Friday, August 7, 2020

"Heavenly Angels Crying" - Why Prince is a Beast at Vocal Arrangement - Pt. 1

"Every voice that he's adding is a different character he made up in his head." - Chuck Zwicky, engineer

*Photo by Scott Woods 
Painting by Lisa McLymont

It would have been enough to be a keyboard wiz. It would have been enough to be a guitar god. It would have been enough to be a falsetto king. However, Prince was also a master at vocal arrangements, putting effort and creativity into even some of his most basic tracks. We need to talk about this more. The list below is a starting guide to Prince's brilliance in this area. 

Notable Tracks (Ranked)

13) "Planet Earth" - It's a slow burn and not made for heavy rotation, but once you make it through, you'll be blessed with some vocal gems and a soaring guitar solo. 

Best Part: 2:40-3:21

12) "Last December" - Sometimes, Prince will tease a vocal arrangement that you wish would go on forever. I would've loved to see him stand onstage with a group of backup vocalists, just singing his heart out a cappella. If anyone has this footage, hit the "contact me" button on this website. 

Best Part: 7:03-7:30 

11) "The Sacrifice of Victor" - Speaking of short bursts of inspiration, the "Amen" coda is everything. 

Best Part: 5:26-5:32

10) "An Honest Man" - This has never been my jam, but I have to admit the harmonies are impressive.

Best Part: 0:00-0:43

9) "For You" - I love that the first song on Prince's first album has these beautiful, stacked harmonies; it lets you know this was a talent and interest he had from the beginning, and we should pay more attention to that. 

Best Part: 0:04-0:47

8) "Tamborine" - I often forget how quirky and cool Prince's harmonies are on this because I'm too busy air drumming and doing the screaming part. 

Best Part: 1:55-2:10 

7) "7" - Prince's mastery of unique, stacked vocals is only matched by his mastery of apocalyptic messaging. 

Best Part: 0:00-0:35

6) "Condition of the Heart" - A brilliant, odd, interesting Prince classic. Sometimes, he hits a note that takes your breath away. Clara Bow would agree. 

Best Part: 5:07-5:25

5) "Thunder" - Even fans who are really hard on the Diamonds and Pearls album have to admit this song is inventive and dope. We're also seeing a pattern of amazing a cappella openings, aren't we? 

Best Part: 3:00-3:24

4) "And God Created Woman" - Some of Prince's strongest songwriting, from the Biblical subversion to the musical arrangement to the vocals. 

Best Part: 1:33-1:53

3) "Come" - Very underrated in terms of music, meaning and vocal arranging. 

Best Part: 10:20-10:30 

2) "Gold" - That can't-get-out-of-your-car-til-the-song-is-over, tears-stinging-your-eyes brilliance. 

Best Part: 6:05-7:23

1) "Adore" - How did he hear all of this in his head? 

Best Part: 2:18-3:02; 5:45-6:31 

*Check out the Spotify playlist here

Notable Albums

Elixir - This might be his best work as a writer and producer on a female protégé's album. Is Bria Valente the strongest singer? No. But I truly believe her voice was a good match for Prince's vision, and she conveyed his vocal arrangements really well. 
(You may @ me.) 

20TenPrince made an excellent choice hiring Shelby J., Liv Warfield and Elisa Fiorillo Dease to do background vocals. As Fiorillo Dease said, they were his "angels."

Notable Live Material

"Dark" - Speaking of the trio of women on 20Ten, there's a rehearsal featuring their harmonies on this song. Beautiful. 

"Now" - Prince was smart to isolate the background vocals during "The Ultimate Live Experience" tour. If he didn't emphasize that vocal arrangement, I never would have heard it buried on the recording. He should've opened or closed the track with that alone. 

"The Second Coming" - If you want to attempt to make the return of Jesus Christ compelling for your listeners, this is the way to do it. 

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1 comment:

  1. God gives everyone a gift, but if you truly understand that your gift is to give of yourself, the talents you possess will be incomparable! Prince was blessed and took that blessing and increased his understanding of maximizing all his efforts to give his talents to this world! We all have the ability to inspire with the gifts we have been given! It starts with knowing your TRUTH and believing it yourself! God bless your journey, Erica! ~ Daryl