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Pop's Best "Yeah" Moments

by Raymond Cummings

Pop's Best "Yeah" Moments

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Inflection is key to the success of communication, and in general there's a huge inference chasm between "yes" and "yeah." "Yes" can be nasty, cloying and all kinds of chameleonic, and "yeah" can likewise be difficult to use -- unless whomever you're conversing with knows you really well -- without inviting or demanding offense. Since popular music traffics in an uneven admixture of adhesive vocal gristle and honeydew melody, it's fitting that artists lean so heavily on "yeah" as a way to communicate import and intensity.

Every "yeah" in The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" feels hip but also ancillary; "Oh Yeah," Yello's me-generation classic, is awash in "yeahs" that are as transparently sexual as all the other vocal chaff that's been repurposed as percussion. Fast-forward a couple decades, and you'll find Lil Wayne wallpapering the louche, paper-flush "Got Money" with "yeahs" like they were Benjamins and Lenny Kravitz employing them as afterburners to power the metaphor at the center of "Fly Away." For Oaktown 3.5.7, "yeah" is provocation and celebration alike, a declaration of power to match the vintage boom-bap on offer. Everclear ("Wonderful") and The Ramones ("I Wanna Be Well") utilize "yeah" with a sarcasm that's achingly, bitingly melancholic. Meanwhile, on Nirvana's "Lithium," Kurt Cobain stuffed the choruses full of "yeahs" that serve the same function screaming on roller coasters does: They're the alternative to violent shifts or sicknesses, or a passive-aggressive form of acting out.

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