My Five Favorite Rock-and-roll Screams

by Michael Channing

Sometimes I need to punch the sky and unleash pent-up hostility. But I probably shouldn't do it in the grocery checkout line. Luckily, there's a socially acceptable way to release my anger. I can do it in time with rock-and-roll music. Here are my favorite sultans of scream.

5. Heard in "Revolution" by The Beatles, delivered by John Lennon

Hey Jude/Revolution by The BeatlesSounds like:

What makes it amazing:
Um, it's The Beatles.

I'm talking the version of "Revolution" with the distorted guitars, the one that opens and closes with a scream. You probably know the history of this one already. The slower, shoo-bee-do-wha version came first and was to be released as a single. But some of the group thought it too slow, so John cranked it up to menacing levels. It's a song extolling peace, even while overthrowing governments. But this has to be the most violent peace song ever recorded. The guitars have a Hendrix level of fuzz, and John's voice crackles as it shoves the recording equipment to the point of overloading. If the opening machine-gun riff and animalistic scream weren't disturbing enough, John goes fully insane at the end. "You know it's gonna be..." he sings, then adds "all right" over and over, growing in volume till he ends with a raging shriek. I like to imagine the guy in the sound booth tearing the headphones from his bleeding ears as John collapses in exhaustion after that take. It's uncharacteristic of the Fab Four, but it's exactly like John to say, "Oh, it's too slow? Too peaceful? Well what if I shout loud enough to make babies cry and play hard enough to break every monitor in the studio? There, put that on the back of 'Hey Jude.' Now give me a tape recorder; me and Yoko are gonna go record car crashes."

4. Heard in "Alien Blueprint" by Rollins Band, delivered by Henry Rollins

Weight by Rollins BandSounds like:

What makes it amazing:
The intensity.

It is rage and power and victory all in one lung-blistering barbaric yawp. Forget singing from the diaphragm, this scream comes directly from the balls. The song itself is about being different from those around you, enduring their rejection and cruelty, and surviving as an alien among them. That survival is your revenge. "I'm an alien man," Rollins states as the bridge builds toward the guitar solo. He makes that declaration three times before belting out the assertive scream. I am not one of you, that scream says. And that is just right.

3. Heard in "The Gunners Dream" by Pink Floyd, delivered by Roger Waters

The Final Cut by Pink FloydSounds like:

What makes it amazing:
The drama.

"The Gunners Dream" is the centerpiece of Pink Floyd's The Final Cut. The song encapsulates the message of the album, that the second World War was supposed to be the good war that made the world safe from genocide, but something went wrong. The dream of that generation soured. In the song, the tail gunner of a wounded aircraft speaks over the radio as time slows and his plane falls from the sky. He describes a beatific Eden where everyone is free from tyranny, where terrorism is unknown and children play safely on the lawn. The protagonist of the record, a soldier turned teacher, hears the gunner's dying words in his sleep every night, and it drives him insane. That's the setup, and it's pretty simple. The delivery is mesmerizing. "Night after night," Roger sings, "going round and round my brain. His dream is driving me insane." Except he draws out the word "insane" to nearly twenty seconds. If you're not impressed by that, try screaming anything at full volume for twenty seconds. But that's still not the whole of it. As the word stretches, the music softens and Roger's voice comes in, overlaid on top of the scream. So we hear him singing softly in the foreground and shrieking in the background. Underneath the outer shell of civility writhes a barely-contained fury, vented in a brief explosion then corked once again. But how long till the bottle breaks?

2. Heard in "Goddamn Electric" by Pantera, delivered by Phil Anselmo

Reinventing the Steel by PanteraSounds like:

What makes it amazing:
The brutality.

When I leave the rigors of work and prepare to go on stage before a crowd of strangers, I listen to Pantera. Their brute-force sonic aggression balances the panic in my heart. I take their power as my own. On "Goddamn Electric," the guitar solo ends, Dimebag Darrell slams into one of his trademarked, double-fisted power grooves, and Phil Anselmo roars with dragon rage. In my car, I clench my fist and howl. The frustration of work sloughs off. My heart strengthens. And I prepare to attack whatever lies ahead.

1. Heard in "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who, delivered by Roger Daltrey

Who's Next by The WhoSounds like:

What makes it amazing:
The crescendo.

Music is all about dynamics. Sure, some avant-garde composers are interesting, but when you're on a road trip, which would you rather listen to, the sound of an exploding ping-pong ball digitally stretched to the length of a day, or a few rock-and-roll records that lean on the standard structure of verse-chorus-verse? Give me change I can rely on. "Won't Get Fooled Again" uses the familiar ABACAB framework to pump out a decent rock song. Then it hands everything over to Keith Moon. He pounds his drums as if trying to punish them. The song hangs in Limbo for a while as Keith stumbles elegantly over the skins. Where is this song taking us? Up till now, it's stuck to the usual script. The drumming slowly builds in force and speed. Rising... rising... to an explosion of power chord, cymbal crash, and scream. The song builds to this perfect peak, gathering tension till it tumbles over into an orgasm of sound. The record ends soon after. Which is good, because I'm spent. The car trip better be over, because I need a nap.

Honorable Mention: "Werewolves of London" delivered by Warren Zevon.

Excitable Boy by Warren ZevonSounds like:

What makes it amazing:
It's the sound of a werewolf howl, set to music.

As I've said before, this song is fun to sing along to. My friend Joe and I found it on the radio one night while driving aimlessly along a country road, and we belted out that howl and had a great time. For that memory alone, I'm indebted to Mr. Zevon.

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