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Music Playlist: Songs With Theremin

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Songs That Contain Theremin In 1919 a Russian physicist named Lev Sergeivitch Termen invented a radical instrument that is played without touching it. The user moves her hands around two antenna to control pitch and volume. The result is an eerie, sci-fi sound that has been used in music as well as spooky movies of the 50s and 60s like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “It Came From Outer Space”. Even though most people have never heard of a theremin everyone has heard the sound many times. This playlist contains songs that feature this wacked-out instrument. The most well-known theremin riff is probably found in the chorus of the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” so listen closely.

Track Listing:

“Good Vibrations” – The Beach Boys
“Shot Shot” – Gomez
“Guitar” – Cake
“Odalisque” – The Decemberists
“We’re Not Right” – David Gray
“Holes” – Mercury Rev
“Mental” – Eels
“Cup Of Coffee” – Garbage
“All The Way Up To Heaven” – Guster
“Steel Guitar” – Fred Eaglesmith
“Jacky Cane” – Hooverphonic
“I’m So Small” – Fleming & John
“Bedspring Kiss” – Jellyfish
“Find The Key” – Chineseburn
“Follow My Way” – Chris Cornell

“Velouria” – The Pixies
“Whole Lotta Love” – Dread Zeppelin
“Inevitable Fast Access” – Add N To X
“Green” – Action Figure Party
“Detroit, 1972” – Character
“Hello From Inside A Shell (Zombies Enter The Harbor)” – Of Montreal
“Saturn III” – Fu Manchu
“Malaria” – L.A. Guns
“Jimmy Was A Stimulator” – Scott Weiland
“Better Version” – Shinedown
“Funeral Song” – Sleater-Kinney
“4 Out Of 5” – Soul Coughing
“Space Child” – Spirit
“Wonderboy” – Tenacious D
“Edison’s Medicine” – Tesla
“Little People” – The White Stripes
“Echoes” – Pink Floyd

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About Robert of the Radish

  • Cool post. There is some debate over whether the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” actually used a theremin. From this website:

    “Did the Beach Boys use a theremin on the recording, Good Vibrations?

    No. The instrument was not a real, traditional, two antenna-type theremin. It was the Electro-Theremin, a mechanical instrument developed for Paul Tanner by Bob Whitsell in 1958. In addition to Good Vibrations, two other Beach Boys tunes used Tanner and his Electro-Theremin, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, and Wild Honey. Also, there appears to be another (possibly unreleased) tune, Inspiration, that Tanner recorded in 1966 for the Beach Boys.”

    Whatever they used, I think it was used to even better effect a year earlier on “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”.

  • love the theremin.

    i did a quick search because there used to be this site with an interactive theremin on it (probably done with java).

    anyhow, i stumbled apon Alice Malloy’s Theremin Bra.

    man, it’s a big ‘ole world out there.

  • Eric Olsen

    super cool Robert, thanks! How did you find all those songs?

    And very interesting about “Good Vibrations” Wally, thanks

  • Shark

    I’ve got some even more obscure Theremin info:

    There’s a nice song written as an homage called “Mr. Theremin”.

    It’s on the album, “The Big Idea” by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin.

    (No, not the Eurythmics Dave Stewart, the other one — y’know — keyboard player from two of the greatest bands in history, Hatfield & the North — and National Health.)

    That should win a few bar bets, eh?

  • I do most of the research on the Internet and some from library books. I am not always dead on, as the “Good Vibrations” information shows. But hey, electro-theremin is close enough for me.

    If you like this kind of stuff, I have a drop down box on my site (Rhapsody Radish) that says “Songs That Feature…” It contains this list plus a bunch of others like, Tuba, Kazoo, Fretless Bass, 3/4 Time, Talkbox, Whistling, Unintelligible Lyrics, Accordian, etc.

    I am working on Songs that feature “Musical Saw” now.

  • Nick Jones

    It may or may not be a Theremin, but the opening Theme of The Return of the Living Dead has that Theremin sound along with other instrumentation.

  • “Good Vibrations” was said to have used theremin so many times it became pop folklore and I agree that electro-theremin is close enough. The only reason I knew about it was because 1. I’m a Beach Boys fanatic and 2. there was a theremin craze in Nashville a few years back. Robert Moog came to Vanderbilt one afternoon and showed off a couple of the one’s he currently manufactures. The audience got to get up on stage afterwards and play around with them.
    One big omission from your list (and I know it wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive one) has to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s use of the theremin, always a highlight of their live shows – hell every moment is a highlight for them.

  • Thanks for he info. So much music so little time!

    I did the musical saw playlist today, only found 12 songs with it available on Rhapsody at the moment. My favorite are a few tracks off of Tom Waits “The Black Rider” album.
    I have a hard time telling the saw from the theremin. Very similar sound. If anyone can point me to songs with musical saw I would be VERY grateful.

    So far I have:

    1. November – Tom Waits
    2. Tides of the Moon – Mercury Rev
    3. Down In The Light Of The Melon Moon – Flatlanders
    4. The Old Homestead – Neil Young
    5. James K. Polk – They Might Be Giants
    6. Lonestar Hitchhiker – Don DiLego
    7. Flash Pan Hunter – Tom Waits
    8. Right Where I Belong – Flatlanders
    9. Black Box Theme – Tom Waits
    10. Pay The Alligator – Flatlanders
    11. South Wind Of Summer – Flatlanders
    12. I Thought The Wreck Was Over – Flatlanders
    13. In the Aeroplane Over The Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel
    14. Cyberpunk – Billy Idol

  • Shark

    re: “Mr. Theremin” by Stewart-Gaskin

    I dug out my old Stewart-Gaskin album, The Big Idea, and reprint the lyrics below.

    (Interesting side note: Stewart was one of the early [rock] innovators on the synthesizer.)

    – Mr. Theremin –

    Music/lyrics – Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin

    “Spare a thought for the dreamer,
    open up the hall of fame,
    hold your breath and remember Mr. Theremin’s name.
    Like an old magician, sounds of wonder he made,
    and the ghosts of the great musicians
    smiled down where he played.

    Wherever he took his show
    people stopped and stared;
    he waved his hands and strange music filled the air.

    Now the last of the dreamers lie sleeping underground,
    though their dreams are half-forgotten and their voice has no sound,
    their songs are all around.
    Mr. Theremin knows, as he stumbles down the lonely road;
    to him it’s not a game, and he never even noticed the glory and the fame
    sounds of joy and laughter fill the air–
    let music rest in the hands of those who care.

    Hey, Mr. Theremin, won’t you play a song for me,
    I’ve been waiting a lifetime to be in your company,
    please, Mr. Theremin, will this be the final show?
    Though the curtains are falling, we don’t want to see you go…

    oh no…”

    Great stuff.

  • That’s great stuff! Thanks!

  • Portishead – Glory Box from the album “Dummy” uses the theremin effectively in a marvelous song

  • HW Saxton

    “Music Out Of The Moon”. This LP by Les
    Baxter has theremin all over it.
    Cheeeeezy easy listening to be sure but
    a lot fun because of it’s weirdness.

  • HW Saxton

    A real cool tune that features the use
    of a theremin is called: “Sinners”. It’s
    a slow,creepy rockabilly tune that The
    Cramps used to play at their live shows
    years back. It is on a handful of Cramps
    bootleg LP’s/CD’s. The original version
    is by this R’n’R band from FLA. called
    Freddie & The Hitchhikers from around
    1959. The original can be found on the
    “Born Bad” LP series (Vol.1).This set of
    LP’s features songs The Cramps either
    covered or ripped off (in a good way)for
    their own tunes.

  • As long as we’re talking about bands with Cle origins and the theremin, let’s not forget Pere Ubu and Cobra Verde.

    Don’t know if Chas Smith is still with Cobra Verde, but I love watching him play the theremin, as he dances and gyrates with it, feeling it up for tones, as it were.

  • Eric Olsen

    there is an great chapter on the theremin in Mark Prendergast’s extraordinary The Ambient Century book, which I reviewed here

  • HW Saxton

    Two things. First things first. On the
    Les Baxter LP, the theremin is played by
    Dr. Samuel Hoffman.

    2)Hoffman along with Clara Rockmore are
    considered by many musicologists to be
    the only two musicians of the Twentieth
    Century who have shown complete mastery
    over the theremin.

    Clara plays tunes by Tchaikovky,Saint-
    Saens,Stravinsky,Ravel and Rachmaninoff
    & a host of other European de-composers.
    She is interviewed in the documentary on
    Leon Theremin (“Theremin”)that came out
    in 1995 and also plays briefly.

  • Hi all, for those of us who don’t have Rhapsody (yet) but want to listen to the songs, I’ve posted this playlist here so you can at least listen to samples. Robert, I’ve given you due props so I hope it’s okay with you.

  • Jerkyboy – Feel free to post any of my playlists all I want is credit and a link to my site. http://www.scopecreep.com/Rhapsody/

  • HW Saxton

    RE:Post #13 This does not read properly.
    The use of the theremin on “Sinners” is
    on the original version by ‘Freddie And
    The Hitchhikers’ and not on the cover
    version by The Cramps.Just thought I’d
    clarify that for anyone interested.

  • John Billybob

    “Save a Prayer” from Duran Duran also features a theremin, I believe.

  • alcheMiK

    I think you’ll find that the tunes by Mercury Rev, The Flatlanders, Neil Young, Tom Waits & Fred Eaglesmith all feature the saw, not the theremin. The saw & theremin can sould very similar, but many “roots” musicians favour the favour the more natural sound of the saw, rather than the electronic theremin. The song Electricity by Captain Beefheart & Magic Band features wild theremin played by Dr Samuel Hoffman no less. Cheers.

  • Natalie

    In the Aeroplane over the Sea is actually a saw, not a theremin. I was really excited because i love the theremin, and that song, but sadly it does not appear to be true. It is a saw.

  • RaygunShaun

    As a fellow themed playlist creator and theremin enthusiast, I should note that a lot of the songs in this playlist actually do not feature theremin, but instead use a similar-sounding effect or instrument. For instance, “Little People” is a manipulated guitar effect, “Echoes” is a combination of unconvential odd-sounding studio effects, and “Holes” is actually whistling.

  • RaygunShaun

    Correction: “Holes” is the bowed saw, not whistling. My mistake.

  • Doucet

    United states of america in a couple of songs they use something that sounds like a theremin
    The blues magoos-tobbaco road
    jefferson airplane-the house at pooneil corners
    fever tree-where do you go
    There are certainly more but I can’t remember them right now. I use it myself in my band.

  • Doucet

    ah yes Remembered one right away:
    galaxy IV – don’t lose your mind child
    Here you can see the blues magoos actually using it on a live tv-show.

  • Doucet

    And I remembered even more: fifty foot hose used a lot of electronic instruments on their album in the sixties and Traffic sound a peruvian group uses some theremin too.

  • Theremin_Ohio

    Check out “The Night Terrors” of Melbourne, Australia. Their lead instrument is theremin, and the guy who plays, Miles Brown, also plays bass and writes the keyboard parts. Very atmospheric and dark sound bordering on straight up rock.

  • chrisaiv

    I’ve created a Spotify playlist of songs with theremin for everyone to enjoy.

  • Alvin Chao

    Created a Spotify Playlist for this and other theremin songs – http://open.spotify.com/user/chaoaj/playlist/1N5N3n8MfNy7kjK9D00HNW – Enjoy!

  • Fuz Capp

    Forgot the Dr Who Theme …