B List: 10 Talk Box Songs Not Performed By Frampton

[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:

Honorary mention:
The talk box Justin Beiber?

What songs use the talk box that didn’t make our list?

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23 Responses

  1. Yeah, Kickstart My Heart is the big one missing for me, too. Some killer finds on here, though, Scotty. Love that Joe Walsh clip.

  2. As much as I hate “Auto Tune” I have allowed myself to realize today’s “Auto Tune” is yesterdays Talk Box.

    I love the shout out to Capricorn recording studios legends, Stillwater from Warner Robins, GA!

    Now if only I can convince my wife to go see “Frampton Comes Alive” at the Warner in D.C. She is 8 years younger than me and doesn’t have the same Frampton/Humble Pie investment I have.

  3. My understanding:

    I don’t know if you can now, but you used to be able to go to Haiti and get a divorce without the consent of your spouse. “Babs” goes there, gets the divorce, gets knocked up by the “charlie with the lotion and the kinky hair” cabana boy, then returns to the US, reconciles with “Clean Willie” but the whole thing blows up when she has the baby “kinky so-and-so”

    Great tune, like every other Steely Dan song.

  4. also no mention of moe. – Happy Hour Hero.
    seventeen other pink floyd songs also use the talk box
    and joe walse actually taught peter frampton how to play it.
    @just saying.

  5. You forgot to mention California love by the best talkbox user EVER. ROGER TROUTMAN how could you leave him out??? Stevie wonder is the one who got him using it.

  6. “Kickstart My Heart” uses a vocoder, not a talk box. on a guitar they don’t sound much different, but in the video you clearly see Mick using a mic, not sucking on a tube

    1. ROGER TROUTMAN used a Talkbox on a Minimoog in almost every song from Zapp & Roger, see his perfomances live, come on!!!

  7. Actually, dude, I literally just watched the Motley Crue “Kick Start My Heart” video and Mick Mars does indeed use a talk box.
    The tube is visible right under his microphone.
    Not a Vocoder at all.
    Go back and watch the video again.
    The talk box tube is very clearly visible.
    In fact, there’s a brief close up of Mick’s face and the talk box tube is in his mouth.
    Besides all the more obvious stuff, when you get to the end of the song and Mick goes “kick start my heart”, he did that whole breathing in thing that you have to do to get the talk box to work when you need to say actual words with it.
    Mick would not have needed to do that had he been using a Vocoder.

  8. Does anyone remember any of these? “Mainline Florida” (Eric Clapton), “Stand Up” (Carlos Santana), “The Zoo” (Scorpions [Rudolf Schenker]), “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” (Steely Dan [Jeff “Skunk” Baxter]), “It’s My Life” (Bon Jovi [Richie Sambora]), “Walk This Way” (Aerosmith [Joe Perry]), “Man In The Box” (Alice In Chains [Jerry Cantrell]), “So Young, So Bad” (Starz [Richie Ranno]), “Everywhere I Go” (Jackson Browne [Waddy Wachtel].

    Also an honorable mention to Lindsay Mitchell of the nearly forgotten, but great, Canadian band, Prism, who used the talk box on at least three recordings from Prism’s catalog – “Vladivostok”, “Flyin’” and “Mirror Man”.

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