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It’s time for another break from gaming posts. This one will last two days.
A random thought popped into my head on my morning commute on March 18 (I’m way ahead on writing posts) when my random music mix spit out AC/DC’s Thunderstruck and Van Halen’s Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love in succession. For lack of an established term, I’m calling them participatory songs. Fans sing along with all sorts of songs, but some songs actively encourage it, giving the crowd cues as to when it’s their time connect with the musician.
The two songs I mentioned above have moments serving as a clear cue for the crowd to sing along in unison. All they have to do is sing one word, “Thunder” and “Hey” respectively, with a particular cadence and repetition. Even the worst singers in the world can handle that.
Another song comes to mind: Wildest Dreams by Asia. Back in the 80s, there was a Friday or Saturday night show that ran concert footage for a different band every week. One week, it was Asia playing in Japan. When they got to the relevant points in the song (I think this is the actual video), the crowd knew exactly what to sing. Why? Because all they had to do was repeat exactly what John Wetton (R.I.P.) had just sang. This was made even easier by the fact that in the studio version of the song, the crowd’s part is intentionally sounds like a crowd shouting rather than a chorus singing. Again, that’s easy for everyone.
Sometimes it’s forced. I have an mp3 of Linkin Park’s In the End live in Mexico City. The singer tells the crowd, “Sing along with Chester [Bennington]!” I guess that works too, but the best songs in this regard don’t require a command. Still, that song demonstrates a benefit to creating a participatory song. By encouraging a particular part for the crowd to play, the majority tend to sit out waiting for their moment. More on why that’s a benefit in a moment.
Playing the Beat
Then there’s another type of song that cues the crowd to make some noise, but not with their voices. Queen’s We Will Rock You immediately comes to mind. Not only is its three-beat hook extremely recognizable, but as it’s such a simple rhythm, it’s easy to perform. The movie, Bohemian Rhapsody was heavily dramatized, taking remarkable liberties with history, but that was discussed as the intended goal of the song, which is certainly believable.
These two types of songs can screw up the musician’s cadences. For professionals, not so much, but I’ve heard bar-band amateurs actually say, “I hope they don’t start clapping.” As I mentioned with In the End, expressly or implicitly cueing up the crowd keeps them focused and in turn keeps their distracting effect to a minimum. But there’s a third way to involve the crowd that avoids that issue altogether. Enter the third category of songs: Dance moves.
Note: “Dance” is being used very broadly here, but “dance moves” is easier to digest than “bodily movements,” and is, well, less suggestive of digestion.
When people hear that opening guitar riff to Nirvana’s Smells Like Team Spirit, they start stretching, because they know within seconds, they’re going to be getting an aerobic workout. As soon as the rest of the band kicks in, everyone starts jumping. Then there’s Jimmy Buffet’s Fins, a song that analogizes men in a bar to sharks hunting their prey. The crowd uses their hand(s) to simulate a shark’ dorsal fin, leans to the left, leans to the right, and then sways back and forth.
Songs made for audience participation allow the audience to feel connected with the artist, and thus can make a song particularly memorable.
What are you favorite participatory songs?
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