Yodeling in Heaven's Garage
Left to right: Yodeling hall of fame, Dillinger, Hank Williams III, Brian Eno, The Fugees
Part 2 by Bart Plantenga
Will there be any yodeling in heaven / That is what I'd like to know ...
Will they welcome me inside / With my yodel lay-eee-ooh-my-lay-eee-tee
- Girls Of The Golden West
As a long-time freeform radio DJ, I realize we have few kicks: 1) the segue that magical convergence of strange musics at first intercourse; 2) obscurity involves discarded gems, forgotten moments, neglected musicians, or disparaged musics. Obscurity is inherent to yodeling, having been systematically trivialized for centuries by the bourgeois guardians of good taste. The yodel continues to be maligned unrightly so, as you will soon discover. The pleasure of yodeling is further subsidized by its amazing versatility.
Yodeling probably arose with the domestication of animals over 10,000 years ago. Early herding required a communication system that allowed herders to communicate with the herd & other herders over greater distances. The Fugs' Ed Sanders calls it "a kind of homemade Morse code for people in the mountains." Yodeling is textless vocalizing & is distinct in its emphasis on the break that occurs as the voice passes from bass or chest voice to head voice or falsetto & vice versa. It affects our souls & nervous systems in ways different from standard singing. Manfred Bukofzer in 1936 described the magical powers of various Alpine tones, especially when combined with the mystical qualities of certain words, usually personal names for cows. Incantatory traits entangled in a vast psycho-geographic conflation of yodel, geography& spirituality.
A place where echo unveils ego? Maybe. Picture yodels bouncing off hillsides until there's any number of versions of your own voice harmonizing in midair. Voila, the first instant of recorded' sound mountain valley as recording studio; air and memory finally being replaced by records in the 20th century.
This video timeline is part 2 & covers yodels from 1970 to 2016 in [mostly] North American pop, blues, rock, dub, reggae from roots to iconic, from obscure & wacked to anomalous & sublime. It will dispel a common clich้: that yodeling is dead or performed only by dinosaurs approaching their last voice break. Read, click & listen on.
Tim Buckley "Come Here Woman"  Buckley descended into our midst like a screaming comet of wildly inventive vocals, having spent his early musical career with Native American yodeler Princess Ramona & the Cherokee Riders. He became a popular folk singer who veered quickly into the bizarre & inaccessible with Lorca and Starsailor, which features vocal barking, stretched half-tones, groaning, snoring, alien careening soundings & yodeling, leaving folkie audiences shrugging. April 2, 1970, Rolling Stone headline said it all: "Buckley Yodeling Baffles Audience." Also "Down by the Borderline." & most of Starsailor.
Sly and The Family Stone "Spaced Cowboy"  Crazy track from mind-expanding There's a Riot Goin' On that includes mumbled extemporaneous po้sie, gurgles & unbridled "Yodel ay eee laaaay ee dee eeee . . . oh aaaay eeee aw la deeee eee laaay eeee oh lay eee oooh." He was no stranger to yodeling. As a wee kid, he was exposed to Sam Cooke & Rebert Harris's yodeling when he sang in the family gospel group, the Stewart Four & as an Oakland radio DJ, honing his jive patter & vocal eccentricities, inc. on-air yodeling, sometimes even segueing into local ads with impromptu yodels.
Focus "Hocus Pocus"  Legendary Dutch prog-rockers Focus produced one of the world's most recognizable yodels ever! "Hocus Pocus." Almost everyone remembers it. But few realize it was the result of a commercial decision to crack the Anglo market. With their poor grasp of English they transformed it into the progressive, scat-esperanto yodeling of Thijs van Leer, yodeling in a suitably uncontrollable, histrionic but universal manner. A parody of "Hocus Pocus" can be heard on "Art Rock Suite" by National Lampoon's Dog's Breakfast.
Leon Thomas "Umbo Weti"  A great jazz vocalist & one of the most prolific & moving yodelers. His vocals fuse jazz scat, Pygmy yodels, Eastern spirituality& politics in an organic & logical way. "I call it Soularfone. The pygmies call it Umbo Weti.... This voice is not me, my voice is ancient. This person you see before you is controlled by ego but my voice is egoless." Pharoah Sanders said: "The voice projection leads toa wordless yodel sounding not unlike an American Indian call the moaning of spirits known & unknown." Also on "Echoes."
Loudon Wainwright III "The Swimming Song"  Wainwright is a favorite his lyrical wit, inventive rhymes & joyous playing remind me of how messy human relations are especially in his family! But he is someone I never ended up hearing yodel, as a consequence he did not make it to either yodel book & that is a shame because not only does he yodel here on this melancholy summer song fave, he manages some rowdy voice-breaking on his parody of bragging messianic types "I Am The Way" & on his cover of Jimmie Rodgers's "Treasure Untold."
Brian Eno "Seven Deadly Finns"  Quite anomalously, pre-minimal-ambient Brian Eno, managed his only UK Top 40 hit in 1974. This is a romping glam rocker complete with punnish Jabberwocky lyrics & flaky, somewhat disquieting, epiglottal mayhem. So novel & astonishing it can't even be considered a novelty song something about Finnish sailors satisfying blas้ mademoiselles. He also recorded a wonderful soaring & epiglottally enhanced version of that popular yodel vehicle "Lion Sleeps Tonight." Both are found on his 1983 Rarities EP.
The Eric Burdon Band "When I Was Young-War Child"  Eric Burdon engages in some melancholic, wounded yodeling on this live-sounding version of "When I Was Young," from the Sun Secrets period. This version has its moments, especially in his ability to break out of mold & let his vocal cords soar & dive impressively in an almost blues-gone-avant way, as if he's channeled Tim Buckley & Demetrio Stratos. It all feels like some mournful yodeling ghost gliding across the Vietnamese or wherever else was at that time war-torn.
Minnie Riperton "When It Comes Down to It"  "Loving You" would be hard to top as a single of transcendent charm for most singers. This song co-written by Riperton makes use of her very agile vocal cords although the album Adventures in Paradise had a decidedly almost soporific, easy-listening, soul sound except for the yodel track, which grabs some gristle and gusto with its vocal gymnastics that in a loungy nook may sound tempered, but not ineffectively emotive.
Bob Marley "Crazy Baldhead"  The Rastaman Vibration period was a great period for Marley & us & the defiant opening rebel yell cum yodel serves as a warning, a way of empowering by spooking the enemy, "those crazy baldheads" who are about to be "chased out of our town." A very powerful way to launch this political song. Truth be told, like many including me I never noticed the yodeling on the Vogues' "5 O'clock World" just as I never noticed the yodel-like qualities of this opening yell. There's also yodeling on "Rebel Music."
Buzzcocks "Get On Your Own"  The mystery, however, is how I missed the yodel here for so long. I went to see them in 2009 in Amsterdam and the band was illuminatingly tight, enthusiastic with a hippie-punk vibe AND they performed "Get on Your Own", complete with yodeling just like the original. Inchoative yodel vocals by Pete Shelley, which did earn the band some hate mail. But it has stood the test of time & taste "get on your oh woe oooo oh oooo ooown."
Mars "Helen Forsdale"  From the groundbreaking No Wave compilation produced by a presumed yodel-intrigued Brian Eno. With Sumner Crane on vocals & as much attitudinal devolved Velvets dissonance with guitar shimmering like riffs played on broken glass & as much urban triumphal angst that can be wedged & shoved into a "song" we also hear some very emotive voice-break, urban cry-moans that sound like blues yodels issued from the back-then-abandoned streets of Tribeca.
Crass "Darling"  This collective, squat-punk, in-your-face, direct action, anarcho-band played it for keeps music as weapon & propaganda that led to denunciations in the British Parliament. Meanwhile, the chorus of "Darling," a song about the hypocrisies behind the promise of consumerism, is "Hello hero, hero hello. Hello hero, Hello hello," which is voice-break yodeled throughout & complements their loud, aggressive sounds promoting pacifism very well.
Dillinger "Duddle Oley"  Dillinger (Lester Bullock), the unique singer-lyricist & producer of "Cocaine in my Brain" here along with the Roots Radics & the We The People Band sings this in a lethargic, somewhat blas้-awkward-pained yodeling style that makes you wonder why he bothered and yet, it begins to grow on you somehow over a few listens. From the neglected album Join the Queue, rereleased in 2015 on King Spinna.
The Honeymoon Killers "Flat"  One of the star bands of Belgian rock, they created a herky-jerky jaunty Devo-meets-Contortions new wave style & on this number, manage some wacky, not-exactly charming, throat-hurting, speed yodeling. "Flat" comes from the album Tueurs de la Lune de Miel (Crammed), which is often named as one of the great Belgian rock albums of all time.
The Fall "Living Too Late" b/w "Living Too Long"  Mark E. Smith's cantankerous bleating amplifies brilliant cracked-falsetto-yodel breaks. Smith has always had a broad repertoire of lacerating, satirical vocal utterances that undermine our standard understandings of both rock & punk. Pin-up model turned pop singer Samantha Fox in a review of Living Too Late' noted: "he sounds like he's having yodelling lessons" "I see trouble in the streeEEEts / Fearing catastrophe to meEEEet / Walk down the devil's boulevaAAAArd..." Also heard on "Black Monk Theme 2."
Tom Waits "Temptation"  I saw & listened to Waits intently for a looong time & yet the bluesy holler-moan-growl yodeling on "Temptation" from Frank's Wild Years, never registered. The song featured in the films L้olo (Lauzon) & Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. The song has a nocturnal raconteur Brechtian feel to it & the yodeling is definitely an emotive force to be dealt with as the main character is done in by... temptation, as so many billions before him.
Leroy Gibbs "Yodel Reggae"  Other than the fact that his name is alternately written as Gibbs & Gibbons, there is not much to say about him. The Trojan/Echo label on the Muzik City: The Story of Trojan (Echo/Trojan) compilation had little info & meanwhile took the time to revile this dancehall reggae vet of some modest hits for daring to yodel. Unjustifiably because it's a charming yodel with a sweet, earnest falsetto & backed with a clean dubby sound. It served as my gateway into many more reggae yodels.
De La Soul "Potholes In My Lawn"  One of the great hippie-hop groups who into our midst thrust a jubilant, humorous blend of drenched, off-kilter rhythms, countrified nods, wacked lyrics, flubs, glitches & multicultural myriad of dense samples & subject matter. Their 3 Feet High And Rising (Tommy Boy) is a classic. This yodel ode samples Parliament's Fuzzy Haskins's 1970 yodeling on "Little Old Country Boy."
Dub Syndicate "No Dog Barks"  Heavy dub track by the seminal Dub Syndicate & legendary producer Adrian Sherwood. It remains one of the most hauntingly beautiful examples of recycled yodeling, effectively sampling Pygmy yodeling, dogs barking& the disembodied gravelly voice of Prince Far I in the service of dub as an organic ambience-enhancing, mood-altering vocal technique. It's all perfectly anomalous & fitting.
Barrington Levy "Something in my Heart"  Dancehall reggae star Levy used to roam & yodel around the Jamaican hillsides as a youth, earning him the nickname "The Blue Mountain Yodeler." The delight and topographical echoing in his yodels make this a magical pop song. Also on "Under Mi Sensi" , a more menacing tune that denounces Jamaican government hypocrisy regarding marijuana laws.
Charly Lownoise & Mental Theo "Tiroler Kaboemsch"  This furiously frenetic & happy assault on the senses undermines more traditional notions of yodeling, causing a necessary fissure in what yodeling can be & what traditionalists say it should be. This popular Dutch techno DJ duo Ramon Roelofs & Theo Nabuurs moved from the abrasive-whimsical, almost adolescent hardbeats & wacked samples [here yodeling] that will alienate anyone over 24 years of age. This is a true delightful shocker.
The Cranberries "Dreams"  Lead singer Dolores O'Riordan from this Irish power-pop band makes it seem easy. She was born with a genetically determined lovely-effective quavering gift called a "Celtic yodel." Listen to how her vocals swoop down, embellishing words with breath-taking keening as she effortlessly wrings extra emotion from a simple phrase, stretching it to express soul, regret, loneliness it's probably the single reason why the Cranberries sound distinct from other bands. Also "Zombie," "I Can't Be with You," (voice-cracking "here" into a yodeled "heeeh-ai-ai-rrr") & "Black Widow."
The Proclaimers "Waiting for a Train"  Popular Scottish duo, the twins Charlie & Craig Reid, have an unusual, dynamic [big] & pristine, political-tinge, post-folk sound they sound like a whole lot of band for two guys. Their version of Jimmie Rodgers's classic is an anomalously rousing experience with endearing duet yodels. This cover version can be found on their Hit the Highway 2-CD collection.
Lee Scratch Perry & Mad Professor "Jungle Roots Dub"  Madcapped dub genius, legendary producer& extemporaneous glibster-poet of absurd politrix & visions has recorded more than a few yodels everything sonic is reusable in his studio including mooing cows & studio glitches. Perry here makes a sonic link between yodeling & dub as kindred audio spirits in their ability to use echo to alter minds. Add the Mad Professor to all this mayhem & you have a vet who's produced numerous yodel-dub tracks as well, such as his masterful "Fast Forward Into Dub."
Little Axe "Wake the Town"  Ground-breaking guitarist, ex of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Tackhead & African Head Charge, Skip McDonald's rehabilitates blues through dub & ambiences as living, inspirational material, as an audio anthropological tour. This includes astute syncretic reuses of blues plus African chants & numerous Pygmy yodel samples.
Arula-Mata-Gali [Ghoul-A-Go-Go] "Neanderthals"  The "primitive" American neo-garage rock band, the Neanderthals, open this track with a caveman/Tarzan style yodel-yell that forewarns of general stoned age pandemonium plus "barely" clad, comely go-go girls & living the virtual-novelty, paleolithic lifestyle & traveling via African jungles into a 1950s vision of outer space sure looks appealing.
Fugees "Cowboys"  From The Score, a hugely influential & popular hiphop release that made it to #1 on the charts & is today considered one of the greatest pop albums of the 1990s. This wonderful revisionist ghetto western with a Sergio Leone feel of revenge & shoot outs is thoroughly enhanced by the lonesome cowboy yodeling balanced atop the rhythm created by samples from the Main Ingredient "Something bout Love" & Intruders "Cowboys to Girls."
Van Morrison with the Candy Dulfer Band "Van Lose Stairway"  Live recording of this by-now Morrison standard about his Danish girlfriend's 4th-floor walk-up flat in Copenhagen from the Beautiful Vision album, which I only heard as I got into Hans Dulfer, Dutch jazz saxophonist & his accomplished poppier daughter saxophonist Candy, a regular in Morrison's band. Somehow this is one of my most surprising yodel discoveries. I just never associated Morrison with yodeling & there it is in full epiglottal glory.
Gillian Welch "My Morphine"  Hell Among the Yearlings (Almo Sounds) is a wonderful album. Welch & partner David Rawlings create a mournful, post-Carter Family, hip country music reminiscent of the Cowboy Junkies. This laconic bluesy morphine-drip-paced yodel hangs emotion out to dry in a limp humid breeze. Welch called "Morphine" the "slowest yodel song." More melancholic voice-breaking on "The Devil Had a Hold of Me." "My Morphine" also included on Rough Guide to Yodel.
Hank Williams III "Long Gone Lonesome Blues"  He looks eerily like his grandfather Hank and also sounds like I imagine Hank Williams Sr. would sound today if he'd been born in the latter part of the 20th century. There is something menacing like a grenade that's lost its pin that lurks behind this honky tonk punk & this can only be humanized & soothed by those lonesome train-track yodels that seem to establish the psychological distance between you, him & others employing some kind of yodeled sonar. He yodels on plenty of other songs as well.
Bob Holroyd "Passing Through"  His move from ethereal ambiences to a more beat-driven ambient -techno-tribal sound creates a misty terra incognita world music. It's subtle & hypnotic & employs the natural ambiences of Pygmy vocals their hocketing and group yodeling, which lend themselves so well to sampling in everything from techno, ambient, dub & triphop... In the realm of Deep Forest and Loop Guru but no less affecting, soothing& enthralling.
Adrian Sherwood "No Dog Jazz"  Solo project by English dub producer-genius of, among others, African Head Charge, Tackhead& Mark Stewart & the Maffia, who crunches world music with loads of trademark On-U dub effects, electronic grime, industrial waste, discarded noise, the voice of Prince Far I, as well as inspired sample reuse, including nice S.E. Rogie guitars and such, plus reprocessed Pygmy yodels, all so that it can never sound pristine. Also see "The Ignorant Version."
Gwen Stefani "Wind It Up"  Sound of Music fanatic Stefani & Pharrell Williams collaboration features creative reuse of "The Lonely Goatherd," which she yodels herself. More interesting than some critics gave it credit for (Rolling Stone called it "yodel-trocious," others criticized the very use of yodeling including Williams). To my ears, it's actually an ingenious catchy kitsch-n-beats mix. "Yodel back with the girl and goatherd..."
Nellie McKay "Yodel"  From this charming singer's self-produced, eccentric & eclectic, sitting-behind-the-piano-Carole-King-style 2nd album Pretty Little Head, which reminds me for some reason of a 21st-century Melanie with hints of flaky but not annoying eccentricity a la Kate Bush. She has a lot of words & wind & the yodel number, although brittle, is full-on charming & not glib-ironic yodeling.
Wylie And The Wild West "Yodel Boogie"  Wylie Gustafson & his band The Wild West play progressive swing, cowboy & country, which is enhanced by the virtuoso soaring yodeling of leader Gustafson. He has remained rooted to the land (Montana) by refusing to give up his life as a real cowboy. However, he is probably, strangely enough, the world's most famous unknown yodeler for having created & yodeled Yahoo Inc.'s globally recognized signature "Yahoo-oo-oo!" yodel.
DeVotchKa "We're Leaving"  Beautiful melancholy number by this Colorado burlesque-backing, indie, gypsy punk band that reminds me somewhat of Mano Negra with their lilting harmonies and robust punkish playing of acoustic instruments with soaring yodels taking you to unspecified places. They are most famous for their work on the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack.
Erika Stucky "All I Really Want To Do"  San Fran-Swiss-co performer Stucky can sound at home in almost any situation, any genre. On her ambitious Suicidal Yodels CD she plays squeezebox & yodels, collaborating with the great Young Gods to produce a dynamic hybrid of studio & live outdoor busker recordings in train stations. She does numerous covers [like this Dylan track] but the focus is on Swiss nature yodels, which go down an octave into a melancholy reflective register. Swiss yodeling is definitely a high altitude version of the blue yodel.
R. Kelly "Echo"  Mega R&B star, who, despite a trendy application of nasal-metallic vocorder, yodels in authentic human voice. For him yodeling denotes the consummate shout -grunt at orgasm "Yo-de-lay hoo-hoo" as his lover ululates "Yo-de-lay, yo-de-lay, yo-de-lay hoo-hoo," in ecstasy "screaming from a mountain peak." Kelly had to produce a video response to all who dissed him for doing a yodel. YES! (R. Kelly Explains Echo & yodeling). He says it's all "just to have fun... and it's respecting people that yodel." He even claims he's yodeled before on "Step in my Room" but I don't hear it.
Gorillaz "Seattle Yodel"  This is the final track on the Gorillaz The Fall album. Hopefully you know their m.o.- the band is a side project of Blur's Damon Albarn & consists of cartoon members, making it maybe the most famous virtual band since the Archies. It continues the long tradition of adding odd last tracks that will confuse fans & listeners. The band has a loopy, dubby, loungy, electronic casual feel that will no doubt be disturbed once they hear "Seattle Yodel." It confounds & irritates by looping the Yodeling Pickle as sold by the novelty company Archie McPhee.
Beck "Sound and Vision"  A full 157-piece, orchestral, Steve Reich-ish reimagining of the 1977 David Bowie track, complete with an army of electric guitarists, a rotating center stage & a yodeler, in this case, the eminently gifted Kerry Christensen, who's famous for his "Chicken Yodel," and his gymnastic yodeling on Weird Al-style songs. Christensen as part of the orchestra conducted by Beck's father, must do decibel battle with a flank of electric guitarists &, not surprisingly, he manages to hold his own.
Kurt Cobain "The Yodel Song"  Of course Cobain recorded this before he died in 1991 but I only came to hear it as part of the 2015-released Montage of Heck documentary that shows the rise of a sad boy out of obscurity & ridicule. Here at his less-than-lucid heroin best/worst overcoming a somewhat broken guitar & all his hang-ups & shyness to actually yodel in a fairly charming manner. & so I wonder what it was that made him turn to the yodel: pure muggery, or a leap into the abyss of questionable taste or genuine fascination or was he using it as a way to leap out of the doldrums & shyness that haunted him?
bart plantenga is the author of 2 internationally acclaimed yodel books: Yodel In HiFi: From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica, Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret Histoy of Yodeling Around the World, the producer of the Rough Guide to Yodel CD & YODEL IN HIFI Top 50+ Youtube. He has produced Insane Logic of the Yodel video-lectures in Amsterdam, Brussels, Rotterdam & London.
His nonfiction has appeared in Guardian, Nation-KGB Reader, American Music Center Journal, American Book Review, Reggae, Rasta, Revolution: Jamaican Music From Ska to Dub Waiting for a Train: Jimmie Rodgers's America, Up Is Up, But So Is Down: New York's Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992, Sonic Geography Imagined and Remembered; Department of Public Sound #4.
He also writes fiction: BEER MYSTIC, Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man & Wiggling Wishbone (Autonomedia); & creative memoirs Paris Scratch, NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor (Barncott, London). He's currently working on the Amsterdam-Brooklyn novel Radio Activity Kills with his daughter. He has been a DJ since 1986, producing Wreck This Mess in NY (WFMU), Paris (Radio Libertaire), Amsterdam (100 & Patapoe) & currently online. His radio work has appeared on BBC, Resonance FM, WNYU, NPR, Aligre FM & on French, Canadian, Swiss, Belgian & Dutch radio.
"In my heaven / Angels yodel when they sing."
- Melvern Rivers Rutherford, "In My Heaven"
Also see bart p's 1st yodeling article at PSF and Yodeling in Heaven's Garage 1  and Weirdest Yodeling Tales.
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|