Rock Laughs: Dion, “Lovers Who Wander” (1962)

On Dial M for Musicology, Jonathan Bellman nailed a great new hook category by pointing out Dion’s “Lovers Who Wander” as the supreme laugh of romantic dismissal. Here it is:
Dion’s Laugh

I think it’s great because it’s so clearly a deft musical representation of a laugh rather than a real laugh that would break the song’s flow—indeed you might miss it as a laugh, and there is pleasure in discovering it—but at the same time the laugh is real enough to convince us that an actual person is coming out on top here, attitude-wise at least. The flow of Dion’s singing is sovereign while the laugh proves he’s in charge of his heart.

What are the other greatest laughs?

For musically sculpted quasi-laughs, Bruce Golden says he likes the panting “ahs” in the last section of the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” (alternating with “Take it easy, baby”—the singer is training his girlfriend to obey him in all things).

Bruce also drew my attention to how James Brown shows off his spectrum of unh!, huh!, and hah! on “There Was a Time.” Brown can turn his attitude to many settings: a “hah” delivered as a laugh does not mean the same as a “hah” delivered like a “huh.”

There are plenty of laughs in rock I don’t like at all. The opening laugh hook of “Wipe Out” heads that list. There are others I can’t make up my mind about, like Joni Mitchell’s exquisite little laughs in “Twisted,” which might be too cute.

For a gloriously diabolical yet very human laugh, can anything beat Johnny Rotten’s at the beginning of “Anarchy in the UK”? Well, Ben Apatoff believes there is something even greater at the end of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” the greatest evil laugh in music history.

More than offsetting all evil, for my money, is Stevie Wonder’s happy laugh of being in love in “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).”

What else?

There’s the maniacal laughter after “No man is an island—he’s a peninsula” at the end of “A Small Package of Value Will Come to You, Shortly” on Jefferson Airplane’s After Bathing at Baxter’s. What’s great is not the laugh by itself but how it morphs into a strange rustling sound, like a bunch of women in burqas settling down, to intensify the quiet of the first four measures before the big attack of “Young Girl Sunday Blues” with the crazy-psychedelic vibrato on guitar picking up where the laugh left off (as Elise Smith observed).
Segue to “Young Girl Sunday Blues”

What else?

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
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