The calliope, that strange carnival organ that only seems to play goofy, off-kilter, slightly menacing “carnival music.” Truth be told, I know nothing about the instrument, such as what makes a calliope a calliope. To be even more truthful, if you can handle it, I wasn’t even sure if a calliope was an instrument or a style of music. A 12-second scan of YouTube results for the search term calliope tells me it’s an instrument.
Rather than investigate the inner workings of a calliope, I prefer to follow what got me thinking about this thing in the first place. I was listening to a favorite song from childhood that involves a brief, carnival-sounding, calliope-like instrumental break. I’m not sure if an actual calliope was used in the recording of this instrumental break, but it has that sound, that rhythm, and those clusters of notes that suggest clowns; rickety amusement rides; the smell of sawdust, animal droppings, and cotton candy; and parents looking like they’re questioning whether they did the right thing by bringing the kids to this place.
Along with the song that came on my iPod tonight, I thought of one other song that features a definite carnival-style, calliope-like break. It’s also a song I was fascinated by as a kid, yet it doesn’t hold up as well as the first one I thought of tonight. Beside those two songs, I strongly doubt that there are more than two or three other examples of this device. BEWARE:
I will not accept any old Doors song. I know Ray Manzarek’s organ parts are often played in “carnival style” (eg, “Love Her Madly”), but that’s just his style, it’s not something he cooks up for a particular part of a particular song. BEWARE, too, of throwing out any old Tom Waits song. Again, that’s the guy’s go-to trick.
This is one of those exclusive Last Man Standing competitions, one seeking quality over quantity. I’m looking for songs with a distinct, deliberate calliope-style break, one meant to evoke all the regrettable sensations of attending an actual carnival. If I could tell you the most obvious of the two I have in mind, you would see the difference between these distinct calliope breaks and the natural style of an artist’s body of work. But I cannot provide an example, because that might dry up a shallow pool of eligible entrants.
Send in the clowns!