By The Landlord
"Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes." – Ludwig van Beethoven
"Sometimes I sound like gravel, and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream." – Nina Simone
"I think I sound like Barry White." – Gloria Gaynor
"Music is what feelings sound like," echoes that often quoted aphorism, possibly coined by the actress Vera Farmiga, or perhaps prior to that the author Georgia Cates, or most likely any from other number of people all sounding a bit like each other. Then again "rock music sounds like an octopus making love to a bagpipe," said Brother Dave Gardner, the American baptist preacher reject, comedian and drummer. So it's all quite subjective. Yet music sounding like other music, especially in the world of popular or other song genres, is nothing new. All creative people copy, or at least lift elements from others, in any art form, consciously or otherwise. For example, the Romantic poets of the 18th century, trying to sound new and individual, to escape the canon before them, the work of their literary antecedents, sometimes strained to do so, overdoing their exclamation marks, as detailed in the critic Harold Bloom's book on the subject, The Anxiety of Influence.
We've been looking to be different, but end up copying each other this since the dawn of time, all the way back to how our monkey ancestors were aping each other when, perhaps one original upstart started washing his bananas, or using branches as tools, weapons, drumsticks or whatever, and then everyone else did too, and someone else claimed the credit. And in human terms, of course, I can't help but repeat that timeless phrase from Monty Python's The Life of Brian. We are all individuals.
Now I'm beginning to sound a lot like myself. Again. Just like Oasis can sound like the Beatles, though as reported by a friend's teenage son the other day, when hearing a particular Beatles song for the first time, remarked, "That sounds just like Whatever by Oasis!" Music is all about perspective, and is highly subjective, but dates do indeed matter.
But welcome to this week's topic, friends and music lovers! And it's a bit of a Christmas special – a bumper edition that will stretch over the holiday period beyond the usual week. Think of it as a something of a parlour game – to go along with crackers, hats and bad jokes, mince pies and charades ("sounds like") in a shared act of online joy in which you name a song that sounds like another song.
But there's a slight twist to the rules – a full nomination requires two songs – one that sounds like a different song, and the other, earlier song it mimics, either by chance or design. It could be in melody, verse, chorus, general sound, feeling, vocal delivery, mix, even lyrics, but this is much more of a musical topic. Applying the usual rules, to make the A-list the later song must not have gone into the Marconium before, but the original, or earlier song is a free hit. And of course for the B-list anything goes. So at the end, we'll end up with two lists of perhaps 24 songs each, or thereabouts, in other words a dozen pairs in each.
But adding to this fun, it's double the money! So the numbers of listings you can achieve are twice the normal amount – two songs for each entry. And this game is also, I hope, set to encourage even more friendly banter and conviviality than normal. Why? Name a song that sounds like something else, but can't quite recall what? Then put it in a comment, and no doubt others will reply with clever and learned suggestions. If our guru of the week chooses them as a pair, then you share the glory, like tag-team wrestling. Does that make sense? Just copy each other, but don't, if you see what I mean.
Talking of copying, or not, this topic is not designed as point-the-finger accusation of artists ripping off others. Of course this goes on a lot, and we might unearth some startling examples, but as much as that some of the best music echoes or reinterprets with a new and interesting twist – imitation as flattery, but also as inspiration. But your soundalike nominations should be new songs, not covers versions or ones that prominent samples - those are different topics we've explored before.
One example that came up this week in Song of The Day is The Old Brain by the current band from Oakland, California, the Once & Future Band. My post not only brought them great joy, and a big social media thank you, partly because I pointed out some of the great bands and sounds they echo - Beach Boys, Beatles, Curtis Mayfield, come to think of it a dash of Steely Dan, and most definitely and obviously some Pink Floyd, but also with that also arrived approval on Twitter by a certain grandaddy of the genre, Mr David Gilmour. Not just any old riffraff reading and visiting the Bar, y’know! So that’s positive soundalike mutual joy for you.
That vast matrix of mutual ape-age, the internet, is full of examples, oft nicked from each other, and there's even a website devoted entirely to this topic – samethattune.com. I don't want to pilfer any, but I noticed here's an amusing one from Gilberto Gil, simply because of its name Cliché Do Cliché. What is a cliché until it’s done by someone else, later or before?
What or who does that sound like, or vice versa? Now there's a conundrum, but the clue is, from the same year - 1985 - it a British rock band with a rare hit that's a female name or a Scottish dance event … but who stepped in first?
This topic is a great talking point, so as usual, we have many punter as the Bar, ordering drinks and discussing what they do or don't sound like.
"I sounded like myself. People be saying I sound like Miles or Clifford Brown." trumpets Wynton Marsalis, rather indignantly.
'Well," says, Tom Waits, "Somebody said I sound like an old lady, and I was really insulted by that. I'm trying to sound like Skip James and Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye." Wynton isn't sure if he's joking or not.
Tom cackles a bit, in that smokey way on he can, and then goes on to add some effective advice. “If you record the sound of bacon in a frying pan and play it back, it sounds like the pops and cracks on an old 33 1/3 recording. Almost exactly like that. You could substitute it for that sound.” So who brings home the bacon?
We've already heard from Gloria Gaynor, who at least pretends to hear the Walrus of Love in her own head, but Toni Braxton is here also, and proclaims: “I can't record in the morning because I sound like Barry White.” But talking of female singer sounding low, how about the other way round? Try an experiment at home. Play a Bruce Springsteen 33 LP at 45 speed and he sounds exactly like … Dolly Parton.
“Hi there. I was always trying to sound like some of the people I was listening to, like Mala and Coki,” says James Blake, most sincerely.
“Well I want to sound like Christopher Cross in another ten years, and be totally proud of it,” says Gene Ween, somewhat mischievously.
“Well,” pipes up Florence Welch, who’s only on orange juice these days, “I always wanted to sound like a man, like Jeff Buckley or Tom Waits.” Er - which one? Not exactly similar are they, Florence! You’re neither, most definitely. What goes around comes around, because miraculously Jeff Buckley is also back with us, and he agrees she sounds absolutely nothing like him. But then there’s the issue of sounding like, or not sounding like shadow of his father Tim, so he does want to clarify that:
“I have a lot of my mother in me, but I was just born with the same parts as my father. I don't sound like him. I mean, I can do an impression of him right now, and I do not sound like him. I sound like me. My sense of rhythm I learned from my mother. My melodies, I think sometimes, I get from my mother.” But you can’t escape your genes, and I don’t mean Gene Ween.
But who really does sound like their father? Baxter Dury, the spitting aural image of Ian. It’s quite uncanny, but his songs are actually different.
The Bar is full of other visitors who deny sounding like people but clearly also want to sound like them. Arguably in a culture of reality TV talent shows, there’s an awful lot of singers who sound like others. The latest American Voice winner Brynn Cartelli however strains against that. “I can't just sing karaoke; I can't do anything to try to sound like other people. I have to find what I naturally sound like and emphasise that,” she hopes. Good luck, fighting that commercial pressure Brynn. You’re only 15 after all.
“Why would I want to sound like Joni Mitchell? I've got Joni Mitchell records, and they're great, and I couldn't possibly be that good,” says Ben Folds. Well Ben, you certainly don’t.
We know who Oasis sound like, and that’s not just the Beatles, very deliberately, but also Slade is one of Noel Gallagher’s many influences. Whatever people say about him, he’s certainly a very clever magpie of chord progressions and classic sounds. He certainly knows his music, but here he is on one band he definitely did not want to copy: “I know there's bands that might write something that sounds like The Smiths, and they'll go, 'Oh, it sounds like The Smiths, we've got to make it sound not like The Smiths.' Doth he protest too much, though?
Staying in Manchester, here’s Bernard Sumner. Do New Order sound like Joy Division? “Not really. But Joy Division sounded like Manchester: cold, sparse and, at times, bleak.”
That’s the anxiety of influence for you, but some people are so influential their sound permeates the work of many others. The Purple One is a big example.
“But if you're not Prince, you're never going to sound like Prince,” says Gwen Stefani, who definitely does not sound like Prince, but who does? Well you might have some ideas.
Some people however think they sound like … everyone. “I have a high range. Sometimes I sound like Stevie Winwood. Some people say I sound like Peter Gabriel. Some of the songs I write are funky. Others are slow. Some are ponderous, and some are there to shock. I must say some are pretty damn good, too.” Which modest performer proclaims this? It’s Murray ‘Big’ Head.
“I sounded like Bob Dylan for about five minutes, and it was blown out of all proportion,” protests Donovan, but then Bob Dylan sounded a bit like him, not to mention Woody Guthrie …
What about the classical genre? Is that a different perspective. Yes perhaps it is. “I’m not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer. says the conductor Leonard Bernstein.
But let’s finish off with that most brilliant soundalike talent and conductor of the natural world. No it’s not Mike Yarwood, or other speaking or singing impressionists, but a revisit to the superb lyrebird, who sounds like everything else but nothing else sounds like it. And equally no one sounds like the great and equally superb David Attenborough:
But now, ladies and gentleman, over to you, to name soundalike songs, either with both examples, or pairing up with another reader, in comments below. And I’m delighted to welcome back, for a second helping, one of our newest and also fabulous guru’s back behind the bar to help make aural comparisons - Olive Butler! This topic will have a relaxed deadline, extending over the Christmas period until last orders no later than Sunday 30th December. Publication date will be announced by then. All of which remains is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and to thank you all for you thousands of fantastic contributions to this brilliant place. Of course I’ll be around too and play along, so we can celebrate together. Your good health!
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