Rock Around the Croc: More Thoughts About Vocals

The question for the day is how many vocal lines or vocalists you need. By my count there are seventy-six singers in this performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Movement 4:

Beethoven 9th Symphony – Movement IV – “Ode to Joy” – YouTube

It’s amazing to listen to, but imagine being in the concert hall, right in the front row, and getting the full sonic blast in your face. Beethoven knew how to write intensity into whatever he was working on. Even in a line as simple as the Ode to Joy chorus, which is about as simple as you can imagine, it’s a combination of the accumulated passion of the full symphony up to that point, the number of singers, along with the subtleties of the line itself. The notes are relatively conjunct – that is, they are whole or half steps away from each other (E-E-F-G-G-F-E-D-C-C-D-E-E-D-D) until the end of the line, when the biggest leap (from a D down to a G) coincides with the biggest emotional hit of the line.

But you don’t need 76 singers on the back of the stage to be effective, so let’s look at some other options. I remember the first time I noticed the backing vocals in Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears (at about 2:05):

Tears For Fears – Head Over Heels (Official Music Video) – YouTube

It was a song I already liked because of the piano and the main vocal line, but suddenly the song went from good to great when I heard that extra layer in there, and it’s my favorite TFF song now. It was a lesson to me about the importance of decent headphones, too.

Harmonizing the main vocal line gives so much musical an emotional depth, and it’s something you can do in a group like Abba that has two lead singers. There isn’t very much to the lyrics of the song, but it sounds so big, and the vocals are such a huge part of that.

Abba – Dancing Queen (Official Music Video Remastered) – YouTube

Perry Farrell from Jane’s Addiction famously double tracks all of his vocals. The song Just Because is by no means their most famous, but it’s probably my favorite, and the video is a big part of that. The first time I saw it I thought I had made the wrong choices in life by not becoming a rock star, because it just looks so freaking fun to dance around in shiny silver pants and crank out that much energy, and to make a living at it would just be a dream. Watch those guys moving and try to convince me they would be happier with a desk job:

Jane’s Addiction – Just Because (Official Video) – YouTube

I don’t think you need multiple singers or double tracked vocals to have a good vocal line, but check out these two songs for a comparison I want to make. The first is Hey There Delilah by the Plain White Ts:

Plain White T’s – Hey There Delilah (Official Video) – YouTube

And the next is Where Did You Sleep Last Night, as performed by Leadbelly:

Leadbelly – Where Did you Sleep Last Night – YouTube

This is not a fair comparison by any means. But I’m not trying to be fair, I’m trying to make a point. Both of those songs feature a single vocal line and a single guitar. But one of them has a power that the other does not. As I’ve considered this for a long time, I think the difference is an unquantifiable “intensity.” When Leadbelly is singing, you hear the pain in his voice in a way that you just don’t get out of Tom Higgenson. (I’ve never heard anything else by Plain White Ts, so maybe they have more oomph in their other songs, but definitely not in this one.) I think that’s what all of my other examples come down to – not the number of singers, or whether they are harmonizing, singing homophonic background lines, double tracking or anything else, but whether the singer has enough of that certain special something, that intensity, whatever it is that makes the listener know the singer believes what is being sung.

I’ll end by throwing out a couple songs where I just think “dang, that person can belt it out.” Michelle Branch, All You Wanted. Amazing that such a huge sound is coming out of that tiny little girl:

Michelle Branch – All You Wanted (Official Music Video) | Warner Records – YouTube

Haley Reinhart and Postmodern Jukebox covering “Creep” by Raiodhead. This is one of the most amazing things I’ve heard in my entire life:

Creep – Vintage Postmodern Jukebox Radiohead Cover ft. Haley Reinhart – YouTube

Jerry Cantrell harmonizing with Layne Staley, any song really, but you cannot possibly beat No Excuses. The emotional blast when you get to the chorus:

Alice In Chains – No Excuses (Official Video) – YouTube

Just like with that Ode to Joy, the vocal line here is relatively conjunct – that is, the notes are pretty close together – until just before you get into the chorus. “And if we change, well, I love you anyway.” The leap from “I” to “love” and back down to “you” is exactly the blast we need to move us into the chorus, which the notes are far more disjunct and so they carry an energy that wasn’t there during the verses.

And I could go on and on, but that’s enough for today.


  1. I got you, Sobek.

  2. Actually, this is a thing for me. Lots of bands will double track the vocals when they don’t have ANYONE ELSE IN THE BAND WHO CAN SING. It makes for a great effect in the recording, but then live it lacks something. Tool does it with Maynard, but I’ve never had a problem with his live performances – because he’s that good of a singer. And they really don’t use it THAT often.

    Other artists can’t cover it as well, and the live performance is a tad diminished. Or they use backup tracks, which I don’t really care for.

    As for AIC, yes their harmonies are great, but sometimes it just gets a bit repetitive. Perhaps you can enlighten me on why, but perhaps it’s because they used pretty much the same … exact harmonic structure over and over?

  3. I always liked this version of Miserare Mei

  4. One instance that really tickles me – I LOVE IT – is Gojira’s “Born in Winter”. Right around 1:17, good listening and you can hear a it. Joe’s singing clean, but the faint backup is the growl.

  5. Thanks, Car in. I’m on a plane and can’t fiddle with WordPress right now.

  6. Autotune is the best thing to ever happen to music. Without it we wouldn’t have the awesome catalogue of music from Britney Spears.

  7. I’ll link so as to not kill the blog, but when it comes to harmonies I’ve always had a soft spot for chick country/folk singers.

    The Wailing Jennys, Long-Time Traveler

    And then there’s Lyle Lovett, who I’ve always thought could put a lot of sorrow or joy into his songs that is often missing whenever I hear someone try to cover them.

  8. Autotune is the best thing to ever happen to music. Without it we wouldn’t have the awesome catalogue of music from Britney Spears.

    The AI that eventually destroys us won’t be some runaway military program. It will be born when record labels figure out how to completely generate a country/pop star via feeding the collected works of Brittany Spear/Taylor Swift/etc. into a machine learning algorithm which spits out a photorealistic 3d model, generated lyrics, and synthesized vocals.

  9. The autotune version of the Paperclip Maximizer?

  10. This might be the link ChrisP was talking about, Pupster. There’s a link there to the Rumble video of the interview.

  11. I love when composers sprinkle the main melodic motif sparingly throughout a piece, but make sure to put in a point where the melody is let free to run wild. The 4th of the 9th is perfect example of it, but another one is in the Tombstone soundtrack. You get teased with short snippets of the main melody throughout the movie with a variety of instruments keyed on the tone of the scene. Then as the credits roll, the main theme is allowed to go nuts for a few solid minutes.

  12. I don’t quite know what to think of that interview, other than he’s right that they aren’t talking about vaccine damage.

  13. The AI that eventually destroys us won’t be some runaway military program. It will be born when record labels figure out how to completely generate a country/pop star via feeding the collected works of Brittany Spear/Taylor Swift/etc. into a machine learning algorithm which spits out a photorealistic 3d model, generated lyrics, and synthesized vocals.
    The concept you’re talking about is already happening a bit in other areas as well.

    It’s pretty interesting to think that ‘art’ can be created by a machine. I wonder if it will have any value…

  14. Procedurally-generated game terrain that satisfies the “that looks real enough” part of the human brain has been around for a while.

  15. LOL The Cuntz lost to the Canucks.

    Does this mean Rapinoe can now just go away and get herself a real job?


    To be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was told to take a dive so that there wouldn’t be a backlash against tranny athletes.

  17. I find it fascinating that athletes who are supposedly doing what they love can’t help themselves but to express their bullshit political views, as if they should be listened to, and then *poof*, half the country is openly rooting against them.

  18. The press actively goads them into it. They aren’t allowed to just compete and be proud/humbled to be there.

  19. Oh the IOC isn’t having any demonstrations. They took away a silver medal from a BLMLGBTQrstuvwxyz shot putter for raising her hands in an X to protest. Yeah, Raven Saunders, gay black athlete from IranUSA.

  20. I love this in Alex’s article: “It’s not simple,” he added. “Each sport has to make their own assessment depending on the physiology of that sport so that they can ensure there is fair competition, but also the inclusion of everyone – whether they’re male or female – so they are able to take part in the sport they love.”

    Look douchebag, HE was perfectly welcome to compete in the sport HE loves – by lifting against men. Instead you enabled HIM to cheat, and in so doing you fucked some young dedicated woman out of her dream to go to Tokyo.

  21. It is important to note that Saunders waited until after the winner’s anthem was done playing before raising her hands.

    And she paraded around with the flag. Feel better now, H8rs?

  22. heh, and Canada has a player on the women’s team who identifies as a man. How can xhe play? Xhe should be on the men’s team, according to the stupid rules they aren’t obviously living by.

  23. Maybe we should just get away from sports all together and focus on video gaming.

    It’s safer.

    And safety is everything.

  24. Our only hope is new sports that are inherently unwoke.

    Baseketball’s time has come.

  25. we have MMA, and they definitely aren’t woke.

  26. Aren’t there mentally-ill men breaking women’s skulls in MMA?

  27. I find myself caring less and less about most things.

    It’s just hard to muster the fucks when 90% of the chatter is blue team or read team. Or woke v non woke.

    I’m just going to opt out.

    Building a house up by the horse farms. It’s so quiet you can hear the wind in the trees. MJr is going to private school for obvious reasons. Saving as much money as possible. Staying fit, although I’m starting to feel my age. Speaking up where I see fit, but not worrying beyond that.

    What else is there?

  28. Needs more ropey ab-veins.

  29. forgot about Fallon

  30. What else is there?

    Not much. Boats for me.

  31. Land contract is potentially closing as soon as Friday. We’re trying to decide what to do with the money rather than watch bidenflation destroy it. Tractor is on the maybe list, as are a number of home improvements/fixes.

    We realized yesterday that if we do get a tractor, one attachment we actually don’t need is a deck mower.

  32. Buy a self service car wash?

  33. Leon, you feeling better?

  34. Chris, can you explain Inert Gas Technology piston?

    Is it powered by CO2?

    CO2 isn’t inert, ITS GOING TO KILL US ALL!

  35. Tummy’s been mostly calm since 830, but I cannot trust anything that proclaims itself gas yet.

  36. CO2 is inflammable, so it’s inert in that sense. That’s the reason it’s the pusher gas in my flamethrower.

  37. Leon, this might interest you.

  38. Car in, that was a cool effect. It’s really clear at the 1:46 mark.

  39. Here’s another song with interesting vocal lines, Temptation by Slayer. They really aren’t great with vocal lines: mostly punk-inspired barking, short couplets, relying more on lyrical content than melody. But this song is different. My understanding is, they were arguing about how to do the vocal line, and Tom agreed to sing it two different ways. Then a sound engineer just stuck them both in and everyone liked the sound.

    You don’t have to listen to the whole song, just the first 33 seconds to hear what I mean:

  40. That shot-putter was so oppressed she represented the USA at the Olympics. They should make a movie about her.

  41. And you gotta check this one out, My Exhibition by Catherine Wheel:

    This is one of my favorite bands ever. The first two albums are beautiful shoegaze, but on Happy Days toned down the dreamy and sounded a little more grunge (with notable exceptions). My Exhibition is under 2:30 and is this bonkers little thing that is hard to describe, especially in context of the album. After the first chorus there’s this wild, frantic guitar solo that makes no sense at all. In the middle of the second verse, after “I’m such a nice boy, such a charming man/ but I’m going crazy with these snakes and stuff” the background vocals kick in with a bright, happy, five-note progression of la-la-la-la-la that leaves you asking where the heck that came from. As I said, it’s bonkers. I laughed out loud the first time I heard it.

  42. I hate glyphosate, but this is bullshit.

    Makes me think Bayer-Monsanto is planning to push the other patented herbicides (many of which are persistent) instead. Composting will be friggin’ impossible if that happens.

  43. How did glyphosphate and composting kill the blog?

  44. It’s a nonspecific herbicide, Sobek, that’s what it does.

  45. Big words confuse me.

    /turns metal up

  46. Today I learned that a high-level boss in our org has no idea what we do, or how long it takes us to do the things we do and now he’s mad at us for not being able to do the something that he thinks we should be able to do immediately and not the 6 months or so it will actually take. It seems his cluelessness is our fault.

  47. I wouldn’t be surprised but Jack Probiseiceickec isn’t exactly reliable.

  48. I trust Jack, I don’t trust whoever’s feeding him info, though.

  49. I take it with a huge pinch of salt, but it’s a slow day and I’m avoiding actual work.

  50. What do you all think…new lockdowns? Over about 20 people? Everything is insane. I’m in a very blue state right now so shit could get real.

  51. I don’t watch any news so I have no idea what the propaganda machine is doing right now.

  52. In Nevada our governor is basically Mini-Newsom; we will do whatever Commiefornia does. So yeah, more lockdowns coming to cripple our entertainment industry again. Wheee.

  53. I don’t know if they will or not. I suspect that there is fighting in the admin over it, because it will get ugly if they do.

  54. Did we ever get the Lapeer Creek update?

  55. Only a denial that any trannies had been added to the cast this season.

  56. what did Jack do now? he’s been pretty good for the most part

  57. haha, just relaying rumors from the white house. Pretty sure his source is sketch.

  58. The guy buying my land already sold it. His sale is pending.

    I’ll have lost ~$10k when all was said and done, he’ll have made (after the interest and escrow he paid me) a little over $40k.

    I should have just held out. Fuck.

  59. That’s heartbreaking, Leon.

  60. That would pull my retirement timeline ahead by 4 years, all included.

  61. From the article, which is by David Brooks but has some good lunes.

    Without even thinking about it, we in the creative class consolidate our class standing through an ingenious code of “openness.” We tend to like open floor plans, casual dress, and eclectic “localist” tastes that are willfully unpretentious. This seems radically egalitarian, because there are no formal hierarchies of taste or social position. But only the most culturally privileged person knows how to navigate a space in which the social rules are mysterious and hidden.

  62. Scott,
    Instead of compressing a spring, you are compressing a cylinder of nitrogen with a piston:

  63. Leon, sorry to hear about that. Unfortunately, the best advice is to just accept it and move on. If you had held onto the land, you might have ended up in a worse position due to some other factor.

  64. You say “bad luck” and I say “too dumb to have a checkbook”.

    I now have to figure out where to put the diminished funds so as to dodge inflation. I should just get cash and set it on fire and get it over with.

  65. Leon, do you know any good financial advisors? It might be worth it to consult someone – ours gave us great advice and Paul was able to retire at 60. We used a group which several of our friends (who don’t suffer fools) used, and have been very pleased with not only their advice, but also the results.

    Find a good person/group, and you will be amazed at the results.

  66. No, I don’t. IME they mostly manage to barely beat the market at best while taking a commission to do so. I have one, but so far he hasn’t earned a return over and above my old 401K.

  67. Sorry to hear that Leon.
    I should just get cash and set it on fire and get it over with.

    Have you considered the National Money Hole? It’s there for a reason, might as well use it.

  68. OK, so that may fire a lot like mine. If it does, the key is holding the barrel very loosely. If I do I can hit a dime at 20 yards.

    If I grip the barrel, I would miss a dollar bill at 20 yards.

  69. This lockdown is going to be even more hypocritical than the last. Our elites are incapable of learning.

  70. Second look at the name ‘Trump Vaccine’

    When that happens you’ll know they’re about to tell you it’s a failure.

  71. Here’s what I learned this weekend: a pair of nail clippers can not be in your carry on luggage because they could be used to hijack a plane or something. A four foot long, 10 inch wide skateboard that can literally be swung like a baseball bat? No fucking problem getting that one passed TSA. I’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts lately.

  72. I should have taken the Phoenix job. The company does disparate impact studies and is probably looking at a fucking payday for the next four years.

  73. This lockdown is going to be even more hypocritical than the last. Our elites are incapable of learning.

    No, this is deliberate. They are hoping that — while the true upper echelon is safe in their towers and behind gates and walls — one of the lesser ‘elites’ actually gets whacked by a Deplorable so they can start the pogroms.

  74. WOW. Just caught this in the comments at the Ewok’s:×900

    It’s a clown country.

  75. I didn’t realize PG was a sk8tr

  76. 131 price changes today. Trash bags and petroleum based merchandise. School supplies. Energy drinks. Hoarding water and masks has resumed. NM requires little kids to be masked at school. Waiting for expedited kiddie masks

  77. It’s a clown country.
    It’s so blatant and they don’t give a shit if you notice

    No wonder they won’t release the footage of 1/6. Plenty more where that came from I imagine

  78. Your winter provisions look like candy corns with the orange parts cut off.

  79. Iowans storing corn for winter. Is that some sort of joke?

    I mean I do that too, but I feed it to animals first.

  80. Hahaha Pendejo. Nail clippers go under the plane. Moose out front should’ve told you. (Multiple CoWs with box cutters have been allowed to travel since 9/11)

  81. We usually call r*tards “IOWAns”. Idiots Out Wandering Around. As of today, they are “Swearengen” 🐓🍭

  82. too bad you can’t have any of my animal feed, mmmm

  83. If you want to grow sweet corn to eat, “Honey Select Triple Sweet” is the way to go. We’ve been growing corn for 50 years, and have tried many variants. This shit is the best corn ever!
    We actually had a friend ask us for a pint of it in their Christmas gift!
    It’s really, really good, even canned…

  84. Let me tell you about my day, in interpretive dance.

    *takes a seat in revolving chair*
    *extends both arms*
    *raises both middle fingers*
    *initiates spins*

  85. Lumps, you are the best.

  86. Dustin enjoyed raspberry preserves.

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