Sunday, September 14, 2008


And what about the falsetto, eh? What does it signify?

It's a sort of narrative gender-switch; a mechanism by which a song's point-of-view can suddenly be inverted by a change of pitch. (I love the way that the song "Donna" pivots around the words "Meanwhile, waiting by the telephone..." as an as-yet unseen narrator suddenly materialises and cues an unexpected scene-shift or change of perspective (as well as persona) - the recording-medium's equivalent of a cinematic dissolve. Yet, to add to the confusion, the male part is sung in a faux-female voice - indicating that Donna has effectively emotionally demasculinised or castrated him (she has him by the balls, y'see?) - he no longer has a penis, yet she gives him an erection, but at the same time also denies him one ("You make me stand up, Donna/Sit down, Donna..."). The constant switching between falsetto/non-falsetto adds layers of complexity to the narrative. But it's also a great (tho barking mad!) song)

So, the falsetto generally represents The Feminine in Ascendency (or Masculinity in Decline or Abeyance); it's a form of metaphorical castration - the denial of maleness, either real or imagined.


Falsetto Vs. Modal Voice Register.

The falsetto is also another harbinger of hysteria.

(Like "Donna", "Sugar Baby Love" also employs that other venerable vocal device: The Talk-Over, where a neutral - usually male ie 'authoritive' - figure either opens up or explains the narrative, or else offers 'outside' advice to the song's protagonist(s) (and thus the listener), or in the case of Barry White, Isaac Hayes, etc completely subverts the tradition by trying to overtly cop off with the listener)

The falsetto also offers glimpse of Extreme States of Ecstasy (or the promise thereof).

It's also a cost-effective and practical vocal style, as you can save a boatload o'money on hiring-in female session backing-singers. Which is effectively what Tha Cee did - act out both male/female roles in their songs, which gave them another layer of implied meaning and also added to that weird, semi-cinematic constructed-by-scene feel, due to the fact that you had two song-writing pairs, each pushin n pullin and adding sections, bridges, etc to the other pair's compositions. Kinda Lennon-McCartney x 2.

Early 10c tunes were often pastiches or subversions of genres that featured falsettos (Doo-Wop, Surf Pop harmonies) - I guess this was a natural follow-on from their previous career of bashing-out soundalike Bubblegum Pop tunes for Kasenetz and Katz at Strawberry Studios. The Beach Boys were a band that early 10cc borrowed from on a handful of occasions and one whose own rep was built on their use of falsetto harmonies. Tho perhaps "harmony" is an inappropriate word in this case.

"Good Vibrations": well, I've never heard a song so less inclined to either soak up or emit good vibrations; there's an innate sense of hysteria about the whole thing - a sense of panic - like they've got fit a universeful of fun into three minutes, cos there's no more fun to be had after this. As the song progresses, the vocals seem to go up and up though the registers, as if reflecting the brothers' mounting sense of panic: uh-ho - we're about to get grounded (again). It sounds like the band's having a Crafty Wank (En Mass!) - too hurried to ever be enjoyed - there's all this scurrying around, beach-buggies colliding or in the wrong gear: screeeeech! It's a great record, fer sure, but an hysterical one.

(A bewhiskered Dennis Wilson!) I watched "Two-Lane Blacktop" a few weeks ago - a great movie - Warren Oates, James tayler and Dennis are all terrific in it)

And when they sing: "Fun, fun, fun, 'til her daddy takes the T-Bird away..." has anyone sounded less like they were having fun? Surely, the lyrics should read: "Fun, fun, fun, 'til our daddy takes our toys away..."?

The Beach Boys' up-tempo numbers sound so hideously false (another embedded meaning in falsetto), as if they're just waiting for dad to come back into the room and tell them off.


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