Ask Billboard: When Kazoos (And Other Unusual Instruments) Ruled Radio

Dolly Parton Gets Big Buzz, Eminem Lyric Targets Adam Lambert

Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, sales and airplay, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


WHEN KAZOOS (AND OTHER UNUSUAL INSTRUMENTS) RULED RADIO

Dear Gary,

I was quite interested in your article in last week's "Ask Billboard" about unusual instrumentation in Billboard Hot 100 hits. Whistling in songs isn't terribly uncommon, although four songs featuring whistling in the top 10 - by Maroon 5 ("Moves Like Jagger"), Foster the People ("Pumped Up Kicks"), OneRepublic "Good Life") and Britney Spears ("I Wanna Go") - certainly is!

Here are some more hits that I can recall that include uncommon pop music instruments:

Organ:
"Let's Go Crazy," Prince (No. 1, 1984)
"Faith," George Michael (No. 1, 1987)
"Like a Prayer," Madonna (No. 1, 1989)

Harpsichord:
"Walk Away Renee," the Left Banke (No. 5, 1966)

Oboe:
"I Got You Babe," Sonny & Cher (No. 1, 1965)

And, my all-time favorite ...

Kazoo:
"You're Sixteen," Ringo Starr (No. 1, 1974). The kazoo in this song was played by Sir Paul McCartney.

Jeff Lerner
Long Island, New York


Thanks Jeff,

You weren't the only reader to profess an affection for the kazoo and those who play the wind instrument (kazooers? kazooists? And, is a person in charge of a kazoo a ... kazookeeper?)

Read on for more examples of instruments that have stood out in cameo appearances over the course of Hot 100 history. (And, keep more coming by e-mailing askbb@billboard.com and we'll continue the discussion next Friday).
Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, sales and airplay, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


WHEN KAZOOS (AND OTHER UNUSUAL INSTRUMENTS) RULED RADIO

Hi Gary,

I loved last week's question about unusual sounds and/or musical instruments in pop hits.

I immediately thought of Deee-Lite's 1990 No. 4-peaking smash "Groove Is in the Heart." One of the all-time greatest dance anthems, it prominently features a slide whistle, which you just don't hear enough of on the radio. (The song may also be the only Hot 100 hit to feature the word "succotash" in its lyrics, one more reason to love it).

By the way, if Lady Gaga and Katy Perry can start a kazoo revival, I will love their music even more than I already do.

Mark Blankenship
New York, New York



Hi there Gary,

This is a fun topic. For tunes with whistling, I'd add Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You."

As for other odd sounds in pop hits, my vote for the oddest is the only major hit that I know to feature a typewriter. The song? Dolly Parton's "9 to 5."

Dave Baskind
Saginaw, Michigan



Hi Gary,

Thanks for posting the question about Hot 100 hits with uncommon instruments. Three come to mind:

Melodica, or the "blow-organ," the "key-flute," or as the nickname that the Hooters gave themselves, the "hooter":
The Philadelphia band enjoyed a few hits that used the melodica, such as "And We Danced" (No. 21, 1985) and "Where Do the Children Go," with Scandal's Patty Smyth (No. 38, 1986). The melodica also appears in Cyndi Lauper's "Money Changes Everything" (No. 27, 1984), which featured members of the Hooters.

Kazoo:
Supertramp's "The Logical Song" (No. 6, 1979) and Paul and Linda McCartney's "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey") (No. 1, 1971) both employed the quirky instrument, among other sound effects. Weird Al Yankovic's "Smells Like Nirvana" (No. 35, 1992), his parody of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," also sports the kazoo (... along with numerous animal sounds).

Bassoon:
When you think of '80s pop songs, you don't normally think of the bassoon. But, General Public's "Tenderness" (No. 27, 1984) uses it prominently. In a 2009 interview I conducted with the band's Dave Wakeling (also of the English Beat), he told me of his first meeting with late filmmaker John Hughes: "He walked straight in with his hand stretched out to me and said, 'Anybody who's got the b*lls enough to put a bassoon in a pop song and get away with it is a man I need to meet'."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Ron Raymond, Jr.
Host/producer, "Stuck in the 80's"
WMPG-FM, Portland, Maine
Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, sales and airplay, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


WHEN KAZOOS (AND OTHER UNUSUAL INSTRUMENTS) RULED RADIO

Hi Gary,

In regards to uncommon sounds popping up in pop music, how about the "wobble board"? Australian Rolf Harris played it in "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport," a No. 3 Hot 100 hit in 1963.

Cheers,

Rod Nitz
Oromocto, New Brunswick, Canada



Dear Gary,

Since George Harrison introduced the sitar in the Beatles' 1965 song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," many acts have incorporated different instruments to produce uncommon sounds in pop music.

Here are more that I remember:

Accordion:
"Piano Man," Billy Joel (No. 25, 1974)
"La Bamba," Los Lobos (No. 1, 1987)
"What It Takes," Aerosmith (No. 9, 1990)

Bagpipe/Pipe:
"Sky Pilot," Eric Burdon and the Animals (No. 14, 1968)
"Amazing Grace," Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (No. 11, 1972)
"Rhythm of My Heart," Rod Stewart (No. 5, 1991)

Banjo:
"Take It Easy," Eagles (No. 12, 1972)
"Unwell," matchbox twenty (No. 5, 2003)
"1234," Feist (No. 8, 2007)

Harmonica:
"Desire," U2 (No. 3, 1988)
"The Heart of Rock & Roll", Huey Lewis & the News (No. 6, 1984)
"You Don't Know How It Feels," Tom Petty (No. 13, 1994)

Mandolin:
"Maggie May," Rod Stewart (No. 1, 1971)
"Mandolin Rain", Bruce Hornsby & the Range (No. 4, 1987)

"Iris," Goo Goo Dolls (No. 9, 1998)

Saxophone (to add to last week's examples):
"Got My Mind Set on You," George Harrison (No. 1, 1988)
"How Do You Talk to an Angel," the Heights (No. 1, 1992)
"I Will Always Love You," Whitney Houston (No. 1, 1992)

Sitar:
"Paint It, Black," Rolling Stones (No. 1, 1966)
"Every Time You Go Away," Paul Young (No. 1, 1985)
"It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over," Lenny Kravitz (No. 2, 1991)

Talk Box:
"Show Me The Way (Live)", Peter Frampton (No. 6, 1976)
"Livin' on a Prayer," Bon Jovi (No. 1, 1987)
"It's My Life," Bon Jovi (No. 33, 2000)

Ah, and, of course, whistling:
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," Hugo Montenegro (No. 2, 1968)
"Me and Julio Down By the School Yard," Paul Simon (No. 22, 1972)
"Golden Years," David Bowie (No. 10, 1976)

And the list goes on, and on, and on ...

Mackenzie (Mac) Scott
Fajardo, Puerto Rico