In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices. The Flat Five will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand-new feature with them.
McDonough: One of the best presents I ever received was an LP called Looney Tunes. It was a K-Tel compilation of novelty songs given to me by my grandma Koubek for Christmas when I was in the fourth grade. The LP had things I was familiar with—“Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” “Ape Call” and “The Witch Doctor”—but what really sent me were some songs I’d never heard before. Songs like ”I Love Onions” by Julie Christie. It’s got kazoo and harmonica, and I really like the harmonies on the chorus.
Then there was “Dinner With Drac” by John Zacherle, a.k.a. TV horror-movie host the Cool Ghoul. I didn’t know about the Cool Ghoul (I’m from Chicago, where we had Creature Features, Svengoolie and Son of Svengoolie) but I just dug the groovy guitar and sax breaks. And I liked the lyrics.
The LP also had “Mother-In-Law” by Ernie K-Doe. I was already into Fats Domino and Little Richard, but this was really my introduction to New Orleans music. Ernie’s singing is great, but I really love the piano solo and locomotion drums, compliments of Allen Toussaint and Earl Palmer.
There was “Haunted House” by rockabilly musician Jumpin’ Gene Simmons. This track is just one of many great records from the Hi label during the ’60s. I love everything about it.
And finally “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs—another Memphis record, as I would later learn. I’ve always loved the Wolfman, so it’s no surprise that I flipped out over this song. Sam had me at “OooOOOOooooowwwwww,” and the harmony vocal on the bridge is responsible for my lifelong compulsion to sing sevenths. I’m still not over this record.
I still return to these songs onstage occasionally, and they never let me down. Thanks, Grandma. Love you …