Mum-ford and Sons

Hum along with this week’s round-writing challenge

Published January 12, 2024

This week’s theme is “songs without words,” suggested by John Harvey at the Londoner Pub in Dallas. Thanks John!

First off, there’s some debate, even among music dictionaries, as to whether a song without words even is a song, but I couldn’t write this round without pure instrumentals.

That said, there are some bangers that have vocals but no lyrics: Ennio Moricone’s rapturous “Ecstasy of Gold” is the perfect warmup track for shooting two rivals in a dusty graveyard, and Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” is a great anthem for shooting, uh, something else.

In the internet age, the king of the non-lexical jams might be “Trololo,” or, more properly, “I Am Very Glad, As I Am Finally Returning Back Home,” the magnum opus of Russian singer Eduard Khil (no relation). Viralized by YouTube in 2010, a full 34 years after Mr. Khil recorded it, the song is meant to convey the feeling of a cowboy riding home “on a mustang across a prairie to his love Mary who is waiting for him and knitting him a woolen sock.” That was all way too American for Soviet censors, so Khil simply stripped out the lyrics. He was one of the Warsaw Pact’s most famous pop stars for a while, even winning the highly prestigious People’s Artist medal in 1974. And his YouTube success sparked a brief and quite charming revival: He rocked the hell out of his hit (albeit with pretty obviously pre-recorded audio) on a Russian New Year’s Eve special in 2011, before dying the following year. Dasvidaniya, comrade!

But like I said, it’d be rough to do a whole round of those. Let’s talk about some instrumentals!

1. King Felipe himself owns the rights to “Marcha Real,” the wordless national anthem of what Euro country? Spain

Thanks to the tangled history of Europe, Spain is saluted by name in “Het Wilhelmus,” the national anthem of the Netherlands. In the lyrics, the titular Dutch leader even brags about his “lifelong loyalty” to Spain’s King Phillip II. Again, complicated, but the bottom line is that if a Spaniard wants your stroopwafels, you’re probably obliged to hand them over.

2. At 12 a.m. on Oct. 29, 2022, Taylor Swift abruptly cut off sales for a couple instrumental tracks culled from what new album? Midnights

For the record, the tracks were “Bejeweled” and “Question…?” You can decide for yourself whether you can enjoy the former without sparkling lyrics like “Don’t put me in the basement / When I want the penthouse of your heart.” (Look, she’s not my favorite. Don’t @ me.)

3. Opening for 16 years with a funky remix of Beethoven’s Fifth, what daytime TV staple ended in 2021 with, no baloney, a ruling on a drywall dispute? Judge Judy

Seriously, this theme is underrated.

4. FIFA and MLS both have official anthems composed by what German who did the music for Man of Steel and The Dark Knight? Hans Zimmer

Zimmer also produced a remix of the UEFA champions league anthem for FIFA 19, and some entrance music for the NHL’s Seattle Kraken. If you’ve got a bowling team and a buttload of money, he can probably whip you up something.

5. Rush’s drummer-crushing song “YYZ” takes its title from Toronto Pearson, Canada’s busiest… what? Airport

Almost all Canadian airport codes all start with “Y,” a nod to the early days of commercial radio travel when a “y” for “yes” signified that an airport had an in-house weather station. America did manage to grab a couple “Y” codes before Canada hogged them all, with Yuma, Arizona getting the much-coveted “YUM.”

6. “Ludwig,” “Bomb Crater,” and “Making Sense of War” are on the soundtrack of what bleak book adaptation that took the Best Original Score Oscar last year? All Quiet on the Western Front

The 2023 version of All Quiet was poorly received by critics in its native Germany, with the popular tabloid Bild deriding its stylistic depiction of war as “All Garbage on the Western Front” and “Oscar-Geilheit” (“horny for Oscars.”)

7. The Armenians created it, a Greek first recorded it, its name comes from the Turkish word for “Egyptian,” and it was sampled by the Black Eyed Peas in “Pump It.” That’s the multi-cultural history of what thrumming surf-rock classic? Misirlou

To make things even more international, “Pump It” uses the version of “Misirlou” recorded by the legendary Dick Dale, who blended fast-strumming surf rock with chords from his parents’ native Lebanon. Oh, and Peas founding member was born in the Philippines. Whew, think that’s it.

8. Facing a nationwide bugler shortage, in 2000 Congress legalized recorded versions of what tune for military funerals? Taps

The modern arrangement of “Taps was written by Union General Dan Butterfield during the Civil War. Before that, the end-of-day bugle call was this jaunty-haunting little French ditty favored by Napoleon. Civil War generals loved copying Napoleon, right down to that weird hand-in-coat gesture that makes it look like you’ve got a bad case of fleas. 

Bonus: Ey! Though we clearly heard someone say “con los terroristas,” Billboard insists that what 2012 YouTube sensation by Baauer is an instrumental? Harlem Shake

Baauer (who’s a single DJ, not a band) has built himself a pretty steady career, even banking a Grammy nod for his 2020 album. “Harlem Shake” brought him a bunch of cred, but not much cash: He had to give up all the royalties because he never legally cleared the vocal samples. The reason? “I [made the song] in my f!@%ing bedroom on Grand Street.” Fair enough!