Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Question

(a new weekly feature, at least until I start forgetting to post it or lose interest)

Friday afternoon? You're not getting any work done, dude. Come on. I think it's a good time to think something over and contribute your thoughts on something. You can think about it other times, too, like Monday morning.

Question is this: What element in music gets you every time? Maybe it's a harmonica or a falsetto vocal or cowbell. Something that, if a song has it, just makes it infinitely more likely it will be a favorite song.

I have two, both of which have to do with lyrics:

1. Proper names! When they skip the pronouns and mention people by name.

Like in Old 97's "Big Brown Eyes":
"'Cause if Robert's dad is right, We might not make it through the night, And I'd hate to go alone. Please pick up the phone."
Or, from Ben Folds' "Not the Same":
"You took a trip and climbed a tree
At Robert Sledge's party
And there you stayed 'till morning came
And you were not the same after that"
Not to mention Ben Folds' song where Steven charms everyone here except Tamara Easter.

Proper names! They give specificity, which pop songs often lack!


I love revenge in popular music. It's compelling, it's audacious, it's terrific.
Like the Decemberists' "Mariner's Revenge Song".

And the Mountain Goats' "Up The Wolves":
"I'm going to get myself in fighting trim,
scope out every angle of unfair advantage.
I'm going to bribe the officials.
I'm going to kill all the judges.
it's going to take you people years to recover from all of the damage."
And, of course, Viva Voce, a husband-wife team who do the song "We Do Not Fuck Around":

Revenge! Hooray for Revenge!

My question, again,What element in music gets you every time?


KikiRiki said...

Ok, so not in a million years would I have thought I would say this until I met the Paperboys (, but a fiddle solo just about makes me cry every time. And let me just say, if you don't know them yet, meet the Paperboys. They are incredible.

Scott Chicken said...

Cadmium. Although helium does something to me as well.

And, being a drummer and all, either a really tight drum line (a la Phil Collins in his prime or Matt Cameron), insane syncopation that sounds sloppy but is really technical (Keith Moon, John Bonham) or something that makes me say "that guy must have eight arms and legs" (Neal Peart or the dude from the Dave Matthews Band).

Oh, and Sinead O'Connor's voice. But not those other whiny Celtic ladies like whatshername from the Sundaes...they all just want to be Sinead.

Heather said...

As usual, you are on to us, John.

Pedal steel. Every time. On anything! Spaghetti! Toast! Whatever.

I wonder if I always love songs with both a male and a female singer (I guess those would be, like, duets...) Let's see... Stars? Check. Whiskeytown? Oh yes. Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell - no doubt. Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow?

Yep, I guess so. I just love them duets.

Glenn Fleishman said...

"Steven charms everyone here except Tamara Easter." Yeah, charms. That's what good old Steven does. Except if you hear Ben Folds live.

kbow said...

Distinctive percussion: Clash's Straight to Hell, the Beatles' Come Together, Beck's Loser, The Proclaimers I'm gonna be (500 Miles), Queen's Fat Bottomed Girl or as Scott Chicken said Phil Collins in his prime: Home by the Sea or In the Air.

Makes me feel twitterpated.

Jennifer said...

Profanity. It's true. For some reason I rather enjoy hearing people swear in music.

Weird songs get me as well. Tea in the Sahara, for example. It's odd...and I love it.

Anonymous said...

I love clapping and songs that tell stories.

Anonymous said...

And lyrics that don't make any sense, like Neil Diamond's.

Elisabeth said...

Accents. Like Lily Allen's mockney, or Marketa Irglova singing "udder" instead of "other," or even Tom Petty's nasally Southern drawl. Interesting voices.

Also, singing in French. (Works best if the singers actually are French.) Like 3 Gars su'l Sofa or Emily Loizeau's "Je Suis Jalouse," which is really fun to sing in the car.

usedUNIVERSE said...

The - that to call it? "Epic-sounding"ness, which comes in all diferent forms like Sufjan Stevens' "Chicago" to that first song on Elliott Smith's "Basement on a Hill" album to Led Zepplin's "Whole Lotta Love" or Tribe Called Quest's "Award Tour"- a sense of happening.

Tina Rowley said...

This was a good, difficult question.

I love unusual, mildly exotic musical touches in pop songs: a sitar line here and there, or some bells, or some strange little flute line. Prince used to do this all the time back in the day. I refer u to the album Under the Cherry Moon, to the song I Wonder U. Or Beck's Nicotine and Gravy. I like any Western music that references the sounds of the Middle or Far East. Duke Ellington is another one - the song Blue Pepper: Far East of the Blues from the album Far East Suite. Bolero's got it, too, ol' Ravel. Embarrassing, Bolero, but I love it.

You know what it is? I like music that sounds like what Westerners imagine the exotic East to be like, more than the actual authentic music of the area. I like it ersatz. It makes me feel like a kid visiting a hotel that has a Polynesian pool. Awesome! We're pretending to be somewhere different!

I also concur with Scott Chicken on syncopation that sounds sloppy but is very technical. Loose but tight! See the many drummings on your many Lee Morgan albums.

Ditto also on male/female duets. Swoony.

I like lyrics that have grand, charming boasts. This is my favorite example:

"So you melt chocolate hearts. Well, I can forestall the sun!"
--The Long Winters

In fact, I would like John Roderick to go ahead and write everybody's lyrics. That's what I like, lyrically. John Roderickiness.

Christopher said...

I'm a total sucker for close-harmony, preferably a minimum of three voices in the blend: I can listen to The Andrews Sisters for hours, and my most recent fave has been an Australian trio called "Fruit".

Oh, and then there's this other band, some local guys, go by the name of "Awesome"; pretentious band name, but, they do a heck of a job with the multiple harmonies - not quite as chillingly spectacular as barbershop-quartet, but still pretty good.

Suzanne said...

Okay, this is a good one John. I had to take a couple of days.
I love long-winded verses and obscure references. Joni Mitchell is of course the Queen: "Richard got married to a figure skater and he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolators" (totally off the top of my head) and Lloyd Cole, Morrissey, and Ingrid Michaelson. Oh, and Dylan.
And clap machines, like in "Poison Arrow" by ABC. I see SRAH likes that too--popular choice.

Anonymous said...

Long-winded verses? How about the whole song "Unsent" by Alanis Morrissette? I love that song because it's just so rambling and never bothers to rhyme or make any attempt at meter.

john said...

On that note, I have to mention non-rhyming. Camper Van Beethoven are/were(?) masters of it. Actual line from Take The Skinheads Bowling: "There's not a line that goes here that rhymes with anything."
And later in their song Jack Ruby:
"But it feels like this calm it's decaying
It's collapsing under its own weight
And I think its your friend the hangman coming
Choking back a laugh, a drunkard swaggering to your door "

Lance Sleuthe said...

Horns! Who can resist "Son of a Preacher Man" by Dusty Springfield or the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love"? (Not me!) Judicious use of punchy horns can knock a pop hook right up to heaven. Incidentally, I concur with kikiriki's glowing comments about the Paperboys, whom I've seen live many times in Seattle. They've recently been punching up songs with horns as well (check out "Perfect Stillness" from "Dilapidated Beauty").