Mudcat Café message #3450602 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #148569   Message #3450602
Posted By: Jim Dixon
11-Dec-12 - 03:28 PM
Thread Name: I need a word or term: spoken song?
Subject: I need a word or term: spoken song?
I need a word or term to fit the following definition: a type of musical performance in which words that have a regular verse pattern and rhyme scheme are spoken or recited (not sung) in sync with musical accompaniment.

I'm afraid calling it a "song" would be misleading, because "song" implies singing.

Calling it a poem or recitation would not be specific enough, because poems and recitations don't normally have musical accompaniment.

Calling it a "spoken song" is descriptive enough, I suppose, but I wonder if there is already another term in use that I should use instead. I don't want to reinvent the wheel.

The most famous example that comes to mind is BIG BAD JOHN, performed by Jimmy Dean. (Lyrics are in the DT here; you can hear a performance on YouTube here.) In this performance, Dean speaks/recites the words of the verses, but he sings the phrase "Big Bad John" as part of the refrain. There are some backup singers who also sing the phrase "Big John" repeatedly.

Another example is OLD RIVERS, performed by Walter Brennan with the Johnny Mann Singers (and later, by the Light Crust Doughboys), on YouTube here. Brennan speaks/recites throughout, but there are some backup singers that sing on the chorus.

I don't want to give the impression that this technique is used only in "country" songs—I'm sure that's far from the truth—but no other good examples come to mind right now.

The reason I ask is: I have been engaged in a project of transcribing the songs of Sophie Tucker. She used this technique a lot, especially in her old age. Her last performance was on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965; she died the following year at age 80. She was a vaudeville/cabaret singer, specializing in blues and novelty songs, some of them quite risqué for the time.

Anyway, as I document these "songs," I want to label each one with a term that will be readily understood, and not have to define the term each time I use it.

I think I may have once heard a German word: Songsprache? Sangsprache? Liedsprache? Spielsprache?

If you don't know the answer, but want to contribute to this thread anyway, I think it would be fun to compile a list of as many "songs" as we can think of that fit the definition.