From time to time, pop and rock bands need to include a specific, non-musical sound in their songs – generally something that will complement the lyrics . While they could simply ask their audio engineer to overlay a sound effect in the studio, many bands will often call upon their drummers to use their drum kit, or any other instruments as well as objects they may have – castanets, bells or even wooden blocks – in a creative way in order to mimic that sound.
Over the past few months, I’ve been listening for examples of this creative use of percussion instruments. The more I heard, the more impressed I became with versatility of the modern drummer. This is what I’ve compiled so far – I’ll be adding to this list as I discover more examples of percussive mimicry. If I’ve missed anything noteworthy, please let me know in the comments.
Song: Shy Boy
Lyrics: “I never missed a heartbeat [SFX], sitting in the back seat.”
Band: The Beatles
Song: Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Effect: A hammer being struck on someone’s head.
Lyrics: “Bang [SFX] Bang [SFX] Maxwell’s silver hammer came down upon her head”
Comments: I couldn’t find the original Abbey Road version of this song on YouTube. This was the closest-sounding version I could find.
Band: The Beatles
Song: A Day In The Life
Effect: A car crash.
Lyrics: “He blew his mind out in a car [SFX], he didn’t notice that the lights had changed.”
Comments: A drum fill mimics a car crash, or (as I interpret it) a car rolling over several times, before coming to a stop with its freshly-deceased occupant inside.
Band: Doug & the Slugs
Song: Too Bad
Lyrics: “A 45… goodbye! [SFX] I used with no hesitation.”
Comments: In the official video, Doug Bennett is despondent over a failed relationship and shoots himself in the head. As he crumples to the ground, his love interest merely rolls her eyes. Miraculously, Doug survives with just a little bit of stage blood on his forehead.
Band: Duran Duran
Song: Is There Something I Should Know?
Effect: Jungle drums.
Lyrics: “People stare and cross the road from me, and jungle drums [SFX] they all clear the way for me. Can you read my mind, can you see in the snow?”
Comments: I wasn’t sure if I should even include this example, because it’s essentially a drum imitating another type of drum. Yes, this mimicry is a bit of a stretch…
Band: Huey Lewis & The News
Song: The Heart Of Rock & Roll
Band: The Knack
Song: Your Number Or Your Name
Effect: Subway train wheels.
Lyrics: “Caught a glimpse in the subway, but you weren’t going my way. You were lost in the rumble of the train [SFX].”
Band: Paper Lace
Song: The Night Chicago Died
Effect: Clock ticking.
Lyrics: “And there was no sound at all, but the clock up on the wall [SFX].”
Band: Rough Trade
Song: High School Confidential
Effect: High heels against the hard floor of a high school hallway.
Lyrics: “You can hear, her stilettos click [SFX]. I want her so much, I feel sick.”
Song: Don’t Sit On the Plexiglass Toilet
Effect: The sharp staccato sound of a toilet seat smacking against the base of a toilet.
Lyrics: “A boy of five stands close to the toilet, holds the lid up with one hand. Won’t let go the lid for fear that, on his banana it will land [SFX].”
Comments: This is a hidden track from their 1973 album, The Serpent Is Rising. It received some airplay during the 1980s, on the Dr. Demento Show.
Band: Tony Orlando & Dawn
Song: Knock Three Times
Effect: A hard object hitting a pipe – presumably the pipes beneath the kitchen sink.
Lyrics: “Oh my sweetness [SFX – foot stomping] means you’ll meet me in the hallway. Twice on the pipes [SFX] means you ain’t gonna show.”
Artist: Trini Lopez
Song: If I Had A Hammer
Lyrics: “If I had a bell [SFX], I’d ring it in the morning…”