B List: 10 Talk Box Songs Not Performed By Frampton

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[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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20 thoughts on “B List: 10 Talk Box Songs Not Performed By Frampton

  1. Greg Reply

    What, no Kickstart My Heart!?

  2. Kyle Reply

    Queens Of The Stone Age – Misfit Love
    Tool – Jambi

  3. AO Reply

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

  4. AO Reply

    *I meant Ed. Nice list!

  5. JeffPinkner Reply

    How ’bout Rufus and Chaka Khan — Tell Me Something Good.
    Funky and awesome.

  6. zappafrank Reply

    Please don’t compare Joe Walsh to the Eagles. That is all.

  7. dpop Reply

    What, no “Nebraska” by moe.?

  8. Liam Reply

    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.

  9. Scott G. Reply

    Pink Floyd – Keep Talking

  10. family berzerker Reply

    rafter – fruit
    robert glasper experiment – smells like teen spirit

  11. brian Reply

    shes a woman jeff beck

  12. Oliver Reply

    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.

  13. Corey Reply

    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.

  14. buddy Reply

    cool topic but MAJOR MISTAKE. Frampton hit with box was Show Me The Way…NOT..Bay I Love Your way!

  15. Custosk Reply

    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.

  16. Chet Reply

    Black cat moan live by Beck Bogert Appice

  17. Owen Wilson's Nose Reply

    “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

  18. Owen Wilson's Nose Reply

    Zapp & Roger also used a vocoder, not a talkbox

    • pancho Reply

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

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