Top Ten Vocal Mantras
houting the same thing over and over: will it ever get old? The answer, of course, is "yes," as anybody who's subjected themselves to the yearly delight of a field full of Rich Rock Brats nasally shrieking cultural references at the Carling Weekend can attest. There's a time and a place for that sort of thing, and deployed in an appropriate context such as a pop song, it can be a hugely effective device, whether used to emphasise an important message or capriciously plant a load of maddening nonsense in the unsuspecting listener's brain.
Here I wish to detail some of my favourite vocal mantras, in no particular order. You will possibly detect a slight bias towards the more unhinged examples—noise, claustrophobia, catatonic shrieking, that kind of thing. Also, for curiosity’s sake, Marlena Shaw's "Woman Of The Ghetto" was officially 11th, and would almost certainly have made the list if I'd thought of anything to write about the word "ging."
Oneida - Sheets Of Easter
"You've got to look into the lightlightlightlightlightlightlightlightlightlght" etc etc. Scooping the award for Most Impressively Bloody Minded; not only the same chord for fourteen minutes (a couple of genius blink-and-miss-em changes notwithstanding), but the same word for most of that as well. A relentless, brain-pounding ordeal, those with the patience to reach the end will likely find themselves particularly amenable to the idea of looking at the light, possibly to the exclusion of being able to think about anything else.
The Sound - New Dark Age
The finale of 1981's From The Lion's Mouth (the versions from the BBC Recordings being equally noteworthy) sounds like the point where Adrian Borland takes a moment out from being wracked with inner turmoil to take a look at the increasingly Thatchered country around him and realises that everyone else is completely fucked as well. After a relentlessly bleak dirge of a song, an actual chorus leaps into existence from the oppressive fug, the drums lurch awkwardly to a nervy motorik pace and Borland's cry of "here it comes..." is met by a surprisingly tuneful synth phrase, after which it starts to gather pace maniacally. "HERE IT COMES! THE NEW DARK AGE!", he repeats, and as his tone becomes increasingly urgent, it begins to sound like a call to fight back rather than a proclamation of impending doom, but at its most intense point it inevitably burns out, crashing back down like a mid-air engine failure in a spent, frustrated heap.
Kelis - Caught Out There
As terrifying as fighting a two-fronted battle against a steadily worsening political climate and the personal demons that will later consume you must be, it's given a run for its money by the idea of Kelis Being Very Angry At You. "I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW! ARGGGGGGH!", she shrieks with terrifying gusto, met by weird electronic squelches that in an odd sort of way evoke the eyeballs of her unfortunate target melting down the front of his face. She sounded so calm to begin with, as well.
Shitloads Of Wire Songs
I realise this technically makes this piece Top Nine, Plus Shitloads of Wire Songs, but narrowing it down just seems too tricky; Wire were really good at shouting the same thing over and over, weren't they? I resorted to Google to establish that the closing vocal refrain of "Surgeon's Girl" is "I've seen you in glossy mags / I've seen you and you've seen me," but by the end it scarcely matters as Colin Newman seems to have just eroded the syllables down to a series of demented gnashing noises. In contrast, ""he might replace the old with the moon, he might replace the old quite soon" from "A Mutual Friend" serves as an oddly euphoric conclusion to a previously menacing song.
Still, this could go on for months: if we must have a single representative from Camp Wire, it's "Life On Deck" from the marvelous Newman solo effort A-Z, for the phrase "not mind we jolly jack tars / I'm in disgrace / The cat sat on the carpet / I just lay here like a lump," which manages to be both utterly bewildering and one of the most joyously intense pieces of insane shrieking ever recorded.
Faust - No Harm
In a similar vein to many of the Wire ones (an influence on them, if the "Pink Flag" like drum roll n' screaming of the outro is anything to go by), here we have a group of German men shouting "DADDEH! Take the banana! Tomorrow is SUNDAYYYYY!," over an atonal jazz workout, getting louder and more incoherent until they're just shrieking like lunatics. Awright.
Boredoms - Acid Police
Wherein we are greeted by Eye and co. engaging in a throaty call and response of the title, rendering it somewhat closer to "ACID! POLIZEI!" or possibly even "A SHED! POLICY!". This continues a capella for some time before being reinforced by a clumsy monster of a guitar riff that sounds like a 50 foot tall child staggering round in wide-eyed glee oblivious to the city he's trampling underfoot, and what I estimate to be eleven drum kits having the absolute shit pounded out of them. Exemplary for its cheerful but spittle-flecked dedication to the bellowing of terrifying gibberish, which is beautifully underlined by the way it comes to what appears to be a fairly unassuming halt, only to lurch briefly back into life for a last stand like a theatrical supervillain that refuses to die. As if they hadn't quite driven the point home enough for the first four minutes they were shouting it constantly.
Funkadelic - Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow
"Free your mind and your ass will follow—the kingdom of heaven is within". Genius combination of goofy and portentous as the opening spiel of the album, convincingly rammed home by floating in and out of the escalating freakout that follows it. Also, on its own merits, probably one of the best sentences ever.
The Fall - LA
There are tons of Fall mantras that could go here, as you'd expect from a band whose first single was a paean to repetition called "Repetition," but "LA" in particular has an oddly hypnotic quality that fascinates me. It's more spaced-out and trippy than a lot of the earlier Fall stuff, with a heavily-reverbed Mark E Smith chanting the letters L and A, amongst various other grunts and wails, over weird synth squiggles and simplistic intertwined guitar lines. Once it fully hits its stride he's joined by Brix shouting "this is my happening—and it freaks me OUT", with the overall effect being similar to that weird kind of wanderlust you get when staring out of the window of a car in the rain at three in the morning. You know the one I mean. Probably.
Life Without Buildings - Philip
Not unlike a less abrasive Fall; Sue Tompkins' lyrical approach involves a stuttering, stream of conscious tirade, occasionally fixating on odd little phrases, repeating them over and over with different inflections as if obsessively trying to drag some sense out of them. Lines that seem either completely nonsensical or just too ambiguous to read anything into end up sounding bizarrely poignant with her catatonically stretching the syllables all over the place to a backing of morose indie-jangle; here she repeats various lines, mostly "couldn't understand science" and "do we need order," but most affecting is the insistent way she yelps the word "darling." There's just something about it, y'know?
Chic - Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)
The first step on Chic's rapid ascent to becoming the best band in the history of the universe, and something of a statement of intent; as a manifesto it sums up their predilection towards pursuit of the groove neatly, but it's also amazingly fully-formed for a first single.
Trying to single out any one musical highlight of a Chic song is like trying to find a needle in a massive pile of needles; every last minor flourish of this is basically perfect. Those majestic string swoops sound like God. The bits where the brass augments them is whichever rank of celestial office is the one above God. The core Thompson/Edwards/Rodgers groove is absolutely relentless and would probably induce at least some minor juddering in the comatose. This all provides the backing for the singers' recurring, ecstatic command to "Dance! Dance! Dance! Daaaaaaaaance!". It's certainly a more ethical method of persuasion to dance than firing a revolver at the feet of a hapless vagrant, but the end result's the same—how could you not?