Genre, Subjectivity and Back-up Singing in Rock Music

Authored by: Susan Fast

The Ashgate Research Companion to Popular Musicology

Print publication date:  December  2009
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754664765
eBook ISBN: 9781315613451
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041986


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Something is slightly wrong with this scenario: bluegrass artist Alison Krauss steps up to the microphone to sing her a cappella version of the hymn ‘Down In the River to Pray’ and, behind her, a trio of back-up singers provide soothing harmonies, at first simply vocalizing warm ‘ooohs’ and eventually joining in with the words. The back-up vocalists are men, and the man standing in the middle of the group is rock singer Robert Plant. His characteristic wail has been reduced to a near whisper, and except for the occasional moment of timbral recognition, his voice blends seamlessly with the others. Sonically, he has become like so many back-up singers – anonymous – but, visually, blending is impossible. His imposing physicality (he crouches between the two men in order to match their lesser height), long blonde curls, leather pants, celebrity status and (generically specific) musical history create a kind of fission that jars. 1

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