed a couple of comments:
'vocally the best match ever' and 'The best female harmonies on any song ever' .
I wouldn't go quite that far, but they were right up there. This internationally successful chart band was formed in the 1970s, though many would argue that actually their best album came in the next decade. There were four members, two male and two female, although they also had great supporting musicians on drums, bass etc. Sometimes one of the guys (though never the other) handled lead vocals, but the stars of the show were always the two girls: one with long blonde hair and the other a feisty redhead. One of the girls had a soprano range, with a bright, punchy tone. The other's range was a little lower, but warmer, though each of them could simulate the other if needed. This made for superb harmonies, but it also meant that when they doubled up on the same melody line, the 'third voice' sound was even greater than the sum of its parts. In recent years the girl with the higher range, now in her mid-60s, released a new album which showed that the quality of her voice had hardly diminished at all.
Sounds familiar? Any ideas which band I'm describing?
I was well wide of the mark - my pre-click guess was Baccara! Only the most casual fan, but I do like the odd drop of B-52s, although their shtick can get wearing. My favourite track of theirs is Bushfire - Kate Pierson belts it out for the majority of the track, with half-spoken asides by Fred, but Cindy Wilson's spirited interjection ("Ooh lightnin' strike twice!") is such a rush when it comes in!
...My favourite track of theirs is Bushfire - Kate Pierson belts it out for the majority of the track, with half-spoken asides by Fred, but Cindy Wilson's spirited interjection ("Ooh lightnin' strike twice!") is such a rush when it comes in!
I'm pleased that we are looking beyond Love Shack and Roam already (although there's lots to discuss about the vocals on those two).
The track that I would want to highlight for anyone doubting that there's anything too special about Kate and Cindy's vocals is Topaz. It contains both the complex harmonies and the shared lead elements that led me to dare to compare with A & F. Well worth listening right to the end, because the instruments fade out leaving the final bars a cappella.
Major props to shoshin for starting this. After admitting I'd only dabbled in the B-52's I spent a good couple of hours last night trawling through YouTube and have come to realise that I've seriously been missing out and am going to have to do some catching up. Their camp/kitsch exterior has always put me off a bit, and I don't go a bundle on B Movie sci-fi/beach rock tropes, but they're a much more interesting band than I gave them credit for; a proper art band, with a distinctive if hard to pin-down agenda. Steve Albini has said they're a gay band but not a camp one, a distinction which seems to ring true, and which sets up an interesting tension because of their hard and earnest treatment of seemingly lightweight subject matter. The harmonising and call-and-response singing of Pierson and Cindy Wilson is gorgeous at times, and Ricky Wilson is a fascinating guitar player. They could do it live, too - the tightness and urgency of this 1980 show is super impressive (Cindy Wilson's performance on Give Me Back My Man is a jaw-dropper!). Up to now, Fred Schneider had always been a bit of a stumbling block, but watching some of the concert footage you've got to hand to him the fact that he exercises great judgement and knows how to mete himself out; he's no limelight hogger, and he's got no problem with stepping to the side and clonking a cowbell, if that's what's required. He truly serves the songs. They all do. What took me so long?!
Edit: to clarify; the distinction Albini makes between gay and camp is interesting in the B-52's case because their image and styling is - deliberately - misleadingly camp (to the degree that camp and kitsch overlap); a shell that you have to crack in order to experience the full magic.
One of my favorites, lesser known, is Dirty Back Road.
Great track - love that lean, slinky guitar lick and its pattern shift during the vocal breaks. In another little ABBA echo, a couple of times during this TV performance of the song, Kate and Cindy engage in a bit of curiously dispassionate frugging which somewhat calls to mind the 'string-pulled' shapes thrown by Agnetha and Frida during the 77 live version of I'm A Marionette.
Here's a real treat: Love Shack with everything but the vocals completely removed. At 3m58s you can even hear Kate and Cindy mumbling 'oh-oh, where do we come in?' before the first 'Bang bang bang on the door baby.'