Jan 052011

The wisdom of The Hall continues to amaze me. For as many knowledgeable individuals who dazzle with their rock knowledge, it is the collective wisdom of our participants that I find most dazzling.

It is in this spirit that I want to allow for further amazement—not only for the people but by the people. I was going to try to turn this into my own original post, maybe even do a few minutes of research on the Web, but then I thought better of it. Instead, I’d like to pose a question to the collective wisdom of The Orockle.

The question I’d like to pose—and one that I hope will inspire other questions we’d like to have asked when we had more time to find the answers ourselves—will follow a little bit of background. Read on, please.

I’m a big fan of The Specials‘ second album, More Specials. I especially like the weird “cocktail ska” songs on that album, like this one, “I Can’t Stand It,” featuring—maybe unfortunately so, if you don’t share my taste for awkward, off-key British girl singing—Rhoda Dakar in, for the most part, a unison duet with equally delightfully awkward and imprecise Terry Hall. My question concerns whatever it is that happens in the final section of the song, beginning at the 3:08 mark of this video. I have a hard enough time grasping the mechanics of harmony singing when two precises vocalists sing together, but when Dakar jumps up to a higher plane than she had in previous, paralell points in the song I’m really confused—and even more delighted. Is she suddenly jumping up to a harmony line and octave higher than the natural harmony where Hall is singing?

This question will likely be a no-brainer for The Orockle, but my hope is that it will inspire others to pose their long-held music-theory mysteries for analysis and discussion. Thank you.


  14 Responses to “Consult the Orockle: Rhoda Dakar’s Leap in the Final Segment of The Specials’ “I Can’t Stand It””

  1. cherguevara

    Sounds like she’s just going up a 3rd and singing a parallel line, changing the interval when needed. I think it’s just the looseness of it and the hard panning of the two vocals that make it seem weirder than it really is.

  2. BigSteve

    I agree that it’s a fairly normal harmony line that only sounds unusual because of the perversity of the mix. Also her dramatically wobbly vibrato doesn’t really work that well with Terry Hall’s flat, deadpan vocal style. It might have made more sense to have her sing harmony throughout instead of just that last bit, but nothing about this album makes conventional sense.

    Btw Ms. Dakar was a featured vocalist on this track on the recent (2009) Madness album:


    Notice how she sings in a much lower register now, though still pretty warbly. Also notice that the track fades out with a cheesy drum machine sound vaguely similar to the one on I Can’t Stand It. A nod to their old Two Tone buddies maybe?

  3. Pretty cool, BigSteve. I had no idea she was still around or that Madness was still making records.

  4. cherguevara

    Listen to it in mono, see if it still sounds weird to you. Things that are supposed to be working in harmony, like backing vocals and horn sections, work better in mono. I say this objectively.

  5. Could be, but to me one of the charms of that album is the ridiculously split mix. It’s often like listening to two albums at once. For me, More Specials is one of those albums that pointed the way toward a type of music making that would never be fulfilled.

  6. The voices also sound odd because they are very out of synch, Rhoda consistently ahead of the beat and Terry always on the back end. Are they in unison for the rest of the song except for that one line where Rhoda goes to a minor sounding change?

    I’d need to sit down with an instrument in my hand to check that out.

  7. Yeah, it seems like they’re in unison (albeit shakily) throughout the song until that point.

  8. Remember, in this particular thread, The Orockle welcomes other questions regarding mysterious music-theory occurences. “Bring ’em on,” sayeth The Orockle.

  9. bostonhistorian

    Madness’s “Liberty of Norton Folgate”. album is really good, especially the title track.

  10. cherguevara

    Second chord of “I am the cosmos.” Go.

  11. The tabs say this:


    D to a D with a C# in the bass to an Em. That seems to make sense, but the Big Star guys do have a knack for making their guitars jangle just so. Does anyone know what kind of axes they played in the early days?

  12. cherguevara

    I don’t think that’s right.

    C# E A B E, more like a C#m7 than a D/C#

  13. Could be, cher. I haven’t pulled out my guitar yet. I wonder if HVB knows this one. It’s up one of his stylistic alleys – and he seems to have a much better ear than I do.

  14. cherguevara

    I’ll add that I don’t think I’m right either, that’s why I ask.

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