The Hit Songs of Perfect Harmony
Featuring over a dozen popular songs, including ten No. 1 hits, Perfect Harmony is a musical comedy about the search for truth, love, and exactly the right song to sing. During the course of a school year, high school a cappella powerhouse, the all-male Acafellas, and their often overlooked female classmates, the Ladies in Red, bare their dreams, hopes, and struggles to blend as they battle to win Nationals and discover the true meaning of harmony.
Founded at a time before their high school was co-ed, the Acafellas have curated their setlist to speak to music fans across multiple generations. Acafella concerts always feature the best of their grandparents’ favorite Motown songs and tap into their parents’ love of 80s music. When women were finally admitted to the school, they formed their own a cappella group, the Ladies in Red, choosing songs about friendship and developing their own traditions.
Finding the perfect songs for the show was no easy matter. When we first produced Perfect Harmony, we were focused on making sure the songs and lyrics would resonate for each character. But night after night audience members would come up to us after the show and share how important one of the songs was for them – a special dance at the prom, their wedding favorite, or that memorable number they’ve sung at show choir. And that’s what great pop hits are – the shared soundtrack of our lives.
1) “Get Ready” by The Temptations
The Acafellas need a great opener to introduce themselves, and this Motown song written by Smokey Robinson was a No. 1 hit on the Billboard R&B Singles chart for the Temptations when it came out in 1966, a hit for Rare Earth in 1970, a hit in the 1990s, and the Acafellas are quite certain they are making it a hit again every time they sing it, as did their fathers and grandfathers (the “Acafounders”) before them.
2) “Three Times A Lady” by the Commodores
A successful a cappella audition song is one that shows off your voice, range and style. In Perfect Harmony, freshman Simon auditions with The Commodores’ first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which also went to No. 1 on the Soul chart and on the Adult Contemporary chart. Country fans know Conway Twitty’s version, which reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Simon dedicates his audition to his mom who’s coached him every night.
3) “How Can I Keep From Singing” by Robert Wadsworth Lowry
The Ladies in Red have their own traditions to uphold, and that includes maintaining the integrity of their founders arrangement of this hymn about friendship under adversity, which has been recorded by folk heroes Arlo Guthrie & Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and many others. Enya had an international hit with her version in the 1990s with an additional verse written by Doris Plenn, but the conservative Ladies in Red do not want to use any lyrics written after the 60s – the 1860s, that is.
4) “Mony Mony” by Billy Idol
The 1968 single by Tommy James and The Shondells reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, but the Acafellas are energized by Billy Idol’s version. It peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1987 as well as No. 7 on the Billboard Dance Club chart. The Acafellas love singing this rock song, even if they have no idea that it was inspired in part by an insurance company, Mutual of New York.
5) “What I Like About You” by The Romantics
Wanting to leave the stodgy image of The Ladies in Red behind, the re-branded Lady Treble dig deep into the hits of the 1980s and choose this Billboard Hot 100 single by The Romantics. While their parents fondly remember the iconic video which was heavily featured on MTV (when it still played music videos), it was only after the song was used in television commercials that “What I Like About You” became a true power pop anthem.
6) “Back On The Chain Gang” by The Pretenders
The Acafellas love the music of the 1980s, and when the group is faced with adversity they turn to The Pretenders’ biggest hit, which fans of the song might be quick to point out is not actually about real chain gangs. “Back on the Chain Gang” was written during Chrissie Hynde’s strained relationship with Ray Davies (of the Kinks), and entered the Billboard charts in late 1982, peaking at No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks and No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
7) “Do You Love Me” by The Contours
A Lady and a ‘Fella, Meghan and Jasper, have a secret crush on each other, and their duet of “Do You Love Me” springs organically from the pair thanks to endless viewings of the 1987 film Dirty Dancing. This song charted on the Billboard Hot 100 twice, once in 1962 (No. 3) and again in 1988 (No. 11), and was a No. 1 hit on the Billboard R&B Singles chart.
8) “Easy” by The Commodores
After losing a bandmate, the Acafellas return to their roots and sing this Motown hit about a man breaking free from an abusive relationship; at least that’s what it used to be about – before the school’s ex-quarterback-now-soloist JB starts to flirt with the women in the audience and turns the number into a slow jam. “Easy” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Faith No More’s version also became a worldwide hit in the 1990s. In 2017 Sky Ferreira released a rendition of the song for the soundtrack of Baby Driver.
9) “I Think I Love You” by The Partridge Family
The Acafellas are too young to have ever seen this 1970s TV show, although they could undoubtedly identify with teen idol David Cassidy’s heartthrob status and screaming fans. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1970. The alternative rock band Voice of the Beehive scored a hit with their own version in 1991, and Constantine Maroulis knocked it out of the park when he covered it during Season 4 of American Idol.
10) “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany
This 1967 hit for Tommy James and the Shondells reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but the Acafellas are more familiar with their parents’ favorite version by “80s mall queen” Tiffany that was remade as a dance track. They like how the lyrics are just a little rebellious and speak to how a teenager feels. Tiffany’s recording of “I Think We’re Alone Now” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1987 when she was just 16 years old.
11) “Goodbye To You” by Scandal
Lady Treble sticks to the hits of the 1980s for their Nationals performance, and picks a song about friendship, about sisterhood, and about finally freeing oneself from a bad relationship. A really bad relationship. This Billboard Hot 100 single also hit No. 5 on the Mainstream Rock Song chart. Their parents loved watching Patty Smyth spin around on MTV back in the day, and Lady Treble hopes that audiences will love their updated choreography. Some of their mothers may remember that Jon Bon Jovi played guitar in the band for a while.
12) “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5
Like everyone else on the planet, the Acafellas love this song, and know it will make for a great closer at Nationals. Their new arrangement honors the Acafellas’ legacy while highlighting the current members’ tight harmonies. Released by Motown in 1969, “I Want You Back” went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, No. 1 on the Billboard Hot R&B chart, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
13) “Hooked On A Feeling” by B.J. Thomas
Meghan and Jasper finally let their feelings for each other out, breaking into song, this one having been ingrained again into the collective consciousness by its placement in Reservoir Dogs and Guardians of the Galaxy. B.J. Thomas’ version reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1969. Blue Swede’s version of “Hooked On A Feeling”, which includes the ‘ooga chaka’ chant, charted in 1974, the first No. 1 hit in the US by a Swedish act.
Performers before mature audiences have the option to allow Meghan and Jasper to instead sing “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye, although they’re too chaste to actually sings those words. This song, about finding someone who loves you for you, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot R&B chart, reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and won Gaye two Grammys in 1983. Alternative rock band Soul Asylum scored a top 10 hit with their version in 1993, and Michael Bolton covered “Sexual Healing” for his album, Timeless: The Classics Vol. 2.
14) “We Belong” by Pat Benatar
(Spoiler warning!) Things didn't go as planned for the Acafellas or Lady Treble at Nationals, but they do learn the true meaning of harmony as the former rivals join together to sing this 1980s hit about estranged friends who decide to bury the hatchet. “We Belong” changed the lives of its songwriting duo (Dan Navarro and Eric Lowen) for the better, as it reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Top Rock Tracks chart, No. 5 on the Hot 100 Singles chart, and earned Pat Benatar a Grammy nomination.
Note: Permission to license Perfect Harmony includes permission to perform all these hit songs. A cappella vocal arrangements are included when you license the show.
(Photo: Jim Baldassare. 2010 Off-Broadway production at The Acorn Theatre, featuring the Perfect Harmony company.)