Category Archives: Scat/nonsense singing

Lighting every step on the Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven is a classic choice for song contests.  If English is your native language, don’t take the words of this song for granted. If English isn’t your native language, don’t take the words of this song for granted. The words matter.

They matter, but they’re not a liturgy.  Dave Grohl captures the heart of the song without reciting every word in order. Or at all:

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Hocus Pocus

It’s funny because I studied a lot of classical piano, organ and flute, but I never studied yodelling. And it made me famous throughout the world. It’s really funny.”

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When You Know Why You’re Happy

English words on the page are pinned to the dictionary. Music lifts words off the pin and breathes life, colour and complexity back into them. Intention shapes breath. Breath shapes sound.  Sound shapes meaning.

Think of ‘happy’. Light and joyful in the mouth of Pharell Williams, twisted into a painful shadow by Tom Robinson; Mary Margaret O’Hara lifts happy off the dictionary pin, and lets it fly free:

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Ron Mael’s Magical Mystery Tour: Daily, except for Sunday

Ron Mael of Sparks, our fourth Movember Man, wrote This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us in 1974. His brother Russell agreed to sing it. Very quickly, very precisely and with an intriguing falsetto.

Given that Russell enunciates as clearly as this or this, why is it so hard to catch his words? You’ll hear the title/chorus easily enough, and Heartbeat, increasing heartbeat is no problem. But which zoo animals does Russell name? Which Japanese city? How many cannibals need their protein? And why doesn’t it destroy your enjoyment of the song if you spend its 3 minutes lost in confusion?:

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Space is the Place

Minimalism isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of Sun Ra. But, if you want to see “less is more” songwriting in action, look no further than the 4 one-syllable words he selected as title and base lyrics for Space is the Place.

They flow with the music wherever they’re placed, they encompass layers of meaning and allow layers of harmonising,  their diphthongs breathe in and out as the music requires and the placement of the 2 rhyming nouns gives the whole line a pleasing see-saw balance. That’s an awful lot of responsibility for 4 small words.

Luck or judgement? Well, consider some possible 4 syllable alternatives to Space+is+the+Place:

  • Space is super.
  • Space is a place.
  • Join our space race.

Each has 4 syllables. Each contains the word space and a positive message.  Do they fit the music? Try singing them while Sun Ra plays his keyboards for you. How do they feel? Better or worse than Space is the Place?

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