2004-12-10

Phonetic Trills in Pop Music

This post is in regard to a problem I have been aware of for at least 15 years but have never had the language at my disposal with which to describe it. What I am about here is a discrepancy, a mismatch, between a classic rock and roll song of 1964 and an almost perfect cover of that song dating to 1982. Of course, I am talking about Roy Orbison (1964) and Van Halen (1982)'s "Pretty Woman". The mismatch occurs in the following lyrics:

Pretty woman, Oh you look lovely as you could be,
Are you lonely just like me
Adrrrrr...

The problem is this: Roy Orbison's interpretation of "Adrrrrr...", I now know (thank you, Phonetics 120) is a Uvular Trill. Diamond David Lee Roth does not do a Uvular Trill, but in fact he performs an Alveolar Trill. Anyone familiar with the two songs will know instantly that to which I refer. This is something that has bugged me for years, and I now know why. Thus, no matter what the eventual outcome of my linguistics education, I am that much the better for it!

3 Comments:

Blogger The Neologiac Spooneristocrat said...

It's funny. I know the Roy Orbison song but had never thought of that moment as a uvular trill. (When it comes to uvular trills in music, it's Edith Piaf who jumps to mind). But now that I listen to it again, you're right, it's clearly uvular. What's more, the superimposing of such a trill over the vowels of "wow" seems to be a kind of signifier of sexual attraction. Perhaps the origin of this is feline and feminine, approximating a "meow" plus a purr, as in the silly cliché "I'm a sexy tiger, [WOW+uvular trill]." And the essential feature of this signifier isn't the place of articulation (i.e. uvular vs. alveolar) so much as it's the presence of a trill and the oscillation of the jaw that creates the "wow" sound.

(Wow, indeed, I think: I can't believe I'm writing about this here... Why so tentative sounding, W1ll, about the 'eventual outcome' of your linguistics education. Don't you feel that anyone who can analyze to death this one-second moment of "Pretty Woman" truly belongs in hyper-theoretical, oft-absurd halls of academia?...Now how about we act even more scholarly by turning our attention to the groan/moan/nasal-grunt that Britney Spears produces at the start of "Ooops, I did it again." Is it the overlapping of a pharyngeal constriction with velum lowering? Where's the LOne phonetician on Expling when you need him anyway? ;) )

9:58 PM  
Blogger W1ll13 30% Hacker said...

Oh my! Velum-lowering and Britany Spears is just about too much for me to get a handle on!

12:09 PM  
Blogger deskstop said...

hi, I'm working on a project that would involve a phonetic transcription of classical instrumental songs.
A bit like when someone do "tadidada, naninaaninanina didada".
Does anyone know if there is some kind of dictionary or any type of study / conventions about this? Or do I have to do it intuitively?
thanks for any kind of help

7:45 AM  

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