Sep 172010

Today, while driving to work, I was listening to “Fredag,” a new track by the classic/psychedelic rock outfit Dungen. It features guitars, pounding drums, Leon Russell-style piano chords, and….a xylophone.

The xylophone seems to be such a sweet, happy instrument that is well suited to twee-ish pop, such as The Magnetic Fields. But in a quick scan of our music collection, Mr. Royale and I unearthed these other xylophone-friendly rock tracks:

  • “I Will Follow” by U2
  • “Gone Daddy Gone” by the Violent Femmes
  • “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix
  • “Under My Thumb” by the Rolling Stones

And I’m sure there are more that you can think of. So is there a place in rock for the xylophone?

P.S. – “Born To Run” showcases a glockenspiel…


  47 Responses to “Xylophones: They’re Not Just for Marching Bands Anymore”

  1. That Dungen tune is cool, I hadn’t heard them before. But that sounds like a glock to me – it’s metallic, it sustains and it has a harder attack than a celeste. I think “I will follow” is a glock too.

    Under my thumb is trickier, but I think that’s a marimba. Gone daddy gone, pretty sure is xylophone.

    “Change” by Tears For Fears is a good one, hard to say what that is, but I’m going with marimba too. Deeper, less bright, mellower tone.

  2. BigSteve

    Yeah, a marimba is like a xylophone but with wooden, rather than metal, bars. It was heavily featured on middle period Beefheart, and on Zappa’s records when he had Ruth Underwood in his band.

    I was thinking that was xylophone before the song starts on Rikki Don’t Lost That number, but according to Wikipedia it was “Victor Feldman’s flopanda (a kind of electric marimba)….” I did not know that.

    There’s lots of marimba on Tom Waits records too.

  3. ladymisskirroyale

    I know I was having a tough time telling apart the xylophone and glock sounds, but Wikipedia in all it’s wisdom supported my xylophone assertions. Any one else want to weigh in?

    There’s a great Laika song that features marimbas:

  4. Mr. Moderator

    Since Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” features a marching band I would think a xylophone must be in that mix.

  5. hrrundivbakshi

    I was at a flea market in Galax, Virginia — about as far into the far southwest corner of VA you can go; a part of VA that sits on the border between VA, NC and TN — in other words, it’s in the middle of fucking nowhere, total hillbilly country. Anyhow, in this flea market, otherwise given over to rusty cast-iron skillets, stars-and-bars throw rugs and NASCAR memorabilia… I found a mint copy of Tortoise’s debut LP. On vinyl. In a stand owned by an aging African-American woman. I wondered about the tortuous path this arty artefact must have taken to wind up there.

    Anyhow, Tortoise is very xylo-centric. And pretty good, too!

  6. Philly band Marah started out using the sound of the Mummers string bands as a basis. The core instruments are banjo, sax and glockenspiel. However, checking the liner notes from the “Kids in Philly” album, both Dave and Serge Bielanko get a credit for xylophone.

  7. hrrundivbakshi

    Of course, virtually every uptempo Motown song ever recorded had that same damn xylophone dinging and donging in the background.

    Lots of mid-period Beach Boys, too.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    “Rebel Waltz,” by the Clash, has something in the xylophone family.

  9. Tom Waits uses the marimba to good effect quite a bit from Swordfishtrombones forward.

    And Springsteen uses the glockenspiel a lot live. I’m not anti-Bruce but I find his use of it really annoying.


    According to the internet, Tom Waits plays the following xylophone-style instruments:

    Jersey Girl (Heartattack And Vine, 1980)
    Presents (One From The Heart, 1982)
    Blow Wind Blow (Franks Wild Years, 1987)
    More Than Rain (Franks Wild Years, 1987)
    Fish & Bird (Toy Glockenspiel. Alice, 2002)

    Shore Leave (Swordfishtrombones, 1983)
    Underground (Swordfishtrombones, 1983)

    Shore Leave (Swordfishtrombones, 1983)
    Clap Hands (Rain Dogs, 1985)
    I’ll Be Gone (Franks Wild Years, 1987)
    Fawn (Alice, 2002)
    Misery Is The River Of The World (Blood Money, 2002)
    All The World Is Green (Blood Money, 2002)
    Another Man’s Vine (Blood Money, 2002)
    A Good man Is Hard To Find (Blood Money, 2002)

  11. bostonhistorian

    A friend of mine has used xylophone in at least one song on his last three CDs. I’ll have to ask him about it.

  12. trolleyvox

    I’ve been on a huge marimba kick lately. Lot’s of Cal Tjader, Steve Reich, and yesterday I checked out all the sounds included in the Logic 9 recording program. All sorts of cool glocks, marimbas, vibes, kalimbas, etc. On a completely unrelated note, it also comes with a fairly intense virtual Hammond B3/Rhodes/Clavichord.

  13. ladymisskirroyale

    So are we in agreement that these percussion instruments can be used successfully in a rock and roll sound?

  14. ladymisskirroyale

    And speaking of The Clash – how about “The Magnificent Seven”? Are those bells or a distorted glock?

  15. Mr. Moderator

    I have no problem with these instruments when used as a lead instrument (eg, “Under My Thumb”) or a highlight (eg, Motown, Phil Spector, The Boss). Now I’m trying to recall the name of the John Cale song on The Academy in Peril that makes effective use of a member of this family of percussion instruments…

  16. BigSteve

    I think Springsteen’s use of that sound is intended to invoke Phil Spector, but I thought it was a celesta (a keyboard-based branch of the xylophone family) that Federici used. That’s a celesta on the Velvet Underground song Sunday Morning.

  17. bostonhistorian

    The celesta is also used in Buddy Holly’s “Everyday””

  18. hrrundivbakshi

    Mike Patto used to play one a lot.

    But the 70s pop band Starbuck (the band that scored big with “Moonlight Feels Right,” as seen with unintentional hilarity here: featured a guy who was a full-time xylo/marimba player!

    Be sure to check out that video — there are a lot of xylo part-timers being name-checked in this thread, but the Starbuck dude (start watching at 1:50) is a full-on, rock-spandex-and-sequin-wearing marimbist!


  19. Mr. Moderator

    Man, that’s an historically bad clip you’ve uncovered, HVB. I HATED that song when I was a kid. The singer is even more smug than he sounded on radio. How ’bout his knowing laugh before the choruses? UGH! The spandex-clad marimbist, on the other hand, may be Foyer of Fame worthy, in that special wing where the likes of percussionist Ray Cooper is honored. To ensure that the masses see this video I’ve added it to the body of ladymiss’ thread.

  20. Mr. Moderator

    The marimba plays an integral part in Captain Beefheart’s “Alice in Blunderland.”

  21. BigSteve

    To correct something I said earlier in this thread, let me say that the xylophone and the marimba both use wooden bars that are struck with a mallet (xylon means wood). The difference apparently is that the bars on a marimba are set up like the keys of a piano, while a xylophone can take a number of different shapes. A vibraphone, or as Tvox said earlier vibes, is the one with metal bars. In addition vibes have a motor-driven butterfly valve attached to each resonator tube for a tremolo effect. Lionel Hampton and Gary Burton are notable jazz vibraphonists.

  22. A xylophone and marimba are both made of wood and have the same “piano key” layout. The marimba is made from a softer wood and has a more mellow and “deep” sound. They look similar, but the xylophone has a higher range, doesn’t sustain quite as long (splitting hairs) and is brighter sounding.

    The vibraphone is around the same size as a marimba, but is made of metal. Below its bars are resonators which have circular metal pieces in them. These pieces rotate when the motor is on, making a tremolo sound.

    A glockenspiel is metal also, but is much smaller in size (can be held in your hand or mounted for use when marching) and is almost always played with metal mallets. Very bright and higher range.

    The celeste has a more bell-like sound, and is a keyboard instrument.

    Chimes are also known as “tubular bells” to some, and those are played with a mallet that looks like a small sledgehammer.

    If you’re going to play a gong, tap it around the edges, making your way in a circle around the perimeter. Once the instrument is vibrating softly, give it a good whack.

    The opening on a triangle should be oriented toward the player’s left side.

    Thank you.

  23. Addendum: Reading around the web brings the same writing on multiple pages, which asserts that the wood on a marimba and xylophone are the same. Rather, these articles state that the shape of the wooden bars is different (I think one is “scooped out” underneath), the resonators are longer on a marimba and that the mariba is usually played with softer mallets than a xylophone.

    Either way, the main point is that a xylophone is not metal.

  24. And, this is not the proper way to play a bass drum:

  25. BigSteve

    I believe the bars on a xylophone can be set up like piano keys, but not necessarily. Look at the photos accompanying the Xylophone article on Wikipedia:

  26. BigSteve

    And just to ratchet up the pedantry:

  27. Ok, I was thinking of the “Western” or “orchestral” xylophone. But sure.

    I was once lucky enough to get a tour of the storage/repair area of the musical instrument area of the Met Museum of Art in NYC, courtesy of one of the curators. It was amazing, when he spoke frankly, which things on display were not actually of value or interest while some amazing things were in storage.

    For example, we saw the 1st Steinway piano up on its side and an original saxophone made by Adolph Sax. But one thing there was a xylophone made out of stone. The curator saw me looking at this thing, with an expression that said, “how could a stone xylophone make a sound?” It turned out that the stone had very high iron content and when he gave it a tap, a really nice, resonant tone came out.

    Explaining the differences between these mallet instruments is like explaining the difference between cobblestones and Belgian bricks. Technically, these descriptions are true, but one (ie me) just ends up coming off sounding like a d**k. Sorry!

    Now the difference between a dulcimer and zither or a lyre and a harp or an autoharp…

  28. misterioso

    Man, thanks for that Starbuck “Moonlight Feels Right” clip. Good to know that he looks as smarmy as he sounds, with that stupid little “heh heh” laugh.

    Thank the Lord for those Midnight Special clips. Not having been old enough to stay up to watch it back then, and having had no visual reference for so many of the top 40 hits of my youth, such as this one, it really helps clarify certain matters.

  29. ladymisskirroyale

    That Starbuck video is, well, “the best of the 70’s,” at least in Top 40 stuff. When I was looking up xylophone rock songs, I came across that one but didn’t mention it because 1. it’s not rock and 2. I didn’t want to be an accomplice to additional grey hairs. Like Mod, I couldn’t stand the song then and can only tolerate it now due to it’s nostalgia value. But I have to admit on this re-listen, I sort of like the xylophone solo. It’s the cheesy keyboards that put my teeth on edge.

    What is now really bothering me is the knowledge that that cute little colorful Playskool toy that so many kids had was not really a xylophone and is most likely a…glockenspiel? False advertising!

    By the way, I think for the next Rock Town Hall Adult Education course, we all take a trip to the Met’s musical instruments back room. Can you get us in, Cher? You could write the syllabus…

  30. Mr. Moderator

    cherguevara wrote:

    Technically, these descriptions are true, but one (ie me) just ends up coming off sounding like a d**k. Sorry!

    No need to apologize! Isn’t this part of the reason we gather in these hallowed halls? Not to sound like d**ks, that is, but to allow this side of ourselves to be expressed and, dare I say, appreciated by like-minded sorts.

    The stone xylophone reminds of a natural rockpile way up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania called Ringing Rocks. Has anyone else ever been there? It’s this huge pile of rocks in the middle of a wooded area that have this ringing property. You bring a hammer when you visit, and then you climb up and down these boulders and strike them, finding the “sweet spot” of each rock. My wife and I took the boys there about this time last year, and we spent a good hour doing nothing but hitting rocks with hammers.

  31. I never heard of the ringing rocks, how cool!

  32. Thus, the stone xylophone is actually called a “lithophone,” which is related to… get this.. the Rock Gong!

    Rock Gong! Come on, people!

    see page 35 of this:

  33. Mr. Moderator

    You’re in New York, right cher? Ringing Rocks is so far up in Bucks County that you’re probably as close to the place as I am in South Jersey. Grab a hammer and check it out!

  34. ladymisskirroyale

    When we get to the Rock Woodwinds, we could consider a field trip to Seattle’s Sound Garden. Actually, here in the Bay Area, the Lawrence Livermore Hall of Science in Berkeley has a small one, too.

  35. jeangray

    Yes! The Sound Garden in Seattle is tres cool.

  36. mockcarr

    Ugh, looks like Gallagher had an even worse act before he started busting watermelons.

    I think it’s hard not to look cooler when you’re playing a marimba. Please don’t try to prove me wrong.

  37. alexmagic

    If you’re going to play a gong, tap it around the edges, making your way in a circle around the perimeter. Once the instrument is vibrating softly, give it a good whack.

    Finally given context like this, Bolan’s “Get It On (Bang A Gong)” advice suddenly makes sense!

  38. ladymisskirroyale

    Cher, love the Ringing Rocks video. Next time I’m in PA, I’m going. And I’ll share it with all my science geek friends…

  39. ladymisskirroyale

    Bruinskip, thanks for the reminder. The Coctails used to play in Providence when I was there and their set list was one of the first in my collection. A good example of rockin’ xylophone.

  40. ladymisskirroyale

    Oh, Cher, you are the xylo/glock/marimba/vibe king!

    In response to the Yes numbah, how about some Barry Adamson: (stupid video, be forewarned:)

  41. Hey, did we miss “Love My Way” by the Psychedelic Furs? That’s a good one.

  42. hrrundivbakshi

    “Hold Me Now,” Thompson Twins.

  43. BigSteve

    I think those sounds on Love My Way are synths, but I believe the Thompson Twins used a real xylophone. Xylophonic sounds are apparently very easy to synthesize, and they’re always available in sets of keyboard presets.

  44. ladymisskirroyale

    And my husband just suggested “Blue Jean” by Bowie.

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