Backseat in the High Life: More Backseat Drivers of the 80s

by Jason Gross @SockofFleagulls on March 7, 2012

in Music, The 80s

After I wrote the previous column on Backseat Drivers of the 80s, I had quite a few songs leftover from my list. I thought no sense letting all that research go to waste, so here I am to spread more great 80s music featuring famous backup vocals. There were many great duets in the 80s, which I definitely want to write about in the future.

Many collaborations go overlooked unless you dig deep into the album notes. I love doing research on these kinds of topics. I often find great stories behind the music like artists bumping into each other in the recording studio or those “I always wanted to work with him” moments. These stories really deepen my appreciation for the music and more importantly, learn some obscure music facts to impress your friends and co-workers with!!

Steve Winwood “Back In The High Life”

Backing vocals by James Taylor

Back when I was working in the radio industry in the 90s, Steve Winwood was one of those artists you could depend on for delivering a five-minute song. Why was that important, you ask? Radio jocks and board operators need bathroom breaks too! “The King of the Five Minute Song” scored his second #1 single on the adult contemporary charts in 1987 with “Back In The High Life Again.” According to Will Jennings, longtime writing collaborator, Winwood wrote the song after going through a divorce. After he arrived at his London home with all but a mandolin guitar left, he picked it up and wrote the melody to go with the words he penned months earlier. The folk style ballad also received a big boost with James Taylor providing backing vocals.



Genesis “No Reply At All” & “Paperlate”

Phil Collins “Sussudio” “Who said I Would” & many others

Backing horns by the Phenix Horns (Earth Wind & Fire)

The Abacab recording sessions were a turning point for the band Genesis. Out to reinvent themselves, they discovered what would be their signature “gated” drum sound at their new recording studio called “the Farm.” They would also ask the Phenix Horns to record a couple songs with them to further the band’s new sound. The 4-man horn section was most notably associated with the R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire. Phil Collins originally befriended the group to work with his first solo album Face Value in 1981. He would then recruit them to work with Genesis on “No Reply At All” and “Paperlate” which would be released on the 3 X 3 EP album. Collins would continue his collaboration with Phenix Horns on all of his solo albums in the 80s and they would even join Collins on tour for a while. Check out this live performance featuring the Phenix Horns from 1985.



Stevie Wonder “Part Time Lover”

Backing vocals by Luther Vandross

History was made in 1985, when R&B legend Stevie Wonder reached #1 on four different US Billboard charts with “Part Time Lover.” It reached the top of the Hot 100, R&B, Dance, and Adult contemporary charts simultaneously, a first for any music artist. It probably helped that up-and-coming R&B solo artist Luther Vandross supplied additional vocals (and humming) on the track. Wonder also earned a Grammy nomination in 1986 for the single. He would later return the favor to Vandross by assisting with backing vocals on “I Know” in 1998, of which Vandross earned a Grammy nomination.



Rush “Time Stand Still”

Backing Vocals by Aimee Mann of ‘Til Tuesday

Released in 1987, Rush’s album Hold Your Fire clearly did not live up to the success of previous albums. It ended a streak of 5 studio albums that made the top ten on the US Billboard charts (peaked at #13) and also a streak of 8 albums that were certified platinum in sales. The most successful single on the album was also Rush’s first collaboration with another vocalist. According an interview with lead singer Getty Lee in 1988, “Time Stand Still” had the perfect vocal part to be sung by a female. They found the voice they were looking for after listening to ‘Til Tuesday’s album Welcome Home. They asked lead singer Aimee Lee to contribute her voice to the track and also appear in the music video. With ‘Til Tuesday having “Voices Carry” as their lone hit up to that point (and also to this day), I’m sure it was an easy decision for her. WARNING: Take your Dramamine before watching the video.



Christopher Cross “Ride Like The Wind”

Backing Vocals by Michael McDonald

Christopher Cross made history with his debut album that was released in 1980. He became the first solo artist to win Grammys for Record, Album, and Song of the Year along with Best New Artist all in the same year. It wasn’t like he didn’t have competition either, as he beat out Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra, and Barbara Streisand. His success was in part due to his debut single “Ride Like The Wind” which featured the soulful sound of Doobie Brothers frontman Michael McDonald. In my opinion, it is the quintessential soft rock album of the 80s and they both can still perform the hell out of it.



Phil Collins “Another Day In Paradise”

Backing Vocals By David Crosby

“Another Day In Paradise” was the final #1 song of the 80s and first for the 90s in the US. It was also Phil Collins’ most successful single as a solo artist. It featured David Crosby on backing vocals and helped Collins win a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1991. Collins would swap roles by singing backup and playing drums on Crosby’s 1993 hit “Hero.” Although Crosby has had some well documented problems with drugs and the law, his backing vocals have been platinum to more than just Collins. Crosby contributed backing vocals to Hootie & the Blowfish’s debut “Hold My Hand” which comes from Cracked Rear View, the 15th best-selling album of all time in the US.




Jason Gross is a child of the 80s and loves to subject his two sons to cartoons, TV, movies, and music from the decade. Currently promoting a M.A.S.K. live-action movie script (co-writer), he also enjoys freelance writing about 80s music & pop culture. Background includes radio broadcasting and B2B direct marketing. Follow Jason on Twitter@SockOfFleagulls and check out Rediscover the 80s!


James March 7, 2012 at 10:22 am

Yet another well researched, tightly written article. Thanks Jason!

Jason Gross (@SockOfFleagulls) March 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Thanks, James!

Will March 7, 2012 at 11:30 am

I didn’t know any of these! I feel like less of a man, but I’m honored that it was your piece that humbled me.

Jason Gross (@SockOfFleagulls) March 7, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Knowing is half the battle…now go use your new founded musical knowledge to impress your friends!

Howie Decker March 7, 2012 at 9:38 pm

His piece has humbled many people. Sorry.

Jason G March 8, 2012 at 12:03 am

That’s why Howie pays me the big bucks….hey, wait!

roadsidewonders March 7, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Wow, I had know idea about Aimee Mann/Rush!

Howie Decker March 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Jason always uncovers these little golden nuggets! Thanks for reading and commenting!!

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