Again, many thanks to awesome RtB fiend Ross for the great guest post yesterday. I loved it, because it got me thinking about lots of songs from my past, and indeed, music in general, and its mysterious power to affect heart and soul far more than any spoken word.
Isn’t it something how music can evoke such strong, associative memories, as if the events just happened recently? For instance, I can’t listen to Elvis’s gospel music without thinking of my mother, even though it was in the early 70s that she and I were in the same room with those records. I can’t hear the old close-harmony male quartets of the 1950s without thinking of Dad, and how he’d let me play his Suddenly it’s the Hi-Lo’s (before I ever knew what a Gene Puerling was) and The Four Lads Sing Frank Loesser albums over and over and over without ever saying Turn that stuff down!, like he did when I played my Beatles, Monkees, Al Green, Jackson Five and Rod Stewart records.
I can’t hear songs from The Sound of Music, The King and I or My Fair Lady without being transported back to my living room floor as a 14-year-old, sitting in front of the enormous stereo that looked like this and memorizing every note of every tune, wishing that I could play the King of Siam or Henry Higgins on Broadway, because men got the best songs. (To this day, I can recite the completely mean-spirited — but delicious — Why Can’t the English?, verbatim.)
But the nostalgia isn’t all that gets me about listening to music. Cripes, I could write a dissertation on this. Being a singer, I’m unsurprisingly partial to the places songs take me (the definition of “song” being poetry set to music, therefore sung, as opposed to a sonata or symphony or concerto, which is instrumental). Regardless of the subject matter, some songs resonate with me for years; decades, even, and the connection is largely emotional. If you were to do a study (and I’m certain someone has, somewhere, sometime) on the psychological effects of the chromatic-fourth descending bass line in modern song, I’m sure you would find important links to certain emotions — mostly, melancholy or outright sadness. Get out your guitar or piano and play these changes in a slow four:
That progression, present in dozens of songs I can think of, and probably a hundred more, dictates a definite set of emotions. Consider just a few songs in which it’s used exactly as above, or pretty darn close:
Everything Must Change (Bernard Ighner – recorded by countless artists)
A Song for You (Leon Russell – recorded by countless artists)
Chim-Chim Cher-ee (Richard & Robert Sherman – Mary Poppins)
Hotel California (The Eagles)
Michelle (The Beatles)
My Funny Valentine (written by tortured genius Lorenz Hart)
This Masquerade (Leon Russell)
I can’t think of many (any?) “happy,” chirpy songs in which that device is employed, though they may exist. And I don’t think it’s entirely because there are few happy songs in minor keys. It’s a musical trick, designed to elicit the same emotional results every time: disquietude, nostalgia, sadness, loss, loneliness, uncertainty. And for me, it works, without fail.
I could go on for hours, but I have to get stuff done. So how about you? What music is transcendent and intensely meaningful for you? I’ll bet you can think of quite a few examples.