Lately I have been thinking about how much I love the sound of well-sung harmony. When it is done right, it is often difficult to pick out the individual parts, and when it is sung by close relatives with similar vocal chords and other hereditary singing “equipment,” it is even better. In my life I have been lucky enough to have played in bands and actually have gotten plenty of opportunities to sing in harmony. For me, there are few things greater than getting it just right.
I wonder if people who are not particularly musical appreciate good harmony. I suspect they do not, if my discussions with some of my relatively non-musical friends are any indication. I have found that, if while a tune containing harmony is playing, I ask my friends how they like the harmony, they will often respond with a quizzical look and a “Who cares about harmony? I like/don’t like the song.”
Even though there are many who don’t appreciate good harmony, I am quite confidant that most people, except for the rare few who are truly tone deaf, are able to recognize bad harmony (which, after all, is really non-harmony or dissonance). They might not know exactly what is wrong, but they can recognize that something is terribly wrong if one of the singers is hitting a clinker.
Anyway, for what little it’s worth, here are the groups that I think sing first-class harmony. They are in no particular order, and the list is anything but exhaustive. These are just the ones that come to me as I sit here:
The Andrews Sisters
Note: The above four illustrate the point about close relatives doing the best harmony. The Brothers Gibb are probably the only people on the planet with the characteristic “Bee Gees” voice.
The Beach Boys
The Chordettes (Anyone remember them? “Mr. Sandman”)
The Dixie Chicks (Bad politics, great harmony)
Boyz II Men (Don’t care for their material, but they can sing great harmony)
NSYNC (Really don’t care for their material, but they too can sing great harmony)
I know that as soon as I post this I will think of a half dozen more that I should have mentioned.