By The Landlord
“I'm always in pain, and that adds to the anger in music.” Kurt Cobain
“I'll never make it, it will never happen, because they're never going to hear me – they're screaming all the time.” Elvis Presley
“Performing is like sprinting while screaming.” - Bruce Springsteen
“I want every girl in the world to pick up a guitar and start screaming.” Courtney Love
My girlfriend was always a cool cat. She almost never got overexcited about anything. A few years ago at a gig, the performer began walking towards us down a long extended stage. As he walked, a guitar seemed to drop out of nowhere, above him, the strap curling around his shoulders like a snake. As he came closer, he looked down and then up again - a famous “under look” that seemed to come straight at us. And then it started. My girlfriend began at first to shout and then, with hands around her ears, to scream like a teenage girl who had lost the plot. Others near us and around the auditorium, also joined in too, uncontrollably. A guy right next to us, with screaming in his ear, looked at me as if to say “is she OK?” and I shrugged back at him in a state of mild shock, embarrassment and amusement, but then as it carried on, I could not help be carried along with it. The artist, now sadly a former artist, was known as Prince. He was dazzling, brilliant, electric. And at that moment I screamed at little bit too.
Screaming is primal. Like music itself, it touches us deep within, it goes beyond words, it releases the otherwise inexpressible. It reaches back into our deep past and yanks it into the present, instantaneously. Screaming and other involuntary sounds that go beyond singing can lift a song to a new level, often for reasons we don’t understand. But need they be high pitched? Not necessarily. Arthur Janov, author of The Primal Scream, describes screaming as a primitive language and yet the primal form isn’t necessarily high pitched, but as “strangely low, rattling and involuntary sound”. Screaming is birth, death, pleasure, pain, excitement, power, helplessness, joy, frustration and sex. It can cover every emotion. “Screaming is bad for the voice, but it's good for the heart,” says Conor Oberst. “Do you know why Albert Camus was so prolific?” says Henry Rollins. Tell us, big man. “Well, he wrote to keep from screaming.” Well, we’ve all got to do something to stop us from going round the bend.
Your song suggestions may cover a wealth of genres, but my hunch is that the best screaming, howling, grunting, shrieking, not to mention squealing and squeaking, doesn’t come all the way through a song, but at key moments in it. So while it is tempting to nominate Slipknot-type work and other hardcore genres, for me the best screaming and other guttural sounds in the context of singing help build simmering emotion or come out the the blue, rising to a level that gets us right in the guts. Screaming is all about context.
This a essentially a vocal-based topic, but arguably some artists also make their instruments scream, so for example surf king Dick Dale tells us, rather aptly: “I make my guitar scream with pain or pleasure or sensuality. It makes people move their feet and shake their bodies. That's what music does.”
So let’s quickly run through a few of the many genres in which screaming and other involuntary sounds feature prominently. For me on of the primal screamers in music was Little Richard. His influence and style was so extraordinary it inspired James Brown, who in the earlier part of his own career, in 1955, while he was still with The Famous Flames, was hired to perform as Richard around the US because there was not enough of the original to go around, and as many audiences had never seen either, they could get away with it.
Both Richard and Brown brought screaming to a true artform, but of course screaming was nothing new. Many blues artists fighting screaming into their work too, from Howlin’ Wolf to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins who emitted all kinds of noises, gospel has also been a fertile breeding ground for screams and other emotional sounds to heighten the message.
A man who went not from, but eventually to the church, is The Reverend Al Green, who not only can scream, but in his singing style brings a whole range of intimate, emotion, non-verbal sounds that grow from a growl to howl of love.
Rock is also a broad church in which some of the finest, mainly white screamers have learned their trade. Do you want your screaming at the beginning of a song? Then perhaps Robert Plant’s performance on Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song might jump out at you.
Then again, some of the best screams come later on in a defining moment of rock epic marked by the Who’s Roger Daltrey. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, or Deep Purple’s spawning of the likes David Coverdale and Ian Gillan may also be your inspiration.
Let us not forget that many of the finest screamers, even growlers, are female vocalists, spanning the growls of Nina Simone to the great gutturals of Janis Joplin. There is particularly fine era in the angry and witty punk and post-punk period. The Slits’ Viv Albertine, Hazel O’Connor, Siouxsie, Bow Wow Wow’s Annabella Lwin, or now, to the newer Savages’ Jehnny Beth/Camille Berthomier? Take your pick.
While we think of the classical genre as strictly refined, the modern era contains much screaming. Luciano Berio, George Crumb, Gyorgy Ligeti, Meredith Monk and Karlheinz Stockhausen are among composers who have incorporated screams, vocal and instrumental, into their work.
But where does singing end and screaming begin? Here are a couple of hybrid examples for your consideration. From Bulgaria to the far east, throat singing is certainly a category that could catch your ears as it is almost certainly in the growling zone. Now enjoy this wonderful example of Tuvan throat singing:
Yodelling, designed to cover vast distances across mountain valleys, could also span this topic. Here’s one of the most famous and fun from early 70s favourite Focus, or is is simply fantastic high singing?
On that high note, after last week’s guest writer in India, it is also my very great pleasure to welcome a familiar face who makes another debut as guru on our global Song Bar, the wonderful Hoshino Sakura from Japan! So please make some noise for her with song suggestions on this topic! Deadline will be later on Monday when bell is rung!! But until then, please nominate in comments below!!! Ready, steady, aaaarrrgggh!!!!
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