Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thoughts On Songs I Just Heard On the Radio

Also known as "I haven't written anything for a few days and am quickly becoming a blogging embarrassment, so I have to write something quickly."

I just returned from crashing with my friend Jeff for a couple days that I had off, and my voyage home was marked by three songs on the radio that I deem worthy of comment:

"The Locomotion" by Grand Funk Railroad: Have you heard of anyone ever actually doing the Locomotion? I have not. This song is about a dance that nobody ever dances, and yet became a hit in two incarnations. There are myriad problems with the locomotion as a dance.

First, the song's lyrics inform us that it requires "A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul." It is difficult to find any group of people that possesses this as a group.

Second, once the basic steps are learned, it's necessary to make a chain. This complicates the first problem because now you not only need a group of people who all possess a little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul, but they all need to have the exact same amount of soul and rhythm or else the chain will break and the dance will be ruined.

Third, the instructions given for how to do the locomotion are vague at best. The dance moves consist of swinging your hips, jumping up, jumping back, and a chugga-chugga motion like a railroad train. How frequently these moves should be employed is apparently left up to the dancers' discretion, but since they need to be all on the same page, any confusion could result in injury to several dancers. Also, swinging hips from side to side while making a chugga chugga motion with the arms is not the most natural of dance moves.

Finally, after the dancers have tripped over each other while jumping up and back and fallen in a pile on the floor, the singer taunts them by saying "There's never been a dance that's so easy to do." However, it's entirely possible that this was true at the time the song was written, and exposed such a glaring deficiency in the field of Easy Dances that Line Dancing and the Macarena were formed.

"The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel: I'm hard-pressed to think of a better constructed pop song, and I really don't see any reason why someone would dislike it.

First, violins. Aptly placed violins add much to the atmosphere of a song without being over-the-top, Jim Steinman-style melodrama. The violins in the boxer don't even play melody lines, just background, held notes above the harmonies, or so it appears. In actuality, the held notes form long, drawn out melodic lines that are appreciated more as the song goes on, making sure the nigh endless "li le li's" do not get irritating.

Second, lyrics that are easy to sing along to yet uncompromised. Simon brilliantly makes the chorus a group of "li le li's" so that even people who have never heard the song before can sing along with it by the end. People who do know the song can appreciate the story of a boy who followed his dreams only to have them crushed and stuck in an endless cycle of poverty and depression where his only friends appear to be the whores, li le li.

The third major element to any good pop song is backup singers, preferably female. There are no females to be found in "The Boxer," but we do have a high baritone and a second tenor who both sound more like back-up singers than leads. Simon and Garfunkel's work on the li le lis sounds backupish, which allows the violin over the top of the melody to take on the leads. I could probably go on about the awesomeness of S&G's unique sound, but I have one more song to expound on.

"Moondance" by Van Morrison: Completely unlike Simon and Garfunkel, "Moondance" seems to succeed despite its construction. First, we have a mostly incomprehensible singer bellowing things like "Nehva tom AH tuh-jo, yo jus trimmalin' I." Second, we have prominent use of the saxophone, easily the cheesiest instrument in pop music history. It's difficult to name good songs that make frequent use of the saxophones. Even in songs I really like, the mere appearance of the saxophone can cause a short guffaw. Third, the chorus of the song is overshadowed by the catchy bass riff that occurs simultaneously. Catchy bass riffs are good, but you generally want people to remember the chorus, and the chorus happens to be the ONLY place the catchy bass riff appears throughout the song. Finally, the song is jazzy. This is fine, except that there are no other jazzy songs on the album that would suggest that Van Morrison would know what he's doing in a jazzy number. All of the other are simple folk ballads and such.

And yet, it all comes together and works marvelously, despite all of the evidence that suggests it should be otherwise. My only theory is that the bass, the flute, the piano, and the saxophone constantly remain busy and melodic, and the whole thing just kind of melts together. Truly, Moondance is a musical masterpiece of mystery.

This has been Thoughts on Songs I Just Heard On the Radio. Tune in next time I have nothing interesting going for more riveting material. You may now proceed in making fun of my musical tastes.

1 comment:

Annie's Mama said...

My thoughts:

The Locomotion is by far my least fav song GFR ever did -- bah! It's like they freakin' sold out. Idiots!

Anything by S&G rocks. Although I do have horrible flashbacks of one of the worst dates of my life (he was a rich yuppie from Carmel who quoted S&G songs all night...eep!)

Ahhhh, Moondance. That song used to get me in the mood back before I knew what "the mood" was.

And I'm sorry I never did the meme you tagged me to do. I was busy, um, giving birth. :)