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Top 10 Favorite Musical Primal Screams

Sometimes you just need to let it all out, especially when you’ve got a jumble of pent-up emotions going on. Here are 10 examples of that in music that I find particularly effective.

Note that there are some restrictions here. One is that at least the first scream in a song has to come dramatically, thus songs that are full of screams are off-limits for this list, such as those by Lorraine Ellison (“Stay With Me”), the Mighty Clouds of Joy (“Mighty High”), Bobby “Blue” Bland (just about anything). Second, they have to be vocal screams, thus ruling out incredible saxophone bellowing by John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp and others. Finally, these are songs in styles that don’t revolve around screaming (punk, metal, etc.), again, making the use of the screams more dramatic. Any metalheads offended by the many resulting omissions, I’m sorry and will gladly discuss over chamomile tea and tofu salad sometime.

And here we go:

1 ) Charles Mingus: “Haitian Fight Song”

Bellowing became a hallmark of some of Mingus’ music (the Oh Yeah album being particularly dramatic for this), but first there was his cathartic primal scream in the last minute of this epic performance from the Pithecanthropus Erectus album.

2 ) Wilson Pickett: “Hey Jude”

This is an all-time great R&B Beatles cover, but just when we get to the “na-na-na” part, Wilson shreds a couple vocal cords to take the whole thing up a couple notches.

3 ) John Lennon: “Mother”

There are numerous examples of great Beatles screams ( “Twist and Shout,” “Revolution,” “Helter Skelter,” etc.), but on this track we literally hear him showing some of the results of his primal scream therapy to cope with his childhood abandonment, and the result is chilling and potent.

4 ) Beth Fleenor: “Exploding Syndrome” (by the Sam Boshnack Quintet)

There are numerous reasons to check out this album by Pacific Northwest-based trumpeter/composer Sam Boshnack – great playing, great group concept, beautiful tunes. You’ll come for those things, but you’ll stay and listen again after hearing clarinetist Fleenor show another side of her skillset on the title track. I’m only sorry that I gave you advance notice and potentially spoiled the drama . . .

5 ) Roger Daltrey: “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (by the Who)

As the tune wraps up, we get one of the most iconic primal screams in all of classic rock. I actually had a student propose to write an 8 page college essay on how this particular moment embodies the meaning of life. I’m not sure it does (and I said no to the paper, sorry) but it sure does rock.

6 ) Ronald Isley: “Love the One You’re With” (by the Isley Brothers)

Ronald Isley has hit plenty of high notes in his day, but this one is special. You know that part in the original Steven Stills version where after the bridge there’s a dramatic Hammond organ glissando? Well, hearing Ronald do that with his voice is a trip and a half.

7 ) Yamatsuka Eye: “Osaka Bondage” (by John Zorn)

Zorn’s “Naked City” band features a cast of great musicians like Joey Baron and Bill Frisell, and a great diversity of music ranging from cocktail jazz to hardcore punk. And plenty of throat-shredding screaming from Yamatsuka Eye.

8 ) Merry Clayton: “Gimme Shelter” (by the Rolling Stones)

Clayton (who is profiled in the wonderful documentary 50 Feet from Stardom, and whose own records are rather underrated) is best known for this spontaneous performance on a Stones classic. She sings passionately throughout, but it enters the scream lexicon on her own solo feature on the tune, as her voice cracks ever so dramatically.

9 ) Jim Morrison: “The End” (by the Doors)

At about 7:45 of this epic (as the spoken word section wraps up) we get Jim Morrison’s iconic Oedipal shriek.

10 ) Elvis Costello: “Let Him Dangle”

Though this is perhaps a little more potent in live versions, Elvis’ passionate retelling of a story of a questionable murder trial ends with a chilling “string him up.”

8 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Dave

     /  August 21, 2014

    When it comes on the car radio, I always turn up “Won’t Get Fooled Again” ALL THE WAY a couple of bars before the big scream. It is indeed awesome, but I’m wondering if it could qualify as primal? It’s at the very least double-tracked, and I’m thinking it could be layered even more than that. It’s certainly cathartic for the listener, and probably was for Pete Townshend as well, but I’ll bet for Roger it was just another day in the studio.

    It’s weird how much of my favorite music is just people going in and “doing their job”…

  2. Dave

     /  August 21, 2014

    Also, I think Mary Shelton ‘wins’ this particular list, since she was pregnant during the session and miscarried right afterwards. Like so much of the Stones catalog, the bad vibes in the real world seeps into the record and adds an eerie depth to the song.

  3. Dave

     /  August 21, 2014

    Dave: Also, I think Mary Clayton ‘wins’ this particular list, since she was pregnant during the session and miscarried right afterwards.Like so much of the Stones catalog, the bad vibes in the real world seeps into the record and adds an eerie depth to the song.

  4. Dave

     /  August 21, 2014

    Sorry – tried to correct Shelton to Clayton. Things went awry.

  5. Not a fan of James Brown’s primal scream on “Super Bad”? :-)

  6. I’d argue that Bruce Dickinson’s scream in Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast”, though certainly metal, would definitely qualify for the list, as their style doesn’t rely on screaming in any way and is actually some pretty melodic (and powerful) stuff.

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