September 26, 2011

Behind the scenes: The BQT audio rounds

One of the standbys of the Big Quiz Thing format—and of many other live quiz games, for that matter—is the audio round. You know you love it:

I mean, who didn't love Name That Tune? Except for the millions of us who have no memory of the show, which hasn't been on the air since 1985?

I've never done a full public BQT without an audio round. Even the two times technical issues made the game impossible, I ended up singing the clips. (It got really tough/embarrassing when I got to the Katy Perry song. Thanks for the encouragement, BTW.) In its most basic form, we play clips from ten songs, very approximately 20 seconds each, and the teams identify the songs and the artists, boom boom boom. In the low-tech primordial-ooze days of the BQT, I essentially made a mixtape of the clips—literally, a cassette tape. Soon it was the magic of compact disc, now it's all iPod glory. Give me a couple years and I'll be downloading the clips directly into your brains via a neurotransmitting gun.

Very occasionally (usually when the video round has a musical theme), the audio round is nonmusical—clips of movie dialogue, speeches, audio of people playing sports (that was a fun one). But usually, it's musical, me being a music geek and all. And in the early days, the theme was typically a straightforward one: horses, mountains, guns, fruit. The very first Big Quiz Thing featured ten songs about one of your favorite topics, masturbation. The lineup:

1. “Pump It Up” – Elvis Costello and the Attractions
2. “Pictures of Lily” – The Who
3. “Orgasm Addict” – The Buzzcocks
4. “Muscle of Love” – Alice Cooper
5. “Why Bother?” – Weezer
6. “She Bop” – Cyndi Lauper
7. “Blister In the Sun” – Violent Femmes
8. “Darling Nikki” – Prince and the Revolution
9. “Longview” – Green Day
10. “Turning Japanese” – The Vapors

In case you never realized "She Bop" was about diddling yourself, the proof was on constant MTV rotation in 1984:

Some great songs on that list, back when I was opposed to including any tunes that I didn't personally love. Today I'd consider this to be on the tricky end of the spectrum (I have no memory of how well/poorly people did); I mean, that's a fairly deep Alice Cooper cut. But I think I went with this as my debut theme because I thought it had some of the cheekiness that I intended for the BQT. Jerking off! Ha!

Over time, my feelings about the audio-round themes have evolved, to the point where I try to avoid concepts that seem too straightforward. Something like "planets" usually doesn't cut it for me anymore, and I tend to go for more conceptual ideas. For those out of the loop, here are some recent favorites:

Yeah Yeah Yeah/No No No—Very brief clips of vocalists singing nothing but "yeah yeah yeah" or "no no no," alternating the two.

I Always Get Them Mixed Up—Presenting in couplets, with each pair performed by artists who people typical confuse with each other (e.g., Springsteen and Springfield)

A History of Musical Theater Via Bad Karaoke—I actually got together with a crew of drunken friends, and recorded everyone singing musical-theater favorites. Always great when I can break out of the pop-music ghetto.

And I'm excited about the October 3 round: Can I Ask You a Single Question? If you put together the titles of the ten songs, in order, they form a quiz question, answerable for bonus points. I like to have fun.

These join my list of favorite concepts that I regularly bring back and/or reuse for private parties and out of town: Slooow Songs (very familiar tunes at half speed), the Worst Songs Ever (that always annoys/amuses people), Three Degrees of Musical Separation (e.g., "R. Kelly/Kelly Clarkson/Sonny and Cher").

I'm always on the hunt for new ideas. Some concepts I've strongly considered but rejected: Once, listening to Del Shannon for the first time in a thousand years, I thought it would be interesting to do an entire round of artists who committed suicide, then concluded the cleverness (or lack thereof) justify the poor taste. (We did, however, once do an entire round of artists who OD'ed on drugs. Why is that so much less depressing?) And I've always hoped to do an entire round in which every song has the exact same title, but I've yet to stumble upon that magic common moniker. (Though a "Summer Songs" theme once included three separate tunes called "Summertime.") Perhaps I shouldn't encourage such unoriginality.

One of the many modern technological advances that makes this job easier than it would have been in times past is the rise of iTunes: I can purchase a single song for use in an audio round, as opposed to an entire album (which I did once in the early days, hence my slightly unlikely ownership of Metallica's Master of Puppets). The only thing that would make it even easier—or perhaps more economical—if there were some way to download these songs without paying for them. Oh, if only!

How about you? What are some of your favorites? Any old concepts you'd like to see…er, hear again? Ever designed your own quiz audio round? Share!


the kevin scurry blog said...

Master of Puppets is that rare album where every song is a gem, the last time Metallica would be able to claim that achievement.

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