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Backing vocalists or backup singers are singers who provide vocal harmony with the lead vocalist or other backing vocalists. In some cases, a backing vocalist may sing alone as a lead-in to the main vocalist's entry or to sing a counter-melody. Backing vocalists are used in a broad range of popular music, traditional music and world music styles.
Vocal harmony is a style of vocal music in which a consonant note or notes are simultaneously sung as a main melody in a predominantly homophonic texture. Vocal harmonies are used in many subgenres of European art music, including Classical choral music and opera and in the popular styles from many Western cultures ranging from folk songs and musical theater pieces to rock ballads. In the simplest style of vocal harmony, the main vocal melody is supported by a single backup vocal line, either at a pitch which is above or below the main vocal line, often in thirds or sixths which fit in with the chord progression used in the song. In more complex vocal harmony arrangements, different backup singers may sing two or even three other notes at the same time as each of the main melody notes, mostly with consonant, pleasing-sounding thirds, sixths, and fifths.
The lead vocalist in popular music is typically the member of a group or band whose voice is the most prominent in a performance where multiple voices may be heard. The lead singer either leads the vocal ensemble, or sets against the ensemble as the dominant sound. In vocal group performances, notably in soul and gospel music, and early rock and roll, the lead singer takes the main vocal part, with a chorus provided by other band members as backing vocalists.
In music, a counter-melody is a sequence of notes, perceived as a melody, written to be played simultaneously with a more prominent lead melody. In other words, it is a secondary melody played in counterpoint with the primary melody. A counter-melody performs a subordinate role, and it is typically heard in a texture consisting of a melody plus accompaniment.
Solo artists may employ professional backing vocalists in studio recording sessions as well as during concerts. In many rock and metal bands (e.g., the power trio), the musicians doing backing vocals also play instruments, such as guitar, electric bass, drums, or keyboards. In Latin or Afro-Cuban groups, backing singers may play percussion instruments or shakers while singing. In some pop and hip-hop groups and in musical theater, the backing singers may be required to perform elaborately choreographed dance routines while they sing through headset microphones.
Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily from the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly from a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.
Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom. With roots in blues rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. The genre's lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.
A power trio is a rock and roll band format having a lineup of electric guitar, bass guitar and drum kit, leaving out the second rhythm guitar or keyboard instrument that are used in other rock music bands that are quartets and quintets. Larger rock bands use one or more additional rhythm section to fill out the sound with chords and harmony parts.
The style of singing used by backing singers varies according to the type of song and the genre of music the band plays. In pop and country songs, backing vocalists may perform vocal harmony parts to support the lead vocalist. In hardcore punk or rockabilly, other band members who play instruments may sing or shout backing vocals during the chorus (refrain) section of the songs.
Alternative terms for backing vocalists include backing singers, backing vocals, additional vocals or, particularly in the United States and Canada, backup singers or sometimes background singers or harmony vocalists.
While some bands use performers whose sole on-stage role is performing backing vocals, it is common for backing singers to have other roles. Two notable examples of band members who sang back-up are The Beach Boys and The Beatles. The Beach Boys were well known for their close vocal harmonies, occasionally with all five members singing at once such as "In My Room" and "Surfer Girl". All five members would sing lead, although most often Brian Wilson or Mike Love would sing lead with guitarists Carl Wilson and Al Jardine and drummer Dennis Wilson singing background harmonies.
The Beach Boys are an American rock band formed in Hawthorne, California in 1961. The group's original lineup consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine. Distinguished by their vocal harmonies and early surf songs, they are one of the most influential acts of the rock era. The band drew on the music of jazz-based vocal groups, 1950s rock and roll, and black R&B to create their unique sound, and with Brian as composer, arranger, producer, and de facto leader, they often incorporated classical elements and unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways.
The Beatles were an English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. With a line-up comprising John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they are regarded as the most influential band of all time. The group were integral to the evolution of pop music into an art form and to the development of the counterculture of the 1960s. Their sound, rooted in skiffle, beat and 1950s rock and roll, incorporated elements of classical music and traditional pop in innovative ways. They also pioneered recording techniques and explored music styles ranging from ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock. As they continued to draw influences from a variety of cultural sources, their musical and lyrical sophistication grew, and they came to be seen as embodying the era's socio-cultural movements.
"In My Room" is a song written by Brian Wilson and Gary Usher for the American rock band The Beach Boys. It was released on their 1963 album Surfer Girl. It was also released as the B-side of the "Be True to Your School" single. The single peaked at number 23 in the U.S. and was eventually inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. "In My Room" was ranked number 212 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The Beatles were also known for their close style of vocal harmonies[ opinion ] – all Beatles members sang both lead and backing vocals at some point, especially John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who frequently supported each other with harmonies, often with fellow Beatle George Harrison joining in. Ringo Starr, while not as prominent in the role of backing singer as his three bandmates due to his distinctive voice, can be heard singing backing vocals in such tracks as "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and "Carry That Weight". Examples of three-part harmonies by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison include "Nowhere Man", "Because", "Day Tripper", and "This Boy". The members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Bee Gees all each wrote songs and sang back-up or lead vocals and played various instruments on their albums and various collaborations with each other.
John Winston Ono Lennon was an English singer, songwriter and peace activist who gained worldwide fame as the founder, co-lead vocalist, and rhythm guitarist of the Beatles. His songwriting partnership with Paul McCartney remains the most successful in history. In 1969, he started the Plastic Ono Band with his second wife, Yoko Ono. After the Beatles disbanded in 1970, Lennon continued as a solo artist.
Sir James Paul McCartney is an English singer, songwriter, musician, composer, and record and film producer who gained worldwide fame as co-lead vocalist and bassist for the Beatles. His songwriting partnership with John Lennon remains the most successful in history. After the group disbanded in 1970, he pursued a successful solo career and formed the band Wings with his first wife, Linda, and Denny Laine.
George Harrison was an English musician, singer-songwriter, and music and film producer who achieved international fame as the lead guitarist of the Beatles. Sometimes called "the quiet Beatle", Harrison embraced Indian culture and helped broaden the scope of popular music through his incorporation of Indian instrumentation and Hindu-aligned spirituality in the Beatles' work. Although the majority of the band's songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, most Beatles albums from 1965 onwards contained at least two Harrison compositions. His songs for the group included "Taxman", "Within You Without You", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something".
Former guitarist John Frusciante and current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing nearly all backing vocals (few songs were recorded without backing vocals), often singing some parts without accompaniment from lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis. The band's bassist Flea occasionally filled in for additional vocals. Frusciante usually sang one song by himself during concerts. Another example is "No Frontiers" by The Corrs, which is sung by Sharon and Caroline.
A guitarist is a person who plays the guitar. Guitarists may play a variety of guitar family instruments such as classical guitars, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and bass guitars. Some guitarists accompany themselves on the guitar by singing or playing the harmonica.
John Anthony Frusciante is an American guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, and producer. He is best known as the former guitarist of the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, from 1988 until 1992 and from 1998 until 2009. He recorded five studio albums with them.
Josh Adam Klinghoffer is an American musician best known as the current guitarist for the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, with whom he has recorded two studio albums, I'm with You (2011) and The Getaway (2016), and the b-sides compilation, I'm Beside You (2013). Klinghoffer took the place of his friend and frequent collaborator John Frusciante in 2009, after a period as a touring member. Klinghoffer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2012, becoming the Hall of Fame's youngest-ever living inductee at age 32, passing Stevie Wonder, who was 38 when he was inducted.
Other backing vocalists include rhythm guitarist Sebastien Lefebvre & bass guitarist David Desrosiers of pop punk band Simple Plan, guitarist John Petrucci of Dream Theater, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett & bass guitarist Robert Trujillo of Metallica, and guitarists Zacky Vengeance & Synyster Gates of heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold.
Pop punk is a genre of rock music that combines influences of pop music with punk rock. Fast tempos, prominent electric guitars with distortion, and power chord changes are typically played under pop-influenced melodies and vocal styles with lighthearted lyrical themes including boredom, rebellion and teenage romance.
Simple Plan is a Canadian rock band from Montreal, Quebec. Members are Pierre Bouvier, Jeff Stinco, Sébastien Lefebvre, David Desrosiers and Chuck Comeau. The band has released five studio albums: No Pads, No Helmets...Just Balls (2002), Still Not Getting Any... (2004), Simple Plan (2008), Get Your Heart On! (2011), and Taking One for the Team (2016). The band has also released an EP titled Get Your Heart On – The Second Coming! (2013), in addition to two live albums: Live in Japan 2002 (2003) and MTV Hard Rock Live (2005).
John Peter Petrucci is an American guitarist, composer and producer. He is best known as a founding member of the progressive metal band Dream Theater. With his former bandmate Mike Portnoy, he produced all Dream Theater albums from 1999's Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory to 2019's Distance Over Time. He has been the sole producer of the band's albums released since Portnoy's departure in 2010. Petrucci was named as the third player on the G3 tour seven times, more than any other invited guitarist. Joel McIver's 2009 book The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists ranks Petrucci second, after Dave Mustaine. He was also named as one of the "Top 10 Greatest Guitar Shredders of All Time" by GuitarOne magazine. In 2012, Petrucci was ranked the 17th greatest guitarist of all time by a Guitar World magazine reader's poll.
In the recording studio, some lead singers record their own backing vocals by overdubbing with a multitrack recording system. A multitrack recording system enables the record producer to add many layers of recordings over top of each other. Using a multitrack system, a lead vocalist can record his or her own backing vocals, and then record the lead vocal part over top. Some lead vocalists prefer this approach because the sound of their own harmonies will blend well with their main vocal.
One famous example is Freddie Mercury of Queen singing the first part of "Bohemian Rhapsody" himself by overdubbing.Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, Tom DeLonge of Angels and Airwaves, Wednesday 13 in his own band and Murderdolls, Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran and Brad Delp of Boston also recorded lead and backing vocals for their albums.
With the exception of a few songs on each album, Dan Fogelberg, Eddie Rabbitt, David Bowie and Richard Marx sing all of the background vocals for their songs. Robert Smith of the Cure not only sings his own backing vocals in the studio, but also doesn't perform with backing vocalists when playing live.
Many metalcore and some post-hardcore bands, such as As I Lay Dying, Alexisonfire, Haste the Day and Silverstein feature a main vocalist who performs using harsh vocals, whilst the backing vocalist sings harmonies (clean vocals) during choruses to create a contrast. Some bands, such as Hawthorne Heights and Finch have the backing singers do harsh vocals to highlight specific lyrics.
Pop and R&B vocalists such as Diana Ross, Ariana Grande, Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Prince, Beyoncé Knowles, Brandy, Faith Evans, D'Angelo, Mary J. Blige and Amerie have become known specifically for not only recording their own backing vocals, but for arranging their own multi-tracked vocals and even developing highly complex harmonies and arrangements. When they perform live, they may have backing vocalists who impersonate their voices.
Some bands use backing vocals in order to contrast with the lead singer who may be performing an unusual vocal technique. For example, Brian "Head" Welch, the lead guitarist of the band Korn, performed backing vocals on several songs, and notably on the song "Ball Tongue", he screams the chorus while lead vocalist Jonathan Davis sings incomprehensible scat vocals. Similarly, the Canadian deathcore group Despised Icon uses two vocalists, one performing screams and another performing low, growling death grunts who alternate, and sometimes sing in unison to highlight certain lyrics. In rap music, a background rapper who chants and rhymes to support the main artist is often referred to as hype man.
Working as a backing singer can give a vocalist the onstage experience and vocal training they need to develop into a lead vocalist. A number of lead vocalists such as Ace Frehley, Richard Marx, Mariah Carey, Cher, Gwen Stefani, Pink, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, Sheryl Crow, Trisha Yearwood, Dave Grohl, Jerry Only, Jerry Cantrell, Jason Newsted, Dee Dee Ramone and Elton John, learned their craft as backing singers, or singing backing vocals as part of a choir.[ citation needed ]
Notable uncredited background vocals appear in the following songs:
"With a Little Help from My Friends" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, and intended as the album's featured vocal for drummer Ringo Starr.
The Fourmost are an English Merseybeat band that recorded in the 1960s. Their biggest UK hit single was "A Little Loving" in 1964.
"And Your Bird Can Sing" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles. It was released on their 1966 album Revolver, apart from in the United States and Canada, where it instead appeared on Yesterday and Today. The song was written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney. Paul McCartney stated that he helped on the lyrics and attributed the song "80–20" to Lennon. The working title was "You Don't Get Me". The song is notable for its extended dual-guitar melody, played by George Harrison and Paul McCartney. Lennon was later dismissive of the track, as he was of many of his compositions at the time, referring to it as "another of my throwaways ... fancy paper around an empty box".
Timothy Bruce Schmit is an American musician, singer, and songwriter. He has performed as the bassist and vocalist for Poco and the Eagles, having replaced bassist and vocalist Randy Meisner in both cases. Schmit has also worked for decades as a session musician and solo artist. In 1998, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Eagles.
"Come Together" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, written primarily by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney. The song is the opening track on their 1969 album Abbey Road and was also released as a single coupled with "Something". The song reached the top of the charts in the United States and peaked at No. 4 in the United Kingdom.
"I'm So Tired" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1968 double album The Beatles. It was written and sung by John Lennon, though credited to Lennon–McCartney. The song was recorded in the same session as another White Album song, "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill".
"You're Going to Lose That Girl" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1965 album and film Help!, written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Capitol Records originally titled the song "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" in the United States.
"Mr. Moonlight" is a song written by Roy Lee Johnson, best known for being covered by the Beatles on the 1964 albums Beatles for Sale in the United Kingdom and Beatles '65 in the United States.
"Words of Love" is a song written by Buddy Holly.
"If I Fell" is a song by English rock band the Beatles which first appeared in 1964 on the album A Hard Day's Night in the United Kingdom and United States, and on the North American album Something New. It was credited to Lennon–McCartney, but John Lennon often stated that he wrote it. "That's my first attempt at a ballad proper. ... It shows that I wrote sentimental love ballads way back when", Lennon stated in his 1980 Playboy interview. However, Paul McCartney stated that he contributed to the song: "We wrote 'If I Fell" together."
"Chains" is a song composed by the husband-and-wife songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King and originally recorded by the Everly Brothers. In 1962 it was a hit for Little Eva’s backing singers, the Cookies, and later covered by English rock group the Beatles.
"Do You Want to Know a Secret" is a song by English rock group the Beatles from their 1963 album Please Please Me, sung by George Harrison. In the United States, it was the first top ten song to feature Harrison as a lead singer, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard chart in 1964 as a single released by Vee-Jay, VJ 587.
"Good Night" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, composed by John Lennon, but credited to Lennon–McCartney. It is sung by Ringo Starr, the only Beatle to appear on the track. The music was provided by an orchestra arranged and conducted by George Martin. It is the last song on their 1968 double album The Beatles.
"Don't Let Me Down" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, recorded in 1969 during the Let It Be sessions. It was written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney. The band recorded the song with Billy Preston; the single release with "Get Back" was credited to "the Beatles with Billy Preston."
"Come and Get It" is a song composed by Paul McCartney for the 1969 film The Magic Christian. The song was performed by Badfinger, produced by McCartney and issued as a single 5 December 1969 in the UK, and 12 January 1970 in the US, on the Beatles' Apple label. It was the band's first release under the Badfinger name and was their international breakthrough, hitting the top 10 in both the UK and US charts.
"Boys" is a song by Luther Dixon and Wes Farrell, originally performed by the Shirelles and released as the B-side of their "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" single in November 1960. It was recorded more than two years later by the Beatles and included on their first album released in the United Kingdom, Please Please Me (1963).
"Crying, Waiting, Hoping" is a song written by Buddy Holly. It was released in 1959 as the B-side to "Peggy Sue Got Married". Three versions of Holly's recording were released: the 1959 commercial release, the 1964 reissue with different orchestration, and Holly's original, private home recording.
"Girlfriend" is a song by English rock band Wings, from their 1978 album London Town. It was written by Wings frontman Paul McCartney, who originally intended it to be sung by Michael Jackson. Jackson covered the song the following year on his 1979 album Off the Wall, and in 1980 it was released as the 5th and final single of that album.
Kelly Keeling is an American musician and songwriter. Keeling started playing at the age of 14 and first appeared on the music scene as the lead singer of the American heavy metal band Baton Rouge. In his career, he worked with many major hard rock acts, wrote movie soundtracks and played also with Christian rock bands.
"Must Do Something About It" is a song credited to Paul and Linda McCartney that first appeared on the Wings 1976 album Wings at the Speed of Sound.
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