Michele’s assignment for this week is “songs using unusual instruments.” As I see it, there are two kinds of unusual instruments: instruments that are just strange and instruments that you don’t usually associate with a particular genre of music. I think I managed to get a few samples of both.
- Rolf Harris, “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” I was watching an old episode of To Tell The Truth and Rolf was one of the contestants, and when the panel chose him he put on a demonstration of the “wobble board,” a sheet of thin wood that made a “whoop whoop whoop” sound when shaken back and forth. That’s what you hear at the start and all through this old song.
- Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield, “His Holy Modal Majesty” Al Kooper, in his Blues Project, Blood Sweat & Tears, and solo days, played the ondioline, which Wikipedia tells us “is an electronic keyboard instrument, invented in 1941 by the Frenchman Georges Jenny, and is a forerunner of today’s synthesizers.” He plays it at the beginning of the piece, which as far as I can tell is an improvisation in Mixolydian and Dorian modes, for all you music theory fans out there.
- Blood Sweat & Tears, “Just One Smile” In the fugue that starts at the 3-minute mark, you have Al Kooper and Fred Halligan on the organ and guitarist Steve Katz playing the lute. At least that’s what the album jacket said.
- John Twomey, “Stars and Stripes Forever” As I remember, John Twomey called himself a “manualist,” someone who plays his hands. I remember watching this on The Tonight Show and laughing to the point of loss of bladder control on this one.
- Peter Frampton, “Show Me The Way” Same old Peter Frampton, 40+ years after he first made this song popular, with much less hair and hearing aids in both ears, demonstrating that he still has it when playing the “talk box.”
- Roxy Music, “Virginia Plain” Andy Mackay, Roxy Music’s saxophone player, demonstrates his facility with the oboe, which is not all that unusual in popular music (you hear it at the beginning of “Traces” by Classics IV, for example) but you don’t usually hear it in the context of a rocker like this one.
- Tannahill Weavers, “Atholl Highlanders March/Hey Johnnie Cope” The Great Highland Warpipes, commonly called the bagpipes, don’t play nice with other instruments as a rule: they’re loud and, like most double-reed instruments, are hard as hell to tune (which is why symphony orchestras tune to the oboe). Somehow, though, Colin Melville was able to work with the rest of the Tannahill Weavers. A couple of other unusual instruments at play here are the Irish bouzouki, played by Leslie Wilson, and the bodhran, the drumlike instrument played by Phil Smillie for about half the song.
- The Chieftains with Van Morrison, “Raglan Road” The Chieftains play traditional Irish music on traditional instruments, including the uilleann pipes (a bagpipe played across the lap and worked with a bellows), played by Paddy Moloney. Other unusual instruments include the Irish harp and button accordion.
- Deborah Henson-Conant, “The Phoenix” The harp is a beautiful instrument, and Deborah makes it even more beautiful. You usually hear the harp in symphony orchestras, but here she’s playing jazz on it, and doing an excellent job. Many of her harps are made by Lyon & Healy, which is located in Chicago in an anything-but-glamorous neighborhood.
- Starbuck, “Moonlight Feels Right” A particular favorite video of mine and a great song besides, it’s one of the only songs I know of that has a marimba solo (played by the late Bo Wagner).
- The Beatles, “Within You Without You” No discussion of unusual instruments would be complete without including a song by George Harrison, who developed a love for Indian music during The Beatles’ stay in India when they were studying Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi. Among the instruments on this track are the sitar, which George learned to play at the feet of Ravi Shankar, and the tabla, dilruba, tambura and swarmandal, played by a group of London-based Indian musicians.
- Hiroshima, “One Wish” Hiroshima is a jazz band from Japan that integrates the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument, into their music.
- The Who, “Join Together” At the beginning of the video, you can see that Keith Moon and Roger Daltrey are playing Jew’s harps (also called jaw harps or juice harps), which produce that twangy sound. Pete Townshend and Jon Entwhistle are playing chord and bass harmonicas, respectively. In truth, all those instrument sounds are made by a synthesizer, but they could be done by the instruments I mentioned, so I’m going with it.
And that’s Monday’s Music Moves Me for October 22, 2018.