Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Pretty Things - "She Says Good Morning" (1967)

Not only does the masculine impulse of rock and roll manifest here clearly and strongly, but never, perhaps, was it so successfully aligned with the genre's metamorphosing predilections toward beauty.

"She Says Good Morning" on Amazon.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pink Floyd - "The Scarecrow" (1967)

Might be the best of Barrett's early lyrics with its coherence, the cadence of the wordplay in the verses, and the sheer poetry of the single line (non-rhyming) chorus. Arrangement is very pleasant: sparse, but also very rich when the two acoustic guitars enter at the end.

"The Scarecrow" on Lala.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Michael Angelo - "Bonjour Mr. VIP" (1977)

There is both strength and ease in the way Michael Angelo moved from style to style, keeping them all within his aesthetic. That he managed to accomplish this even with early Dylan was a great achievement!

"Bonjour Mr. VIP" at Anthology Recordings

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Beatles - "For No One" (1966)

Only six chords in the whole song, but still managing not only to mix a real sense of diatonicism with a bVII chord, but also an unusual modulation: the tonicizing of the ii chord in the chorus (returning so simply and easily to the home key by means of its dominant chord).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brenton Wood - "I'm the One Who Knows" (1967)

Rhyming resourcefulness, everyday language creatively fitting melodies, melodies perhaps even expanding (without stretching too far) to accommodate the language. Masterful execution.

"I'm the One Who Knows" currently available on this CD.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

George Harrison - "Dream Away" (1982)

Something characteristic about the melodic line and the harmonic progression but in a song style seemingly unique in his oeuvre, with real compositional economy and propulsion. If the greatest thing about this song is not the chorus, it is surely the bridge, which twice plots its way cleverly through seven lines of text. The greatest Beatle moment of this period.

"Dream Away" on Amazon.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Henry Cow - "Nine Funerals of the Citizen King" (1973)

There is something of theater music in this that makes me consider its stylistic origins in Kurt Weill, though I'm not sure how much Weill as an influence accounts for what goes on here melodically and harmonically. Seemingly a sort of genre unto itself, this song is both an extraordinary composition and an extremely resourceful and beautiful sonic creation.

"Nine Funerals of the Citizen King" on Amazon.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Le Orme - "Milano 1968" (1969)

Some late '60s rock music from around the world shares an emerging progressive aesthetic that's much more rooted in the pop/rock music of the preceding couple of years and, in this way, distinct from early English progressive rock. Le Orme (who would of course evolve into a prog band later on) were quite a talented band in this vein and "Milano 1968," with its compositional structure and instrumental parts, is a nice example of the style.

"Milano 1968" on Lala.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Incredible String Band - "See Your Face and Know You" (1967)

What must be almost everything that was wonderful about Robin Williamson's early songwriting style in one compact, 2:37 composition: the modal guitar writing, the natural sounding freedom in the meter, the striving after real poetry, the schooled mastery of style.

"See Your Face and Know You" on Amazon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wings - "You Gave Me the Answer" (1975)

The vocal with the megaphone effect sits very nicely in the mix so you can really hear the nuances of a virtuosic performance: the crisp hitting of notes, the tremolo, the choice of falsetto or natural voice for high notes.

Instrumental break is elaborate in context, but also efficient and economical. Deviation in the construction of the last verse is, like many other things in the song, very successful in its stylistic evocation.

"You Gave Me the Answer" on Lala.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

R.E.M. - "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville " (1984)

Such power in the stylistic evocation, composition, arrangement (piano, tremolo lead guitar) and, grandest of all, execution (vocal harmonies in the chorus). Sweeping in scope.

"(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" on Lala.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bridget St. John - "The Curious Crystals of Unusual Purity" (1969)

There can be such strength in basic musical units - a chord, a note - in St. John's songs. Here, it's the construction of the one verse repeating for the song's almost four-minute duration: the holding of the chord resulting in the simple metric irregularity of the third line, the final, held notes in the concluding fourth lines.

"The Curious Crystals of Unusual Purity" on Lala.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Left Banke - "Walk Away Renee" (1966)

The intro is only four notes: 4-3-2-1, which does not constitute a melody. It's only a cadence without anything preceding it.

Where did they come up with this idea? It's not a cadence that's used in any other part of the song. Could it have been the ending of a longer intro, with the beginning edited out?

In any case, it's a powerful moment that encapsulates, in about as small a package as possible, some of the great things about that period's stylistic approach to balance between compositional richness and economy in a 2:40 single.

"Walk Away Renee" on Lala.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tomorrow - "Three Jolly Little Dwarfs" (1968)

Extraordinary compositional economy, not just melodically/harmonically/structurally but also dynamically: one of the great drum records but with utterly simple parts and fills. Great power of the chorus hinges on at least three factors: 1) the fact that it's preceded by a break, but there's actually an intensification of energy when the song resumes and the chorus begins, 2) the repeat of its first part, and 3) the fact that it continues after the repeat, building on the drum dynamism with an overdubbed mallet on a bass or kettle drum.

"Three Jolly Little Dwarfs" on Lala.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Pretty Things - "Walking Through My Dreams" (1968)

Dream as sacred ground, rapture in the word "dream" on the high notes in the chorus. Just a back and forth on two chords in the verse, vocals coming in immediately in the first bar of the song, and fourteen and a half seconds into it, you're already in the chorus: a beautiful construction, beautifully sung.

Simple, two-part instrumental break including a guitar solo and then, at 1:40, the full chorus again for the third time already. At 2:14, the full chorus for the fourth time.

And then, a repeat! The fifth time! Each time as rich as the time before.

Sixth, seventh, and eighth times, surrendering the narrative to a wordless choir.

"Walking Through My Dreams" on Lala.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Beach Boys - "Little Pad" (1967)

Exquisite harmony. Extremely evocative of its subject matter. Pleasant, extraordinarily minimal arrangement. And the sheer triumph of a band tapping into the real depths of their own resources (their voices).

"Little Pad" on Lala.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Neighb'rhood Childr'n - "Behold the Lillies" (1968)

Flower as pure religious symbol, transcending negative tendencies of the genre. Purity of intention, purity and innocence in execution.

"Behold the Lillies" on Lala.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wings - "Single Pigeon" (1973)

Depth in the details: the spot-on role-playing in the vocal performance, the harmonic turn in the piano between the first and second verse. Just a little thing, 1:53, post-White Album songwriting, but depth also in small sectional details and the horns that come in at the end are just grand.

Friday, October 16, 2009

John Cale - "Paris 1919" (1973)

There's a sense in listening to this that no one had taken the revival of Romanticism that had originally cropped up in late '60s rock music as seriously as Cale does here, that no one had striven for and landed so lucidly in the past as in this song. It is an anthem and a thing of beauty.

"Paris 1919" on Lala.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stereolab - "Ping Pong" (1994)

Fifteen years later, this sounds like music you've been hearing on commercials for years, but the depth of the composition starts to become apparent when you hear the four-note lead guitar line for the first time. And the late sixties melodicism in the the vocal melody and background vocal parts is very rich.

The unusual chord (the one that first occurs on the last syllable of "recovery" in the lines about "smaller recovery" and "shallower recovery") sounds evocative, though I can't place it anywhere. It's a bVI chord, unusual because it's occurring in a song that otherwise emphasizes diatonic seventh harmony. Would be curious to know what, if any, precedents there are for the use of this chord.

"Ping Pong" on Lala.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Neu! - "Neuschnee" (1973)

The B-side of their 1973 single, this track is really remarkable for having a sophisticated sound and construction along with its primitive compositional elements.

"Neuschnee" on Lala.

Monday, September 28, 2009

ABBA - "Bang-a-Boomerang" (1975)

The intro, bridge, and closing of this song are all absolutely succinct. Apart from these, the only other sections of the song are two verses and three choruses. Still, the song manages to last for three minutes. It does so because of the lengths of both the verse and the chorus, each of which have three parts.

In the verse, you have a two-line exposition, a two-line dramatic moment, and then what might be called a rising action, the final two lines that lead into the chorus.

The first part of the chorus, then, is the climax, with the second and third parts something akin to the falling action and the denouement.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Four Tops - "Bernadette" (1967)

OK, we can assert here that the verses are in two sections, but I'm going to label the first section A and the second section B because sometimes one of the sections will occur without the other. If we label the bridge section as C (the song has no chorus), then the basic structure of the song is this:


This is discounting the return to the A materials at the end of the song (first abbreviated, then repeated as a vamp for the fadeout), but let's look at what we've got otherwise. The two-section verse, both sections very distinct and separated by a pause, certainly seems to me to be a structural curiosity. It's a very long verse, over forty seconds, and its length naturally had to be reckoned with in terms of the overall compositional structure. The song itself is not incredibly short for a pop record of the time; it's over three minutes (barely, but it is), and yet it manages to run that long without a chorus and without an instrumental break.

This leaves the full duration of the song open for Levi Stubbs' lead vocal part to run as a very singular, linear utterance. And three minutes is a pretty long time for that singular drama to unfold.

"Bernadette" on Lala.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Klaatu - "A Routine Day" (1978)

The second section of the verses resonates with me as being evocative of early '70s songwriter pop: Gilbert O'Sullivan and I'm not sure what else. With Klaatu, though, these are only sections in a progressive-minded compositional context, occurring after the excellent, Beatle-esque first parts of the verses.

The chorus also seems to me to be of the same genre, but it only occurs once in the song! And it carries itself perfectly to its conclusion.

In the third and final verse (hastening the song to its structurally appealing end), John Woloschuck's lyrics take that same second part of the verse and invest it with enough drama and enough poetry that the effect is completely transcendent:

I stand here in the queue behind a foul cigar
My face discreetly buried in a book on Mars
And I'm waiting on the pier 'til Charon comes

Entire Klaatu catalog on