Dec 052011

Do I blame this Florence + The Machine cover of Buddy Holly‘s “Not Fade Away” on Tom Waits and his percussion and production crew from the early 1980s? I think so, and it’s time musicians stop dicking around with junkyard percussion, already!

Although Waits’ junkyard style of hoboism, which began with Swordfishtrombones, first helped me like Waits, whose original skid-row hobo schtick initially annoyed me, I quickly tired of the junkyard percussion style of percussionist Michael Blair. Not only did the style of percussion lead to increasingly tedious results, but the precious way every coffee can timbale and hubcap cymbal would be documented by engineers on albums spinning off from Waits’ works, like Elvis Costello‘s Spike, flew in the face of rock ‘n roll’s true objectives.

The drums in a rock ‘n roll song are supposed to move the song along. We laud drummers for their abilities to “drive” a song, “support” a song, and so forth. Most of us who manage to maintain some awareness of our nether regions don’t want the distraction of imagining the drummer as some marionette from Being John Malkovich: “Aren’t you astonished by the wonders of my junkyard drum kit? Here, listen for the sound of me clicking an oil can during the middle eight!”

Drummers should play drums. Their drums should drive and support the songs, not prop up spotty songwriting with some percussive freak show. Until further notice I hereby call a moratorium on junkyard percussion. Thank you.


  11 Responses to “Stop Dicking Around With Junkyard Percussion, Already!”

  1. bostonhistorian

    I dunno. Ten seconds in I was thinking of Lee Dorsey’s “Working in a Coal Mine”, not Tom Waits.

  2. cherguevara

    That whole Buddy Holly tribute album is a rabbit hole of analysis waiting to happen. There is Macca’s “trying too hard” version of “It’s So Easy,” Patti Smith’s mellow reading of “Words Of Love,” Kid Rock turning in a surprisingly radical and palatable “Well All Right,” a relative unknown Jenny O provides my favorite track with a flirty version of “I’m gonna love you to” and Lou Reed utterly derailing the whole affair with an attempt at “Peggy Sue” which has only one positive facet, which is that it eventually ends. Plus, a whole lot more!

    I hear what you’re saying about junkyard drums, I think they have their place, though. As a parallel, fretless basses don’t kill people, people kill people, with fretless basses.

  3. Good points on all fronts!

  4. As a big fan of Tom Waits, it’s probably obvious that I like junkyard percussion. When used properly, it can add a nice texture or help out with the story telling. Murder In the Red Bard for instance, uses a squeaky rocking chair and some other minimalist percussive odds and ends to great effect in a noirish song about some creepy doings on the farm. I’m not sure what Florence is doing in the Buddy Holly song. It probably sounds inventive to those who have not yet discovered Tom Waits but to me it just sounds gimmicky.

    But check this out:

    EZDrummer is a drum program that I use and like. They have a bunch of add-on kits that you can purchase and one is called the Twisted Kit. It specifically models Michael Blair’s sound from Raindogs. In the graphic which shows the kit, you can see among other things, dresser drawer and a pot.

    I haven’t got this kit yet because, as much as I like the idea of it, I don’t think that I would get much use out of it, and I wonder: What were they thinking when they developed this? There can’t be more than a handful of people to whom this would appeal.

  5. Happiness Stan

    My word that’s horrible, only managed thirty seconds, not long enough to even notice the found percussion.

    I’ve always liked the idea of Tom Waits as long as I’ve not had to listen to his records.

    This lot were doing it a couple of years earlier, of course.

  6. Not sure about her new album and this cover is not her best moment, but I do like Flo’s “look” and I liked her Dog Days single last year until I got sick of it.

  7. cliff sovinsanity

    I think you’re missing Flo’s point here Mr. Mod. It is apparent the band was not looking to cover the song using the same old rhythm pattern, most likely as to not limit the song’s potential. But it’s clearly a song built on rhythm rather than melody. So add a trombone here and some tinkering there. I dig the song, except I wish her voice had a little more bottom.

  8. In tinkering with the song’s rhythm I feel they’ve sent it up its own ass. That’s my main beef with the precious treatment of percussion that I feel has resulted from the junkyard movement: the drums lose their simple, primal appeal and become a diorama, a museum piece.

  9. I think the problem here is that engineers can record junkyard percussion so incredibly clear and modern that the junk sound comes out too much. If guys recorded these items 80 years ago with one mike for the whole band, then the drums sounded good cause they Had to make it sound good

  10. cherguevara

    To continue this thought, I should also mention Graham Nash’s pathetically auto-tuned vocal on his song. Beyond lame.

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