[Originally Published: November 10, 2011]
Thanks to our friend Ed Watts for contributing this week’s B List.
In 1976 Peter Frampton made the “talk box” guitar effect famous with Frampton Comes Alive!, an album which featured the device on the songs Do You Feel Like We Do? and Baby, I Love Your Way. With a sound as thick as the lava in a lava lamp, the talk box would propel Frampton Comes Alive! to become the best-selling record of 1976, win the Album of the Year prize in the 1976 Rolling Stone readers poll and in 1994 be recognized by Ben Stiller’s character in the movie Reality Bites as the album that totally changed his life.
So what exactly is the talk box? Officially, it’s an effect unit which allows a musician to control the tone of an instrument with a tube inserted in his or her mouth. Unofficially, it’s a magical talisman that could cause rock fans to go nuts when it was introduced 15 minutes into an already interminable concert jam, containing enough power to nearly make a grown woman cry when a rock star made eye contact with her and approximated the words “I Love You” through it. Oh, and it kind of looks like a cross between night braces and an experimental device to deal with emphysema. See it in action here:
So now that you what it is, here’s the top ten songs featuring a talk box that were not performed by Peter Frampton:
10. Sly and the Family Stone – Sex Machine
Evidently the magic of the talk box was not powerful enough to keep Sly Stone from becoming homeless in the last couple of years, but still, back in 1969 it had enough voodoo to turn this very long funk jam into a listenable tune, making the guitar sound kind of like a harmonica:
9. Joe Walsh – Rocky Mountain Way
Normally I am on the same page as Lebowski about anyone or anything connected with the Eagles, but this is one of the more iconic uses of the talk box, the first hit song prior to Frampton to really feature it:
8. Aerosmith – Sweet Emotion
You could argue that this song should have been ranked higher due to its popularity, but the talk box is used only briefly, mainly during the “ba-da-da-ba-da-da” of the opening. By the way, I don’t know what the jungle stage set is about in this video, but I love it:
7. Steely Dan – Haitian Divorce
Given Steely Dan’s sound, their era, and their nerdy approach to music, I’m surprised this is the only Steely Dan song with a talk box (and no, I have no idea what the lyrics are about either):
6. Stillwater – Mind Bender
Rock nerds take note: before Stillwater became the name of a fictional band in the movie Almost Famous, it was the name of an actual band from the ’70s that no one had ever heard of. Rumor has it that Cameron Crowe was able to get permission to use the name after flattering the long-forgotten group with a personal invite to a screening of the film. In a weird twist, the songs played by the fictitious Stillwater were written for the film by Nancy Wilson, Cameron Crowe and Peter Frampton…
5. Pink Floyd – Pigs (Three Different Ones)
The most depressing use of a talk box:
(most prominently used at 5:13 for the main guitar solo)
4. Stevie Wonder – Close to You
Stevie first used a talk box on his album Music of My Mind in early 1972, featuring it most prominently in the song Love Having You Around. But his best use of it has to be on this rare video. As one youtube commenter says: “bet that guy who laughs toward the beginning feels like such a dickhead as the song progresses and gets beautiful as hell.”
3.Rage Against the Machine – Wake Up
Rage proved that the talk box could have a social consciousness in 1992:
(the talk box is most prominent about 2:56 into the song with the “stutter” guitar solo)
2 The Meters – Funkify Your Life
You can’t get any funkier than the Meters – believe me, I’ve tried, and I only wound up hurting myself. This is the funkiest use of the talk box ever. It’s a song from the 1977 album New Directions, and to date no one knows whether the name of this album (or the name of the world’s most famous Glee Club for that matter) is an intentional pun on “Nude Erections”:
1. Bon Jovi – Livin’ on a Prayer
Even though I am originally from New Jersey, this is not a biased choice for number 1. Without a doubt, this is absolutely the best use of the talk box ever. Starting from the famous opening lick, this classic tune has talk box smeared all over it. Perhaps wisely, the band decided not to include a scene of Richie Sambora fellating the device in the official video, but you can catch glimpses of him using it during this live video from the 1987 MTV music awards, in which evidently the talk box has bestowed upon Jon Bon Jovi the power of flight:
The talk box Justin Beiber?
What songs use the talk box that didn’t make our list?