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I’ve Got Your Back

January 15, 2010

My top five favorite back up singers. (in no particular order)

1. Marcy Levy here holding her own against Slowhand’s geetar.

“The Core” has long been one of my favorite I wish I could sing like that chick songs. Levy’s vocals are so completely delicious. It’s always interesting to me that folks often attribute her vocal efforts to Yvonne Elliman and vice versa, when they have completely different vocal styles. Yvonne Elliman vocals evoke more of a Vicki Sue Robinson or Taste of Honey vibe. Levy – who would later become 1/2 half of Shakespear’s Sister, while performing under the name Marcella Detroit – evokes Ronnie Spector/Darlene Love meets Tina Turner vibe.

2. The incomparable Miss Helen Terry

Fortunately, I was living on the blissful isle of Crete when Culture Club took the world by storm, thus missing out on 94% of the homophobia, racism and the fatophobia (directed at Terry) accompanying the arrival of Culture Club stateside. My mom scored the album for me I would lay/lie on the cool Greek marble floor listening to Helen Terry’s vocals and wishing I could sound EXACTLY like that. Her voice gave me chills, especially on “Church of the Poison Mind” and “Black Money”. Terry is like the love child of Kiki Dee, Dusty Springfield and Martha Wash. It’s really a shame she wasn’t more popular. Fucking sizeism.

3. Luther

We all know Luther was and will all be the man. And you don’t have to be middle aged professional black woman rocking a Condi cut and Talbot slacks to get down on some Luther (though it often helps). During my goth years (1987 – 1993) I listened to tons of Bowie, particularly Young Americans, which should clearly demonstrate I wasn’t really that great of a goth. Oh sure, I could shadow dance with the best of them to an array of craptastic gothie bands, but I mostly into Bowie. And in particular his blue eyed soul period. During this period the other album (oh yes, vinyl) I played smooth was the soundtrack to The Wiz. Luther was on that too. After more sleuthing I realized the Luther of The Wiz was the Luther holding down the fort on Young Americans and in my opinion, YA sounds exactly like a mid tempo Luther cut, like you might find on The Night I Fell In Love or Give Me The Reason.

4. Yvonne Elliman

Like many folks I discovered Lady Yvonne through her disco hit If I Can’t Have You. Before there was wiki and google, one had to perform a lot of shoe leather detective work to find out more about their favorite vocalists. A quick trip to the family record collection yielded a bumper crop of Ms. Elliman’s work, including: Jesus Christ, Superstar and her back up work with Eric Clapton.

5. Martha “I was the real vocals behind Black Box” Wash

Like Terry, Miss Martha has taken a lot of shit for size and I definitely feel it has kept her from attaining the kind of global fame she truly deserves. One of the most recognizable voices in music, I’m not exactly sure how Black Box thought they were going to fool us into thinking the pretty model featured in all their videos somehow possessed a voice, which sounded uncannily like Ms. Wash’s. Wash is a gorgeous woman, evident by the back cover of her It’s Raining Men album where she takes her fabulous Norma Kamali outfits to SCHOOL.

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Honorable Mentions:

Val Young on “To Live and Die in LA”

Lorraine Crosby on “I Would Do Anything For Love”

Rosie Gaines on “Gett Off”

Pepsi and Shirley backing up Wham

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2010 11:12 am

    I’m always impressed by your research skills. Growing up, my family record collection was pretty slender, so I studied the jackets of the LPs there, including the White Album and Jesus Christ Superstar, which is where I fell in love with Yvonne Elliman’s voice. I never realized she was the backup on Lay Down Sally, though.

  2. January 16, 2010 2:16 pm

    Well it was tricky with Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy. Let’s putting this way, it definitely helps to be well acquainted with 70s era Clapton catalog.

  3. Jerome permalink
    January 24, 2010 8:29 pm

    May I nominate Lisa Fischer for inclusion on this list? She has a sweeping, fabulous voice and even managed her own #11ish (IIRC) Hot 100 hit, “How Can I Ease The Pain” circa 1991, but her lone album sold poorly (although it did produce another U.S. R&B Top 10, “Save Me”) and she went promptly back to backup work. I saw her most recently doing backup for Tina Turner on tour.

    The ridiculous thing about Martha Wash is that the same thing happened to her TWICE, the other offenders being C+C Music Factory.

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