Friday, June 18, 2010

6/18/10 - Songs of the Summer, #9-10 - "Woody Woodpecker" and "Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend"

Top Song of 1948: "Woody Wood-Pecker" by Kay Keyser

Well, that answers a question that I never had...what top summer hit was also the inspiration for Woody Peckpecker and his uber-annoying vocal tic? Apparently this song by Kay Keyser. I wonder what it was about mid-century hit songs about birds? This song and "Rockin' Robin" I'm going to go out on a limb and call a trend. If I had a time machine I would go back to the late '40s and write a song called "Sir Sparrow vs. the Green Knight" and watch the money roll right in.

This marks the first time in the compilation of summer songs that the modern-day trend of using one vocalist to drop the hook while a different vocalist sings the song appears. Kay Keyser: ahead of his time. As befits any son of North Carolina (he was born in Rocky Mount). Other than the woodpecker vocal tic, this song's pretty generic.

Top Song of 1949: "Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend" by Vaughn Monroe

(Embedding disabled, follow above link)

This song I really like. Vaughn Monroe's got the bassiest voice to show up so far in these songs, and it's the kind of voice that doesn't really make much of an appearance on the pop charts, usually. The last band I remember that had a hit with a lead vocal that low in the register were the Crash Test Dummies with "Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm:"

But back to "Ghost Riders in the Sky". The minor-key tonality really works for this song, and the swelling background vocals add a kind of eerie atmosphere that works well with the supernatural imagery of the lyrics. The steady-rising melody over the galloping beat also builds nicely to the "Yippee-ai-yay" refrain. One notable aspect of the songwriting on this one is the use of two main hooks. There's the obvious hook of the refrain, but there's also the melodic phrase that happens on the second line of each verse, where the melody ascends upward in a little bit of foreshadowing of the the throttle-open refrain. The way the strings float in and out of the song, too, help with the propulsiveness and eerieness of the song overall.

Also, Vaughn's voice. Wow. I know I already mentioned it, but that's one powerful instrument. Thing sounds like a foghorn in a wind tunnel, in a good way. One thing that must be said about all of the '40s hits is that vocalists are, to a one, technically flawless. Whether or not you care for the style is one thing, but you can't knock the technique on display. It's abundantly clear that Dylan hasn't come along to make it safe at the top of the pop charts for less conventionally "good" vocalists.

1 comment:

ariyele said...

i like the line in the woodpecker song about 'are the redwoods really red'
since, no, they aren't. and before living with redwood trees, you might not know the subtly. nice. sucker for are reference i get.