Cool stuff in Gentle Giant songs

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Please send me your favorite Gentle Giant secrets!

This is a listing of interesting musical and lyrical tricks and devices that Gentle Giant used on their albums. Some of them are obvious, while others require careful listening. These sorts of things make Gentle Giant's music so interesting to analyze.

See also Gentle Giant trivia.

Contents

Gentle Giant

  • Listen to the little synthesizer riffs that occur between songs. They are note-for-note quotes from the guitar part on track 1, Giant, just after the line "The birth of a realization...." The rhythm has been modified, however. (Thanks to Johan Bryntesson.)
  • The title Alucard is "Dracula" spelled backwards. (Thanks to Chad Bacho.) To match this, the vocals are processed through a reverse reverb. To accomplish this, Gentle Giant most likely sung the vocals onto tape, reversed them, played them through a reverb onto another tape, and reversed the tape again. The effect is that the reverb comes before the words and backwards.
  • At the very end of Isn't It Quiet And Cold?, after the instruments fade, a spacy whisper says the word "alone," recapping the lyrical theme of the song. It's very quiet and sounds like wind. (Thanks to Dave Didur.)
  • During the drum solo in Nothing At All, Kerry plays a quote from "Liebestraum No. 3" by Liszt on the piano. It begins around 5:48 and veers off into "jazzy cascades" at around 6:25. (Thanks to Greg Hajic and Adrian Doveral for identifying the piece.)
  • A guitar part in Why Not? sounds distinctly like the Jewish song "Hava Nagila," but according to Derek Shulman, "I think this was purely a coincidence."
  • The blues shuffle that closes Why Not? is very similar to the earlier one in Hometown Special. (Thanks to Eddie Scott.)
  • A listener reports a similarity between Why Not? and Leonard Bernstein's Divertimento for Orchestra, "Sennets and Tuckets." (Thanks to Graham Shrives.)

Acquiring The Taste

  • The story told in Pantagruel's Nativity comes from French mythology and is taken from the book Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais. Same for The Advent Of Panurge on Octopus. Check out The Pantagruelion for full info on these French giants.
  • The first six notes of Pantagruel's Nativity are repeated throughout the piece within different themes (thanks to Donald Prince):
    • At 0:00, these first 6 notes starts off the piece
    • At 0:25, introduction of the vocal melody.
    • At 1:50, strummed on the guitar.
    • At 3:09, after the grandiose vocal arrangement (Pantagruel born, the earth was...).
    • At 3:28, in the vibraphone solo.
    • At 4:07, in the guitar solo.
    • At 5:18, trumpet plays the melody within the new orchestration of said part.
  • The chromatic vocal harmonies in the chorus of Pantagruel's Nativity are thoroughly analyzed in Proclamation issue number 4.
  • Edge Of Twilight begins with the words "The moon is down": the title of track 6, The Moon Is Down. (Thanks to Jerry McCarthy.) Likewise, The Moon Is Down contains the phrase "edge of twilight" (at 1:06).
  • Listen to Schoenberg's "Heimfahrt" (Homeward Journey) from Pierrot Lunaire. You'll notice a melody that Gentle Giant used for their song Edge Of Twilight. (Thanks to Jeff Clement.)
  • The first four notes of Edge Of Twilight are the same as those of "God Save the Queen," which Gentle Giant used to perform as The Queen. It is unknown whether this was intentional or coincidental. (Thanks to David McCalman.)
  • The guitar solo in The House, The Street, The Room is played over a whole tone scale. (Thanks to Michael Beauvois.) During the solo, around 2:51 in the right-hand speaker, you can hear an intense scream, "YEEEEAAAAHHHH" in the background. (Thanks to Donald Prince.)
  • The main theme from The Moon Is Down, played on saxophones, contains a quote from Medea by the classical composer Samuel Barber. (Thanks to Jeremy Lakatos.)
  • The title of The Moon Is Down is found in Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act II, Scene 1, Line 2. (Thanks to Jason Rubin.) In addition, John Steinbeck had a book of the same name, and according to E. Shaun Russell, "upon reading the lyrics (and having read the book a few years back) there is a distinct possibility that the song was named after Steinbeck's book rather than Shakespeare's line."
  • The voice ordering food from Wimpeys is Gary Green.

Three Friends

  • This album features four Shulmans: Derek, Phil, Ray... and young Calvin (Ray's son) singing the schoolboy vocals on Schooldays. (Thanks to Daniel Lluch.)
  • In Schooldays, just after the vocal part with the lines "Schooldays together, why do they change," there is there is part (guitar and vibes in unison) that plays the theme from a kids' song, "Cry Baby Bunting." (Thanks to Michael Beauvois and Paul Christenson.) Richard McCready offers a different opinion that the theme is from "Ring Around the Rosie."
  • The little repeated riff in the introduction of Working All Day reappears in the main riff in the background, and also at the end of the song (though harmonized a little differently). (Thanks to KoKl Cormier.)
  • In the first (quiet) part of Peel The Paint, listen to the organ part played after Phil sings "color the brush." It is the basis for the hard-rocking vocal melody in the second part of the song ("Peel the paint, look underneath..."). (Thanks to Michael Beauvois.)
  • Phil Shulman's first sung note in Peel The Paint is noticeably sharp... oops. (Thanks to Ian McGrath.)
  • The slow, majestic bass part for Three Friends is played faster and more quietly at the beginning of Mister Class And Quality?. (Thanks to Michael Beauvois.)

Octopus

  • The album name "Octopus" comes from "Octo" (eight) and "Opus" (works), as there are eight tracks on the album. (Thanks to Richard McCready.)
  • The Advent Of Panurge features Pantagruel, the giant first mentioned in Pantagruel's Nativity on Acquiring The Taste.
  • The nonsense syllables in The Advent Of Panurge describe what happens in the original story about the two giants. Pantagruel meets Panurge by a bridge, and Panurge answers his questions by speaking in every language under the sun... except French. (Thanks to Michael Beauvois.)
  • During the chorus of Raconteur Troubadour, the violin plays the vocal melody from the verse. It is very strange how they fit together!
  • Listen closely to the string solo in Raconteur Troubadour. The opening melody is almost the same as the vocal melody on the verse, but the rhythm is changed. (I listened to this piece for eight years without noticing the similarity. Those clever lads.) In addition, the trumpet lick shortly afterward plays those same six notes of the melody, in a different rhythm. (Thanks to Richard McCready.)
  • The lyrics of Knots come from poetry by psychologist R. D. Laing. His book, Knots, was published in 1970 Pantheon Books, New York, ISBN 0-394-47215-2.
  • The high-speed drums in Knots are higher-pitched than the drums on the rest of the album. This has lead some Gentle Giant fans to suspect that the Knots drums were actually played slower and then sped up (raising the pitch as an artifact).
  • The swirling noise at the end of Knots seems to tie itself into a knot in space. It helps to listen with headphones. (Thanks to Keith Hyman.)
  • In Knots, on one of the early "verses" where they are all singing out of sync, listen to the lowest vocalist. The melody is the basis for the Crimson-ish instrumental section later on in the song. (Thanks to Eric Wohnlich.)
  • In The Boys In The Band, one of the keyboard parts at 1:38 is the same as the bass part that comes in 21 seconds later. (Thanks to "Cookie.")
  • A lyric in Think Of Me With Kindness, "when we two parted in tears and silence," is a slightly paraphrased quote from a poem by Lord Byron, When we Two Parted. The original goes: "When we two parted in silence and tears, half-broken-hearted to sever for years, pale grew thy cheek and cold, colder thy kiss." (Thanks to Norman Hesford.)
  • In Think Of Me With Kindness, about 50 seconds in, just after "When there's no tomorrow," the music is reminiscent of the "Marlboro Country" riff from the beginning of The Magnificent Seven. (Thanks to Maynard Peterson and others.)
  • About halfway through the guitar solo in River, you can hear Derek singing along with the guitar for about five seconds. (Thanks to Jon Dharma Murphree.)

In A Glass House

  • The breaking glass sounds at the beginning of the record comes from a BBC sound effects EP. (Thanks to "SFJSmith," whose drama group owned a set of these EPs.) Reportedly, some of these same sounds were used in the classic movie Citizen Kane, in the scene where Kane trashes Susan's bedroom. (Thanks to "Tomas.")
  • The 6/8 drumbeat in The Runaway was allegedly "borrowed" by John Weathers from a Buddy Rich song. (Thanks to Paul O'Neill, who heard this from John himself.)
  • In Experience, the vocal line from the beginning of the song becomes the bass line during the instrumental break where the instruments come in one at a time. The time signature there is interesting too: it's 9/8 for the first half of the song, but during the vocal it's phrased as a 5 and a 4, whereas at the instrumental break it's three 3's: a slip jig. (Thanks to Michael Bloom.)
  • Every instrument in An Inmates Lullaby is a percussion instrument. Every instrument in A Reunion, other than the electric piano, is a stringed instrument. (Thanks to Michael Bloom.)
  • The long organ fade-out in Way Of Life was originally supposed to segue into another song. (Thanks to Bill O'Reilly, who learned this from Ray Shulman.)
  • The person shouting "Go" in Way Of Life is Gary Green.
  • The final music on the album is a collage of song excerpts from the album.

The Power and the Glory

  • Rumor has it that most of the songs on this album were recorded in one take! (Thanks to Phil at InternetMCI.com; however, recordings from the studio sessions on Under Construction cast some doubt on this claim.)
  • Each of the first four songs contains the word "hand." (Thanks to George Seaman.)
  • There is much symmetry between the first piece, Proclamation, and the last piece, Valedictory. Musically, the vocal melodies are the same. Also, the main guitar theme that begins Valedictory comes from a small keyboard part found in Proclamation at 2:16. The theme in Valedictory is then interleaved with itself on bass and organ (sort of a stretto, if you are into musical terminology). Lyrically, some of the lines in Proclamation ("It can change, it can stay the same") are reflected backwards in Valedictory ("Things must stay, there can be no change").
  • The third piece, Aspirations, contains the line "Please make your claims really so sincere." The word "claims" is surely a reference to Proclamation ("I will make my claim"), and "so sincere" is the title of the second piece, So Sincere.
  • In the middle section of Cogs in Cogs, the two vocal parts are in very different meters. The first part to enter ("The circle turns around, the changing voices calling...") is in 6/4, but the second one ("Circle turns around the changing voices") is in 15/8. This means that the two melodies "line up" differently in five different ways. The phrases "meet" every 60 eighth notes. (Thanks to Michael Beauvois and Mark Wendt.)
  • Also in the middle section of Cogs in Cogs, after the repeating vocals ("Circle turns around the changing voices") have settled in, a slow, flutey-sounding synthesizer line is repeated. This is a very slowed-down, slightly rhythm-altered version of the lead melody in the first 2 measures of the song. (Thanks to Steve Lottich.)
  • The seventh piece, The Face, contains the phase "play the game": surely a reference to track four, Playing the Game.
  • In the last verse of The Face, the drums are several beats out of sync with the vocal part, compared with the other verses. (Thanks to Michael Beauvois.) Aldo Brucale says that the drums actually keep their normal time, but the bass and violin play ahead of the beat.
  • The last ten seconds of Valedictory is the sound of a tape rewinding. In fact, it's the tape of Valedictory itself. If you play it backwards about 10 times slower than normal, you can hear the music. (Thanks to Greg Hajic and Aldo Brucale.)

Free Hand

  • During the verses of Just The Same, the bass and drums are playing in 6/4 while the piano, voice, and guitar are playing in 7/4. (Thanks to Don Tillman.)
  • The first section of On Reflection is a four-part vocal fugue. The last section is the same fugue played on instruments.
  • In On Reflection, the last entrance of the band is accompanied by a springy wavering of the pitch (most noticeable in the electric guitar), which is likely the sound of the 24 track tape machine being dropped into "Vari Speed" mode, and the entire end section is transposed (sped up really) by a half step. Both the Studer and the Ampex tape machines, which were popular at the time of Free Hand, make this distinctive noise when you drop them into varispeed. (Thanks to Kevin Gilbert.)
  • The bass part at the very beginning of Free Hand is repeated, in a different rhythm and tempo, when the "waltz" section begins (3:55 into the song). (Thanks to Daniel Cadieux.) In fact, the whole waltz section contains various themes from earlier in the song. (Thanks to Remmert Velthuis.)
  • The opening melody of On Reflection and the middle ballad section have almost identical melodies. Compare "In my way did I use you, do you think I really abused you" to "I remember the good things how can you forget." (Thanks to Alex Temple.)
  • The opening melody of Talybont is a heavily disguised reworking of the vocal melody of Just The Same. (Thanks to Kevin Ward.)
  • Talybont is a small hamlet in Wales near to where John Weathers lived. (Thanks to Jeff Oliver and Derek Shulman.)
  • Talybont was recorded as the theme song for a movie about Robin Hood. The movie was never released, but it reportedly had "quite well known players in the movie business." If the movie had gone ahead, Gentle Giant would have recorded more material for it. (Thanks to Derek Shulman.) Actually, some of that music did get recorded and appears on Under Construction.
  • The electronic sounds at the beginning of Time To Kill are from the old videogame, "Pong." And if you listen closely, you can hear one of the guys whisper "go" just before the loud buzz which indicates a goal scored. (Thanks to George Seaman.)
  • The middle of His Last Voyage is a three-part vocal canon. (Thanks to Mike Beauvois.)
  • The bass riff in the introduction of His Last Voyage fits over the very classic rock chord progression: I, bVII, bVI, V. (Thanks to Greg Hajic.)

Interview

  • In Interview, the guitar solo during the bridge repeats twice, then after the main 6/8 theme comes back in, it repeats a third time, in the background, on organ. (Thanks to Eric Olsson.)
  • In Interview, there's a lot of whispering in the middle of the song. Can anybody figure out what is being said? Greg Hajik reports that some lines are taken from the verse: "Why do you ask?" "Surely you must know it!" "Gentle Giant." You can hear the lines clearly in the track "Interview Whispers" on Under Construction.
  • In the printed lyrics for Design is the line "Everything comes to those who wait" which is apparently not sung in the song; but if you listen to the next two lines, sung in rounds, when they have reached their densest overlaps, you can actually hear the line happen a word at a time across the different vocal lines, even though some the words from the first line don't even occur in the next two lines. Amazing! (Thanks to Joe Dean.)
  • Apparently, some of the unusual piano effects were achieved by sliding newspaper behind the strings of the piano, causing the sharp, punchy, rattly effect. (Thanks to Chris Elliott.)

Playing The Fool

  • The theater photos on the cover are of the Palace Theatre in Manchester, England. According to a fan, GG never played there! (Thanks to "Andrew".)
  • Also on the cover, the poster in the lower left quadrant has GG on tour in Summerland September 31st. There are only 30 days in September.
  • In Valedictory, right after the break at the word "Hail," the bass and keyboard play each other's parts as played on The Power and the Glory. This, according to Kerry (allegedly), gave the piece a harder, driving rhythm suited to a live performance. (Thanks to Bob Finger.)
  • During the quiet bass interlude/introduction to the second, explosive part of Experience, there is a subtle click (just after the 3:03 mark). It is a sound made by the switching of a tone button on the deck of the clavinet, which Kerry carefully and humorously places on the downbeat of 4 proceeding the "mastering inner voices" epiphanic explosion. (Thanks to Tevlin Schuetz.) What fun!
  • In Excerpts From Octopus, during the acoustic guitar version of Raconteur Troubadour, the main theme from Acquiring The Taste is played.
  • In Excerpts From Octopus during the recorder quartet, there is supposedly a quote from On Reflection ("still you stay, tied in your way"). (Thanks to Mikko Pellinen.)
  • Phil Merrigan reports that he thinks parts of the drum bash and vibes solos in the live So Sincere come from No God's a Man: "you can sing 'After all the things are said, No god's a man, No god's a man' in the last part of the drumming. Just sing it in your head and try to fit it to the rhythm. It works for me. As to the glockenspiel trio, at one point the three play in unison. I am sure the musical phrase is from a GG song. My hunch was that it was inspired from no god's a man...." Anyone else hear this?
  • There's a reason by why the audience made some noise during So Sincere.
  • If you listen as the applause fades out after "On Reflection" on Playing the Fool, you can just hear the beginning of the taped intro to "Interview" ("Well...uh...Gentle Giant"). The actual performance of "Interview" that followed (from Dusseldorf) finally appeared two decades later, on Under Construction. (Thanks to Biffy the Elephant Shrew.)

The Missing Piece

  • In Two Weeks In Spain, Derek sings with a "working class" London Accent. According to Jeff Oliver, this is "presumably to reinforce that the song is about the drudgery of life. Various Spanish resorts are the vacation destination for 'package' tours from the UK, where louts dance in sleazy discos all night, drink too much lager (probably not the wine as suggested by Derek, but what ryhmes with 'lager'?) and try and get laid. No self-respecting Spaniard would dream of going anywhere near these places, and quite right too."
John Armstrong offers a different explanation: "You are right to say that the song is a picture of the traditional British Working Class holiday of which the south coast of Spain is the most popular. Each year millions of us go there for two weeks. However, the Larger Lout element is small and insignificant. In fact the song is a celebration of British Working Class life in the form of a simple and uncomplicated holiday, drinking and fooling around in the sun without the pretence of a, so called, cultural experience so beloved of the middle classes. Two weeks in Spain is great-believe me! The Giant piece is unconnected with the violent drunken youths who get all the press. It paints the story of most who go there: honest, working people who want to have fun. Certainly when I heard Giant play the piece in London the mood was one of happy celebration rather than unruly violence. It's a fun song, fondly sarcastic, but not in any way derogatory or critical."
  • Many fans hear the beginning of Two Weeks In Spain differently. There is disagreement over the location of the downbeat in the first line, "Two weeks in Spain, makes the year, disappear...." Some people say it lands on "weeks," some on "Spain," and some on "makes." The live version on In Concert seems to indicate that beat 1 falls on "weeks," since John Weathers hits his crash cymbal consistently on that beat. So I asked Derek Shulman, and his answer was: the downbeat is on "Spain." John Weathers confirmed this definitively at the 2001 GORGG. GG is to be congratulated for creating such a simple-sounding song with such an ambiguous downbeat!
  • The phrase "Who Do You Think You Are?" has the same rhythm as "Happy Birthday To You." (Thanks to Johan Bryntesson.)
  • Toward the end of Who Do You Think You Are?, the riff during the instrumental break mimics a section of The Runaway before its vocal line, "and yet all his joy is empty and sad." (Thanks to "gentlegiantfan.")
  • Memories Of Old Days has lyrics that refer to a George Orwell story, according to Derek Shulman. Richard Beck has deduced that the story is probably "Coming Up For Air," since the lyric in question was "He should come up for air...." According to Richard, the story is about "a middle-aged bank clerk who decides to leave his boring job and his boring wife and re-visit the place where he grew up. The small country village he knew has been transformed so much that it is no longer familiar. All the people he dreamt of meeting again have left, and all the places he fondly remembered have been modernised beyond recognition. He feels so out of place and so helpless that he eventually returns home, feeling useless. I read this story about 7 years ago, so I've forgotten a lot of the details. I have never linked Memories Of Old Days with the story, but having re-read the lyrics on the up-dated Web-site, it all fits into place nicely. Orwell is one of my favourite writers."

Giant For A Day

Civilian

  • Allegedly, Ray Shulman played an 8-string bass on most of this album. He didn't play it live however. On most other albums he played a Fender Precision. (Thanks to Pekka Ranta.)
  • On the album cover, the word "Civilian" is very hard to see. It is the red shading in the words "Gentle Giant." Also, several people seem to be holding guns (bottom left, top right, and left side 2/3 of the way up). (Thanks to Richard Beck.)
  • On the cover, everyone has a blue collar, probably symbolic of "blue collar workers." (Thanks to Paul Sipio.)
  • In All Through The Night, the lyric "Every day is the just the same" might be a reference to Just The Same. (Thanks to Paul Sipio.)
  • The piano part at the beginning of Shadows On The Street is very similar to the introduction of Free Hand. (Thanks to Magraith.)
  • The lyric "Forget our dreams and play the game" in Shadows On The Street might be a reference to Playing the Game. (Thanks to Paul Sipio.)
  • The vocal melody from Convenience, when played backwards, is a direct quote from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.
  • The final words on the album ("That's all there is") are excerpts from songs on the album.