Pop music has long been a hard-to-define blank canvas that has opened space for artists to showcase their creativity. Pretty much every trick in the book has been utilized to spice up the formula, but one of the greatest additions to “the perfect pop song” has been the choir. A group of voices working together can be a powerful element that can take a song from mediocre to completely brilliant. So after sorting through the good, the bad, and the completely confusing, I bring you the 20 greatest choir-assiested pop songs:
20. “Give Peace A Chance” John Lennon
John Lennon’s first non-Beatles venture came in the form of one of his most iconic pleas for peace. “Give Peace A Chance” is simple, repetitive, understated, and it resonates in a big way. The “choir” feels more like a crowd of anti-establishment hippies singing their little hearts out in protest than an actual organized group, but that was clearly exactly what John and Yoko were going for, and the end result is a period-defining anthem.
19. “Under The Bridge” Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Under The Bridge” doesn’t feature a choir for very long, and the track is a masterpiece even without one, but it’s particularly difficult to write off the brief climax and what those “they cannot be human” high vocals do for it. From start to finish, “Under The Bridge” is a massive sing-along, but there is nothing that will ever compare to standing in a crowd of people all attempting to hit those notes at the same time.
18. “Prayer For You” Texas
Texas are unfortunately one of the most under-apprecaited pop groups out there, with their catalog ranging from folk to soul to dance to rock. One of their least-recognized singles, “Prayer For You” actually highlights their definitive sound in a big way through the addition of a choir. With the simple strum of a guitar and dazzling lead vocal from Sharleen Spiteri, the wall of voices really adds to its authenticity.
17. “There She Goes, My Beautiful World” Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
It took all of my might not to include every track from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Gospel-choir-infused double album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus, but alas I selected one to represent the lot. “There She Goes, My Beautiful World” really sums up the sound of the LP… beautiful, powerful, soulfully bluesy, and triumphant. The track is roaringly upbeat, in a sadistic kind of way that only Nick Cave could successfully pull off.
16. “I Want To Know What Love Is” Foreigner
Ok, we can set aside the jarring level of 80s cheese that is Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” when we’re reminded of just how awesome the choir-tastic climax is. You can deny it all day long, but when that chorus comes in, there’s no way to avoid getting sucked into the song. File it under “guilty pleasure” if you want, but you at least have to give it up for the band’s decision to bring a Gospel choir on board.
15. “Sacrilege” Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The latest addition to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ enviable catalog of tunes, “Sacrilege” is so superbly epic that it has instantly earned its place amongst the greatest choir-assisted pop songs ever. Karen O’s aching, yet subdued vocals are aided so perfectly by the booming choir that they completely steal the show. For a song so conflicted and unsure, the juxtaposition of the lyrics with an uplifting collection of voices is brilliantly ironically celebratory.
14. “The Living Years” Mike + The Mechanics
Mike Rutherford’s side-project (…+ The Mechanics,) managed to crank out an epic for the ages. Detailing his unsalvaged relationship with his father, the song relies heavily on a choir to drive its poignancy . Without them, the message would easily get lost in a sea of 80s fluff, but instead the track is able to resonate powerfully. On any given listen, chills are inevitable.
13. “Jesus Walks” Kanye West
Kanye West utilizes a choir in a way that most other pop songs don’t. Instead of stacking voices to create an enormous wall, he spreads them out into a series of parts that help to paint a beautiful scene. Sure, it may be unconventional, but the choir makes up almost all of the instrumentation, and the end result is something bigger and more powerful that most can hope to create.
12. “All These Things That I’ve Done” The Killers
The Killers’ anthemic “All These Things That I’ve Done” utilizes a choir only to build its climax, and by “only” I mean, “ingeniously.” They may not drive the song in a mega-prominent way, but the “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier” hook would be nothing without them, and considering it’s one of the greatest moments in an entire decade of rock and roll, I’d say they end up being the track’s most important ingredient.
11. “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)” Pink Floyd
For being one of the least commercially-viable bands to ever make it big, Pink Floyd are undeniable legends that managed to even land themselves a #1 hit. “Another Brick In The Wall” (Part II, of course) played into the funky dance rock that was popular at the time, and, naturally, flipped it on its head. Set aside that sick bassline, letting a children’s choir handle the vocals for the second half of the track was a stroke of pure brilliance.
10. “Border Song” Elton John
Early on in Elton John’s career, he demonstrated that letting the simplicity of a track speak for itself is always the way to go. His “Border Song” may be instrumentally sparse, but the addition of a choir to the already Gospel-esque tune ended up making it strikingly powerful. The sound of that many voices belting out “Holy Moses” with all of their might really packs a punch that no one man would ever really be able to create.
09. “Movin’ On Up” Primal Scream
Primal Scream’s “Movin’ On Up” is really one of the most perfect tracks alternative rock has had the pleasure of associating itself with. The beat is infectiously groovy, there’s a fair share of guitars, plenty of hooks to around, but what obviously drives it is the choir. The band doesn’t even really need to do anything vocally for it to be great; the choir really lifts the song to a joyous place.
08. “I Believe I Can Fly” R. Kelly
There were so few songs bigger than “I Believe In Can Fly” in the 90s, that it almost seems self-explanitory why it makes the list. R. Kelly flawlessly showcases his songwriting and arranging abilities, but with a Gospel choir on hand to lift the track to soaring heights (all puns intended,) it’s not even remotely surprising how it became such an R&B pop ballad juggernaut.
07. “B.O.B.” Outkast
Nevermind the frenzied beat, killer lyrical flow, and endless catchiness, Outkast brought a choir on board for “B.O.B.” The rest is clearly history. The song’s main hook features one, but it’s the climax that really seals the deal for the duo. With a simple chant of “Power music electric revival,” the song manages to showcase just how important hip hop actually can be.
06. “Tender” Blur
The definition of 90 Britpop has “Blur” written all over it, but just as the group were nearing the end of their time as a complete quartet, they cranked out a masterpiece to end all masterpieces. “Tender” was not only seven minutes of rock ballad euphoria with about 3 or 4 major hooks, but the addition of a Gospel choir highlights its poignancy in a way the boys would never be able to accomplish themselves.
05. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” The Rolling Stones
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is a Stones-cold classic, but the secret ingredient to the 7 and a half minute epic is the appropriate portioned usage of an all boys choir. The intro itself is so powerful that Mick Jagger doesn’t even need to sing a note to make the song great, but fast-forward a few minutes and the song becomes so epic that you can’t help but get wrapped up in the frenzy.
04. “Somebody To Love” Queen
Leave it Queen to completely flip rock and roll on its head time and time again. One of their most recognizable hits, “Somebody To Love” acts like the musical Yin to “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” Yang, but this time they brought an actual choir on board to help them out. Freddy Mercury’s stellar vocals are accompanied so perfectly that by the time everything cuts out and prepares to launch into the climax, the chills are already there.
03. “Young Americans” David Bowie
The ever-changing David Bowie unleashed one of his most charismatic classics with the release of his “Young Americans.” The track is an upbeat, soulful anthem that is powerfully driven by a Gospel choir. The outcome of it all is a song so joyous and anthemic that it’s nearly impossible to resist its glory, and trust me, you’ll be moving the whole time.
02. “Like A Prayer” Madonna
When it comes to choir-assisted pop songs, there is a clear “Godmother” and “Godfather,” with Madonna’s seminal “Like A Prayer” owning the title of the former. The track itself is an uplifting, double entendre-filled, nearly-6 minute slice of pop heaven that builds and builds until it bursts into a Gospel-rific climax that instantly cemented itself as an iconic piece of music history.
01. “Man In The Mirror” Michael Jackson
The “Godfather?” Easily the King of Pop’s own “Man In The Mirror.” One of Michael Jackson’s many signature tunes, the track showcases his knack for growing a song into something so big that it almost seems unreal. It isn’t until over halfway through the song that he folds in the legendary Andre Crouch Gospel choir, but when MJ hits the climactic key change and the roar of that sea of voices comes it, there is no denying its sheer brilliance.