Whooo, owwww, yeah, and unh
PopMatters has a divine article trying to pin down those varied vocalizations that singers have been throwing in the midst of their songs since time memoriam. Maybe James Brown is the best-known for his off-the-wall hollers, but read about the rest. Here are some snippets from the extremely well-written and entertaining article, as author Zeth Lundy takes you through the different species of yowl -- and you know I had to include a few of the songs in question:
The Columbus (or, the Land Ho!)
The wild-eyed whoop of abandon, emitted early when a song kicks into its full roar and meant, in part, as an alarm for the impending auditory devastation. Consider it rock ‘n’ roll etiquette, not unlike that exhibited on the golf green: heads up, ‘cause this one’s gonna rock you in places you didn’t know existed. Gaz Coombes demonstrates this nicely in Supergrass’s Richard III (1997), letting fly a preparatory yell in concurrence with the landslide entry of the bass and drums. He whoops it up like a man who has a storied history with whooping, one which he would probably recount over a few pints even though he’s a bit tired of doing so. This particular example is compounded by how Coombes sets up the holler with a brief prelude of tritone guitar riffage—ye olde Devil’s interval!—that stokes the song’s start-up with a bit of horned provocation. See also: the Faces’ Stay With Me (1971), at the moment that the double-time intro downshifts to that filthy pub shuffle—as good a time as any for Rod Stewart to launch a Columbus, back when a Rod Stewart Columbus actually meant something.
The Phantom Columbus
Quite possibly the most common and unnoticed improvisatory hoot, this occurs deep in the background of a song’s mix, always at a moment where all other instruments drop out, and usually at the song’s onset. In essence, it’s a Columbus (the hasty shout-out predicting some kind of calamitous rapture), but it’s not necessarily one intended to be heard by the public at-large, since it’s only serendipitously picked up by a microphone that just happens to be dedicated to another instrument. Really listen—put on the noise-isolating headphones, crank up the volume to that decibel the doctor warned you about—and you’ll catch more Phantom Columbuses than you’ll care to count. Two songs in particular sport perceptible examples of this holler:
Superdrag’s Sold You an Alibi (1998) and Mission of Burma’s 2wice (2006). It occurs during the opening of both songs, between the gutsy plunges of the former’s wicked guitar riff and immediately after the latter’s colossal solo drum foundation. See also: the first few seconds of the Rolling Stones’ Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (1971), soon after the drums are introduced to that impeccably slouching guitar.
Read the whole "Hoots, Hollers and Barbaric Yawps" article
I think the most elusive of the vocalizations (and my personal favorite to imitate on road-trips) is hands-down the "shmoa":
Man In The Mirror - Michael Jackson