Monday, 7 April 2014

The Best AAA Screams (Top Ten, News, Views and Music 239)

This week's top ten is real scream! Sometimes emotional adrenalin runs so high among AAA musicians that words are no longer enough. The scream is an undervalued device in music but it certainly ratchets the drama up a notch in a whole stream of songs - AAA ones included. Pink Floyd's Roger Waters is of course a master of the scream, so much so that listeners tend to get nervous in his work if there hasn't been one along for ten minutes. Other bands have had a go too, though, hence this list. By the way for the purposes of our list a 'scream' is the dictionary definition of a 'loud sharp piercing cry, usually unintelligible and denoting distress' - so we're not counting screams of joy or screamed phrases of a song (which means that AAA classics like 'Helter Skelter' 'Mother' and 'Scream Thy Last Scream' don't make this list). 

1) Pink Floyd "Careful With That Axe Eugene" (B-side 1968)

The song has been building moodily on its two-note phrase for about three minutes to the point where the tension is absolutely agonising. And oh the relief when Nick Mason finally stops coasting on the drums and absolutely thrashes the hell out of them, ushering in a gloriously climactic Roger Waters scream. Scarier than any horror movie and sounding more zombie than human, Roger's scream is a masterpiece in expressing all the pent up agony and rage in the instrumental. For the curious there are allegedly words being spoken by Roger in a whisper: Down, down. Down, down. The star is screaming. Beneath the lies. Lie, lie. Tschay, tschay, tschay. Careful, careful, careful with that axe, Eugene. The stars are screaming loud’. However for most fans the song manages to conjure up its imagery of a mass murderer simply from the hilarious title and that howl of pain and despair. Director Antonioni loved the song so much that he hired the Floyd to re-record it (as the minutely less blood-curdling 'Come In Number 51 Your Time Is Up!') and was less than happy that the Floyd gave him actual 'songs' to go with it unlike the scream-fests he was expecting.

2) John Lennon "Cold Turkey" ( A Side 1970)

For Lennon the whole of 1970 was about screaming. The book 'Primal Therapy' by Professor Janov was the towering influence on the 'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' album where John howls and screams out the pain of his childhood in the most AAA scream-filled album. Opening track 'Mother' famously ends with two minutes of blood-curdling screams that are at least a minute and a half longer than comfortable. And yet none of the album features a wordless painful 'scream'. The closest Lennon comes is the only marginally less painful Plastic Ono Band single 'Cold Turkey', an ode to the singer's painful heroin withdrawal (he and Yoko were expecting a baby so had vowed to come off the drugs - sadly it didn't work and Yoko had a miscarriage). Although most of the song is simply constructed, more like a 1950s verse-chorus song that Lennon's usual asymmetrical writing, the last 90 odd seconds of the song break every boundary going, the guitars tied to the song's simple seven note riff that act like lead weights on the feet of the narrator. Lennon then explores every vocal box of tricks in his capacity, gurgling, drooling, howling and eventually screaming out his anguish in a blood-curdling yelp that seems to surprise him as much as everyone else. The yin to 'Because's calm and peaceful yang, both songs are odes to the up-and-down rollercoaster of life on heroin and its ability to make you feel both the good and bad in life at its most extreme.

3) The Who "Won't Get Fooled Again" ('Who's Next' 1971)

A nine-minute song needs something to keep it going and the unexpected re-building of the tension around the 7 and a half minute mark is excruciating. The synthesisers slowly loop round from their psychedelic wanderings, keith Moon kicks off one of his greatest of all drum breaks and finally Roger Daltrey launches into an ear-splitting howl of anger and despair. If the opening section of the song sounds largely optimistic, with lines about overthrowing tyrannical narrow-minded regimes, the weary reprise makes it clear that throughout its long troubled history mankind has never yet been able to govern itself fairly. 'Meet the new boss - same as the old boss!' is the song's final taunting cry as Roger's growl conjures up spirits of the French Revolution, the American Civil War and a thousand more revolts and uprisings besides.
4) Pink Floyd "Great Gig In The Sky" ('Dark Side Of The Moon' 1973)
Clare Torry famously thought she'd blown it after taping her first go at her wordless vocals for Rick Wright's gorgeous song about mortality and death. Asked to use her voice 'like an instrument', her ebbing and flowing over Rick's simple piano chord sounds unmistakably 'real' (Clare said later she was thinking about her recently deceased Granny when she was singing it) and features a real pick of emotion towards the end when - after railing against her fate for nigh on four minutes - Torry quietly accepts her fate. Her screams sound almost calm here in context but sound as blood-curdling as any on this list when 'borrowed' out of context for 'Dark Side's opening collage 'Speak To Me'. 

5) The Moody Blues "Departure/Ride My See-Saw" ('In Search Of The Lost Chord' 1968)

Most 1960/70s Moodies albums start with something equal parts odd and memorable. The second album - about the search for a 'lost chord' that will unite mankind in peace and happiness and harmony - is arguably the weirdest, consisting of drummer Graeme Edge's recited poem about unfulfilled needs. In a nutshell mankind keeps happy memories at the front of his brain in the hope of one day finding a peaceful life that will consist of only these things, which 'they use to help us, to find...' and we never find out what comes next because it gets cut off by a blood-curdling scream that leads directly into the comparatively happy song 'Ride My See-Saw', bassist John Lodge's piece about finally feeling he's where he should be in his life playing in a band. Edg'e's demented scream is unsettling enough to hang around for the rest of the record, though, where the closest this album comes to serenity is keyboardist Mike Pinder's ode to meditation 'Ommmm'. 

6) Yoko Ono "Midsummer New York" ('Fly' 1971)]

No wonder Lennon got so turned on by primal scream therapy - his wife had been using it for most of her career. There are millions of examples we could have used - heck, 'Yoko/Plastic Ono Band' is a whole 45 minutes of screaming at different speeds and pitches - but our choice is perhaps her most mainstream 'scream'. 'Midsummer New York; is Yokoi's response to the 1950s rock and roll Lennon has just introduced her to and her feeling of one-ness with an art form that's the closest thing in music to the Haiku poetry she was brought up on in her childhood. Everything in the narrator's life is shaking in this song - out of fear, out of joy, nothing stands still and Yoko's response is an equal mix of terror and celebration as she inverts the riff of 'Shaking All Over' and rattles the microphone with such power that everything vibrates along with her when you play it. Eerily the song is about feeling out of place in New York, afraid of what might happen just nine years before John's death. 

7) Pink Floyd "Run Like Hell" ('The Wall' 1979)

Roger Waters is back on this list again, with a blood-curdling scream that appears ducked low in the mix during Pink Floyd's catchy as hell song about paranoia. Character Pink is by now so late on in the building of 'his wall' that he's looking over his shoulder the whole time 'feeling the bile rising from his guilty past' and his schizophrenic personality chip away at him from the left and right speakers before finally joining in a snarling 'you'd better run!' Roger sounds like he's having far too much fun here screaming his head off to a backing track of crashing cars and heavy footsteps. Get the hell out of there Pink, this won't end well...

8) Nils Lofgren and Grin "End Unkind" ('1+1' 1972)

Does this count as a scream or is it more of an eerie laugh? Either way, the conclusion to the 'rocking' side of Grin's finest album is deeply unsettling, a song about the narrator's split feeling between wanting to stay friends with a girl whose just dumped him and his desire for revenge suddenly sprouting into a shouting contest between Nils Lofgren and drummer Bob Berberich near the end of the song. A sneezing hi-hat keeps the song on its toes and sounding like it's about to fall over at any time, but nothing prepares the listener for the shrieking cackling disembodied voice that takes the last word on the song and mocks the narator something rotten. On the days of vinyl ran round and round the groove until the needle got lifted off the player (sadly it's really cut down on the CD). Why this frightening other-worldly sound hasn't turned up in a horror movie yet I'll never know...

9) The Kinks "State Of Confusion" ('State Of Confusion' 1983)

We covered this song on our site not long ago - suffice to say the fact the ever erudite Ray Davies is having such a bad time he can't do anything else but scream at his problems signals what an awful period this was for the elder Kink brother. The rest of the song is unsettling too, with a long list of problems that need solving, an angry relentless riff that keeps nagging away and a vocal that's covered in spit and sawdust. But it's that opening scream that you take away most from this song, a howl of pain that says more than the song's lyrics ever could.

10) The Beatles "Hey Jude" (A Side 1968)

Finally, 'Hey Jude' might not seem the obvious candidate for this list: I mean, 'Hey Jude' is generally considered an uplifting song of hope and overcoming obstacles. But have a listen to Paul McCartney's vocal right in the middle of the song before the 'na na na na's start. 'Judy Judy Judy 'snarrrrrl' the vocal goes, instantly transforming the song from a lovely memorable pop song into something so much more (more than one Beatles commentator has pointed out that the style and phrasings of the song is closer to blues than pop anyway and the wild shriek Macca comes up with it certainly sounds bluesier, like it's full of meaning). This sets up the rest of the song nicely, the 'na na na' phrases sounding like the celebratory coda to a party after years of struggle than simply a bit of random 'na na na'-ing.

So there you have it: screaming or shouting or singing we'll be back next week with more news views and music - see you then! *howllll*

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