Spill Challenge Vol 2, Number 8: Backing A Winner

Usual rules.

You know. That really great song where the song is made (or salvaged) by the backing track. It could be a great

a) guest vocalist(s)

b) backing singers

c) backing musicians

d) unusual instrumentation

Over to you!

And a volunteer for next week, please.

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129 thoughts on “Spill Challenge Vol 2, Number 8: Backing A Winner

    • According to wiki the bass man was Ronnie Bright

      Bright has been the bass singer for doo wop groups The Valentines, The Cadillacs, The Deep River Boys, and The Coasters. He has done session work for artists such as Barry Mann, Jackie Wilson, Peter Gabriel, and Johnny Cymbal. His most recognizable vocals are from Johnny Cymbal’s 1963 hit song “Mr. Bass Man.”

      • Great info SR.
        Some time ago (was it before you joined RR ?), there was a “La, La La” subject. I suspect most of the noms here might recall some of those noms.
        For me most of the better ones are probably from the 50’s and 60’s.
        “He’s So Fine” Do Lang, Do lang, Do Lang.
        “Baby it’s You” Sha-La- La- La- La.
        And they never should have renamed it…………….
        It’s in His Kiss Shoop, Shoop.

      • Ronnie Bright was indeed the Bass Man and he was with the Valentines. He wasn’t ever a member of the Cadillacs, or, The Coasters – at least not whilst they were a hit making outfit. After about 1965, however, there were at least 8 groups touring as The Coasters and he may have been in one of those.
        Don’t know about the Deep River Boys. I only know they made truly awful covers of “Rock Around The Clock”, “All Shook Up” and “Whole Lotta Shakin'”

  1. I’m finding this hard, either because I can’t really imagine a song without the backing that I’m used to, or because some songs are great anyway…But would this be as good without the distinctive keyboard sound – even though it’s so simple?

    She’s About A Mover by the Sir Douglas Quintet

    Amusingly, wiki says that Sir Doug “chose the group’s name in an effort to make the band seem British to benefit from the British invasion. This image had its problems, particularly Sahm’s Texas accent and that two fifths of the band were Hispanic. Some early publicity photos were shot in silhouette to hide this fact.”

    Tee hee.

    • Well, one of the YouTube commenters agrees with me anyway: “Thank god 4 the Vox Continental because without it this song would not be possible.” [all caps]

  2. I’m finding this hard too. My first thought was Zappa’s Cheepnis – with great backing vocals and a nice bit of axework in the middle. But it still doesn’t bail out the song for me! So i’ll be lazy for the moment and post this one.

  3. Sorry, if it seems like a hard topic. (I have a 50p bet with myself on what Sakura might post already). Here’s something that I have already been thinking of that might get the creative juices flowing. It’s a fine song (so fine) and George did his own backing vocals. The song wouldn’t have been anything like as good without the backing track.

  4. In fact the first one I thought of when I saw the challenge was one I’d posted recently, on your Buddy Holly thread, so I thought, well, I won’t post that one again…But I changed my mind!

    Waiting For Tonight only had TP and Mike Campbell, the Heartbreakers’ guitarist, playing on it originally but TP thought it could do with something a bit different so he invited the Bangles to come in and put on some harmony vocals. He didn’t tell them what to sing, and it turned out rather interesting, because you’ve got the man in the song all anxious, fretful and uncertain (and TP is doing his best tortured vocal), while what the women are singing about is the next stage but one in the story, when everything has been resolved

    Goodnight, my love
    Sleep tight, my love

    and it adds an extra dimension, which is also very sweet.

    So on the whole, although (as is well known) there are no girls in the Heartbreakers, this is not strictly speaking a Heartbreakers song, and I approve.

    Waiting For Tonight by Tom Petty feat the Bangles

    • Good analysis, TFD. I hadn’t thought of the two steps ahead scenario, to be honest. The angst is there in the main vocal, and the backing is much sunnier and almost indulgent. Great example.

  5. I’m not sure I quite understand the challenge (how is a great vocalist the backing track?), but I always felt the backing did most of the legwork on this track given that: a) Barney was never the greatest vocalist; and b) half the melody is on one night. Here’s New Order with “True Faith”:

    Their best video too.

  6. Elvis Presley’s most famous backing singers were The Jordanaires but I don’t know if they were on what for me is Presley’s finest moment – long after the great rock and roll years, long after the ‘lost’ years in Hollywood and perhaps the culmination of those great recordings made between 1968 and 1972: An American Trilogy. It could be The Sweet Inspiration. I dunno, every time I hear this it sends chills down my spine and in the backing vocals there is something so incredibly powerful and sympathetic – the kind of soul music that can never be quenched.

    • Stardust – this is not bad at all, but can I share some song history that you may not know of?

      This particular song – a gospelized version of Dixie (originally a “blackface” minstrel song and a banner song of the Confederate Army in the Civil War) feels (for me) sort of insulting to those who were descended from the slaves who developed what we know as gospel music. Not only that, Elvis has almost (not quite) turned this into a showtune. I don’t know if people were offended, or not. It seems tactless.

      I am in no way criticizing you, or your song choice here. Hope my comments are okay with you?

      • Am becoming impressed with the depths of your knowledge. Don’t let it go to your head. I’m a ‘what have you researched for us lately’ kind of guy.

      • Hi Spotted Richard,

        Your insights into the history of this song are appreciated. No, I wasn’t fully aware of the racial and cultural roots of the song. Forgive my ignorance, but I just saw it as an inspiring American song per se, one that while strongly rooted in the South nevertheless somehow evoked the unification that Lincoln had by all accounts striven for. I chose it for the rubric obviously but also for the inspirational qualities of the song and its place in Elvis’ ouvre – that part of him in the core of his being that I don’t feel was exclusively ‘white’ in his musical heritage. I respect your sensitive objectivity on this issue but still feel that you’ve been a little pedantic in your criticism. Songs, great songs certainly, evolve and change their hue with the passing of time. America has changed since slavery, the Civil War and the dissolution of the South. What I love about America is the way a great song like this can take on the mantle of a national anthem (whilst at the same time being a great showtune) while in Britain we’re stuck with an anthem that in my opinion at least is old and staid. I admire Presley for what he did in this song and I suspect a lot of Americans do too – of all cultures and creeds.

  7. What a sad loss it was when Kirsty was killed. Not only her lead voice but the wonderful, often surprising, backing choir of Kirstys disappeared.

    This would be so much less without that choir:

  8. OK, without funk brothers there wouldn’t have been that Motown sound and without James Jamerson there would not have been any funk brothers as can be heard here in fine form making The Supremes sound ‘nasty’ :

  9. Hmmm. Always wanted to be a doo wop lady. Initial thoughts are Peter Gabriel and Paula Cole (she is fabulous) e.g. on “Talk to Me”: Not sure if it qualifies as backing, though.

    Otherwise – the female backing singers on “Comfortably Numb” (Floyd)
    Eminem – “Stan” (ft Dido)
    Damian Rice and Lisa Hannigan – Volcano

  10. Glady Night and the PIPs – Midnight Train to Georgia

    My dad (The Old Hipster as Mr P calls him) is a great fan of soul and Motown and this is one of his favourites and he loves Gladys Night and the PIPs and would always sing The PIPs parts and sometimes to make us laugh he would mimic their dance moves!!!

    The Pips were great vocalists and they really make this song special for me. I think their vocal parts coming to emphasis the lyrics is simply wonderful.

    Actually I have a funny story about this song. Maybe I already told you, so if I did I am sorry ! ! ! My dad was an engineer on ships and was away for long periods of time when me and my sister were kids. But when he came home it was always like the biggest deal ever as we all missed him so much and were always so happy to have him home.

    So, one time my sister and I learnt the words and dance moves for The Pips part in this song and we practiced it really hard with my mum from a VHS recording so we could give my dad a performance when he came home. So when he came home we gave him the performance before we went to bed. I remember actually how excited we were and how difficult it was to keep the secret until we gave the performance ! ! ! It must have been very funny to see two little Japanese elementary school girls doing it ! ! ! But dad said he liked it very much and we were very happy and proud that he praised us. Actually my sister and I still make the gesture of pulling the train whistle and making “whoa whoa” sound when we make an insider joke ! ! !

    I do not think this is the exact performance we copied, I but I am sure you will get the idea ! ! !

    PS: I am working away from home now and will not be back home until 8th March so I will not be around so much for a little while.

    Glady Night and the PIPs – Midnight Train to Georgia

    I hope you like it ! ! !

      • I did not want to disappoint you and you to lose your bet so I just posted a Stereopony track for you ! !!

    • Choosing the Pips was an inspired choice. I too love the choreography, timing and counterpoint of those wonderful Motown groups of the 60s: The Four Tops, The Supremes etc. But I always thought The Pips were unique, Perhaps it was their lightness of touch in contrast to the deeply-wrought emotion of Gladys Knight, and their impeccable timing. I remember being given the LP from which Midnight Train To Georgia is taken – ‘Imagination’ on my birthday as a stripling youth. That distinctive front cover and the exquisitely crafted tracks therein. Still have that vinyl copy with time only enhancing my appreciation of Gladys Knight and her lustrous Pips..

    • God I love the internet. Sakura not only has picked a totally ace example but it reminded me of this video from Solid Gold & low & behold it’s available. This was 1981 and Gladys & the Pips had likely performed Midnight Train 1000s of times by then. Still just the addition of Dionne Warwick gave the song just enough edge to make it sound brand new again. Watch the Pips ’cause they are really enjoying themselves. This is why live is best.

      • Didn’t realize that The Pips were pretty much kinfolk and that they stayed together all that time, didn’t fight, didn’t kill each other and still managed to have fun singing that song all those years.

  11. Paul MacCartney played lead carrot on a version of this song ( there are several versions out there so I’m not sure if it’s actually this one). He dropped into see the sessions and was offered the chance to crunch along.
    Longtime favourite track of long time favourite unreleased record ( until recently).

  12. I hope you don’t mind another one from me. A few years ago I came across one of those lists of what was purportedly the great ‘lost’ albums. I think Nick Drake’s Bryter Later came out on top but one that I decided to explore was Gene Clarke’s ‘No Other’ Clarke gained prominence through his work with The Byrds but never found the same degree of success as a solo artist. This track, ‘Strength of Strings’, contains some amazing backing vocals that elevate the song to another level.

  13. Actually that reminds me of a tale.
    I used to live, as a child, in a house. On a street. And in the house opposite lived a family of Irish folks. We were on very good terms, especially with the younger girls and played together a lot.
    One of their older brothers was a bit of a wild one, always in trouble and would never do as he was told, his mum used to fret a lot about him.
    Anyway, by the time he was grown up he had “dropped out” and was, if I recall correctly, working on building sites etc.
    Imagine our surprise when we discovered, from his sisters, that he had joined a band.
    No ordinary band. For this was a band that made their instruments entirely out of vegetables and our chum was playing “lead carrot”.
    They even appeared on the region television show and , I think, made a record.
    You may think this is hard to believe but to this day there are bands who follow this path.

    I’ve no idea what happened to our friends, we moved away when I was 11 and never saw them again.I’d like to think that somewhere a 60 year old Irish man is still puffing away at his carrot.

  14. Eleanoora Rosenholm – Kolo

    this is brilliant – the backing is just fantastic – she has a wonderful voice – but I have no idea what on earth she is on about.

    But listen out at about 4 and a half minutes when the uummm?

    what sounds like a male voice choir start doing a haka .. now that might sound odd – but it is so perfect – it’s inspired (where the hot air collects in a cathedral)

    original and gripping – love it.

      • Yes, but I certainly didn’t click on that. At least we now know how to get posts to appear at the bottom of the page – reply to the person who last posted – and, interestingly, it did appear in my notifications that you had replied to my comment, even though it doesn’t look like that on the page.

        Has this got anything to do with the mention of spam above?

      • Well I replied to Pairubu’s ‘cryptic’ post and Amy’s ‘dond’ was already there and sadly not an effervescent effusion in support of my frontless backing band.

    • And a somewhat cryptic bit of thematic parallel parking from me. Van Der Graaf Generator were/are always sonically distinct and ever distinguished by Peter Hammill’s keening/roaring/pleading/urgent voice. Somehow, from messing about at soundchecks they ended up recording their nearest thing to a hit single, a cover of George Martin’s theme for the launch of Radio One . . . and their songwriter, singer, frontman had to thrash wordlessly round at the back of the stage when it became a demanded part of their live set

  15. O.K. Can I go with this under the section “Backing Musician” ?

    Although I never liked Michael Jackson the man or his early work (I hate Rocking Robin and A.B.C.), I’ve got to admit that “Thriller” was one of the albums of the 80’s.
    The third single taken from the album was “Beat It”. It was written by Jackson and arranger Quincey Jones wanted a harder sound and asked Eddie Van Halen to do the middle instrumental piece.
    He did it free of charge and because of contract restrictions he was not allowed to appear on any video. It is a tremendous instrumental break.

    • Yes, it certainly makes that song work. There aren’t many MJ songs that I can listen to without a certain amount of discomfort. This is one of them. The squawks and oohs and other vocal tics aren’t quite drowned out, unfortunately, but it helps! The choir as counterpoint to the rock beat is good too.

  16. One of these days I’m going to get round to doing a proper “Emmylou on backing vocals” post – there are many tunes where her contributions lifts the song to new heights.

    I wanted to post Beth Orton’s “God Song”, but YouTube only has a solo version – and you do really miss Emmylou’s harmonies. Here’s a Spotify link, with added Ryan Adams:

    http://open.spotify.com/track/7zb8uYtnH93PYiGTZZP6kO

    • Yup, you’ve opened pandora’s box mentioning Emmylou. Oh wait, pandora’s box was all the evil…well, whatever the opposite of …look, I didn’t come here to get into a debate about Greek mythology, so can I just get on to what I wanted to post?

      Thank you

      [muttered aside] geesh

      This is my favourite Emmylou because she does so little yet what she contributes is absolutely essential. Her greatest gift as a backing vocalist is knowing how much to add. This is a gorgeous song from the 2010 debut by the son of a Muscles Shoals vet.

      • btw barbryn, if you need a kick getting going on an Emmylou post, fintan has also professed his admiration for this so you guys could always pair up.

  17. Wow – this looks like a great set. Looking forward to a listen thru tomorrow. Here’s a song I’ve been wanting to use for sometime. Great vocals & organ from the Boz man but it’s Duane Allman’s guitar licks really make this special. He & Boz just have a great time together. 12:30 of just joy.

    Loan Me A Dime – Boz Scaggs

  18. Hi SpottedRichard – I would hate you to lose your bet ! ! !

    So, If I am allowed a another go then of course I will suggest a
    Stereopony track ! ! !

    Stereopony are a three member girl rock-pop group from my home prefecture of Okinawa and are really great ! ! ! I think in a three piece band there is nowhere to hide and every musician really needs to be very strong. Ami (guitar and vocal)and Nohana (bass and vocal) first met at a rehearsal studio and started to play and write together but they really took a long time to find the right person to play drums for them. Nohana is a really great bass player and arranger and has actually worked with YUI on the How Crazy Your Love album as bass player and arranger, and Ami is also a really great musician and song writer, so they really needed a very good drummer.

    Eventually they found Shiho and she joined the group.

    Shiho is a great drummer and really adds a lot to the overall Stereopony sound and drives the group along really well in the rock numbers but also can play the light sound needed in the more pop tracks. She also shares the backing vocals with the bass player Nohana. She is still very young actually and joned the band when she was 16 and is still only 20. She is really very sweet and emotional actually ! ! ! I saw them at the Girls Factory festival at Zepp Tokyo this year. It was a really strong line up this year with Miwa, and Scandal also playing but WOW ! ! ! They played a fantasic set and really kicked ass ! ! ! and the crowd were really enthusiastic. At the end of the concert when the band came on again to have a bow and say thank you, she was so emotional she was crying and had to be held by Nohana ! ! !

    Here are Stereopony rocking out with Effective Line & Sweet Blue LIVE

    I hope you enjoy it ! ! !

  19. Donds to Midnight Train to Georgia, but for some reason the first song I thought of for backing vocals (okay, the first credible song; the actual first song was that bloody Ronan Keating Life is a Rollercoaster thing with its ‘Hey Baby’s) was this…

    • Ah! Bowie. Not only did he (like others) do much of his backing vocals himself – I don’t hear it on Young Americans, he also seems to have done some experimenting with recording the main vocals on different channels and merging them or running them fractionally or more obviously behind one another – examples being Fame and Suffragette City. Interesting …

  20. I didn’t understand this challenge the first time, so I’m a bit late commenting, but I have to say that, much as I love the singers in Pink Floyd, without the female vocal on this it wouldn’t be quite so remarkable

      • now you’ve got me thinking about this, I’m coming up with loads. The whole of the Tindersticks “Simple Pleasures” album with it’s soulful lady backing singers bringing warmth and beauty to their usual sound (my favourite album of theirs actually) and what about the backing vocals on the Stones “Sympathy for the Devil?”

        However, to return to my old obsession, Blixa Bargeld adds something almost imperceptible, but utterly wonderful to the sound of early Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, his unconventional guitar noises and backwards screams change good into exceptional. For example “The Carny” apparently inspired by Blixa’s guitar which sounded like a dying horse to Nick Cave, or the scary noises in “The Mercy Seat”. I’ll stop now.

  21. I wonder if the weird behaviour of posts today – everything I’ve posted so far should have appeared after TY’s Van Der Greef Generator and amy’s dond – has anything to do with the date…

  22. Has WordPress discovered chaos theory or what? Anyone claiming to actually hold the contiguous thread intact please share whatever pharmaceutical or meditation technique your using.
    I’ve thought of another great take for the challenge though. Maretha Wright was in the studio as part of the backup singers for Dylan’s New Morning sessions when Bob invited her to just add some scat to what he thought was kind of a throw away tune. Glad they did ’cause it is one of my favorite Dylan tunes & sounds like nothing else he’s done. Great piano from Al Kooper on this too.

    If Dogs Run Free – Bob Dylan

  23. This track by Ricky Nelson has one of my favourite guitar solos played by Joe Maphis. Dylan-ologists may recognise the tune as “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

  24. OK, this one ticks a lot of MY boxes…

    – Dick Gaughan singing his signature song
    – Emmylou Harris on harmony vocals
    – an older woman with long grey hair. OK, she’s not that old here, but neither is
    – Jerry Douglas on dobro. OMG he’s so young…
    – my favourite telly programme Transatlantic Sessions

    Both Sides The Tweed by Dick Gaughan with Emmylou Harris

    • Lovely. It’s SUCH a shame about Emmy’s gray hair though – ruins the song! (LOL)

      I wonder why this Challenge is so jacked up posting wise. I wonder if that Spam thing done it.

      • It’s SUCH a shame about Emmy’s gray hair though

        Now you’re being disrespectful to the bigoted.

        What spam was it? I saw the comment but assumed you’d deleted it.

  25. I know this is often played on the radio but the backing vocals remain as inspiring as ever.

    Something Inside So Strong – Labbi Siffre

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