The goal of any musician is to sing through his or her chosen instrument. And thankfully, advances in technology made that possible long ago.
In the Seventies, someone had the bright idea to take an amp’s signal and run it into the guitarist’s mouth via a plastic tube, allowing the player to, in a sense, speak to the audience through single notes. At the time, it blew the wah pedal out of the water.
So what makes a great talk-box player? Good question.
10. “Livin’ on a Prayer”
Bon Jovi—Slippery When Wet (1986)
This is Bon Jovi at their funkiest. A round of applause for Richie Sambora for laying down some sweet talk box over that rolling bass groove. Keep that dream alive!
9. “Kickstart My Heart”
Mötley Crüe—Dr. Feelgood (1989)
Mick Mars is not one of metal’s most remarkable soloists, yet he may have been the first to send a flurry of tremolo-picked notes flying out of his mouth. It’s a sound as scary as his makeup.
8. “Hair of the Dog”
Nazareth—Hair of the Dog (1975)
To some people, Scottish accents render English words unintelligible. So while Nazareth guitarist Manny Charlton is probably just making electronic noises in the breakdown of this cock rocker, there’s a chance he’s actually issuing a cry for Scottish independence.
7. “Beverly Hills”
Weezer—Make Believe (2005)
The talk box made a comeback in the 21st century in this song. Oddly, because “Beverly Hills” hints at the excess of Seventies rock, guitarist Rivers Cuomo’s talk-box embellishments feel totally appropriate. For some reason, Muppets come to mind when he cuts loose.
6. “Haitian Divorce”
Steely Dan—The Royal Scam (1976)
One of the most melodic, talk-box solos ever recorded is also a prime example of studio trickery. Session man Dean Parks played the lead, but Walter Becker added the effect later—which required him essentially to ghost-play the exact same solo and jack his jaw accordingly.
5. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”
Pink Floyd—Animals (1977)
David Gilmour was already one of the most articulate lead players in the prog-rock pantheon when he added a talk box solo to his list of accomplishments. He’s literally wailing on this track. A string bend becomes a drawling syllable that never ends.
4. “Man in the Box”
Alice in Chains—Facelift (1990)
Rather than using the talk box as other guitarists had—to make an ordinary solo sound like it was recorded by space aliens—Jerry Cantrell broke new ground by using it to “sing” harmonies with Layne Staley. Grunge reinvented some rock clichés for the better.
3. “Rocky Mountain Way”
Joe Walsh—The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get(1973)
This song is a classic, not just for its chunky riff but also for how Walsh takes robot scat singing to new heights. Live clips reveal that he really gets into his box work. You can actually see the drool dripping from the tube. Which is really kind of gross.
2. “Teenage Love Affair”
Rick Derringer—All American Boy (1973)
Derringer released one of the greatest—and, sadly, least acclaimed—rock albums of the Seventies with All American Boy (which also features Joe Walsh and some of his band mates from the time). One of its finest tracks, “Teenage Love Affair” includes some raunchy but fun talk-box use in the middle break. Derringer uses the effect to make his guitar utter a lascivious pre-coital exchange—which is, after all, an appropriate application of a device that you put in your mouth.
1. “Do You Feel Like We Do”
Peter Frampton—Frampton Comes Alive!(1976)
Not only is Frampton Comes Alive! one of the best-selling live albums of all time, but with its biggest hit Frampton single-handedly increased the vocabulary of the talk box, spitting out phrases previously unattempted by guitarists and easily one-upping Beck on articulation. Just listen to how the audience roars when the guitar asks the immortal question, “Do you feel like we do?”