17 November, 2018

Top Ten Awesome Babble Songs

I’m currently reading Hang the DJ, an Alternative Book of Music Lists. It goes beyond the typical Top Ten Guitar Solos and sticks to very specific criteria. The first chapter, written by Owen King, tells you everything you need to know about the type of lists in the book: Ten Essential Stutter songs (for example, Muh-muh-muh-My Sharona and Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes.)

In selecting Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer, Owen King admits it only works if the final syllable is actually ‘far’ and not merely another ‘fah’ which would make it “better suited for the Top 10 Awesome Babble Songs.” Which gives me an idea…

This does not include scat singing or anything similar, but only songs where the babble is an integral part of the song, and often even the title.

10: Doo Wah Diddy - Manfred Mann

It’s really just your typical boy-meets-girl and they fall in love song. Only in this one, they’re singing ‘Doo wah diddy, diddy dum, diddy do.’ As you do.

9: Tutti Frutti - Little Richard
Apart from Mr Penniman listing some of the gals he’s got, the song is almost all babble. Although the title may also be an ice cream flavour an ‘aw rooty’ is allegedly a slang term for ‘all right,’ it hardly enhances the meaning of the song, whatever it may be. Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom’s meaning has only come since the song.

8: Be-Bop-a-Lula - Gene Vincent
Any song that commits the lyrical sin of rhyming ‘baby’ and ‘maybe’ ensures that even if all the other words are utter drivel, they still won’t be the worst thing about the song. Like Yabba-Dabba-Doo, Be-Bop-a-Lula has no particular meaning but you still know it means something good.

7: Da Do Ron Ron - The Crystals

Another piece of babble that you just know means… something! All the great innocent pop has a sexuality bubbling underneath and you have to figure out what it means for yourself. Bruce Springsteen made it obvious that when they kissed, fire! But in Phil Spector’s teen symphony, when he walked her home, Da do ron ron! If you know what I mean.

6: Hey Jude - The Beatles
Perhaps a controversial choice, but any song where over half of the single’s 7-minute length is: ‘Nah, nah, nah, nananah nah, nananah nah, Hey Jude!’ surely has to count.

If that doesn’t work for you try…

5:  Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da - The Beatles
Far from being a twee nursery rhyme that some people consider it to be, it’s far more political than that. It’s easy to forget this was the time of Enoch Powel and his ‘blood in the streets’ speech. Paul McCartney’s simple story of a multicultural family being just as ordinary as can be, set to a calypso beat, was a sly put-down to all that. While John Lennon might have been more likely to just say, “Don’t be racist, you pigs!” Paul was a bit more subtle than that. Almost too subtle.

4: The Boxer - Simon and Garfunkel
No-one said babble songs had light or fluffy. Paul Simon has admitted the ‘Li-la-li’ chorus was a simply a placeholder for lyrics that never came, and his embarrassment about it. He shouldn’t be so hard on himself. It works. What I never understood was why in the middle of the chorus of this most gentle and sensitive song, there’s a massive drum hit drenched in reverb that comes at you like a punch in the face. Like a punch in the… oh, right. The Boxer. Now I get it.

3: #9 Dream - John Lennon
John Lennon was a master of nonsense. This is quite a talent. A silly, off-the-cuff lyric from Paul McCartney sounds like a silly, off-the-cuff lyric but John could write about semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower like it was the most profound thing you ever heard. You’ve either got it or you haven’t.

In its wider context, the chorus of ‘Ah! Bowakawa, pousse pousse’ sounds to the monolingual ear like it could be a message to Yoko in Japanese. In fact, they’re just the words John heard in the aforementioned dream. Yet his delivery assures you that there must be more to it than just that.

2: De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da - The Police
Even as a classically trained post-punk in the late 70s, Sting took himself rather seriously. It’s tempting to think the title and hook of this song might be yet another pretention. It was on an album called Zenyatta Mondatta, after all. Mercifully, there was no deeper meaning. It’s simply a song about being tongue-tied before the object of one’s affections, and who can’t relate to that? It’s meaningless and all that's true.

1: Sussudio - Phil Collins
It’s still a boy-meets-girl song with a babble title and chorus. This time, the narrator invites the listener to say the word because it makes him feel so good. Try it for yourself. Go on, say, “Su-Sussudio.” Does it make you feel so good? Of course it doesn’t!

Phil Collins is problematic on a few levels but there’s no denying he completely nailed it here. Every single line and lick is a hook, and if the first keyboard riff bears a striking resemblance to Prince’s 1999, it’s probably no accident. This is probably the most-mid 80s song ever. You couldn’t design one better if you tried. You want to hate it but you can’t. Admit it.