Pranking Fools

30 Oct

For a while in the 60s, between the last fading jangles of the Mersey Beaters and the first screeches of The Screaming Metallers, there was a vogue for bands to employ a Prankster.

Of course in those days most tracks were recorded live in one take, with the occasional overdub of a Jew’s Harp, bagpipes or children’s choir, should the effect be required. The pranksters job was to strategically interfere with the recording. In the earliest examples this amounted to loudly humming along, jogging the rhythm guitarists elbow, or tapping the drummer asynchronously on the head. The evidence is there if you listen for it, although not always obvious.

As the trend took hold, the pranking became more exaggerated: bass players would be pushed over, singers doused in buckets off water, fire extinguishers let off. Dogs would be let loose, the prankster trailing a string of sausages all over the musicians and their instruments. But the bands played on.

Everything came to a head with Steve Hammer and the Nails’ single “Tool Box”. Just as the band, evidently stumbling through the song, are entering the middle eight there is an almighty crash. The bass line rumbles on for a couple of bars but soon grinds to a halt. Whimpering is clearly audible. The drummer picks up the beat again, the guitarist joins him, picking out a few severely detuned notes. An amp starts to feedback, there are footsteps, muttered, urgent voices and a scream which is cut off half way through. End of track.

Although this oddity tickled the lower reaches of the hit parade and sat there for a couple of months, there was from this point a growing sense of unease about the genre.

On the one hand there was an increasing number of claims that prankings were staged, faked, main-stream acts trying to leverage in a bit of cool. At the same time rumours started to circulate about injuries, compensation claims, pay-offs… It was even claimed that a session trumpet player had died amidst a hideous, muffled parping during a clattering horn break. No recording exists to corroborate this story, but the rumours were strong enough and the consequences serious enough for the pranksters to disappear within a month or two of the Tool Box departing the charts.

A brief resurgence in the post-punk era led to the likes of Test Department and Einstürzende Neubauten achieving some notoriety with their pranksters. The Happy Mondays’ Bez becoming the most famous example in the rave era but was seen by some as no more than a dancer, given little credit for his constant interference with the recording process, but no one wore the motley garb of the authentic 1960s pranking fools.

 

 

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