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In “Heavy Duty,” the obvious incongruity between styles accounts largely for the humorous effect of the tune. In “Cups and Cakes,” those characteristics that are congruent within the style and those which are incongruent enter into a dialectical relationship. The Spinal Tap number “(Listen to the) Flower People,” however, elicits an amused response in a way slightly different from the two preceding examples. We are to believe that “Flower People” was released in 1967, perhaps during the celebrated “summer of love.” The tune begins with a six-measure introduction that features electric-guitar arpeggiation around a D-major chord. Two eight-bar verses are followed by an eight-measure chorus (see Example 6).

Next there is an instrumental interlude of fifteen bars. Two eight-measure verses follow, played as before except that two beats are inserted between bars four and five of the first verse. The music from the instrumental interlude is used as the basis for a psychedelic-style ending. There are some fairly obvious gags in this song: the use of the famous theme to Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik at the words “it’s like a Mozart symphony” in verse three produces an obvious interstylistic incongruity (this is, of course, similar to the appearance of the Boccherini minuet in “Heavy Duty,” discussed previously). The whispered “shhh” after each occurrence of the word “listen” in the text and the phase-shifted “no” after “it’s not too late” are exaggerations of stylistically typical vocal effects. [31]
“(Listen to the) Flower People,” like “Cups and Cakes,” is in the British-invasion style. “Flower People,” in addition, relies heavily on stylistic traits usually associated with “psychedelic rock”; but this stylistic mixture is also typical of late British-invasion pop. “Flower People” has many of the typical psychedelic features: reversed-tape effects, exotic scales (the ending especially), and the use of sitar. [32] Figure 2 shows a table of correspondences for “Flower People.” [33]

While “Flower People” has many of the general features of late British-invasion music, it also models features of certain specific tunes rather closely. The harmonic progression of the verse (see Figure 3) is I-II-iv-I.

Consider the Beatles’ 1965 hit “Eight Days a Week” which progresses I-II-IV-I, or their 1966 hit “Nowhere Man” which moves I-V-IV-I-ii-iv-I. “Flower People” can be seen as a conflation of those two. Further, “Eight Days a Week” features the guitar introduction shown in Example 7. The introduction to “Flower People,” while much simpler, is nevertheless similar.


The introduction to “Flower People” bears an even stronger resemblance to the opening of the Byrds’ 1965 hit “Mr. Tambourine Man” (Examples 8/9). [34]

While the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn uses his characteristic Rickenbacker electric twelve-string and the Spinal Tap introduction does not, the voicings, and the guitar fingerings that go with them, are very similar. The similarity between the introductions to “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “(Listen to the) Flower People” is further reinforced by the similar electric bass guitar parts that accompany each. Further, the musical texture employed in both tunes after the introduction consists of chords arpeggiated on the twelve-string low on the neck against a second guitar that articulates short, rhythmic high voicings (see Figure 4). “Flower People” demonstrates a closer kind of modeling than either “Heavy Duty” or “Cups and Cakes.”

Despite these many close correspondences, though, there is something about “Flower People” that keeps it from being mistaken for an authentic example of either British-invasion pop or psychedelic rock. And it is precisely this stylistic “near miss” that elicits the amused response.
In his 1981 book, Sound Effects, sociologist Simon Frith distinguishes between pop and rock. [35] Pop music is made with the consumer in mind: it is commercially motivated and aims to give the listeners “what they want.” Rock, on the other hand, lays claim to authenticity and sincerity: the musician expresses him- or herself without regard for commercial gain. Frith points out that most rock musicians reside somewhere in between these opposite poles. Frith’s book provides a clear (and accurate) description of these contradictory pressures. [36] But anybody who has ever taken rock music seriously will not need to read Frith’s elegant prose to understand the meaning of “selling out.” In fact, the desire to play a music that has a high degree of integrity, and the desire to make some kind of living through doing so, come to seem irreconcilable to many rock musicians; some quit, some sell out, and some get jobs teaching music theory or musicology. Some rock musicians are able to strike a balance between the pursuit of their musical goals and the demands of the music industry, at times achieving notable commercial success.
What makes “(Listen to the) Flower People” not fit the British-invasion / psychedelic-rock mold, what makes it seem not quite right, is this: “Flower People” is a sell out, and the stylistically competent listener can discern this. To use Frith’s distinction, it is all pop and no rock. It arouses an amused response because it tries every stylistic trick in the book in an effort to be current, and in 1967 current means psychedelic. But psychedelia was the voice of the counterculture, a culture that advocated “peace, love, and dope.” Psychedelic music was high in commitment to the ideals of the “flower people movement” — or was at least perceived to be so — and the rock pole eclipsed the pop one in this music — or, again, was at least supposed to.
Into this context comes Spinal Tap, which is presumably looking for a hit single in the United States and “flower power” is “in.” In order not to offend, however, they attenuate the elements in the music that might be considered objectionable. There is a kind of stylistic neutralization that takes place — a sort of entertainment-business “spiffing up” that makes the tune acceptable to parents everywhere. The liner notes to the soundtrack LP inform us that “Flower People” is the single from Spinal Tap’s 1967 LP “Spinal Tap Sings ‘Listen to the Flower People’ and Other Favorites.” [37] In a 1984 interview published in Guitar Player magazine, Nigel Tufnel reflects on Spinal Tap’s 1967 hit:

Interviewer: In 1967 you did “(Listen To The) Flower People,” which seems like a complete departure. Why?
Tufnel: Well, to be honest — and only because I like you I’m telling you — we tried to jump on the bandwagon. There was such an enormous sort of public clamoring for that sort of garbage, frankly, we thought we might as well reap some of the benefits. So we dished that one out, and it really did well for us, actually. [38]

The broadest amused response to “Flower People,” then, is aroused by challenging the listener’s stylistic competency for British-invasion and early psychedelic-rock music. “Flower People” is so close to the real thing that it could easily pass for authentic. One does notice the incongruity of the psychedelic features with their pop application. But unlike “Heavy Duty,” stylistic juxtaposition alone is not enough to mark “Flower People” as a satire; there are genuine tunes that mix these stylistic features. To return to Scruton, the listener is amused only upon recognition that some particular stylistic incongruity is an exaggeration; we say: “This couldn’t be real!” It is not so much the presence of psychedelic features in a tune that is directed at a broad pop audience that triggers the humor, as much as it is that the use of these features is a little heavy-handed and desperate. Spinal Tap goes a little too far — they are perhaps too eager to please — and the listener realizes that the incongruity is too great to be genuine. The humor then ultimately lies in issues of stylistic authenticity, or in the blatant lack of it.

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[31] . In Herman’s Hermits’ 1967 hit, “There’s a Kind of Hush,” the word is sung “hushhh.” See Greatest Hits.
[32] . In this instance a “Coral Sitar” is used, an instrument manufactured by the Danelectro Company that sounds somewhat like a sitar but is tuned like a guitar. For more on the psychedelic movement and the groups that played psychedelic music, see Ward, Stokes, and Tucker, Rock of Ages, 328-87.
[33] . Another example — an obscure one, to be sure — that makes use of some of the psychedelic features discussed here is a tune by the British psychedelic band “Tomorrow”; it is their 1967 British hit “My White Bicycle,” which appears on the group’s LP Tomorrow (Import Records, Inc./EMI Records Ltd., IMP 1003, 1968). Here one notes the reverse-tape effects, exotic-scale guitar passages, simple-minded lyrics, and whispered back-up vocals. The lead guitarist in this recording is Steve Howe. Howe, as a member of the British supergroup Yes, went on to be an extremely influential figure on the Seventies progressive-rock music scene. Howe is certainly the target of the backstage scene in This is Spinal Tap in which lead-guitarist Nigel Tufnel leads film maker Martin DiBergi through his dozens of collectible guitars. The Yes group becomes one target of Spinal Tap’s progressive rock send-up numbers — pieces entitled “Stonehenge” and “Rock and Roll Creation.”
[34] . It should be pointed out that the Los Angeles-based Byrds cannot be considered British invasion, but are usually thought to be part of the “American response.” For a discussion of the American response, see Ward, Stokes, and Tucker, Rock of Ages, 303-14. For a fuller consideration of the Byrds, see Johnny Rogan, Timeless Flight: The Definitive Biography of the Byrds, 2nd ed. (Essex: Square One Books, 1990).
[35] . Simon Frith, Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock and Roll (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981), 11.
[36] . In his Studying Popular Music (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1990), Richard Middleton cautions that a simple binary opposition like the pop-rock one presented here can be misleading (43). It is clearly possible that the artist who builds a career on the directness and authenticity of his or her music may be just as likely to be manipulating this image — or have it manipulated by a manager or record company — for commercial gain as the most cynical pop star. In using Frith’s distinction in the present discussion, however, I am less concerned with the reality of whether artists are really what they appear to be, than with the notion that listeners perceive authenticity in musical, and specifically stylistic, terms. The idea is that in absence of any other information, the competent listener can hear the artist either “selling out” or remaining faithful.
[37] . Liner notes to Spinal Tap, Spinal Tap.
[38] . Nigel Tufnel, “Volume For Volume’s Sake: Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap,” interview by Teisco Del Ray, Guitar Player 18/10 (October, 1984): 43.

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