The Extra “Uh”: The Byrds, “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” (1967)

Marjoe Gortner Watching Marjoe the other night, I was heavily reminded how evangelists do this:

Thank you Jesus-uh! And then I began to pray-uh! And I turned-uh my mind-uh to God-uh!

What’s the power of the added “uh”? Could it be the spreading influence of the celebration-word Hallelujah? (But then the question would be, why does “Hallelujah!” sound so good?)  It’s all through Mavis Staples’ gospel-soul singing (listen to what she does to “The Weight”). The French seem to enjoy the same thing when they get to sing a word with a terminal “e”: Allons enfants de la patrie-uh!

What’s important for rock ‘n’ roll is that The Byrds do it in their coolest single ever, one of the first stunningly fresh releases of the year of wonders 1967, “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star”:

The price you paid for your riches and fame
Was it all a strange game?

You’re a little insane-uh

“So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star,” third verse

It’s just up in the slightly disconnected-sounding high harmony vocal, so the Hooks credit goes to David Crosby.

The extra “uh” can be heard as the forceful disposing of a word, the firing of a booster rocket as the word is launched toward its target. We’re struck by the power of the speaker. Or it could feel like a safe release of pressure, a controlled nearness to delirious babbling without getting swept away. Or, heck, it could be bumping by the Holy Ghost. It could be the next thing to speaking in tongues.

Even an evangelist on a roll holds back from overdoing the extra “uh” (you can study the rhythm of this in Marjoe, starting at 12:50 e.g.). Hearing the extra “uh” at just one moment of a near-delirious discourse—in the definitive song about the craziness of stardom—is really choice.


P. S.  A nice series of extra “uhs” shows up at the end of “morning” in Nilsson’s alternate version of “Early In The Morning” (there’s no trace of this on the Nilsson Schmilsson track). What do you think it means? That he’s so wiped out he can’t tie off an -ing ending?

P. P. S. Enjoy the “asked-uhs” in the first verse of Richard Thompson’s “Read About Love”:

“Read About Love”

P. P. P. S. And wait for the beautiful extra at the end of the chorus in”It’s Only Divine Right” by The New Pornographers:

“It’s Only Divine Right”


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics, Words and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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