9. Siren Songs
‘Block Buster!’ – The Sweet
Live 8, back in the summer of 2005, was terrible. An orgy of arms-around-the-world self-satisfaction and onstage love-ins between the billed acts and their non-surprise guests. A little while after I’d switched off in boredom and disgust, however, I turned the telly back on and accidentally caught the end of Velvet Revolver’s set. There was Scott Wieland stripped to the waist but for a peaked cap like General Alcazar from the Tintin books. Beside him Slash, with his ludicrous Samuel Johnson curls and Baron Samedi hat, fag drooping out of his mouth, going meedly-meedly on the Les Paul propped against his inner thigh. It was completely preposterous – so out of keeping with the Saturday-picnic fare: Coldplay, yoga-era Madonna. Who invited them?! Best of all Wieland was holding up a siren to his microphone.
It’s a cliché, sure, and in Velvet Revolver’s case, pure panto, but I love sirens in music. Basically, they signify approaching menace. At its most literal – the start of It Takes a Nation of Millions… when Professor Griff yells “London, England – consider yourselves warned!” over blaring sirens – the menace can be the music itself. But most often the police siren is an external pointer, tying in with and amplifying a theme in the lyrics, connoting criminal danger.
So what type of criminal menace are you evoking? Is it just a general urban dystopia, as with Welcome to the Jungle where the siren is mixed in with Slash’s stuttering one-note intro (the best thing he did with G’n’R)? Or is it the police themselves who are the menace, as in Ghost Town, where the siren is unaccompanied in the fade out – the sound of tumbleweed, or the woo-woo of the ghosts? Or maybe you’re actually menacing the police – step forward Body Count’s post-Rodney King Body Count’s in the House. Most of these use sirens either at the start or the end of the song, but don’t forget you can always go for the middle (Living for the City), or leave it wailing pretty much all the way through (that would be Body Count again).
My favourite, and perhaps the prime mover in this particular lineage, uses it as bookends – an intro and an outro. The Sweet’s Block Buster! also scores points for imitating the siren in the opening vocal harmonies. “The cops are out, they’re running about”. I wonder if they knew what they were letting out of the bag with that siren song.
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