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Jun 2, 2020

Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bad Songs

To answer the obvious first question anyone would have in response to this post: No, I am not an insane person who joined SA to post about Afroman in 2020. I am a musician that re-regged recently and suddenly has copious free time due to stay at home/large gathering ban orders. The part about effort-posting about Afroman in 2020 is... unfortunately completely true. You might also be wondering why in God's name would anyone do this? The gist of it is that I genuinely enjoy this song despite it being what most people would consider "bad." I also enjoy making a case for "bad" songs being good, and I like a challenge. If you're wondering Is this worth reading? I can't answer that. That's really up to you, isn't it? If Afroman isn't your jam I would be happy to take a crack at some other "bad" songs that people enjoy, but for now, let's talk Tall Cans! I haven't posted here in a while so I'm not sure how much the no linking songs rule applies to legal, free streaming; but just in case, I'll just say that this song is freely available on YouTube and Spotify if you care to follow along.

On the surface this song is about cheap, individually sold, double sized cans of beer and how much Afroman likes them (with secondary themes including chicken and 40s). That’s fine, music has been written about more trivial subjects than that. But really this song is all about math. Math and tall cans. Yes, I am serious. You might think that is the last thing you could expect from a seven minute long song about tall cans buried near the end of an Afroman album, but be a little open minded for Christ’s sake. The formal structure of Tall Cans by Afroman is a mathematical expression of the relationship between tall cans, pint cans, normal cans, and the very nature of the universe itself.

Although the most logical place to begin in analyzing a piece of music is the beginning, I don't want to belabor the chorus/verse type stuff in the beginning because the real interesting part of Tall Cans, to me, starts at 4:09. The slamming on the brakes sort effect that happens there is (obviously) caused by suddenly changing to a slower tempo. Not just any slower tempo, but 2/3 of the original tempo; or the ratio of a pint to a goddamn tall can. Wouldn't it make more sense to compare a tall can to a regular can? Absolutely, but the math simply doesn’t work out. This is what you do in music analysis: you fudge the numbers to match your pre-existing theories.

To pull back the curtain slightly on this 2/3 tempo change (skip this paragraph if you don't read music/don't loving care): this isn't just any tempo change, it's a metric modulation. If you haven't heard the term "metric modulation" before, it's basically a key change but for the tempo and/or meter of a song. And much like a key change, the transition from one tempo to another goes a lot smoother if they share something in common that allows your brain to bridge the two sections. In this case, the dotted quarter note of the original tempo (or the length of the first "ohh" of the "ohh, ohhhhh" is equal to the quarter note of the new tempo. The change may come as a surprise, but it still feels like it fits in because Afroman, skilled composer that he is, has been preparing you for the new tempo with the first "ohh" of every measure leading into this modulation. Shown in diagram below:

This gives way to what really makes this song great: an accelerating augmentation canon. The tempo begins to increase at 6:15 and the augmentation canon begins at 6:44. An augmentation canon is basically a canon in which the second voice eventually comes in, singing or playing the same melody, at half the speed of the first voice (as opposed to a regular canon where the voices are merely offset by a certain amount of time). Gradually speeding up the tempo doesn't have to be part of it, but in this case it speeds up more and more until it just sort of folds in on itself and collapses. It's brilliant really; how many dumbass high school and college kids in the aughts were tricked into conceptually understanding and performing an augmentation canon with all their friends in a hotboxed car thanks to this one Afroman song? Afroman should probably be considered one of our generation's greatest music educators for exactly this reason, but I digress. The symbolism of the 2:1 ratio between voices here cannot be ignored since that is, of course, the ratio of tall to normal size cans. Did you really think Afroman wasn't going to account for the ratio between tall cans and normal cans? You thought this song was just about tall cans and pints? Get real.

So now that we have accounted for three of the most common sizes of beer cans (did they have 22 oz cans in 2001? For the sake of my narrative let's say no) we surely have totally and fully understood and appreciated “Tall Cans,” right? I'm afraid not; Afroman has more to say still. There is yet another ratio to discuss: the infamous golden ratio. The metric modulation at around 4:09 occurs around 57% of the way through the total length of the song. You might think this is kind of a stretch from .618 but your brain is really not that great at determining exactly 62% of a length of time. By musical standards, 57% is definitely in golden ratio territory. What size of beer can does this represent?Well, not everything is about beer. It's just good compositional practice to have high points of songs or sections of songs occurring roughly around that magical 62% mark. That being said, a 12 oz beer can holds roughly 62% as much beer as a 19.2 oz can, which are I guess somewhat common. Was Afroman taking the stance that the term "tall cans" should include 19.2 oz beers, or paying homage to the mathematical underpinnings of the universe? I would argue that he was doing both, and deftly so.

Now, let’s temporarily look at just the remainder of the song after this moment at 4:09. The tempo gets faster and faster from 6:15 until the end of the song. This accounts for, you guessed it! Well… again, close enough to the golden section of the remaining chunk. Give Afroman some slack, music is measured in bars and phrases rather than seconds and that really is pretty close. Now if we again temporarily look only at 6:15 to the end, the second voice of the canon comes in around 6:44. This works out to be about .53 of the remaining section. That's actually kind of far off from .618... closer to .5 really... which would make sense considering this is the section with the second canon voice at half speed (let's go with that and call it a day, no one wants to read this much about Afroman). So there we have it: Nested within this 7:10 song are clear cut formal divisions that express the mathematical relationships between various sizes of beer cans, all existing within the hierarchy of the much venerated tall can, and the physical world. Did Afroman do all this on purpose? As with a lot of great art, it is impossible to know for sure. If you are positive that this was a lucky accident because we are talking about Afroman then I say again: Have an open mind for Christ’s sake.

In conclusion, Afroman really, really, really likes tall cans.


Jun 2, 2020

Happy Hippo posted:

I used to know Afroman during the two years before his 15 minutes. We were at a lot of the same parties and he's a total bum and a thief. He was a chainsmoker but he never had his own pack. He bummed every cigarette I ever saw him smoke and he chain smoked. He crashed at my friend's place for about a week and ran up over $400 on their phone bill calling Palmdale, CA on her land line (over 20 years ago, mind you) and stole her expensive camera. I know he stole it because pics she took of him wound up in his liner notes. Yes, I got high with him several times. That's my Afroman story, thanks for listening

They say never meet your heroes, but that all sounds very... on-brand. In a way it would be kind of disappointing if your story was about how he did your friend's dishes every night and politely asked to purchase the rights for some photos to use in his liner notes. Thank you for the Afroman oral history

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