Music

Family Harmonies

Songs by people who were born to make music together.

jackson5_greatest_hitsGreatest Hits
The Jackson 5
1971, Motown

Before Michael Jackson was Michael Jackson, before Jermaine Jackson had a house with 26 toilets, and before Tito was the nice judge on Just the Two of Us, they all performed with their brothers, Marlon and Jackie, in arguably THE BEST family band of all time: the Jackson 5. Try to find a pair of shoulders that doesn’t start shuffling when “ABC” starts to play, or a face that doesn’t squeeze up into a FUNKY POUT when “I Want You Back” comes on the jukebox. I never feel bad when I listen to their angel voices. They’re an instant ray of sunshine. There are about a billion records by the Jackson 5 (they were later known as the Jacksons) and the individual brothers, but Greatest Hits contains the highest concentration of swell family harmonies and baby Michael’s raw talent. His high-flying voice seems to weep with loss in “Who’s Lovin’ You,” and his brothers’ backing vocals provide a supportive cushion for his distress. Who could feel downtrodden while listening to that? And even though its romantic lyrics sweet-talk some lucky lady, “I’ll Be There” also seems to be a brotherly pact among the iconic siblings, making it a unity anthem on par with “Lean on Me.” Even though the Jacksons are not our brothers, they’ve given us so many amazing songs that it kind of feels like they are. —Estelle

philosophyoftheworldPhilosophy of the World
The Shaggs
1969, Third World

The Shaggs, a trio of sisters from New Hampshire, are one of the biggest musical flukes in history. As the story goes, Dot, Betty, and Helen Wiggin’s father, Austin, took them out of school one day, gave them a set of instruments, and forced them to play music because his mother read his palm and predicted that his daughters would rise to pop stardom. When the Shaggs’ first and only album, Philosophy of the World, came out in the late ’60s, critics panned them mercilessly. But since then, generations of outsider-music enthusiasts (including me) have discovered and fallen in love with their sound. The record fits into the psych-folk genre that was prevalent at the time, but adds something unique in its discordant harmonies, out-of-tune vocals, and arrhythmic drumming. It shouldn’t work, but I’m strangely pulled in by the dissonance. —Ragini

whitebloodcellsWhite Blood Cells
The White Stripes
2001, Sympathy for the Record Industry

The White Stripes’ third album, White Blood Cells, came out around the same time the truth about the Detroit duo’s members, Jack and Meg White, did. Before then, the rumor was that they were brother and sister, but Jack Gillis had actually married Meg White (and taken her last name) in 1996. They divorced in 2000, right before they hit the big time. The logic behind their lie was that it would keep critics and fans focused on their music rather than their relationship. And the idea of Jack and Meg as siblings in coordinated red-and-white outfits fit the childlike vibes of an album with songs like the short but powerful “Fell in Love With a Girl” (and its amazing Lego video!) and “We’re Going to Be Friends” (which takes me straight back to elementary school and the friend crushes I had then). White Blood Cells is one of my all-time favorite albums because it captures so many emotional experiences, from head-over-heels love in “Hotel Yorba” to the pain of breakups in “Expecting.” They may not really be brother and sister, but Meg and Jack helped prepare me for so many of life’s ups and downs that they felt older siblings to me. —Stephanie

dreaminwildDreamin’ Wild
Donnie & Joe Emerson
2012, Light in the Attic Records

If you love kitschy pop ensembles such as the Partridge Family and the Searchers as much as I do, then you need to listen to Donnie & Joe Emerson. The brothers were just teens from rural Washington when they put this album together in a studio their dad built for them. The biggest “hit” was “Baby,” which over the years has been covered a whole bunch (and well!) by bands like Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. It’s a song that’s bound to put me in a good mood whenever it starts up. It coos directly to my heart and creates a deep peace inside. Use as directed: to serenade a loved one, while driving on an unreasonably warm day, or as you’re curled up in bed and drifting into sleep. —Kimberly

therealramonaThe Real Ramona
Throwing Muses
1991, 4AD

Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly—stepsisters, guitarists, and equally amazing songwriters—formed this band while they were in high school. Their unconventional song structures and amazing harmonies made them darlings of what was then called the “college rock” circuit. By 1991, when they were in their early 20s, they were considered progenitors of alternative music. This album is my absolute favorite of theirs. Released right before Donelly left the band to join the Breeders (and, later, Belly), it alternates between intense, poetic songs like “Ellen West,” dreamy wistful ones like “Dylan,” and supercharged jangle pop like “Not Too Soon.” I lost my virginity to this record, so it’s extra special to me. —Julianne

rhinohigh5sistersledgeRhino Hi Five: Sister Sledge
Sister Sledge
2005, Rhino

There’s one track that always inspires me to move without caution, whether I’m on a subway platform, pirouetting in my living room in my undies, or preparing for a night of plotting with like-minded feminists over snacks and tea: “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge. I have sentimental feelings about this song because it will always be associated in my mind with seeing my in-laws and parents dancing together at my wedding in a conga line of 200 people of various faiths and ages this past summer. And I’ve always loved Sister Sledge because the band is made up of four glam and powerful sisters who grew up singing in Baptist churches like the ones I went to as a kid. The way they’ve used their spiritual and cultural roots to make timeless, unifying pop hits like “Got to Love Somebody” moves me. —Jamia

nemesistersNemesisters
Babes in Toyland
1995, Reprise

During my senior year of high school, when my parents announced they were getting a divorce and my group of friends was falling apart, this was my go-to album. The third and final studio recording by Babes in Toyland has plenty of their signature rage (“S.F.W.” is a prime example), but also contains an incredible sense of loneliness. Songs like my favorite track, “Ariel,” always made me feel like I was being lifted out of despair, and “All by Myself” is the perfect door-slamming, glass-breaking wailer for when you want shut yourself away from your family (or your family of friends) because no one gets it. But the Babes’ cover of “We Are Family” will get you dancing and smiling. —Stephanie

4allthesistasarounddaworld4 All the Sistas Around da World
Sista
1994, Elektra

Before Missy Elliott was a solo star, she and her friends were part of a groundbreaking songwriting crew called Swing Mob (later renamed the Superfriends) that included the producer Timbaland, the rapper Magoo, and the singers Ginuwine and Tweet. The makeshift musical family would change the face of pop music, and Sista, the all-girl R&B group Elliott formed with her childhood friends Radiah Scott, La’Shawn Shellman, and Chonita Coleman was what brought them all together in the first place. (Elliott asked Timbaland to help produce the record, one of their first collaborations.) 4 All the Sistas Around da World lost the record label’s support after the first single, “Brand Nu,” did INEXPLICABLY poorly—my guess is that it was too ahead of its time, beat-wise. It’s really hard to find a copy now, but you can still listen to a lot of their awesome girl-group harmonies and dance jams here. —Julianne

datewiththeeverlybrosA Date With the Everly Brothers
The Chapin Sisters
2013, Lake Bottom Records

There are 14 tracks of glorious, genetically predestined harmonies on this album of Everly Brothers covers sung by Abigail and Lily Chapin, daughters of the folk singer Tom Chapin. Even if you’ve never heard of the Everly Brothers, you’ll recognize some of their huge hits from the ’50s and ’60s, like “When Will I Be Loved” and “(Till) I Kissed You,” but the Chapins add extra melancholy and gravitas to those old songs. (To round out the package, the Chapins have been performing in Everly Brothers–inspired matching outfits and slicked-back hairdos.) I understand that having a sister or brother doesn’t automatically mean you can sing this beautifully, but I like imagining that it does, OK? —Emma S.

daysaregoneDays Are Gone
Haim
2013, Columbia Records

Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim make music that, on first listen, I just didn’t think was “my thing.” Now that I’ve listened to this, their latest album, a bunch of times, I realize my early opinion was for basically no good reason—I just hadn’t wrapped my brain around Haim yet. I could not have been more wrong, either, because now I LOVE THEM. Days Are Gone is one of the most thoughtful, layered (in that way where I notice new sounds every time I listen to it), and catchy pop records I’ve heard in a while. Haim’s lyrics are about topics that I will never stop wanting to hear about: independence, maintaining independence when you’re in love, regret, owning your feelings/actions, and expecting other people to own their feelings/actions, too. Their songs might not be the easiest to sing along to because each one packs in so many ideas, but they all just sound good! I hear snippets of ’70s and ’80s pop I know and love in there, but it’s almost impossible to put my finger on exactly what the Haim sisters’ influences are, because their sound is so THEIRS. —Lena ♦

19 Comments

  • soviet_kitsch November 21st, 2013 11:28 PM

    oh god the white stripes make me so nostalgic. reminds me of being a kid and sitting in my cousin’s room with “elephant” or “white blood cells” on while we made stop-frame animation movies :’) fell in love with a girl is one of the coolest music videos of all time, too

  • honorarygilmoregal November 22nd, 2013 12:09 AM

    Haim is so great, I’m in love with their album! And I never knew Jack and Meg from The White Stripes pretended to be siblings. Anyway, the important thing is that they make great music.

    And if we’re talking about family making music, you can’t forget the lovely Tegan and Sara :)

  • TessAnnesley November 22nd, 2013 12:54 AM

    THE WHITE STRIPES ON ROOKIE, I AM SCREEEEAAAAAMING

    YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, THEY ARE MY FAVOURITE BAND EVER, I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR SOMEONE TO RECCOMEND THEM ASDFGHJHKSJAKSJAJFHG MEEEEEEGGGGGG JAAAAAAAAAACCCCCKKKKK

    oh wow, i had a moment there

  • Jane-Eyre November 22nd, 2013 12:57 AM

    And Heart! <3

  • lyssagrltx November 22nd, 2013 1:14 AM

    I saw the Title and I was like “Haim better be on here”a couple of minutes later oh ok good. I LOVE Haim so much they have the BEST sense of style and there music is just to great.Also they are great live. I just love them just to much.

    http://sundayschoolshoes.blogspot.com/

  • sungiant November 22nd, 2013 1:23 AM

    THE SHAGGS!!!!

  • Aparna November 22nd, 2013 7:04 AM

    I have literally been listening to Haim on repeat in my car since Days Are Gone came out :)

  • oldelectricity November 22nd, 2013 11:43 AM

    DONNIE & JOE!!! they’re the most adorable, ever. definitely check out pieces from the documentary on ‘em that’s up on youtube (“the rock’n'roll farmers,” from light-in-the-attic, the rerelease label that helped get DREAMIN’ WILD back into our hearts).

    also, can i say that “take it” is maybe the most teen-summer-nostalgic song in the world, and i love it and it makes me miss times and places i wasn’t even born for.

    <3<3<3 rookie for spreadin' the love!

    donnie & joe, "TAKE IT":
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZplJ4sgsFv0

  • elliecp November 22nd, 2013 11:51 AM

    love these..the first christmas present I ever asked for was a jackson 5 cd

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • Sophii November 22nd, 2013 11:53 AM

    I adore Haim! Their album is one of my favourite albums released this year xoxo

    http://prettypassionsfinefashions.blogspot.co.uk

  • Nadifa November 22nd, 2013 11:58 AM

    Oh yeah HAIM!!! My best friend and I are currently obsessed over Days Are Gone. Nice beats they got there :D

  • whiskeytangofoxtrot November 22nd, 2013 12:14 PM

    ESG!!!

    Sisters from the South Bronx. SOOOO GOOD! They were previously one of the most sampled but unattributed bands. They deserved so much more. LOVE THEM!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjJv3cvnfrE

  • raggedyanarchy November 22nd, 2013 2:55 PM

    What, no First Aid Kit? No adorable Swedish sister duo Klara and Johanna who happen to write songs that make me want to cry and smile at the same time?

  • carronya November 23rd, 2013 9:19 AM

    ohhhh the white stripes became my favourite band when i was 14 and i still love them a lot!!
    and i should probably listen to haim, it seems like the coolest thing

  • moiy2 November 24th, 2013 1:08 PM

    The McGarrigle Sisters’ debut album.

  • bloated November 26th, 2013 9:35 AM

    my friend Lucy and her li’l sister make the cutest tunes ever as Lamb on the Spit: https://soundcloud.com/lamb-on-the-spit