Recorder in pop and rock

Recorders are only occasionally used in pop and rock music.

Sometimes they are used for their clear connotations of being simple or rustic. That is certainly the case in 60s hippy music such The Association’s Windy.

Similar but different, British progressive rock of the 1970s had lots of folk music influences, so groups such as Gentle Giant and Gryphon, used recorders amony many other non-traditional rock instruments.

In other cases the recorder is used as just another wind instrument, taking a solo spot in a song. See David Cassidy’s “Daydreamer” and Billy Joel’s “Rosalinda’s Eyes”. Unfortunately, in such cases the instrument is usually played by a flute or sax player, and the performance leaves a lot to be desired. That is certainly the case in those two aforementioned examples.

Finally,sometimes the recorder is use for providing an unusual texture. See The Undertones’ “Hannah Doot”.

Songs that do not have a recorder despite some people claiming they do:

Indigo Girls: Closer To Fine has a charming penny whistle solo.

King Crimson: Dance of the Puppets. I’m guessing a Mellotron or other keyboard.

Kraftwerk: Autobahn. The 20 minute version has nice flute playing. No recorder.

Vampire Weekend’s “A-Punk” uses sampled recorders. They sound halfway convincing but the looped vibrato and unnatural attack are a giveaway.

Bus Driver: Imaginary places. Flute and clarinet. Impressive rapping. For once the rap actually connects to the “beats”.

The Association - Windy

A typical 60s band, hippy influences, and flowery lyrics, and recorders fit in this quite well. Interestingly the player looks unconfortable with the recorder, and much more convincing in another video where he plays a high fife-like flute.

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The Association - Along comes Mary

The player from “Windy” looks a lot more confident on what is definitely a recorder here. Note the impressive breath pressure on the low notes.

The Beatles - Fool on the Hill (1967)

A song about a fool who is actually wise. In keeping with the depiction of a simple mind is a deliberately clumsy recorder solo, made extra charming by no-tongue articulation, and some slides. The solo is played by Paul McCartney. The rest of the song features quite a bit of flute harmonizing, which in fact goes on under the recorder solo. Wikipedia claims the presence of a penny whistle in addition to the recorder. The flutes can very well be a Mellotron, btw.

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Janet Beazley - the Silver Swan

On an album of bluegrass music can be found this song, maybe a folk song? It features a duet between recorder and a dark sounding flute, maybe an Irish model?

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Bonzo Dog Band - I’m the Urban Spaceman

The Bonzo Dog “Doo Dah” Band was a 1960 satirical psychedelic pop group, led by weird person Vivian Stanshall (the emcee voice of Tubular Bells), and with Neil Innes (who wrote the soundtrack of Monty Python and the Holy Grail) on keys. They feature plenty of wind instruments, including recorder, such as here.

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The Carpenters - Sing a Song

This track starts in the very first second with a recorder playing the melody. But more interesting, later there is some excellent two-recorder harmonizing against Karen’s voice. Well arranged and well played by some players who really knew what they were doing. Clean and great breath control.

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David Cassidy - Daydreamer

David Cassidy was a 70s heart throb, first in the Partridge Family, later with a solo career. His song Daydreamer is an excellent piece of 70s MOR, featuring a pretty bad recorder solo at the end. I’m suspecting a studio flute player who didn’t really know his way around the recorder.

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The Forester Sisters - We will not pass this way again

This country quartet of sisters, among my favorite 90s stars, have some beautiful compositions to their name. This charming song features a short soprano recorder solo. The player is clearly very skilled, possibly with a background in Irish flute or whistle. Check out the slide, tasteful ornamentation, and complete control of vibrato. Bravo!

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Fraternity - Seasons of Change (1971)

Fraternity is the Australian band fronted by the subsequent singer of AC/DC. Yet their music is different. Similar to English prog-rock groups they sometimes used very un-rock instruments. This track has two recorders in the beginning, of which one seems to have a slide?! Pretty rare, the singer is seen (but not so much heard) playing a bass recorder later in the song.

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Gentle Giant - Advent of Panurge (1974)

GG was another British progressive rock group. Most members were multi-instrumentalists, as can be seen here when we have 3 recorders being played live. (This is the end of a much longer recorder segment.)

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Adam Green - Baby’s gonna die tonight

Apparently Adam Green was part of the “anti-folk” genre, which protests and parodies the earnestness of folk music. I guess. The whole song production is pretty crude here, so having the worst recorder playing ever probably fits the aesthetic.

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Grand Funk Railroad - I’m your Captain (1970)

Rock band GFR used a recorder on the transition between the rock and the orchestral half of their song “I’m your Captain (Close to my Home)”. The recorder echoes the vocal “I’m getting closer to my home” giving a lovely melancholy feel.

The playing is suspiciously smooth, but the vibrato makes me suspect a real instrument rather than a synth.

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Billy Joel - Rosalinda’s Eyes

Kudos to mr Joel for having a whole recorder solo. An early version of this track has a sax solo that is very similar, so I suspect the sax player from doing the recorder solo. He definitely has vibrato wide enough to fly a B-52 through. And pretty crappy breath control.

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Jefferson Airplane - Martha (1967)

Jefferson Airplane was another San Francisco psychedelic band. The recorder fit right in with that. The instrument is used here as just another color in the mix, never prominent, but also hardly ever absent. The obvious lack of technique of the player, and the bad intonation, does not really bother me.

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Jefferson Airplane - Comin’ Back to me (1967)

This very melancholy song starts off with a tenor recorder solo, maybe by Grace Slick, who is seen holding an alto recorder on the album cover. I gladly forgive the somewhat busy vibrato because it’s such a lovely solo, hitting the lowest notes of the instrument. There is a Live-at-the-Filmore version where she plays an extended solo. With some doubtful fingerings. Btw, I found no actual videos of either version, only fan productions over the recorded track, but the track is well worth listening to in its entirety.

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Live version

Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven (1971)

The quiet part of this song has a great recorder intro, which is repeated to harmonize under the vocal melody. It seems a soprano and alto or tenor. The light vibrato is pleasant, but a high note shows lack of breath support.

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Giorgio Moroder - Action Man

Under the moniker “Spinach” synthesizer pioneer Giorgio Moroder (see: Donna Summer’s “I feel love”) released some straight sounding 70s pop songs. “Action man” doesn’t seem to be related to TV series by the same name. Somewhere late in the song there is a nice flute solo, and in the outtro some not-too-technical recorder noodling, fortunately mixed pretty far back, but still clearly audible. I have no idea what he was going for.

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Mike Oldfield - In Dulce Jubilo (1975)

Mike Oldfield, of Tubular Bells fame, recorded this Christmas traditional with screaming guitars, and Leslie Penning playing two recorders and (usually unremarked) a kortholt. The recorder playing has plenty of vibrato, probably in keeping with Oldfield’s folk music influences. The winds are largely playing the melody in unison or at the octave, with only a little bit of thirds harmonization towards the end.

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Alan Parsons - Winding me up

A nice and short recorder solo from studio wizzard Alan Parsons. This recorder is played through a chorus effect, but changing tone character and articulation convince me that it’s a real instrument.

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Rolling Stones - Ruby Tuesday

The early Stones were not afraid of some experimentation. Here we have Bill Wyman on cello, and Brian Jones on recorder. There is a healthy dose of echo on it, and possible a second track. It’s a fantastic effect, using the recorder as textural coloring.

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Rolling Stones - Gomper (1967)

This is one of their more psychedelic compositions. Jangling guitars evoke a Sitar, but the Tablas seem real enough. Somewhere halfway Brian Jones starts a very “out there” solo, with lots of flutter tonguing.

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Simon and Garfunkel - El Condor Pasa (1970)

A Peruvian tune, not a folk melody as sometimes assumed, but composed in 1913 by Daniel Alomía Robles, based on Andean folk music. This version by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel evokes the folk antecedents by its instrumentataion. So the extremely busy vibrato in the recorder parts is totally in character.

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Siouxsie and the Banshees - Green Fingers (1982)

New wave / punk is probably one of the less likely genres to find recorder playing. On “Green Fingers” guitarist John McGeoch of Siouxsie and the Banshees plays recorder with all the requisite energy. A certain lack of finesse is entirely forgivable, sacrificed to the energy of the track.

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Toto - Africa (1982)

Toto is a band of studio musicians, as you can tell by their technical competence, and by the immaculate production. In this very silly song many people will not have noticed that the harmony line in the second verse is a recorder, as it’s pushed pretty far back in the mix, giving just a subtle color to the sound. At some places you can’t even tell if the instrument is still playing.

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The Undertones - Hannah Doot

The Undertones were a 70s/80s Irish rock band. The track Hannah Doot uses an alto recorder to good effect, unfortunately by a player who did not know about fork fingerings.

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Frank Zappa - Little Umbrellas (1969)

This lesser known instrumental track from the Hot Rats album has Ian Underwood playing keys, saxes, flute, and one simple line on (alto?) recorder, not mentioned in the liner notes or anywhere. Just a bit of extra color to the track, and totally charming.

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