Listener music critic James Belfield picks the greatest rock and pop tracks with choral trimmings.
1. Another Brick in the Wall (part 2) – Pink Floyd
Nothing sums up the bare concrete inner-city life of a broken Britain quite like the Islington Green School choir belting out “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control” on 1979 album The Wall. Never has a double negative wielded such power.
2. You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Rolling Stones
Doco footage of the Stones conducting the London Bach Choir while recording Mick Jagger’s “doomy ballad about drugs in Chelsea” showed the gulf between the long-haired rockers and the buttoned-up, bespectacled folk of polite 1968 Britain. Legend has it that the choir tried to pull their credits from the Let It Bleed album.
3. O Children – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Cave loves the tension between messianic and devilish imagery, and the soaring gospel choruses that punctuate this eight-minute epic from 2004’s The Lyre of Orpheus help reinforce the religiosity in a song that walks a narrow line between hope and despair.
4. Come Together – Primal Scream
For their ecstatic 1991 album Screamadelica, the British band harnessed gospel’s religious fervour and hurled it headlong onto the debauched dance floors of rave culture. This magnificent, sweaty, 10-plus-minute centrepiece to the album is utter bliss.
5. This Corrosion – Sisters of Mercy
And to prove choirs don’t have to be fun, here’s 11 minutes of glorious goth introspection featuring the 40-voice New York Choral Society sounding like the army of the undead. The bombast was care of Jim Steinman, legendary producer of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.
Vocals by the locals
Australian duo Mama Kin Spender, which is using Kiwi choirs on upcoming its New Zealand tour, picked their own choir-backed favourites:
1. Like A Prayer – Madonna
2. Ultralight Beam – Kanye West
3. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes – Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo
4. B.O.B. – Outkast
5. Young Americans - David Bowie
This article was first published in the February 16, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.