Kasabian’s jaw-dropping use of the exclamation mark on the end of their new album title ‘Velociraptor!’ has caused the usual reactions when this much-derided slice of grammar is used in music. Tutting, shock and a general questioning if ‘!’ tacked on the end makes things more exciting or much, much less so.
Yes, after years of writing text messages and forcing thoughts into 140 characters, the ‘!’ has been reduced to the written equivalent of someone on dress-down Friday sporting a curly shocking pink wig and a T-shirt emblazoned with the words: ‘YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MAD TO WORK HERE… BUT IT HELPS”.
But it wasn’t always thus. You’d imagine, say, in the days of ancient Egypt, the hieroglyphic symbol for ‘!’ actually meant something akin to “surprise”, “excitement”, “fun” and not just “I don’t know what else to say so I’m going to pretend that last paragraph about making a cup of tea was really, really thrilling. LOL!!!!!”
Sometimes the use of ‘!’ can be subversive and odd. Perhaps this is what Kasabian meant? And not just “dinosaur jazz hands”. Let’s take a look of the best use of exclamation points in rock.
1: The Clash – ‘Sandinista!’
Some saw this album as the bloated cousin to ‘London Calling’’s svelte warrior, others as an ambitious (triple album) opus that boldly built on everything the band had been building on. The exclamation mark can be seen in the context of both these interpretations. Along with the kitchen sink of musical styles, why not the exclamation mark too? Specifically it referred to the Nicaraguan socialist party, the Sandinistas, but the added “!” gave it a whip smart ambiguity.
2: Nick Cave – ‘Dig Lazurus, Dig!!!’
Were we ready for Cave’s triple pronged exclamation assault? (On the single artwork there are, in fact six, six, whole uses of “!”). In this groovy thumper the Bible’s Lazarus re-animates himself and ends up a ”dope fiend” in a New York soup kitchen. Not so much a “!” more like a “:(”, then.
3: The Sugarcubes- ‘Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!’
Some would say that a “!” on the end of a Bjork-affiliated track is the least surprising thing ever. But long before she was a swan dress-wearing singer who was incessantly referred to as “impish”, “kooky” and other condescending adjectives, she was in The Sugarcubes. Their spidery indie didn’t scream the use of “!” but the title is apparently a reference to Mr Toad in The Wind And The Willows, so perhaps it did.
4: Elvis Costello And The Attractions – ‘Get Happy!!’
Ditching the politically-minded new wave for some blue eyed soul, the artist formerly known as “Declan” used the double “!!” to get across the spiritually light, wide-eyed birth-of-rock and roll vibe of the contents across.
5: Pavement – ‘Conduit For Sale!’
In an album full of “Mark E Smith” moments, this was perhaps the moment where ‘Slanted And Enchanted’ slipped from “influenced by” to “Fall tribute act, available for weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs”. Surely that merited an “!”?
6: The Beatles –‘Help!’
The “!” takes away the song’s atmosphere of desperation but also set the tone for the bands transition from ‘boy band’ to ‘complex mature artists’ (which was happening between ‘Help!’ and ‘Rubber Soul’).
Of course for a version that put the emphasis on the “!” we only need to look at Bananarama and Lananeeneenoonoo’s version for Comic Relief in ’89.
7: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘It’s Blitz!’
Heralding their use of disco-beats, synths and generally bigging up their F.U.N. quota, the tagging of a “!” to “It’s Blitz” title seemed to be the band saying: “We’re not just stone-faced hipsters, we can be crazy and carefree too, you know”.
8: Outkast – ‘Hey Ya!’
Following its adoption onto the playlists of a million terrible wedding discos and New Year’s parties, it’s hard to remember back to before this track jumped the shark. But there was a time when it was an effortless, rather joyful (hence the “!”) slice of 60s influenced pop. It might just be time to welcome it back into the fold.
9: Robyn – ‘Be Mine!’
This tale of love gone wrong suggests that there’s an interesting use of the “!” happening here. It’s indicative of the slightly obsessive madness Robyn sings about. Consequently we prefer the acoustic version below, not the poppers O’clock one.
10: Elbow – ‘Build A Rocket Boys!’
We’ll include it because we love Guy and the guys, but as our Associate Editor Hamish MacBain says: “The thing about ‘Build A Rocket Boys!’ is… well, if ever there was a band whose music warranted an exclamation mark, it’s Kasabian. If ever there was a band who didn’t, it’s Elbow.”
What’s your favourite use of “!” in rock?