Rockers have long used stuttering as a musical device to express nervousness or frustration. And sometimes the effect just helps the lyrics fit the music. They’re all here in our Top 11 Stuttering Songs.
Which of your favorites did we leave out? Let us know in our comments section below.
11. My Generation by the Who
In the ‘60s My Generation was the finale of the Who’s concerts, when Pete Townshend smashed his guitar and Keith Moon blew up his drum kit. Townshend told Q Magazine that England’s Queen Mother inspired the anthem of youthful rebellion. “I had this Packard hearse parked outside my house. One day I came back and it was gone. It turned out that she’d had it moved, because her husband had been buried in a similar vehicle and it reminded her of him.”
Singer Roger Daltrey said his stuttered lyrics were manager Kit Lambert’s idea. Lambert suggested that Daltrey stammer like someone high on drugs. “I have got a stutter. I control it much better now but not in those days,” Daltrey told Uncut. “When we were in the studio doing My Generation, Kit Lambert came up to me and said ‘Stutter!’ I said ‘What?’ He said ‘Stutter the words – it makes it sound like you’re pilled’ And I said, ‘Oh… like I am!’ And that’s how it happened.”
10. Katmandu by Bob Seger
Bob Seger mixed classic rock with a geography lesson in Katmandu, first released on his 1975 LP Beautiful Loser. The song refers to the capital of Nepal, located in the Himalayan mountain range. Seger wrote Katmandu to poke fun at the music business. “Katmandu was a song about getting completely out of the country because nobody cares,” Seger said in a 1979 radio interview.
“It was written sort of tongue in cheek, to the industry… You know, if you’d gone through what I’ve gone through, you’d want to go to Katmandu, too. You’d just want to disappear.”
Working with the Special Olympics in 1991, Seger finally got to visit the city he called “K-K-K-K-K-K-Katmandu.” Seger told the Detroit Free Press that he met the King of Nepal, who asked, “What made you write that song, anyway?”
“When I was five, my dad would show me National Geographic. When I was eight, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Mt. Everest for the first time. I always was fascinated by exotic places, and I wrote the song from the perspective of someone who yearned for a place as far from America as anybody could get, someplace exotic and distant.”
9. Jive Talkin’ by the Bee Gees
By 1975, the Bee Gees – brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb – had been without a Top 10 hit for four years. Jive Talkin’ would mark their comeback, a funky departure from their ballads of the ‘60s. The song’s stuttered intro – “J-J-J-Jive Talkin’” – was discovered while driving across the Julia Tuttle Causeway to Miami’s Criteria Studios.
“As we crossed the bridge, the bridge went ‘tickety, tickety, tickety tick’ and it just gave us a thought and I don’t know where it came from, I just started singing ‘Just your jive talkin,’” Barry said in The Bee Gees: Tales of the Brothers Gibb. “So the next day, when we were going across the bridge again, we started singing along to it. The same night, we got back about midnight and we sat down and we wrote the lyrics to the song.”
Maurice related in The Bee Gees: The Biography that when they played the song for producer Arif Mardin, he explained the expression’s meaning. “Being British, we thought jive was a dance, so the opening line was ‘Jive Talkin’, you dance with your eyes…’ It was Arif who said to us, ‘Don’t you guys know what jive talk is?’
He explained that it was black slang for bulls–ting, so we changed the lyric to ‘Jive Talkin’, you’re telling me lies.’”
8. Changes by David Bowie
For a song that David Bowie said “started out as a parody of a nightclub song, a kind of throwaway,” Changes has become one of the rocker’s best known songs. Highlights are Bowie’s hypnotic saxophone solo and his stuttered “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.” Lyrics like “These children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds” endeared the song to young fans.
But one line confounded even Bowie’s backing singers Gui Andrisano and Geoff MacCormack.
“Towards the end of the tour, we were singing Changes for the purposes of a sound-check,” MacCormack wrote in From Station to Station: Travels With Bowie 1973-1976. “When we reached the chorus David stopped the band, walked over to Gui and me, and asked us to sing our part. We duly obliged. David doubled up with laughter. For two-and-a-half months we had been singing ‘turn and face the strain’ instead of ‘turn and face the strange.’
From then on, every time we performed that song David would stick his arse out towards us, which would make us both laugh and fluff the line even worse.”
7. My Sharona by the Knack
My Sharona, the debut single by the Knack, topped the charts in 1979. Written by guitarist Berton Averre and singer Doug Fieger, the song was inspired by Fieger’s 17-year-old girlfriend Sharona Alperin.
“Berton had this basic guitar and drum riff lying around for a long time, even before the Knack got together,” Fieger said in Sound On Sound. “He played it for me and I really liked it. I said we would do it someday, but I didn’t know how we could use it at the time. Then, at the same time the Knack started, I met a little girl named Sharona, whom I fell in love with. When I would think about Sharona, Berton’s riff came to mind.
So, Berton and I got together and worked out a structure and a melody and the words.”
Averre has said the song’s signature “M-M-M-My Sharona” is a take on the Who’s My Generation. The high-energy track was recorded in one take. “We went from beginning to end of the song, and that was it. Berton Averre and I put in the background vocals, and it was mixed in about 15 minutes total,” Fieger told Daily Finance.
“I sang the lead vocals live in the studio, and I always have. That’s the way I learned how to do it. If you’re in a band, you sing and play at the same time.”
6. Barbara Ann by the Beach Boys and the Regents
Barbara Ann was a number two hit from 1965’s Beach Boys’ Party! album, a collection of cover songs played on acoustic instruments. The tracks were recorded in a studio; handclaps and laughter were added later to create a house party atmosphere. Both the cover and the original by the Regents begin with the signature stutter: “Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Barbara Ann.”
The Regents, a doo wop group from New York City, had a number 13 hit with the song in 1961 after being turned down by 50 record labels. Brian Wilson reportedly loved the song and often used it for harmony practice. It became part of the Party! LP when Dean Torrence of surf rock’s Jan & Dean joined the session and shared lead vocals with Wilson. “When I got there they were all drunk,” Torrence told Melody Maker. “They started scratching around for another track and, because I was there, somebody suggested they should do Barbara Ann and I should sing lead. When the album came out, there was my voice quite clearly singing on Barbara Ann.”
Though Torrence was not credited on the LP for contractual reasons, listen closely to the end of the track. You’ll hear Carl Wilson say, “Thanks, Dean.”
Barbara Ann by the Beach Boys
Barbara Ann by the Regents
5. The Reflex by Duran Duran
The Reflex was first released on Duran Duran’s 1984 album Seven and the Ragged Tiger but wasn’t strong enough to become their next single. “We didn’t really nail it, and it was one of those songs where we were, like, ‘There’s a hit song in there somewhere,’ but we didn’t get it,” bassist John Taylor admitted to AV Club.
The band turned to producer Nile Rodgers to remix and rescue the track. Rodgers sampled the voice of singer Simon Le Bon to create the stuttering vocals that made The Reflex a number one single. “Nile… I mean, he was having a moment, and he turned it into something extraordinary, with all the ‘fleck, fleck, fleck’ and the ‘why-yi-yi’ and all the magical things that he applied to the original recording,” said Taylor.
Rodgers’ audio alchemy “kicked The Reflex into the stratosphere,” Le Bon told Billboard. “It was the first time that people really heard things like that ‘flex-flex-flex-flex-flex,’ you know, that kind of sampling and the way he did it. He did a magnificent job of it. I remember getting it back and hearing it for the first time and it just blew my barn doors off.”
4. The Logical Song by Supertramp
Supertramp’s biggest hit was 1975’s The Logical Song. Written by singer and keyboardist Roger Hodgson, the tune reflected the confusion he felt in boarding school. “You learn all of these things in school and then you are thrown out into the world and you’re expected to have all of the answers,” Hodgson told Classic Rock Revisited. “The song was very autobiographical. I knew how to be sensible, logical and cynical but I didn’t have a clue who I was. To me, that is the life journey we are on; to find out who we are and what life is. They don’t teach you that in school.”
The distinctive stutter of “D-D-D-D-D-Digital” was the result of a happy accident. A producer had left a Mattel electronic football game outside the studio where The Logical Song was being recorded. “One of the band, I can’t remember who, was in the sitting room of the studio, playing away on this video game,” Hodgson recalled in Something Else Reviews.“We’d hear that sound, over and over, coming from the other room. I think, at some point, we decided: Why don’t we put that sound on it? And it worked.”
3. Bad to the Bone by George Thorogood
George Thorogood’s Bad to the Bone has been used many films, TV shows and commercials to introduce the meanest, most ornery characters. Thorogood’s stuttered “B-B-B-B-B-Bad” adds to the song’s menacing vibe.
Thorogood, who had covered Who Do You Love? by Bo Diddley and Hank Williams’ Move It On Over, realized he needed a signature song of his own.
“I was already playing the riff, and I was playing with the J. Geils Band and the Rolling Stones,” Thorogood explained in the Quad-City Times. “Every time J. Geils went into the opening riff of Love Stinks, the crowd would erupt. And every time the Stones went into the opening riff of Start Me Up or Honky Tonk Women, the crowd would erupt.
“I said, ‘Here’s what you have to do. You have to come up with a song to get that response.’ Without it, without that riff, they’d just say, ‘Oh, that Thorogood kid. Wasn’t he playing Chuck Berry or something?’ It was all for a signature song. Eventually somebody’s gonna write a song called Bad to the Bone.
And it might as well be me. It was just too obvious to pass up.”
2. Bennie and the Jets by Elton John
Described as the only song that can be identified by its first chord, Bennie and the Jets was a number one hit for Elton John in 1974. Lyricist Bernie Taupin admitted that he had nothing to do with John’s unforgettable stutter of “Buh-buh-buh-Bennie.”
“The ‘Buh-buh-buh’ was pure Elton. I didn’t write it that way,” Taupin “But it was a great interpretation. Because the whole idea of Bennie and the Jets was almost Orwellian, you know – it was supposed to be futuristic. They were supposed to be a prototypical female rock ‘n’ roll band out of science fiction. Automatons. So when Elton did that very hypnotic ‘Buh-buh-buh,’ it worked.”
“When I saw the lyrics for Bennie and the Jets, I knew it had to be an off-the-wall type song, an R&B-ish kind of sound or a funky sound,” John told Rolling Stone.“The audience sounds were taken from a show we did at the Royal Festival Hall years earlier. The whole thing is very weird.”
1. Surfin’ Bird by the Trashmen
In 1962, the Trashmen were a successful Midwest cover band. That year a trip to California introduced them to the music of Dick Dale, “the king of the surf guitar.” Inspired, the band recorded the 1963 hit Surfin’ Bird after they heard two songs at a Wisconsin club: the Rivingtons’ Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow and The Bird’s the Word.
“We heard that song the first time at Woodley’s Country Dam,” lead guitarist Tony Andreason explained in Classic Bands. “There was a group called the Sorenson Brothers from California and they did Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow. We watched them do it and thought it was the craziest thing. We actually came up to ‘em and said, ‘you should record that song.’ They said ‘no.’ We started doing surf music and we came up with that because we were kind of turning into a surf band, we called it Surfin’ Bird.”
Singer Steve Wahrer added an interminable stutter – “Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Oom-Mow Mow” – and a wild vocal break. Bassist Bob Reed told AltSounds why Wahrer created the break. “We’d do the song several times a night so he basically needed a break; in the middle of a song you can’t stop and take a breather and then go again. He finally decided, well, you gotta put something in there, so he just came up with a bunch of gibberish.”
Check below for a hilarious take on Surfin’ Bird by Peter Griffin on Family Guy.
Surfin’ Bird by Steve Wahrer of the Trashmen
Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow by the Rivingtons
The Bird’s the Word by the Rivingtons
Surfin’ Bird by Peter Griffin on Family Guy