It sizzles off the tongue, it’s the name of a great inventor, and after him, a unit of magnetic flux density, and it’s also a car, and in slang recreational drug, but where does it appear in song lyrics?
Nikola Tesla, 1856–1943 was born in what is now Croatia, but then part of the Austrian empire, He emigrated to America becoming a foremost inventor, physicist and electrical engineer. He was a visionary, a futurist, a man of frightening intellect and dazzling showmanship, harnessing A/C (alternating current), also laying the foundation work for radar, robotics, wireless communication, radio, the fluorescent lightbulb, rotating electro-magnetic power, the x-ray, and the bladeless turbine. Overlooked by history and overshadowed by rival Thomas Edison, he was finally given credence when SI unit of magnetic flux density, or magnetic field strength, the tesla, was named after him in 1960, equivalent to one weber (named after the earlier German physicist Wilhelm Eduard Weber) per square metre. Since the 1990s his reputation has been revived and he was even played by David Bowie in the 2006 fantasy film The Prestige:
As Tesla put it himself: “As in nature, all is ebb and tide, all is wave motion, so it seems that in all branches of industry, alternating currents - electric wave motion - will have the sway.”
So Tesla helped power the future, and the Tesla, also inspired by the sparky inventor, also refers to upmarket electric cars, such as the Tesla Model-5 or the Tesla Roadster. In lyrics it’s a popular word in plenty of hip hop, mentioned for example by by rappers Royce da 5'9" and N.O.R.E. Meanwhile to pop a tesla is slang for taking a strong, recreational drug, a pill that contains ecstasy, opiates and other substances, sometimes blue, but an orange tesla is also known. Teslas has also been coined as another word for a vivacious, attractive girl. But where does it come up in song?
Aside from actual lyrics, the Austin-based group ArcAttack, led by Joe DiPrima, if all about using the Tesla coil, donning helmet and a Faraday suit, playing notes via wireless induction at high voltage. Here’s a version of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man.
ArcAttack aren’t the only ones to use the Tesla coil in music. The Glastonbury Festival-famed Arcadia machine has sparks flying off it constantly, and Bjork has also used it as a bass line, both as melody and rhythm instrument, in Thunderbolt from her Biophilia album and tour:
Lyrically there are no shortage of various genres in which Tesla, or tesla, sparks ideas. They Might Be Giants’ song Tesla praises the great inventor:
Brought the X-ray photo to the world
Brought the AC power to the world
Here is a mind
That can see across space
Here is a mind soaring free
Sound turns to light
And light turns to waves
And waves turn to all things perceived
Maybe that knowledge would drive one insane
How can that knowledge be tamed?
Ushered the radio wave into the world
Ushered the neon light
Into the world
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s Tesla Girls is meanwhile more of a sexual fantasy:
Tesla girls, Tesla girls
Testing out theories
Electric chairs and dynamos
Dressed to kill they're killing me
But heaven knows their recipe
Ani DiFranco’s evocative acoustic song, Zizzing, meanwhile uses it as descriptive metaphor around the mood of a relationship:
Air flush with water
Skin slick with oil
Power poles zizzing in the fog like Tesla coils
Death Grips are an American experimental electronic dance hip hop band, whizzing to the grave of inventor in Hacker (2012):
Headed for the Sammy Davis wing
Throw up a black hole at the entrance of linens ‘n things
On the way
Never call it a day
Visit Tesla's grave for the ninth time today
Still on the way
And it’s hard not to have a word of the week that the fast rapper Aesop Rock doesn’t slip in, this time in the song Zero Dark Thirty:
maybe in the form of a tesla death ray,
or a solid gold scene with something better
to celebrate than powder on your face
like a flat foot on jelly day
So then, do you have any sparky leads as to where Tesla the inventor, or tesla in its other definitions, crops up in song? Alternatively in any other cultural or scientific references? Feel free to create a buzz in comments below.
Want to suggest other examples of this word in song lyrics, or other unusual words or contexts? Does this song make you think of something else? Then feel free to comment below, on the contact page, or on social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. Please subscribe, follow and share.
New to comment? It is quick and easy. You just need to login to Disqus once. All is explained in About/FAQs ...