Ashley Naylor & Steve Pinkerton name their 10 favourite harmonies

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Ashley Naylor & Steve Pinkerton name their 10 favourite harmonies

Ronson Hangup
Words by Mixdown staff

Local legends Steve Pinkerton (The Anyones, Dallas Crane) and Ashley Naylor (Even, The Church, Paul Kelly, RocKwiz, The Grapes, and proud bearer of new solo album 'Soundtracks Vol.2') have recently reconvened their fabulous, guitar psych-pop band (rich with harmonies!) The Ronson Hangup to record and release the new album Centaurus.

Best vocal harmonies

Harmonies are something we can all admire, maybe because there’s such a human element to the way our voices collide and converge when performing them. While in theory we can all create vocal harmonies, some people can definitely do them better than others!

The Ronson Hangup, which also features Dave Mudie (best known as Courtney Barnett’s long-term drummer), bass player Luke Thomas (The Pictures, Central Rain etc) and vocalist Erica Menting who has worked with The Golden Rail, are set to launch the new album this Saturday night December 2 at the Worker’s Club in Fitzroy. Special guests are The Grapes and Nayls & Pinko doing their acoustic duo thing, and to celebrate we’ve asked Nayls & Pinko to come up with some of their favourite harmony-fuelled artists and songs and tell us a bit about them.

As you can see and hear from their chosen tracks and from this newly recorded live Nayles & Pinko duo version of their single “Waxes & Wanes”, theyre part of a great tradition and they’re doing their bit to keep harmonies alive.

1. Everly Brothers

Steve: I remember reading how the Beatles used to watch the Everly Brothers from side of stage in awe at their harmonising, song writing and showbiz abilities. The Beatles looked up to them and were inspired by them which says a lot. I’ve always been fascinated by the pugnacious relationship between Don and Phil. It seemed to start as a shtick but then descended into real vitriol. There’s some footage from Chequers Nightclub (Syd) in the 70’s where Don comments that the reason he and Phil seem to look into each others eyes when singing “All I Have To Do Is Dream” is because he wrote the lyrics on Phil’s forehead. Meanwhile their ability to harmonise was second to none and their voices blended beautifully. 

Ash: I was a massive fan of R.E.M. in the 80’s and they did cover of “Dream” as a B side or on soundtrack to a film called Athens Inside Out – and up until that point I sort of knew the music casually but when one of your favourite bands does a song by an act like The Everly Brothers it throws a fresh spotlight on it and reveals it for what it is –  just beautiful, close harmonies enhanced by the uniqueness of sibling harmonies which are just completely impossible to replicate. It’s unique on so many levels.

2. Simon & Garfunkel

Steve: I think the “Sound of Silence” probably best personifies the harmony brilliance of this duo – and it could have been released in any decade and always have been a worldwide sensation. Paul Simon recently commented that it’s his best work. The breathy, upfront nature of the vocals immediately grab the attention but it’s the melody and harmonies that carry it. The original version was just acoustic – but when it started getting some radio traction Columbia Records felt it would get more international attention if they added a rock backing band. They promptly engaged the musician’s from Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone Sessions and overdubbed them onto the original. The original wasn’t played to a click track so the timing moves around a little – but the result is the same—epic! Paul Simon wrote it when he was 21 which is hard to get your head around. 

Ash: They are a curious duo because Paul Simon is the auteur who could write and sing a brilliant song – but he also knew he had Garfunkel’s incredible voice at his disposal to elevate his songs to another realm!

3. Bee Gees

Steve: I’ve always liked to think the Bee Gees were Australian even if they were in fact ‘10 Pound Poms’ and left our shores pretty quickly to return to the UK. But they did cut their chops in Australia and from their first hit “Spicks & Specks” they defined their harmony-focused blueprint. It’s mind-boggling how many hits they have had – and most with 3 part harmonies. They were a real hit factory – and when their star started to fall in the late 70’s they simply wrote hits for everyone else. The battle between Barry and Robyn for song writing prominence was also a feature of their late 60’s and early 70’s history. 

Ash: What Steve said.

4. The Beatles

Steve: Like so many others, I was inspired to be in a band after hearing the Beatles. I can’t really be objective about the Beatles because my musical axis was defined by them since their songs have been omnipresent my entire life.  They are deep in many people’s musical subconscious.  They still inspire my writing, melodies, and harmonies. 

Ash: The older I get the more I listen to the Beatles harmonies and realize that many of the harmonies that appeal to me are the lower harmonies. My ears traditionally haven’t been trained to hone in on the lower harmony but rather focus on the higher harmony.  Whereas with some of the songs John would sing a lower harmony to Paul, based on the register of their voices, and it became a beautiful feature. In some of the songs for example John’s lower harmony in “Hey Jude” which are little treats from a musician’s perspective and a great device that you can use in your own music.

5. The Byrds

Ash: From my understanding of the Roger McGuinn and the Byrds, the band was born out of the folk scene so the focus of their music was the harmonies – and everything else was kind of arranged around that. For example, the drums and a lot of the instrumentation wasn’t very prominent, aside from Roger McGuinn’s 12-string electric which was a trademark. The production was all about revolving around the harmonies. It’s demonstrated by the fact that for their first single most of the band didn’t play on it as they used session players. The focus was on Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, David Crosby and Roger McGuinn were all naturally gifted singers and their ability to harmonize was such a beautiful asset. 

6. Big Star

Steve: The Ronson Hangup oscillate from 70’s rock to Simon & Garfunkel inspired harmonies so it’s probably not a surprise we like Big Star who fused the Byrds and The Stones. Alex Chilton and Chris Bell’s melodies and harmonies inspired many after them (including The Ronson Hangup) despite their lack of real commercial success. They reformed in the 90’s and Teenage Fanclub, who were unashamed fans and imitators, ended up working with Alex Chilton. Ash toured with Teenage Fanclub in the 90’s at the height of their career and I toured with them a few years ago (with Dallas Crane). Norman Blake (lead singer of Teenage Fanclub) told me that when Alex Chilton died his mother sent Norman his ashes. He didn’t know what to do with them so he put them inside his acoustic guitar – which he was playing.

7. Crosby Stills & Nash

Ash: As we all know Crosby Stills and Nash were born out of the departure of Graham Nash for The Hollies, the departure of David Crosby, from the Byrds – and Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield – so they’d all come out of really popular bands, and found themselves in this unique situation of being put together in a social situation and start singing and  probably have one of those moments where they look at each other and think, holy shit! Each of them was such a strong vocalist in their own right but when they combine their forces they became another band where their harmonies were the focus – and the music was become an accompaniment or support to that harmony. I actually got to witness their brilliance in 1990 as a 20 year old at the Concert Hall where took my tape recorder and bootlegged it and managed to get Crosby to sign my Woodstock album – it was awesome. 

8. The Hollies

Ash: Alan Clark, Graham Nash, not necessarily renowned as a song writing powerhouse, because a couple of their biggest early hits was written by Graham Gouldman, but again, just beautifully strong, mid range, Northern English block harmonies that are still mesmerizing after all this time. 

9. Electric Light Orchestra

Steve: Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) are full of harmonies but Ash and I don’t think of them in the same was as many other bands on this list because they really were a Jeff Lynn project. He sang most of the harmonies on their recordings – but regardless the harmonies were complex and beautifully blended. The Ronson Hangup definitely channelled some ELO on our first album – all the way down to the vocoder and the use of classical instrumentation played by the band members. 

10. Beach Boys

Ash: My favourite period of Beach Boys is the late ‘60s/early ‘70s stuff when Carl was singing lead. Songs such as “Wild Honey” and “Darlin’” where they still have their harmony focus but they were also really a soul rock band at that point. Once again, like the Everly Brothers, when you’ve got siblings singing, you know, Brian and Carl and their cousin Al it really creates something special and their singing was the focus and everything else essentially provided support. 

For more info on Centarus, keep reading here. The album will be launched Saturday December 2 at the The Ronson Hangup’s favourite haunting ground, The Workers Club in Fitzroy, with tickets on sale now.