September 17, 2008


We were just talking about change. Change in general, change in Obamology, and change in Sitemeter. And as I'm slowing getting caught up in reading the comments that collected when I was enjoying a change in scenery -- traveling to South Carolina for a wedding -- I ran across Joe's comment on that "America wants change" post. He was quoting those famous lyrics:
(Turn and face the strain)
Don't want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strain)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
So I wanted to watch the video:

This got me thinking about songs with stuttering. I'd like to see a big list. Here's one. But I want more. And I'd like to know who started it. I always think of "My Generation," but there must be a lot of other earlier songs that filled out the beats with the nice idea of just stuttering. There's "Barbara Ann," originally done by The Regents (in 1961) and famously covered by The Beach Boys, The Who, and John McCain.

But "Barbara Ann" is kind of a late Doo Wop song. Doo Wop was full of nonsense syllables, and some of those old Doo Wo songs must use the syllables from the non-nonsense words and thus be the precursors of the very memorable stuttering songs like "My Generation," "Changes," "Benny and the Jets," etc., etc.

And even before Doo Wop, there must have been some old novelty songs with stuttering. Ah! I thought of it!

There now, I've got us back to 1917. Can you find anything earlier?


1. Here's a list of famous people who stutter (or stuttered)... including Joe Biden, whose strange smiling is connected to his efforts to overcome stuttering:
Biden’s most notorious feature is his mouth. But in his youth, he had a stutter. As a freshman in high school he was exempted from public speaking because of his disability, and was ridiculed by teachers and peers. His nickname was Dash, because of his inability to finish a sentence.

He developed an odd smile as a way to relax his facial muscles (it still shows up while he’s speaking today) and he’s spent his adulthood making up for any comments that may have gone unmade during his youth.
2. Here's a great episode of "This American Life":
Kevin Murphy is a college student in Idaho who stutters. Using the power of radio editing, he and the production staff of This American Life removed his pauses, stutters and repeats so that he could record a message in which he doesn't stutter at all. This allowed him to tape a message about something that's been bothering him, to send to one man ... a pizza guy, in Idaho.
3. Mel Blanc as Porky Pig sang "K-k-k Katy." It's so apt for the famous cartoon stutterer to sing the original (?) stuttering song. I could find video of that but I did find this:


Automatic_Wing said...

"You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" by those Canadian guys. Almost made it cool to stutter.

Unknown said...

Some non singing stuttering by the Big Bopper in Chantily Lace:

But but but...

MadisonMan said...

T-T-Tootsie Don't Cry.

T-T-Tootsie Good Bye.

But that's 1922.

chuck b. said...

It's about time for some David Bowie on this blog.

Rose said...

B-b-b-bad, Bad to the bone!

Did you know people who stutter don't seem to stutter when talking on the phone?

David said...

As a lifelong ss-s-s-st-stutterer, I can tell you I never stutter when I sing. So all these singing stutters are fake, a-a-a-a-as far a-a-a-a-as I'm concerned.

Unknown said...

My Sharona (The Knack)

Bissage said...


The best criticism I ever read about Phil Collins was that he doesn't sing so much as he screeches like some kind of prehistoric bird.

Anonymous said...

Mel Tillis, the country singer, stutters. He learned to sing as a way of overcoming his stuttering (he does not stutter while singing). He took roles in movies, e.g. 'Cannonball Run', where he played himself and turned his stuttering into a comedic trait.

James Earl Jones, who has perhaps the most easily recognizable voice in theater and film, stuttered so badly as a child that he was practically mute. While a high school student, he found that he could read Shakespeare aloud without stuttering, thus beginning a remarkable career.

Talkin' about my g-g-g-generation....

George M. Spencer said...


AM radio definitely did not know what was going on with these lyrics.

Notice how he bowdlerizes his own lyrics for Letterman.

Donna B. said...

The Canadian guys - Bachman Turner Overdrive. Anybody know the background on that name?

~~buh buh buh baby you ain't seen nuh nuh nuhthin yet~~

rhhardin said...

Mel Tillis, the country singer, stutters.

Mel Tillis speculated about by Bernard McGuirk on Imus.

Christopher in MA said...

First time poster, long time reader.

There's a "Comedy Stuttering Song" by Charles McCarron called "Oh Helen!" with a semi-naughty lead in to the chorus -

Oh, H-H-Hel -
Oh, H-H-Hel -
Oh, H-H-Helen!

The sheet music was dedicated to Roscoe Arbuckle ("Fatty" to you) for some arcane reason. Sorry I don't know how to embed, but here's a link to a MIDI file of the song:

McCarron died in 1919, so I guess the song's earlier than "K-K-K Katy," but I can't nail down the date.

Bissage said...

Christopher, welcome aboard (if it's not too presumptuous of me to say so).

Do this, but remove the asterisks: <*a href=>Blue Linky Words Go Here.<*/a>

Bissage said...

Blue Linky Words Go Here.


Fen said...

"The only thing that remains constant is Change"

Obama hasn't brought Change[tm] to politics; politics has brought Change to Obama.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

I remember hearing the stuttering kid on NPR! He was mad at the pizza guy for being impatient with him on the phone because he took so long to order.

At the time, I was a pizza guy. My thought was, "Look, kid, there are other people in the room with you. Why are you the one on the phone ordering the pizza?"

I've always had little patience with people who make their problem everyone else's problem.

Joe Biden overcame his problem. Good for him. Pizza kid wanted everyone else to have his problem, too.

PunditJoe said...

The song "Stuttering" (Kiss me again) by Ben's Brothers is pretty good, if memory serves.

I would post a link to the video on youtube, but I can't get there from work. :(

Christopher in MA said...

Bissage, thanks for the welcome and help. I'm used to linking at Ace Of Spades, where you just highlight your words and hit a link button.

Now I'll just return to lurking. A lot of the intellectual firepower at Althouse is over my head, and I'd rather absorb what's being said than pop off with something foolish.

Although - Victoria's admission of strawberry-blond hair nearly caused me to violate my vow of cruel silence. . .but a gentleman says no more!

Kovacs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Cate said...

"Rapid Transit" by Neil Young

(LP: Re*act*or)


Skyler said...

"You ain't seen nothing yet" by BTO (if I'm not mistaken, it's been many years) was originally meant to be sung straight. But they were goofing off in the studio recording it and the singer decided to sing it like his cousin who stutters. That version stuck.

Chris said...

I always thought that was about turning to face the strange changes.

Ignacio said...

"Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground. Lou Reed when he still ruled.

MadisonMan said...

I thought it was Turn and face the stage. Look at me when I'm singing to ya!

Gary said...

1. The Trashmen -- Surfin' Bird (although the greatest version is by the Ramones, on 1979's It's Alive, with the original lineup at the absolute peak of its powers, in London on New Year's Eve, 1977);

2. Velvet Underground -- Sister Ray ("I'm searchin' for my mainline/I c-c-couldn't get it sideways/I c-c-c-c-couldn't get it sideways..."); and

3. The Who -- The Punk Meets The Godfather (from Quadrophenia, the punk who was "talkin' 'bout my generation" is still at it).

nora said...

Moses was a stutterer. In the Torah it says that when God asked him to appeal to the Pharoah to ask him to release the Jews, Moses thought it a bad idea to send a man who stutters. Luckily, Moses was wrong!

Anonymous said...

Charlie Callas

He turned stuttering into a career as a brilliant comedian.

RWD said...

Willie Dixon's Nervous -- a blues song built entirely of stutters:

blake said...

The practice of extending a single syllable out over many notes is known in music as "melisma". Monks did it. (Apparently Jews did it before them. And probably it can be found in Roman music stolen from the Greeks via the Egyptians and/or Indians.)

My bet would be there's a term for this (the antithesis of melisma) and that it can be found in the music of the ancients.

Offhand I'm blanking on any examples. And, for some reason, melisma seems very natural, while this seems very affected. (Particularly "My Generation".)

McBragg said...

According to, it's strange

Anonymous said...

I'm with Maguro--Bachman Turner Overweight(drive): Bbbbaby you just ain't seen nothin' yet

yashu said...

Some others:

Elvis-- Let's Play House

Talking Heads-- Psycho Killer

The Fall- I'm Totally Wired

Monks- I Hate You

Pixies- Crackity Jones

Wanda Jackson- Tongue Tied

RWD said...

With Bissage's kind help I'm reposting with an actual link:

The Sistine Chapel of Stutter is Willie Dixon's Nervous