Songs without semantics
August 16, 2015 5:48 PM   Subscribe

So, I'm looking for a thematic playlist, inspired by a few things I got back to back on a random listen: I'm looking for songs with a significant amount of vocals all of whose lyrics are not, and are not intended to be, in any comprehensible language, at least not in a way which makes any sort of sense.

Heavy scatting in a song with lyrics in a real language isn't what I'm looking for; I want lyrics incomprehensible from start to finish. Difficult-to-understand real words also don't fit the bill (e.g. no Louie Louie). No conlangs either --- I'm not looking for songs in Elvish or Klingon, both of which are comprehensible to someone and plausible translatable. The vocals can be reminiscent of a real language (e.g. Hugo Ball wrote "Gadji Beri BImba" with a faux-African intent; Erzsi Kiss's scatwork on "Secon" bears a passing phonological similarity to French)

Examples I have so far:
"I Zimbra" by the Talking Heads
A lot of Erik Sumo's songs, including "Csillag vagy fecske" (intriguingly, an instrumental cover of a song with real lyrics, but with completely different, nonsensical lyrics tipped in over the tag), "The Real Moustache", "Sirens of the Dead Sea", "Friday in France", "Secon", and "Erzsi Robs a Casino" have vocals provided only by Erzsi Kiss with a basically nonsensical scat style.
Yasushi Ishii (石井妥師)'s "Logos naki World (ロゴスなきワールド)" is nonsense syllables, arranged after a fashion into quasi-English words.
A fair bit of Yoko Kanno (菅野 よう子)'s Seatbelts work has gone in this direction, ranging from obviously filler vocalizations in "Elm" to the more complex nonsense in "Green Bird" and "Cats on Mars" and the nearly-parseable quasi-English in "Live in Baghdad" (which might actually fall on the too-close-to-a-real-language side).

But I'm sure there is much, much more than my limited exposure to a few specific artists out there.Can y'all recommend some more completely meaning-free lyrics?
posted by jackbishop to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I think "Helen Fordsdale" by Mars fits this bill, but some people on the internet claim there are lyrics. I'm not hearing them...
posted by town of cats at 5:55 PM on August 16, 2015

Remember the "Trololo" guy? Turns out it's a specific style called vokaliz.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:57 PM on August 16, 2015

Can't go past Adriano Celetano's Prisencolinensinainciusol.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:57 PM on August 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

I know some of Sigur Ros' songs are in a made up language, which ones in particular would take more research as they are Icelandic. The wiki also mentions Cocteau Twins sometimes singing in nonsense.
posted by Requiax at 6:03 PM on August 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

All of Sigur Ros's album () is in a fake language resembling Icelandic.
posted by vunder at 6:04 PM on August 16, 2015

A substantial amount of Sigur Ros' early work, I believe including their entire albums Aegis Byrjun and () are in their made-up language Hopelandish.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:05 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just found this article all about songs in invented languages, it includes links to songs.
posted by Requiax at 6:06 PM on August 16, 2015

Masoko Tanga by The Police (at least I can't hear any real words in it)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:06 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might want to take a look at the soundtracks to various Cirque du Soleil shows -- they do a lot of singing in languages that aren't really languages. Some of the songs contain incomprehensible mixes of words from real languages, but a lot of them are simply made up.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:13 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Missy Elliott- Gossip Folks (just the chorus)
posted by dilaudid at 6:15 PM on August 16, 2015

The Melvins - "Hooch" might have the lyrical content you're seeking.
posted by ndfine at 6:15 PM on August 16, 2015

Robyn Hitchcock, Unsettled. It's all English words and there are some recognizable phrases but I'll be damned if it means anything.
posted by murphy slaw at 6:29 PM on August 16, 2015

Dilaudid: Gossip Folks's chorus is a sample from Frankie Smith's Double Dutch Bus which is nearly incomprehensible but it's slang, not nonsense.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:32 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

You might or might not be interested in Magma, who wrote songs in "Kobaïan," a private conlang that (at least originally) wasn't meant to be intelligible.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:34 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Puirt a beul is a sort of traditional Scottish and Irish scat singing. Sometimes it has meaningful lyrics, but often they're nonsense syllables (though they tend to sound plausibly-Gaelic if you don't speak the language).
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:37 PM on August 16, 2015

All the albums by Adiemus have non-language lyrics.

"Each Adiemus album is a collection of song-length pieces featuring harmonised vocal melody against an orchestra background. There are no lyrics as such, instead the vocalists sing syllables and 'words' invented by Jenkins. However, rather than creating musical interest from patterns of phonemes (as in scat singing, or in numerous classical and crossover compositions), the language of Adiemus is carefully stylised so as not to distract the listener's attention from the pitch and timbre of the voice. " - from wikipedia
posted by belladonna at 6:37 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Bathtime in Clerkenwell" by The Real Tuesday Weld might fit.
posted by lisa g at 6:39 PM on August 16, 2015

Maybe a vocalise? Although the linked article refers to them as vocal warm ups, some, most famously Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, are performed in concert. They tend to be sung entirely on "ah".
posted by amtho at 6:45 PM on August 16, 2015

Here's a vocalise.
posted by amtho at 6:45 PM on August 16, 2015

Most of White Ash's songs are all nonsense syllables that resemble English.
posted by capricorn at 6:55 PM on August 16, 2015

Esperanza Spalding — I Adore You
posted by John Cohen at 7:05 PM on August 16, 2015

Caramba, "Hubba Hubba Zoot Zoot" (and apparently the rest of the album, as well).
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:07 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

That's what a lot of Enya's songs sound like.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:36 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Dead Can Dance sort of made up a language to sing in.
posted by irisclara at 7:50 PM on August 16, 2015

Hannibal Buress's Gibberish Rap isn't entirely in gibberish, but there's a lot of it.
posted by Etrigan at 8:01 PM on August 16, 2015

Cocteau Twins
posted by matildaben at 8:08 PM on August 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

Shape note singing isn't exactly gibberish/non-language as the words do correspond to notes on a scale (which are broadly recognized, like do re mi etc.) but I think the overall effect is in line with what you're after. Skip to about 1:30 for the singing.
posted by pullayup at 9:27 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I should be a bit more specific--shape note/sacred harp songs do have verses in English, but there's almost always an initial run through the music with the solfege alone and no lyrics.
posted by pullayup at 9:39 PM on August 16, 2015

Slim Gaillard...wrote and sang in a language he called "vout". His work may not meet all your criteria but I'm determined to mention Slim Gaillard whenever given the slightest opportunity. Everyone should know him.
posted by shibori at 9:44 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Only part of Mairzy Doats counts, but it's an old chestnut.
posted by Duffington at 10:34 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Several Sun City Girls songs should work. I don't know enough to direct you to specific songs but they have hundreds of hours of recorded material and wading into it is a pleasure in itself. Check out "Space Prophet Dogon".
posted by zoinks at 10:54 PM on August 16, 2015

Rushad Eggleston's Wild Band Of Snee?

Although Rushad would certainly argue there is semantics there.
posted by mr vino at 12:56 AM on August 17, 2015

posted by Chairboy at 1:27 AM on August 17, 2015

There's a live recording of M. Doughty's "Grey Ghost" whose bridge he sings in made up words. (it's from the Question Jar sessions. It's on Spotify.)

I can't understand the real bridge anyway ("Disgraced by some strange Bob Balaban?") so I prefer this version.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:29 AM on August 17, 2015

posted by ElectricGoat at 4:11 AM on August 17, 2015

Loituma - Ievan's Polka
posted by guy72277 at 4:56 AM on August 17, 2015

Lots of music by Roomful of Teeth fits this description, particularly the Pulitzer Prize-winning Partita. Here is their NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 5:44 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ekova - Heaven's Dust - 100% made up language
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:46 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

David Bowie, Warszawa.
posted by Devoidoid at 11:08 AM on August 17, 2015

The lyrics of Ievan Polka aren't gibberish, they are in Finnish, with only a part of Loituma's version being gibberish.
posted by Promethea at 12:00 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Would the Star Trek: The Original Series opening credits song fit your criteria?
posted by EatenByAGrue at 3:29 PM on August 17, 2015

You mention Yoko Kanno's nonsense languages. Yuki Kajiura does something similar, using a deliberately meaningless language sometimes called Kajiurago. For example, Credens Justitiam (aka Mami's Theme from Madoka Magica). The title is Latin, but the lyrics are vaguely-Latin-sounding gibberish.
posted by baf at 5:48 PM on August 17, 2015

Syd Barrett, Word Song
posted by panama joe at 1:33 PM on August 18, 2015

Elton John's "Solar Prestige a Gammon"
posted by the sobsister at 8:22 AM on September 6, 2015

« Older Should I break up with my boyfriend?   |   Bag it for life? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.