Monday, June 02, 2008

Reflections: He laid that golden cowbell on the ground at Johnny's feet.

A while ago--uhm, yes, well, technically quite a while ago--I made mention of a long-time goal of mine: The Ultimate Cowbell Mix. At that time, I suggested that I had little to add to the world of cowbell mixes, because everything I could think of was on this list.

I take that back.

Now that I have truly set my mind to it, I have found many things not on that list, and also now I am not afraid to replicate some things that are there, too, because you know what? The world needs a decent cowbell CD.

You might be surprised by what a diverse array of cowbell music is out there, with more being produced every day! I have tried to limit myself to pretty mainstream stuff, because I figure most listeners are most interested in the cowbell music they most recognize.

There are hitches, however. I find myself listening to some tracks over and over--like "Whiskey You're the Devil" or "My Sharona"--trying to figure out: is that a cowbell? or a woodblock? or a drum rim? And although you might think "Devil's Haircut" has cowbell, it is really something more like a radiator that he is beating on. And what about "Tequila"? The sound in there may be a little too high-pitched to be cowbell, but it is not triangle--so what is it? (Personally I think that list could use some peer review: there are a number of things on it that do not really have the cowbell.)

And be warned: having ventured into the world of cowbell, you may leave with more questions than answers. For example:

* Do synthesized cowbells count?

* Why did Phil Collins not explore the world of cowbell?

* Is there something about the genre of country music that cannot tolerate the cowbell?

* Must guitar-virtuoso rock exclude cowbell? For instance, you might think Heart could get down with some cowbell, but NO, just snare and high hat.

* And what about all those tracks that you could swear have the cowbell--but then when you listen to them again with your eagle ears you find that no, that is just plain old drums or something. Like Outkast's "The Way You Move" or "I Need a Man" by the Eurythmics or "Private Eyes" by Hall and Oates. Damn, that's disappointing.

But Dear Readers, I have a few judgment calls for you. If you have opinions about cowbell mixes, would you be so kind as to leave your answers to the following questions in the comments?

1. Should my mix
a. only include the over-the-top blatant cowbell songs, like "Hey Ladies"? (FYI, I have an entire CD's worth that fits this category)
b. alternate between the blatant cowbell songs and more subtle ones, like "Owner of a Lonely Heart" where the cowbell is clearly present but not at the very forefront, or is perhaps muted?

2. When it comes to songs featuring synthesized cowbell sounds (e.g., "U Got the Look"), should I
a. include them?
b. exclude them?

3. When it comes to somewhat more out-there cowbellcentric songs, like Les Claypool's Whamola," should I
a. include one or two of them, just to show the vastness of the cowbell repertoire?
b. show no prejudice against them at all?
c. exclude them in favor of better-known cowbellery?

Anyone who votes will, if they provide me later with a mailing address, receive their very own copy of the mix.


Rebecca said...

Perhaps I am musically ignorant, but I never noticed a cowbell in "Owner of a Lonely Heart" OR "U Got the Look". Now I am really curious, but I'm not sure I have easy access to either at the moment.

In fact, the only cowbell I can think of is in the instrumental version of "Grazing in the Grass". Clearly, my cowbell education is lacking, so I am not qualified to answer your poll.

Isis said...

It sounds to me like you will need a copy of this mix when it comes. Exciting moments in cowbell awareness-raising!

Magpie said...

You know, I thought I knew some stuff, but this? I am simply stymied.

Tim Jarrett said...

1. I think the mix should include both. A certain amount of "where's the cowbell" will induce in the listener a closer attention to the percussion, which can only be a good thing. Of course, starting with blatant cowbell so the uncertain listener can wrap their heads around what it actually sounds like would be good.

2. Synthesized cowbell is similar for me to subtle cowbell--it's an advanced topic that should be saved for later parts of the lesson. Not to say it shouldn't be on the mix, but maybe it follows some other examples.

3. Out-there repertoire? Bring it on!

Anonymous said...

I'm just glad to find this. I need the cowbell to get me up the hill when I'm running. I now can find comfort that others are interested in music featuring "the cowbell"