I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Does "lousy" have a skeleton?

Two of the lousiest tunes ever written are, alas, two of the most ubiquitous: “God save the Queen” and “Happy Birthday to You.”

But what constitutes a lousy tune? Straight off “Queen” sounds more like a dirge than a musical tribute. And if you want proof cast your mind back to Casablanca where the Germans are making a nuisance of themselves singing the Horst Wessel Song in a bar. Up stands Paul Henried and stirs the French into roaring out Marseillaise as competition. Can you imagine Brits moaning “Thy choicest gifts in store, On her be pleased to pour” and making any headway?

Has lousiness got an identifiable musical structure? Well “Queen” has modest dynamics with the whole thing contained in less than an octave. Also, it ends feebly, with the last line trickling down (would “oozing” be better?), and slowly swallowing, all the white notes to middle C.

But “Birthday’s” worse. First, second and fourth lines are rhythmically identical and melodically slight variants of each other which is surely why it sounds so repetitive and so banal. You might think it’s popular because it’s easily managed by the human voice but in the third line there’s an octave jump beneath Happy and Birthday and no one – after all these years – is ever prepared for that. It all goes nasal and thus to hell in a hack.

How Much is That Doggie in the Window? we’ll leave for another day


  1. There's something to be said for an anthem that's in one octave. It takes a choir to sing the "Star Spangled Banner" well. (A beautiful tune, but it does dash from one octave to another.)

  2. I have just been a-sniffing around the corpse of Barrett Bonden, which led me here.

    So..Lorenzo de la Ponte, eh? a quote from Wikipedia:
    "Reprimanded by the vicar-general, Da Ponte and Anzoletta opened a brothel. Charged with "public concubinage and rapito di donna onesta" (abduction of a respectable woman), Da Ponte was banished from Venice for fifteen years."

    When you begin to discuss your after-dark activities I think my interest will perk up!

  3. I like your anthem. We sing it a bit differently over here, as I'm sure you remember:

    "My country,' tis of thee,
    sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
    land where my fathers died,
    land of the pilgrims' pride,
    from every mountainside let freedom ring!

  4. Julia: I remember waiting for TV coverage of a baseball game to start and hearing Curt Gowdy (Remember him?) introducing a new version of José C'n You See by the Johnny Mann Singers. Excellent. That must have been in the late sixties and yet I can still it in what passes for my brain. Good music and good performances have a way of hanging around.

    Avus: Tbe corpse is rotting down nicely. I recall you responding rather grumpily to a musical post by BB and saying it was all beyond you. I couldn't decide whether it was a compliment or not. Anyway, I fear music is all you've got of me now and I have just added "Farewells (specially for Avus)" to my list of future subjects. In the interim think of me as:

    The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
    Prepare ye the way of Ludwig (and Wolfgang, and Franz, and Richard, and Richard, and Johannes, etc, etc)

    The Crow: I'm aware of that lugubrious chant. When I first heard it (probably in Dormont, Pennsylvania) I was quite startled and briefly imagined the Boston Tea Party had all been in vain. Perhaps it has.