Friday, September 5, 2014

Nonsense, Gibberish and Stuttering

There have been many times that we've listened to a song and thought  to ourselves that the lyrics were essentially meaningless, or so trivial that we find ourselves bored with the subject of the song before the song finishes. On the other hand, sometimes we like a song without having any idea of the meaning of it, or not fully realizing the meaning of the lyrics until much later, perhaps weeks or even months after we've first heard the song. And then there's some songs that really do sound meaningless or nonsensical or may even contain stuttering, as though the singer has some sort of speech difficulty that lasts for about four minutes, but doesn't extend into the next song.
Not Really Nonsense: Some very smarty-pants musicians have used several examples of
what appears to be 'Nonsense-singing' to express things that can't be expressed otherwise. In fact,  sometimes what appears to be nonsense is actually quite a targeted expression of emotion. In these examples, the supposed nonsense is not really nonsense at all.

Do Wah Diddy - Manfred Mann  While appearing nonsensical the line: 'do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do' is actually a singing representation of a carefree type of joy expressed by both the singer and the female subject of this song. A sentiment carried along with the entire song which tells of a courtship, romance and an ending that is essentially 'they lived happily ever after.'  Do Wah Diddy is, quite possibly, the happiest, most upbeat song ever written. And despite it's 'baby-talk' and childish-sounding chorus, is actually a sweet sentiment. In fact, it's so sweet, it might give a person cavities.

De Do Do Do De Da Da Da - The Police
The Police wrote a song where the 'gibberish' is not gibberish at all, but a representation of the language of demagogues and propogandists. The Chorus of 'De Do Do Do De Da Da Da' is meant to describe the confusion of the listener when he or she hears too much double-speak or 'spin' from politicians and others.

Da Da Da - Trio A strange new-wave favourite of the early eighties, this song was a minor hit in Canada and a lesser known song in the U.S. that was played on radio both in its original German language and in a somewhat re-interpreted English version. The chorus Da Da Da remained the same in both languages suggesting it was nonsense, or the equivalent of saying nothing important. However 'Da Da Da' is not actually gibberish, but is a German expression that is equivalent to patting someone on the back and saying 'there there' in English. The remaining lyric 'ich lieb dicht nicht, du liebst mich nicht' is a tongue-twister for English-speakers, but means 'I don't love you, you don't love me.' So, in fact, there is no part of this song that is nonsense at all, although it does appear to be a rather strange break-up song.

Deliberate Stuttering: Many songs have used deliberate stuttering to some effect. Rather than the singer being a person with an actual stutter, in most cases, the singer is deliberately making stuttering sounds to express something. Some have background story or a reason why these songs have stuttering vocals, but some songs simply use stuttering for the musical effect. Most recently Jazmin Sullivan's Stuttering about a woman who is stuttering, not because she's developed a speech impediment, but because she's falling in love. Although the genders are not equal when it comes to actual stuttering: In adults, the number of men who stutter is four times the number of women who stutter.
Stuttering Blues - John Lee Hooker: One of the first songs believed to use a deliberate stutter is John Lee Hooker's Stuttering Blues, which is a simple song about a man with a stutter trying to hook-up with a nice lady in a bar somewhere.
My Generation - The Who: Possibly inspired by J.L. Hooker's 'Stuttering Blues', the Who's My Generation has claimed several accidental reasons for the stuttering in the song, the most believable was that it was several natural mistakes made by Roger Daltry who admitted later that he hadn't rehearsed the song before going into the studio to sing. Daltry was simply trying to fit the lyrics into music already written and  recorded by the other members of the band, and because he starts early or misses some of the changes and cues, then corrects himself, it turned out sounding like a stutter. This still counts as a deliberate stutter, though, because they could easily have re-recorded or even performed it differently in live shows, but chose not to.
Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - B.T.O. Randy Bachman recorded stuttering vocals to a song and sent a copy to his brother, Gary who is a person with a legitimate stutter. The intention was a practical joke, to frighten his brother into thinking that they would put the song on the album, then later they were going to release the album 'Not Fragile' without the offending song and say to Gary: 'ha ha, got you good' and thus Gary would be left with the one and only copy of the BTO stuttering song.
    The joke was completely ruined when Mercury records insisted that the song had go on the album. Randy refused, and even recorded a version with non-stuttering vocals, but the record company rejected it wholeheartedly. 'Ain't Seen N-n-n-nothing Yet' went on to sell millions in singles, helped make 'Not Fragile' a classic album and was BTOs only ever hit single that reached #1 on US charts.

FYI: Carly Simon is a female singer who developed a stutter as a child and turned to singing and music in order to relieve her anxiety and be able to express herself. Country singer Mel Tillis also was well-known to stutter. Both of these artists can sing very well and without any stammer or stutter.

Genuine Gibberish:
The closing/ending theme from the 1980s TV show WKRP in Cincinnati is a fake rock song, only 30 seconds long. It has no real lyrics and is just a collection of nonsensical singing designed to fill in music for the credits and lead to the next TV commercial. The guitar and rhythm, however, are catchy and the song is still recognizable among the shows fans. Sometimes, for fun, people try to put down 'translations' or a best guesses at what the singer is trying to say, but there isn't any actual lyrics written down anywhere. The 'singer' of the tune, a guy named Jim Ellis, recorded a vocal track by singing a bunch of nonsense, intending to take the place of lyrics until he could write or finish them and add the real words at a later time. However, he then changed his mind and submitted the nonsense version as the finished product. No one ever questioned or corrected him, or maybe they assumed that his gibberish-lyrics were just intended to be funny.
  On a completely off-the-wall attempt at comedic musicianship, Circa 1972, an italian comedian/singer Adriano Celentano created and sang a surprisingly popular song called 'Prisencolinensinainciusol', a 60s-style dance song containing gibberish lyrics designed to mimic 'English' as it would sound to an Italian. The result is a confusing garbled heap of gibberish that makes no sense in either language, but was most-likely an attempted parody of a 'British-invasion meets Tamla-Motown' type of hit song by a comedian who couldn't speak english. In this Video for the song, Adriano Celentano insists, apparently to some curious student, that the word: 'Prisencolinensinainciusol' means 'Universal Love' which it obviously doesn't. (Watch video with English language Captions turned on, or skip ahead to 1:35 to hear the song)

Surfin' Bird by The Trashmen might seem, at first, to be the strangest and most odd collection of repetition, stuttering and gibberish collected into one song. After a minute and a half of growling out 'the bird is the word' the lead singer appears to have a heart attack and collapse in the middle of the song. He revives only to start spouting 'Papa Oom Mow Mow' over and over again.
   On first listen, you might think that the group had at least one member lose his mind and attempt to strangle the singer in the middle of the recording. At the very least, you might wonder how the heck these people came up with such a completely strange idea to spout such utter nonsense to a surfer-beat rhythm, stop the song in the middle and then start the whole thing over again.
    Unfortunately, we're going to burst the bubble of wonder surrounding this song and solve this little mystery for you (if you don't know already). The truth is that the Surfin' Bird, if not an outright rip-off, is actually a mash-up of two other songs: Bird's the Word and Papa Oom Mow Mow, both of which were originally done by a doo-wop group called 'The Rivingtons'. Originally the Trashmen had tried to pass off this mash-up song as their own, but after being sued, they were forced to credit the members of the Rivingtons as the songwriters of Surfin' Bird.