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Songs of Laughter

by Raymond Cummings

Songs of Laughter

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There's inadvertent laughter, and then there's forced laughter. While most laughter that appears in recorded music falls into the latter category, chuckles, chortles, or guffaws can nonetheless work as effective framing devices or mood enhancers. For some, an introductory giggle is intended to usher the listener into a sort of voyeuristic hedonistic state: Hits from yacht-pop playboys Duran Duran ("Hungry Like the Wolf") and no-rules bad girl Ke$ha ("Blow") work that angle, while Gorillaz season "Feel Good, Inc." with mad cackling.

Likewise, insane laughter powers the asylum sludge of the Dead C.'s "Maggot" and too many Ozzy Osbourne-related tunes to list here, though we're partial to his blown-fuse cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" (a recently unearthed version finds the late, great guitarist losing it near the end). Interestingly, rapper Juvenile endows the "ha" in "Ha" with triple duty, as he ends each verse with the phrase: it's a chuckle, it's a "huh," and it's a hard-stop piece of punctuation.

Flipper's eff-suburbia nightmare-coaster punk spin on laughter is pitched somewhere between agony and sarcasm ("Ha Ha Ha"); Beck's is woozier, chemical-induced, and winks at Molly Hatchet ("Fume"). On The Moldy Peaches' "Lucky Number Nine," the amused quaver in Kimya Dawson's vocal is so palpable that it's a wonder they made it through the last take without the whole thing falling apart. The Beach Boys, on the other hand, do lose it half way through "Barbara Ann" -- but their mirth feels studied, labored.

By contrast, "Who Would You F*ck?" -- a Wu-heavy interlude from Ghostface Killah's canonical Supreme Clientele -- is more a staged, extended interlude than a song, but its working-blue amusement feels more natural and spontaneous than much modern pop and comedy.

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