#25 – “Dinner Bell” (1992)

Apollo 18

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Fan-made video up there contains images of internal organs, might not be for the squeamish.]

L.K.: This is the sort of song that seems like it’d be impossible to pull off live… but they’ve done it. At least 40 times. They’ve never done so with enough vocalists to cover all the melodies, countermelodies, and harmonies though, so it always sounds a little off.
A.S.: Yesterday we had a track that was very dense musically, today we’ve got one that is very vocally complex.
L.K.: It starts off simply and then just keeps adding vocal parts. And adding them, and adding them, and adding them…
A.S.: It definitely has a showtune air about it, given the complexity of the different vocal lines going on.  Kind of like Les Misérables-caliber busy-ness, except it’s about Pavlov’s dog.
L.K.: It vaguely reminds me of a Gilbert & Sullivan number, but that’s mostly because of the patter section towards the end.
A.S.: Oh yeah, the patter-stuff going on, cool call; Gilbert and Sullivan meets Les Mis.
L.K.: Yeah, this song isn’t even remotely rock and roll. It’s coming from a much more old-fashioned type of songwriting… except for the part where it’s about salivating dogs.
A.S.: That and the backwards section in the middle.
L.K.: Recorded forwards, then played backwards and mimicked, then that was recorded and played backwards. Jeez.
A.S.: Something he would later revisit as well, although that was a bit more obvious.
L.K.: I’m watching this live version of Dinner Bell sung by Robin Goldwasser and Julia Greenberg, and I’m kind of disappointed that the Johns weren’t also singing too so that they could come a bit closer to squeezing in all the vocal parts from the original, but eh. Might’ve been unworkable since I doubt either John has any experience singing in four-part harmony live. Also it could’ve wound up in an unworkable key for them since the main parts are being sung by two females.
A.S.: Ah, so this another one that’s changed keys live, although the reason for this one is pretty obvious
L.K.: I’m obsessing too much over trying to replicate the studio recording here, I realize that, but I really love the studio version!
A.S.: Yeah, Flansburgh’s vocal entry at the end of the song is missing in this live iteration.
L.K.: One thing I like that the Johns did that the ladies did not was mimic the messed-up backwards vocal delivery live.
A.S.: For the longest time, I thought that was just an impersonation of backwards recording, kind of like on the Apollo 18 version of “Which Describes How You’re Feeling”
L.K.: TMBG seem to split their recordings between ones where they actually play stuff backwards and ones where they just pretend to sing backwards, though obviously if they’re performing live, they have to just mimic reversal.
A.S.: Well, or they could hire some dude like Martin Swope from Mission of Burma and get him to do LIVE AUDIO MANIPULATION.
L.K.: Speaking of things from the studio version that I miss live… the clarinets!
A.S.: Yeah, this tune is just an excellent exercise in arrangement and counterpoint. If I taught at a conservatory, I’d use this as an example.  Screw J.S. Bach.
L.K.: I know TMBG have been trying to steer towards minimalism in recent years, but some of their fussiest little arrangements are some of the ones I enjoy the most. Here I go again with the word “fussy” to describe John Linnell’s arranging.
A.S.: In that regard, I suppose “Cloisonné” would be the closest modern cousin to “Dinner Bell”, but even the arrangement to that one was outsourced.
L.K.: I don’t know, I’m old-fashioned. I like old music, and I prefer old-fashioned fussiness with clarinets and vocal harmonies to newfangled electric drums and dissonant jamming.
A.S.: I could argue this a bit further, but we should save it for when “Cloisonné” comes up.
L.K.: Which isn’t to say that I dislike “Cloisonne” either, but I do appreciate a little old-fashioned over-arranging now and then. We still have yet to encounter a Join Us track on this blog… one has to be coming up soon.
A.S.: Until then, we can dwell on how great “Dinner Bell” is and how much we miss that incredibly meticulous sort of arrangement. It’s really something of a studio showpiece if you will
L.K.: Multitracking! It’s terrific!
A.S.: Oh yeah, of course the Johns have been multitracking forever, but even as the wiki says, “millions of [John Linnells]!”
L.K.: I don’t know why millions of John Linnells is ok, but millions of John Flansburghs reduces me to tears of laughter (see “Toddler Hiway”) It’s not literally a million John Linnells… how many overdubs would you wager there are here?
A.S.: It’s very tough to tell, because I have no idea how they clipped up the background vocals in the first verse (the “I reheat my soup” bit).
L.K.: Oh man, yeah. I think I’m not alone in saying that I had no idea what he was saying during that section before I looked it up online.
A.S.: You sure aren’t.  And those are probably the best lyrics in the whole song. So yeah, that makes the number of Linnells very difficult to estimate. Anyway, I’ll close with a complete change of subject then and take a moment to plug my good friend Sean’s new blog, “Digital Get Down”, where he studiously discusses turn-of-the-millennium teen pop. He has a genuine love for the stuff that’s pretty rare, given that a lot of people’s enjoyment of this sort of music is about as deep as obnoxious irony and mere nostalgia, so his is a point of view that is definitely worth exploring. He’s been tweeting about Robyn’s debut album all day too, so hopefully that’ll pop up sometime tonight maybe? (The pressure is on, Sean.)
L.K.: I must admit, I managed to ignore most of the pop of the 90s and I certainly didn’t spend time thinking about it either then or now, but this blog is most definitely an excellent blog. Even if you think you hate Hanson or the Backstreet Boys, you will learn so much. Seriously.

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