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.
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.)
20Ten - Prince 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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