Friday, 21 October 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 118 (Top Five): That Same Bird Sound Effect In 5 Different AAA Tracks

As a collector knows, every so often you’ll be sitting there enjoying your latest much-searched for purchase when suddenly you’ll hear something that you really well mixed in with the track – and can sit there racking your brains for hours trying to work out what it is out of context. The biggest example of this in AAA circles is a particular sound effect of a bird, used by no less than three bands from the same source (the Abbey Road sound effects library - though how Pye artists The Kinks got their hands on the same tape is something of a mystery). Interestingly all four artists use the bird sound effect (who should have asked for royalties because he’d have been very rich appearing on five charting albums!) in different ways: to show innocence, to show happiness, to show ecological concern, to invoke the feel of something ending and to invoke bittersweet memories of your own past. Here, then, is our AAA ode to a high flying bird and his five musical appearances: 

1)    The Kinks “End Of The Season” (a track from ‘Something Else’, 1967):

Interestingly, it’s Pye artists The Kinks who used the sound effect first (as far as we can tell), using the bird at the start of their track ‘End Of The Season’, one of Ray Davies’ occasional music hall pastiches about Summer turning to Autumn and life getting colder, drabber and harsher. The opening to this track – the section with bird song – is amongst the most exciting 30 seconds in their canon: a cascade of piano chords building up to a sudden flurry of excitement with the classic line, although I’ve never been terribly keen on Ray’s mubled impression of Noel Coward-through-a-Leslie-speaker on the verses. The use of the bird here invokes a sense of innocence passing, especially since we never hear it again past the start of the song.


2)    The Hollies “Wishyouawish” (a track from ‘Butterfly’, 1967): It’s very buried in the stereo mix but you can just about hear the sound of the bird on the mkono mix, alongside that of a gurgling brook. This time around the bird signifies innocence, on a delightful song that’s probably the least multi-layered and complex on the Hollies’ most multi-layered and complex album. ‘Got no cares on my mind, got no place to go- still I don’t mind ‘cause it’s nice...’ go the band on a song all about enjoying everything life has to offer. Even the title is playful and fun, a last return to sunny childhoods for a band who in the 60s specialised in the theme. 

3)    The Beatles “Across The Universe” (the version originally released on the charity album ‘Nothing’s gonna Change Our World’, 1968, and now available on Past Masters Volume 2): The most famous use of the sound effect was – until the release of the ‘Past Masters’ collections in 1987 – the rarest released Beatles recording of all. The band struggled to get this song right several times and never did it properly at all (the basic ‘psychedelic’ version on Anthology 2 is the closest they got) and the two years it took ‘Across The Universe’ from first recording in mid-67 till release on ‘Let It Be’ in 1970 is a length of time rivalled only by B-side ‘You Know My Name (Look UP The Number)’. This semi-finished version from 1968 – the only one to feature the bird sound effect – was sent to Spike Milligan for use on a Various Artists album to raise money for wildlife, an astonishing early use of the charity LP idea that also saw an exclusive song from The Hollies (the delightful ‘Wings’, not released on one of their records till 1988). Here the bird signifies one-ness with nature on a song inspired by (though not written at) Rishikesh, India, where The Beatles were studying meditation. The chorus ‘Jai Guru Dev Om’, by the way, means ‘I am at one with the world and the world is at one with me’ and was also used by fellow meditation converts The Beach Boys on their record ‘All This Is That’. 

4)    Pink Floyd “Cirrus Minor” (a track from the film soundtrack ‘More’, 1969):At last we get to hear the full minute loop of the bird sound effect at the start of ‘More’s opening song ‘Cirrus Minor’, a creepy song that uses cloud formations as a metaphor for a nightmare (or something like that). When you’ve known a sound effect for as long as I did before hearing the full unedited version used here, it’s quite a revelation, although ironically it doesn’t really ‘feel’ as if it belongs on this track, where nature sounds like a joke that only runs surface deep and the ground shifts from under our feet all the time. The song actually comes from a film soundtrack, one made in France in 1969, although like 99.9% of fans its so obscure I’ve never actually seen it to know how the birdsong fits in. Still, think creepy Halloween horror movie rather than warm summer’s day.

5)    Pink Floyd “High Hopes” (a track from ‘Division Bell’, 1994): Pink Floyd again, using the bird song very quietly at the start and finish of their last song on (to date) their last album, to invoke both Gilmour’s own childhood in rural Cambridge and the band’s heritage. ‘High Hopes’ is generally agreed as being the best song the Gilmour-led Floyd of 1987-94 had to offer (it even got played as part of the ‘producer’s playlist’ during BBC6’s weekend, the only song from post-1971 to do so), invoking a sense of mystery and doubt as well as nostalgia, with clever lines about how the further away your childhood gets the more enticing the memories become. Much of ‘The Division Bell’ is an uncomfortable mix of the inspired and the inane, but this track is a fitting end to the band’s catalogue, mimicking as it does as an ‘older’ man’s visions of Syd Barrett’s early childhood-filled songs. The use of a familair sound effect here is doubly clever, invoking both a perfect childhood in the country away from all the noise and pressure of city life and Pink Floyd’s huge past when they used to use sound effects like this all the time. It sounds like the same recording of birdsong to me but, who knows, could it be the same bird’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandson singing a quarter of a century later?!

Right, that’s enough words – and birds – for this week. See you next time for some more news-ing, views-ing and most definitely music-ing!

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