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CLAMP TOON

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March 2019

Once in a while I read or hear that someone thinks of the song Ruthless Queen, as is known Kayak's biggest hit, and probably the five minutes to which our oeuvre will eventually be thickened, if at all so far coming. And I don't mean the usual comment (varying from “beautiful” to “slime number”) but the almost annoyingly recurring criticism of the so-called incorrect emphasis that would be in the title line. To my utter surprise, colleagues and musician colleagues sometimes put a condescending penny in the bag over this in their ears 'obvious blunder'. In turn, I don't understand it. Did they really think this had happened by accident? Or are they hearing deaf?

It is also striking that this criticism almost always comes from the Dutch corner. It may be that the native English speakers are too polite to keep complaining about this, or that they like to condone a mistake because they are already sufficiently impressed with the fact that we write in English when it is not even our mother tongue. And that the Dutch critics take this 'mistake' much more seriously than those who have a linguistic right to speak. Or, and that is actually my statement, that it is not at all wrong, but only sounds unusual, certainly and especially in Dutch ears.

Anyway, what is it all about? The criticism focuses on the use of the word 'ruthless' with an emphasis that, apparently, has come to lie on the second syllable, whereby the normally soundless ending 'less' ('luss') suddenly also appears as 'less'. (almost like 'liss') is pronounced. This is experienced as a mistake. I try to explain. Some basic musical knowledge is an advantage here.

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To understand the essence of the lyrics and the melody, you just have to chant the phrase 'Oh my ruthless queen' without the gap between 'less' and 'queen'. No rest or connecting arcs, each syllable lasts exactly the same length: an eighth beat. This makes it easy to avoid the offending extension of the '-less' syllable. This is the basic melody, from which a so-called variation originated. Then you hear that 'queen' falls logically on the first beat (or the first eighth) of the next measure.

As the melody and text have now been constructed, 'queen' falls on the second eighth of the measure simply to give the somewhat difficult to pronounce word 'ruthless' more space. A kind of delayed first beat. This does not change anything essential to the melody, it is only spread slightly over the available beats. You could call it a slow-timed variation.

To connect 'ruthless' and 'queen' anyway (after all it is one concept) the syllable 'less' is extended. That the e-sound has thus slightly changed in the direction in the direction of an i-sound is subsequently experienced as disturbing, as a kind of undesirable stress. You can discuss whether it is really beautiful - tastes differ after all - but it is not wrong. In any case, I never bothered it, neither did lyricist Irene Linders, as far as we know either singer Edward Reekers with his solid English background, nor the English producer Dennis Mackay and the English Kathie Lapthorn, who with Irene Linders backing vocals of the song have never heard anything weird here either. In fact, as a vocal echo she sang that title sentence exactly two seconds later, with the same extended syllable '-less'. I mean - where is the problem actually?

Needless to say, the original working title of 'Ruthless Queen' was: 'I don't want to know'. With that you can play the same timing joke and you may understand even better why there is simply nothing wrong here. You can extend the word 'to' to 'to-oo' and then sing the delayed 'know' on the second eighth of the next measure. Nobody will say that the second 'oo' of the first word has a wrong emphasis. But it is just as logical (or illogical if you like) as extending '-less'.

Below is a clarifying example in musical notation, for all those who have not yet dropped out. Unfortunately, those who still do not understand or feel it are lost.

 

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Original melody Sung melody

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PS Incidentally, the text of Ruthless queen does contain a "real" mistake. But strangely enough you don't hear anyone about that, so I leave it that way.

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foto Rudi Huisman