Splash, drizzle, gurgle, chatter, bam, ding, thump, slap, flutter, crash, rumble, whizz, swish, bray, chirp, chortle, cluck, cuckoo, hiss, quack, moo, tweet, meow!
There’s a lot of onomatopoeia in the world and a lot of ways (as some of you demonstrated) that songs can employ it. Actual words that are intended to mimic the sound they describe, nonsense words used for the same purpose (or for rhythmic, percussive effect at a pinch), musical instruments that imitate sounds from real life. Not that music isn’t real life he added hastily …
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee was an incidental piece of music written for the opera The Tales of Tsar Saltan. No? Me, neither. It’s meant to represent the ever changing flight pattern of a bumble bee and, glory be, it does just what it says on the CD sleeve notes.
The Hives’ Tick Tick Boom gives us the sound of a ticking bomb. At least the generally accepted sound of such a thing. I think this probably owes more to popular culture than real life. I mean a bomb that ticked conspicuously before exploding would be a bit of a giveaway if you ask me. Blistering track anyway.
More “boom” from Freschard but not of the explosive, destructive sort. The lyric does say “she’s dynamite” but not in that way. “Her hands on her hips. Here she goes. Boom biddy boom”. In a French accent. I’ve come over all unnecessary now.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard “putt-y putt-y” used as words in a sentence but the rhythmic sound of the lyric combines with the rhythm of the music to make Slim Gaillard’s Cement Mixer song evoke the thing it describes. Even if it makes said cement mixer sound a lot more musical and attractive than any I’ve heard outside my window on a Monday morning.
The instruments in Bowie’s Moss Garden (from his Heroes album) evoke and imitate any number of sounds, from birdsong, to chimes, to aeroplanes or helicopters to barking dogs. Some of this is due to the synthesiser’s ability to mimic almost any sound. We also hear Bowie demonstrating a prowess (well he’s better at it than I am) on the Japanese koto. An instrument which, Wiki informs me, has been compared to “a banjo half asleep”. I’ll take their word for it.
Can you hear those hogs a calling? I can, courtesy of Charles Mingus, Roland Kirk and others on Hog Callin’ Blues. Mostly the sax and brass instruments, snorting and grunting like mad things but there’s plenty of vocal imitations too. Hog heaven.
Enough of the hogs. What do the Japanese insects say? They say “eeeeee!”, of course. Is it a mosquito? Is it a wasp? Jun Togawa demonstrates enthusiastically and occasionally ear-splittingly on her song Konchugun which apparently translates as “insect army”.
And now we need some peace and calm with the sound of a dove’s song. Featured on the soundtracks of the films Moonlight and, much earlier, Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her, this is truly a thing of beauty. Caetano Veloso’s version of the song Cucurrucucu Paloma (Cooing Dove) was one of the two nominated this week and seems, by popular accord, to be the most evocative. Popular accord meaning I liked it the most but it’s also the will of the people.
Doves coo and bees buzz. And so does love according to Shocking Blue. I wonder if the Buzzcocks heard this before writing their song Love Battery. “Can’t you hear my Love Buzz?” I’m sure I’d have mentioned it if I could. Covered much later by Nirvana and that version was nominated too but the original just nudges it aside.
“Pata Pata is the name of the dance we do down Johannesburg way, and everybody starts to move as soon as Pata Pata starts to play.” It’s also another example of the vocal imitation of percussion and quite irresistible. Miriam Makeba of course. She of the Click Song, another one named after a vocal percussive technique.
Now chickens … They go “cluck” in some abstract interpretations. In their song Chicken, the Cramps though go for the actual sound which is more like "buck buck buckeeee" and variations thereof. The band’s usual frenzied music and vocals. The lyric celebrates the creature cooked and served on a plate but the singer impersonates the bird, live and kicking.
And finally. More classical music! Sort of. The sound of cats. Cats go “meow”. Of course they do. Unless you’re Italian, in which case it’s “miau”. Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti, popularly known as The Cats’ Duet is a popular piece for two soprano voices. It’s often performed as an encore after a concert of more serious music.
The song is usually attributed to Gioachino Rossini although music historians dispute this. It seems to be based on music from Rossini’s operas, possibly with some tunes from elsewhere. The person who compiled these into the finished piece did so under a pseudonym so Rossini is the only candidate for composer here.
Whatever the truth about the music, ”meow” is the only word in it and two contrasting performances were nominated. I’ve included both in the Youtube playlist. The first is sung as it usually is. The second is a modern variation. I like both but then I’m a cat person.
All-Star Animals and Other Sounds A-List Playlist:
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov – Flight of the Bumble Bee
The Hives – Tick Tick Boom
Freschard – Boom Biddy Boom
Slim Gaillard Trio – Cement Mixer
David Bowie – Moss Garden
Charles Mingus – Hog Callin’ Blues
Jun Togawa – Konchugun
Caetano Veloso – Cucurrucucu Paloma
Shocking Blue – Love Buzz
Miriam Makeba – Pata Pata
The Cramps – Chicken
Gioachino Rossini - Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti (Humorous Duet for Two Cats)
The Ba-Ba-Boom B-list Playlist
The Jamaicans – Ba Ba Boom
Portishead – Machine Gun
Don Woody – Barking Up The Wrong Tree
Louis Jordan – Choo Choo Ch’Boogie
XTC – Train Running Low On Soul
Richard Thompson – Sumer Is Icumen In
George Kranz – Trommeltanz (Din Daa Daa)
The El Dorados – Bim Bam Boom!
The Kokessies - Kokessie Dog
Lethal Bizzle – Pow
Mead Luz Lewis – Honky Tonk Train Blues
Rebecca Pan – The Ding Dong Song
Skyliners – Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart
Guru’s Wild card – Katzenjammer* – Le Pop
*Oh, for flip’s sake! I hear you cry, not them again, but then this song does go: “Dancin' to the voodoo beats boom bam bam!” And “Crank, crank, crank, crank crank up the volume”. So there.
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Whizz, wham and wah-wah: songs with lyrical or musical onomatopoeia. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.