Tag Archives: Jethro Tull

Omnireviewer (Week of Oct. 25, 2015)

I read, watch and listen to a whole lot of stuff. Usually, I have thoughts on that stuff. Oftentimes, those thoughts are not substantial enough to justify a proper essay, and I don’t have time for that anyway. To wit, here is the premise of Omnireviewer: if I read, watch or listen to it, I will review it in a few sentences. Every Sunday, I will compile the previous week’s reviews in a post like this one.

Before we begin, a few guidelines. Here are some things I generally won’t review:

  • Stuff made by people I know, or people who people I know know. I’m doing this for fun, not to make my life awkward.
  • Every bit of music I listen to for work. My job involves listening to a LOT of music. I’ll review it if it’s especially interesting or new, but I won’t hold myself to this.
  • Fragments. If I listen to a single song on the way to the grocery store, no. If I listen to a whole album walking home from work, yes. If I watch a John Oliver segment on YouTube, no. If I watch a full episode of Last Week Tonight, yes.
  • Blog posts/articles/essays etc. This accounts for a lot of what I read in any given week. But actually reviewing that stuff seems needlessly far down the rabbit hole, even for me.

For things that will take me more than a week to get through (i.e. books and games), I’ll give them a mention when I start them, review them when I’m finished them, and give updates periodically in between. That’s unless the book or game breaks down logically, like episodic games or collections of short stories. In that case, I’ll review each part.

Not everything I review will be new, nor will it all even be new to me. I revisit old favourites as frequently or more than I seek out new favourites — especially where music’s concerned. But I’ll only review something in an Omnireviewer post once. Subsequent revisitations will occur anonymously. In general, if I don’t mention that I’ve seen/read/heard something before, I probably haven’t.

Finally, none of what I’ve said above constitutes “rules.” By which I mean: I reserve the right to break them at my convenience. And now, here are my reviews of the 28 things I read, watched or listened to since Sunday, October 25:

Movies

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night — I’m not one of those people who gorges on horror movies around Halloween, because most of my favourite horror movies aren’t the Halloween kind of horror movies. I don’t scare easy, so I tend to prefer horror of a more existential persuasion — the kind that finds its way into your dreams and changes you for a while. (See especially Davids Lynch and Cronenberg.) This is not that kind of movie. This is a vampire movie, totally Halloween-ready. But totally, totally unconventional. Best to go into it knowing as little as possible. But, if you’ve seen it: that scene with the disco ball? Seriously.

Television

Doctor Who: “The Woman Who Lived” — This season of Doctor Who hasn’t been hitting it out of the park for me. I adored the last season, and I think Peter Capaldi is as good an actor as ever played the Doctor. But the scripts so far this year have been bland: even Steven Moffat’s, and to me he’s the best writer in all the land. Strange then, that Catherine Treganna — best known for her work on Torchwood, which I don’t especially like — should write the first really good episode of the season. It’s no “Listen,” or “Kill the Moon,” but Maisie Williams playing a jaded immortal was always going to be a winning concept.

QI: “A Medley of Maladies” — The brilliance of QI is that the humour often veers into territory that you’d be embarrassed to enjoy if it were stand-up, but it’s packaged alongside fascinating obscure trivia to make you feel less dumb. Any episode with Ross Noble is bound to be a gem.

Music

Peter Hammill: Nadir’s Big Chance — I’ve been meaning to listen to this for years, and somehow didn’t get around to it until now. This is the album where the lead singer of Van Der Graaf Generator allegedly invented punk rock in 1974. If that sounds a bit outlandish to you, you’re right. But there are places where he comes surprisingly close. More importantly, this is fantastic. Possibly second only to In Camera in Hammill’s solo catalogue.

Philip Glass: Solo Piano — This is a collection of three separate pieces of music that all feature a two-note repeating pattern in the left hand. One might think it would get old, but it’s actually hypnotic in the way that Glass is at his best. His piano playing is pretty scrappy in places, but it’s always nice to hear recordings where that feels beside the point.

Wilhelm Kempff: Brahms Klavierstücke, Op. 116-119 — It was about time I sat down and listened to Brahms’s final piano pieces all the way through. The famous Eb-major intermezzo was always a favourite, but all of these pieces are gems. It’s perfect mood music — a mellow old scotch in harmony and counterpoint. I can see this joining my other favourite solo piano music (Debussy’s preludes, Beethoven’s late sonatas, Bach’s partitas) within a few listens. Kempff’s 1963 recording is deservedly a classic. I’ll be checking out his Beethoven next, for contrast.

Jethro Tull: Peel Sessions, 1968-69 — A revisit, inspired by a book I’ve been reading (see below). These recordings really highlight what Mick Abrahams brought to the table. For all that Martin Barre added to the band, Abrahams plays most of these early songs better. Ian Anderson’s vocal performance on “Stormy Weather” is borderline minstrelsy, though. This is not a pun; this is an allegation of casual racism, lest anybody misunderstand. These things happen with white blues bands. I still love this, though.

Neil Young: Time Fades Away — An old favourite of mine. It’s hard to reckon why Young still hates this album and refuses to reissue it. Is he even listening? He may have been out of his head at the time, but his band has never sounded better. “Last Dance” is not one of Young’s best songs, but it is one of his very best tracks. It’s all in the performance. The fakeout at the end is one of my favourite moments on a rock live album. Also, how is this not in every list of best album covers ever?

Literature, etc.

China Miéville: “The Rope is the World” — This is from his short story collection Three Moments of an Explosion, which I’ve been really enjoying. Miéville’s writing sometimes borders on poetry in its density. In this story about elevators into the atmosphere, he coins words on the fly with no explanation. It forces you to think through their likely etymology, lest you lose the plot entirely. I can see how some readers might be frustrated by that, but I find it fun.

Reza Aslan: No God But God — I’m about two-thirds of the way through, and already recommending it to everyone I know. I was always amazed by Aslan’s eloquence in interviews. He could basically talk into a microphone for several hours, transcribe it, and that would be a decent book. But he’s way more of a craftsman than that. He structures his chapters around an introductory anecdote or parable, told in prose worthy of the best living novelists. Each of these stories helps situate you before he transitions into his always-lucid argumentation. It’s an ingenious structure. I’ll have more to say about the content itself when I’m finished the book.

David Cavanagh: Good Night and Good Riddance — I bought this as soon as I finished the Kindle sample. Good God, is this ever exactly what I want to read right now. In case you haven’t read the Guardian’s shimmering platinum review, this book is a deep dive into the life’s work of the BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, with whom I am not directly familiar, being 25 and Canadian. But his show was clearly a force in a number of consecutive countercultures. And Cavanagh’s a dazzling writer. I’ll be putting a couple of other books down for a while, to tuck into this.

Games

Stasis — After reading so many rave reviews, I confess to being a little disappointed. There are bright spots in this: parts of it are genuinely terrifying, and exploring a post-catastrophe civilization riddled with biological horrors is never not going to be fun. But, the voice acting leaves much to be desired, the writing is weak at best, the villain is of the moustache-twirling variety, and the backstory just introduced a hackneyed love quadrangle that I assume was supposed to make me feel something but didn’t. By the time I finish this, I may like it better.

Podcasts

(These will always come at the end, because I listen to a lot of them — commutes, runs and dishes, you know — and I listen to several of the same ones every week. It may get dull for you, even if it never does for me.)

Welcome to Night Vale: “Rumbling” — My general opinion of Night Vale is that it’s a great idea with some great writing and some great jokes, but it has structural issues. This instalment foregrounds some of those issues. Cecil Baldwin, who I generally like a lot as a character and slightly less as a host, oscillates back and forth between phoning it in and overselling every joke. The choices of background music seem arbitrary. Still, this is tying up threads of a major plot arc, and I can forgive a bit of sluggishness while the show adjusts to a new status quo.

The Allusionist: “Vocables” — I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts from the Radiotopia network, lately. They’ve got a fundraising campaign on, and they’re going big. This is apparently the first of several planned crossover events where Helen Zaltzman will collaborate with hosts of other Radiotopia shows, which is satisfying in itself for podcast geeks like me. This week, it’s Hrishikesh Hirway from Song Exploder. So, language geekiness collides with music geekiness and I couldn’t be happier.

The Truth: “Starburst” — I loved this. I won’t spoil it by describing it too much. It’s a radio play about a jerk magazine writer at a comic con, but it quickly veers off in a truly unpredictable direction. The really notable thing about it is how The Truth’s pristine, elaborate sound design feeds into the story to become a structural element. I’ve never heard that before in the episodes of this show that I’ve listened to. It’s only fifteen minutes long. It’s well worth your time. Also, people who are interested in nominating things for Hugos should nominate this for a Hugo.

This American Life: “The Night in Question” — I love a good conspiracy theory. And here’s one with political implications, to boot. This is about how most of Israel questions the official narrative about the assassination of their prime minister 25 years ago. It’s gripping in exactly the way that Serial gets too much credit for being.

On The Media: “Truth(ish)” — Where Jon Stewart was always a comedian who also happened to be a media critic, Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield are media critics who also happen to be funny. If you were one of the people who watched Stewart’s Daily Show as much for the sanity as for the humour, you need to be listening to this. If the West Wing pastiche that opens this episode doesn’t sell you on the entire show, you’re unlikely to be into it at all.

Fugitive Waves: “WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts” — The Kitchen Sisters’ radio storytelling can be a bit on the slow, meditative side for my taste, but they have a great ear for interesting characters. In this two-parter, they interview the women (and a couple of the men) who kept the first all-woman radio station in the United States running. It also contains an infuriating yet funny clip of one of the first female radio announcers trying to ward off the explicit advances of her male guest while maintaining on-air decorum. Worth a listen.

This American Life: “The Call Was Coming from the Basement” — The story of a woman getting attacked by a rabid raccoon is perhaps not Alex Blumberg’s very best work. But David Sedaris’s story about hanging out in a morgue makes up the difference.

The Memory Palace: “Butterflies” — This podcast might just have the best writing for the ear that I’ve ever heard. Nate DiMeo is basically a spoken word artist for history nuts. This is a particularly sweeping and ambitious story, at more than twice the normal length (it’s 20 minutes long). It’s a story about humans screwing themselves. Those stories are always relevant.

Fresh Air: “Gloria Steinem” — Steinem is a hero and has some great stories. Hearing her talk about the circumstances she encountered in media at the beginning of the women’s movement is fascinating: editors feeling that one editorial saying “women are equal” needed to be counterbalanced by another saying “no they’re not,” etc. Terry Gross asks some unexpected questions and gets some truly wonderful moments of radio out of it. There’s a reason Marc Maron calls her the “industry standard.”

Meet the Composer: “Ingram Marshall” — This is the first episode of Meet the Composer that I’ve listened to that’s about a composer I’d never heard of. And, I’ll certainly be looking into Ingram Marshall’s music further. So, mission accomplished, there. But the great thing about this show is that every episode incorporates at least one tangential discussion of an element of music history for context. This time around, we hear about the legacy of gamelan in Western music: from Debussy to the Canadian composer Colin McPhee, who transcribed gamelan music for two pianos and performed it with Benjamin Britten. That you’ve got to hear.

99% Invisible: “War and Pizza” — Most of what’s in our grocery aisles started off as military technology. That is a tidbit I can now file away and impress somebody with later. This is why I love 99% Invisible.

Reply All: “The Law That Sticks” — A somewhat procedural episode of Reply All. You should listen to it, because the law it’s about is properly disturbing. But it feels like that’s the main reason the producers think you should listen to this episode, also. Basically, not one of their most fun episodes, but worth hearing.

The Moth: “Kimya Dawson & Kevin Haas” — It’s fine. Kept me amused during my run. Sometimes The Moth knocks me flat. Not this time.

Theory of Everything: “The Things We Do For Money” — ToE’s cross-promotion game has been strong since the start of the Radiotopia fundraising campaign. Last time, Roman Mars helped tell the long-view story of podcasting, and this time Jonathan Mitchell from The Truth reconstructed a radio play by Walter Benjamin. (I know.) I don’t mind people asking for money when they do it in a way that’s this clever.

Welcome to Night Vale: “The Retirement of Pamela Winchell” — Oh, look, it’s picking up already.

Live events

Welcome to Night Vale: Live at the Chan Centre — I waffled on whether to go to this. Night Vale is scrappy at the best of times: their live episodes even more so. Plus, I’m about twenty episodes behind. But then I thought, eh, what are the chances of the most popular comedy/horror podcast coming through your town on Halloween? And I bit the bullet, ditched my plans and went. (I tried to convince my friends to come with, but it went down kind of like this.)

Gosh, but this was a whimsical experience. The story was a fluffy, whimsical romp. The musical guest was a whimsical sort of musical guest, of the harmonium/glockenspiel/ukulele-playing variety. And the audience sure was whimsical. I mean, it was Halloween, to be fair. But one gets the feeling that some of those people might dress like that year-round. Good on ‘em.

This live show lacks the bloat of some of the others I’ve heard. Cecil carried the bulk of the story, with a brief appearance from Carlos being the only significant guest spot. The story was mercifully continuity-light, considering how much listening I have to do before I’m caught up. It just told a story and got done with it, which is what I wish Night Vale would do more often. Cecil was in top form. Everything was in its right place and made me glad I decided to go. Plus: kidding aside, that whimsical musician, Eliza Rickman, is completely fantastic.

But even in a live setting, Disparition’s background music still doesn’t make a lick of narrative sense.

Ian Anderson is a better singer than you probably think.

If you’ve never actually had a conversation with me, count yourself lucky.

There are only a few things I can really talk about, and they’re almost certainly not the same things you like to talk about.

One thing I prattle on about all the time is my love for Jethro Tull. And, once I’ve found myself deeply involved in a satisfying rhetorical conversation on that topic, I almost always get the same vaguely disinterested response from my unlucky company: “Yeah, that guy can sure play the flute.”

I know that they all mean well, when they say that. But they’re entirely missing the point.

Ian Anderson’s flute playing isn’t what makes Jethro Tull a great band. It’s not even what makes Ian Anderson a great musician. Or, not the only thing, anyway.

So, let’s take a look at a different side of everybody’s favourite rock & roll man-flamingo – his singing voice.

Anderson makes no claim to be a good singer. He’s said before than when he joined the band that would become Tull, as a harmonica player, the mic was thrust upon him because his voice was slightly less awful than everybody else’s. But Anderson can do more with that nasal baritone than he gives himself credit for: indeed, more than anybody gives him credit for.

Here’s my argument in brief:

Proposition: Ian Anderson, the unsung hero of rock vocalists, is in some respect as agile a singer as some of his more acclaimed contemporaries.

…which of course begs the question, in what respect?

Well, for now, let’s consider Anderson’s use of melisma. That’s when you sing more than one note on a single syllable of text. It’s the opposite of syllabic singing, which is when you sing one note per syllable.

This should make it clearer:

We often associate melisma with ornate, baroque vocal music and gospel-inflected pop. In recent years, it’s become popular as a tasteless mechanism to show off your dubious technique on TV talent competitions. But, there’s no question that it takes some vocal agility and control to pull off highly melismatic singing.

Ian Anderson sings melismas kind of obsessively. He’s even mentioned in the Wikipedia article on melisma: “Melisma is also used, though rarely and briefly, in the music of Jethro Tull: examples include the eponymous track of the album Songs From the Wood, and the song Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day).”

Actually, Anderson’s melismas are neither rare nor brief. Almost every Tull album up to Crest of a Knave is loaded with them.

So, here’s the crazy thing I did to prove my proposition.

Method: I chose three songs by three different rock bands of the 1970s. One of the bands is Jethro Tull. All of the songs chosen show an accomplished vocalist at the peak of his abilities. I analyzed each song to determine which is, on average, the most melismatic.

Of course, trying to rank rock singers’ vocal abilities by any objective measure is a fool’s errand. But maybe when you see the way this shakes out, you’ll listen to Anderson’s snide, sardonic rasp a little differently.

Let’s meet our contestants:

Ian Anderson

Contestant #1: Ian Anderson

On behalf of our intrepid contender, I have submitted the track “Minstrel in the Gallery.” It’s a powerhouse vocal performance that shows Anderson’s approach to melodic, acoustic music and riff-powered hard rock in equal measure.

 

 

 

Freddie Mercury BW

Contestant #2: Freddie Mercury

It was an obvious choice, really. Mercury’s four-octave range is enough to ensconce him in the top tier of his generation’s great singers. Add expressiveness and flexibility to that, and he’s a shoe-in for a spot in our contest.

“Somebody to Love” sees Mercury singing in every corner of his massive range. And, unlike most Queen, it’s got a bit of church in it. Church is, of course, the ultimate domain of the melisma, so we can expect Freddie to score pretty high with this track.

 

Robert Plant BW

Contestant #3: Robert Plant

Sometimes, when you listen to music from the ’70s, you wonder what the singer gets up to during the ten-minute instrumental breaks. Not so with Led Zeppelin. Plant is right there in the thick of it. No rock singer understands that the voice is an instrument quite like he does.

We’ll judge him according to his performance on “Kashmir.” The track is mostly based on repetitive patterns in the guitar and drums, with an orchestral arrangement that doesn’t command much attention. So, the responsibility of keeping the listener’s interest throughout the track’s eight-and-a-half-minute duration falls squarely on Plant. He “oohs” and “whoahs” his way through the task with great finesse.

Process:

If you’re not interested in how I reached my conclusions, and I wouldn’t judge you for that, you can skip to the section titled “Results.” Just take for granted that my methods are totally precise and scientific, and that there were no grey areas for me to exploit for my own purposes. I would never cook the books like that. Trust me.

The ultimate goal of this little experiment is to calculate the ratio of notes per syllable in the lead vocal of each selected track. That means we need to count the syllables and the notes in each performance. So, we need an accurate transcription of the lyrics of each song as sung, complete with any incidental “heys,” “yeahs” etc. Then, we can count the syllables in each text, and listen closely to each recording to count the notes.

Here’s what I came up with:

Minstrel in the Gallery

Transcription

The minstrel in the gallery looked down upon the smiling faces.
He met the gazes, observed the spaces between the old men’s cackle.
He brewed a song of love and hatred, oblique suggestions and he waited.
He polarized the pumpkin-eaters, static-humming panel-beaters;
Freshly day-glow’d fact’ry cheaters, salaried and collar-scrubbing.
He titillated men-of-action, belly warming, hands still rubbing
On the parts they never mention.
He pacified the nappy-suff’ring, infant-bleating one-line jokers.
T.V. documen’try makers, overfed and undertakers,
Sunday paper backgammon players, fam’ly-scarred and women-haters.
Then he called the band down to the stage and he
Looked at all the friends he’d made.

The minstrel in the gallery looked down upon the smiling faces.
He met the gazes, observed the spaces in between the old men’s cackle.
And he brewed a song of love and hatred, oblique suggestions and he waited.
He polarized the pumpkin-eaters, static-humming panel-beaters;

The minstrel in the gallery looked down on the rabbit-run.
And he threw away his looking-glass – and saw his face in everyone.
Hey!

He titillated men-of-action, belly warming hands still rubbing
On the parts they never mention, salaried and collar-scrubbing, yeah.

He pacified the nappy-suff’ring, infant-bleating one-line jokers.
T.V. documen’try makers, overfed and undertakers,
Sunday paper backgammon players, fam’ly-scarred and women-haters.
And then he called the band down to the stage and he
Looked at all the friends he’d made.

The minstrel in the gallery looked down on the rabbit-run.
And he threw away his looking-glass – and saw his face in everyone.
Huh-hey!
The minstrel in the gallery, yes.
Looked down upon the smiling faces.
He met the gazes, yeah.
Mm, the minstrel in the gallery.
Mm, and he waited, yeah.

Notes

For our purposes, it’s important to note the way that Anderson pronounces the words “suffering,” “family,” “documentary,” and “factory.” Each of these words could be sung with a varying number of syllables, depending on the context. Anderson always chooses the shorter one. For example, “documentary” becomes “documen’try,” so that it’s pronounced with four syllables. Accounting for this, Anderson sings a total of 458 syllables.

Counting the notes isn’t quite so black and white. I frequently wondered whether Anderson was singing six notes on a given word, or seven; seven or eight; nine or ten. It’s easy to lose count when the notes fly by as fast as they do here. Where there was ambiguity, I generally erred towards the lower number, to counteract my pro-Anderson bias. In the end, I counted a total of 704 notes in the lead vocal.

So, the average number of notes per syllable in “Minstrel in the Gallery” is about 1.54.

Here’s a picture of my notes for this track, which look like something only an insane person would produce. They show the number of notes that I heard in each word of the song. All in the interest of transparency:

MITG Transc

Somebody to Love

Transcription

(Note: This is a transcription of the lead vocal only. Mercury does sing backup in this track as well, but for the sake of comparison, I’ve left that out. Also, like I could seriously pick him out in the mix…)

Can…

Ooh…
Each morning I get up I die a little,
Can barely stand on my feet,
Take a look in the mirror and cry,
Lord what you’re doing to me,
I have spent all my years in believing you,
But I just can’t get no relief, Lord!
Somebody, ooh somebody…
Can anybody find me somebody to love?

Yeah…
I work hard every day of my life,
I work till I ache my bones,
At the end,
I take home my hard earned pay all on my own,
I go down on my knees,
And I start to pray,
Till the tears run down from my eyes,
Lord somebody, ooh somebody,
Can anybody find me somebody to love ?

Everyday – I try and I try and I try,
But everybody wants to put me down,
They say I’m going crazy,
They say I got a lot of water in my brain,
Ah, got no common sense,
I got nobody left to believe.

Ooh somebody – ooh,
anybody find me somebody to love?

Got no feel, I got no rhythm,
I just keep losing my beat,
I’m OK, I’m alright,
I ain’t gonna face no defeat,
I just gotta get out of this prison cell,
Someday, I’m gonna be free, Lord!

Uhhh-ooh
Find me – Find me – Find
Ooh – Find me – Find me somebody to love
Ooh

Ooh, can anybody find me
Somebody to love.

Ooh
Find me somebody somebody somebody somebody to love
Find me find me find me find me find me
Ooh somebody to love
Ooh
Find me find me find me somebody to love
Anybody anywhere, anybody find me somebody to love love love love
Find me, find me, find me
Love.

Notes

Once I stuck all of Mercury’s improvisatory flights of fancy into the transcription, I found that he sings 369 syllables in total, not counting backup vocals.

The number of notes that he sings is even more ambiguous than in Anderson’s case, due to the fine line between melisma and portamento, which is where you slide up or down between notes, singing all of the pitches between the two. There are two key notes in such a gesture, at the beginning and the end, with an undefined number of pitches in between.

If we were to make a distinction between melisma and portamento, we could say that in melisma, the singer moves cleanly between the notes, and in portamento, he slides between them in a more relaxed fashion. Still, that’s a pretty fine line to draw, so in the spirit of generosity, and to once again counteract my bias, I have counted some of Mercury’s portamenti as two notes, rather than one “bent” note.

I have only done this where Mercury clearly intends to move from one note of the melody to another, rather than to ornament a single note. An example of the former would be the word “look” in the line “take a look in the mirror and cry.” That gets counted as two. An example of the latter would be the word “stand” in the line “can barely stand on my feet.” That’s just one.

This is one of those grey areas that I said didn’t exist.

All said and done, I counted 442 notes, resulting in a notes-per-syllable ratio of 1.20.

Here are my notes.

STL Transc

Kashmir

Transcription

(Note: Where the vocal fades out at the end of the song, I assumed that Plant follows the same pattern as previously, both in terms of words and notes.)

Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream,
I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been,
Sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen,
Talk of days for which they sit and wait – all will be revealed.

Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace, whose sounds caress my ear,
But not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear,
Whoah, whoah.

Oooh, oh baby, I been flyin’…
No yeah, ah-mama, there ain’t no denyin,’
Ow, Oooh, yes. I’ve been flying, mama-ma, ai… ain’t no denyin’, no denyin’.

All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground,
And my eyes fill with sand, as I scan this wasted land,
Tryna find, tryna find where I’ve been-ahh.

Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream,
Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream,
My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again,
Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir.

Oh, father of the four winds, fill my sails, across the sea of years,
With no provision but an open face, along the straits of fear,
Whoah-ohh. Whoah. Ohh. Ohhhhh.

Well, when I’m on, when I’m on my way, yeah,
When I see, when I see the way, you stay-yeah.

Ooh, yeah-yeah, ooh, yeah-yeah, when I’m down…
Ooh, yeah-yeah, ooh, yeah-yeah, when I’m down, so down,
Ooh, my baby, oooh, my baby, let me take you there.

Oh, oh. Come on. Come on. Ohh.

Let me take you there. Let me take you there.

Ooh, yeah-yeah, ooh, yeah-yeah, let me take you there. (faded)

Notes

Another one of those fine lines: Is he singing “whoah,” or “whoah-ohh?” Anyway, it sounds to me like Plant sings 348 syllables, here.

The same distinction between melisma and portamento applies here, as it did with Mercury. I’ve treated it the same way.

When I calculated the notes-per-syllable ratio of this track, I realized it’s kind of unfair. The end result is a higher score than Mercury received, but the majority of Plant’s melismas are only two notes long: hardly melismas at all, compared to Mercury’s nine and eleven note beauties. Nonetheless, Plant sings two notes on a syllable frequently enough to put him just over the top, for a total of 440 notes, and a ratio of 1.26.

Another page of notes:

Kash Transc

Results:

The proposition stands. Ian Anderson’s notes-per-syllable ratio of 1.54 is the highest of the three by a clear margin. Robert Plant is the runner-up with a ratio of 1.26, and Freddie Mercury, in spite of singing far longer melismas than Plant, brings up the rear with a score of 1.20.

These may seem like small numbers, but bear in mind that the standard number of notes to sing on a syllable of text is one. Melismas are the exception rather than the rule, even in the three songs examined here.

Perhaps it seems slightly trivial to rank singers based on inconsequential little numerical values like these. But it certainly pegs Anderson’s claim not to be a good singer as false modesty. For all his shortcomings, whatever they are, he has a lot of vocal flexibility.

Moreover, it’s always used in service to the song. “Minstrel in the Gallery” deals with the relationship between the performer and his audience. It uses the image of a medieval minstrel to shed light on the public personas of ’70s rock idols. A teeny bit of technical showmanship can be expected, given that theme. You can also find a lot of melisma on side two of Aqualung. That’s the churchy side, so it fits. (See “Hymn 43” in particular.)

But also, that guy can sure play the flute.