Metroland Music Issue Feature - The Fatal Flaw 
 Mistakes on Famous  Recordings 
Entry by Glenn Weiser
November 2, 2006

For the 2006 annual music issue, Metroland's writers were asked to cite in around 150 words an example of a flaw on a famous recording. I choose the original, flawed version of Flatt and Scuggs' "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" to write about. The editor's introduction precedes my entry. - GW

The Fatal Flaw - Metroland writers gripe about the nagging blemishes in otherwise perfect songs.

As a great songwriter-philosopher once observed, “Every rose has its thorn.” There are countless recordings that are almost perfect, except . . . one tiny little thing is wrong. And, similar to that sluglike critter Khan puts into Chekov’s ear in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the one tiny thing slithers in your ear, gnaws at your brain and makes you crazy. Like the Rolling Stone critic who was mightily perplexed by Paul Simon referring to “The Boxer” as a “bloke” in a line—when the character was clearly American, not British—our writers have been struck dumb by gaffes by everyone from Pete Townshend to Mark Bolan. - Editor

Flatt and Scruggs

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown”

Among banjo tunes, perhaps only “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme from the 1960s TV series The Beverly Hillbillies, and “Dueling Banjos” from the 1972 movie Deliverance are better known than Flatt and Scruggs’ classic bluegrass instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” The soundtrack of the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde features it, and it also serves as the background music to other Hollywood rural car chases. The original 1949 version, which you can hear on the CD Bluegrass Legends, contains an atrocious-sounding clam, though: Every time Earl Scruggs picks the notes of the E-minor chord first heard in the fifth measure on his banjo, Lester Flatt plays an E-major chord on his guitar. What’s so bad about that? This mix of chords produces a clash of tones called a half-step dissonance, and although dissonance is common in music, it grates on the ear when wrongly used. That’s the case here. Thankfully, Flatt fixed the error by changing to an E-minor chord in later recordings of the piece.

—Glenn Weiser

Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©2006 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  

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