music theory for the lay-folk, myself included: The Clash, The Who, NY Dolls, and more

Happy Sunday folks! I hope you’ve got a warm coffee in ya, if that’s your thing. I gotta tip a couple cups a’day to keep me right, and a third one on the weekends can be just the thing.

I have the benefit of getting a bit of musical wisdom now and again from my partner, who teaches a bit in the local music school. Music theory can be an odd discipline, and one of her pet concepts is “extraneous intensifier,” which describes the apparently gratuitous “ooh” or “aah” that fails to add meaning to the song. I thought of Ray Charles and tracks such as “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” (I know it was a big to-do upon its release, but I find my joy in Mr. Charles on LPs other than Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962)).

As a devotee of popular music writ large, I was hard-pressed to imagine the bastion of intensifiers on some of my favorite tunes as extraneous: think of Roger Daltrey, at 7:50 below, when he’s called upon to affirm a bit of resilience (I’ve attempted to cue the videos below to play 20 seconds ahead of the mid-song intensifier of note):

David Johansen with The New York Dolls, on “Personality Crisis” (here on The Old Grey Whistle Test), frames the song with intensifiers from the get-go–and I can hardly imagine the song without them.

I think there’s even a couple hundred words otherwise captures in the low growl of Glenn Tilbrook at 3:30, in this tale of betrayal and wonder:

Elvis Costello indicates with a few opening bars of not-quite-sweet-nothings that this narrative may be motivated by something other than revenge or guilt–as you may know, his self-proclaimed first principles in songwriting.

I had the ending of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” in mind, too, but want to wrap it up with a ladies’ choice (and The Clash), and I’m thinking of Elastica’s Justine Frischmann at 2:04 in this narrative of automobiliaphilia, which is oddly contradicted by the sci-fi video:

The Clash, oddly enough, are difficult to pin down in terms of a solid integral intensifier. There are of course the “ooh-aah” backing vocals of “Protex Blue,” “Police and Thieves,” and others, but rarely, if ever (among the songs I know, and I do know most of them), did Joe or Mick (or even Paul or Topper) elaborate a stanza with a integral or extraneous intensifier. The one that comes to mind is a gem (@ 4:01 especially), and you’ll find it below.

(This video clip resisted embedding, for some reason. There’s a prelude of interview clips that are fairly amusing, and if anyone knows what Opie’s doing introducing The Clash, I’d be delighted to know the context.)

STH

Have a delightful week! Please check in on Wed. for a midweek gem, and be sure to catch The Baker’s latest musings on The Clash — this time on Hell W10 here.

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3 thoughts on “music theory for the lay-folk, myself included: The Clash, The Who, NY Dolls, and more”

  1. I like the ‘extraneous intensifier’ concept. While it’s unlikely any of the extraneous intensifiers in your examples would have been included in the lyrics sheet (maybe that’s a good definition?), they are indeed intensifiers, and are often the moments I most look forward to in a song. My absolute favourite EI is in David Bowie’s ‘Changes’. He lets out a killer ‘Maggie’s Farm’-ish ‘AWW’ before the second line of the bridge.

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