In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Our favorite songs featuring unusual instruments.
Like so many people my age, my love of weird instruments began in grade school, right around the introduction of the Orff instruments. Finally we weren’t just relegated to clapping and singing, or even playing stupid recorders. Instead, we could hit stuff—expensive stuff, even—and were basically being rewarded for playing a musical version of Simon. We memorized sequences and suddenly we could play semi-complex and groovy-sounding versions of old American folk songs.
For whatever reason—maybe because I’m not inherently musical—I always felt like I didn’t get enough Orff access. I never got to play the big, sweet xylophone at a concert, and I barely even dabbled in the glockenspiel. Instead, I just had to use my not-so-angelic voice to sing along, letting other kids take a turn at the mallets. Those assholes.
All that being said, what I always wanted to play was the vibraslap. A kooky looking contraption that only really pops up in kids’ songs when you want to illustrate a running horse or something, the vibraslap is surprisingly prevalent in grown-up tunes. You’ve heard it in songs like “Crazy Train” and “Sweet Emotion,” for instance. And for whatever reason, Cake uses it like crazy. (One kind soul has even compiled all of the band’s ’slap-heavy songs into a playlist.) My favorite Cake-fuelled use of the vibraslap comes in “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” a track that I loved when it came out but that hasn’t really stood the test of time. In “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” the vibraslap provides the perfect amount of wacky accent, lending the band its segue between chorus and verse. It’s a little silly, sure, but so is Cake, so it works. Set next to woodblocks and brass, the vibraslap seems like the perfect combination of rhythm instrument and accent piece, bringing the entire song into perfect harmony. Even now, though, I’m jealous I’m not playing it.