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Slurred, Made-Up and Unintelligible Singing

by Dan Weiss

Slurred, Made-Up and Unintelligible Singing

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Some bands like to rely on a good bit of inscrutability. Just take Nirvana's mush-mouthed screaming on "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which was enough to get Weird Al to make "Smells Like Nirvana." Or listen to one of their great influences, the Pixies -- whose equally exasperating "Rock Music" had no actual lyrics in the Bossanova booklet -- or their grunge compatriots Pearl Jam, who had a left-field radio hit with "Yellow Ledbetter," which was completely improvised, meaning no official lyrics exist despite fans' inevitable attempts to sing along with the line about "the box or the bag." Then there's The Pogues' Shane MacGowan, whose legendary drinking led him to slur even a Christmas classic like "Fairytale of New York," and art-funk-metal titans Korn, who often devolved into improvised fits of Jonathan Davis rapping in tongues, as on Life Is Peachy's opening gambit, "Twist"/"Chi." Indie fans, meanwhile, have struggled to figure out if Sunny Day Real Estate's "8" and "J'Nuh" concerned a doubles tennis match and a teddy bear, respectively, while trying to make sense of songs like Sigur Ros' "Olsen Olsen" and The Cocteau Twins' "Suckling the Mender," both of which rely on glossolalia: singing syllables rather than words.

But unintelligible singing goes all the way back to The Kingsmen's all-time classic "Louie Louie," which was investigated by the FBI for hidden obscenities (no conclusions were ever found when it was played "at any speed"). So here's your shot at deciphering some of music's most unintelligible songs.

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