Archive for the ‘Music Technology’ Category

Music Tech Blog Post – Most Favorite and Least Favorite (and Why)

December 23, 2017

Let me start this post that I often dislike the question of being asked what my “favorite” song is.  Not because I necessarily think it’s a bad question but rather because I find the idea very overwhelming given the large number of songs I’m exposed to even on a daily basis.  As a wedding band leader I’m paid on a regular basis to go knee deep and “figure out” how to play all kinds of requests and I find myself falling in love with new material every time this happens.  As a singer/songwriter myself, I know that someone’s blood, sweat, and tears have gone into a certain music composition and I like to give credit to all the creatives who put themselves on the line.  I find it difficult to criticize someone that heavily by deeming their original work my “least favorite of all time.”

With all of that said, I will attempt to analyze two different tracks and discuss (and perhaps persuade you) as to why these might be my favorite and least favorite songs and maybe should be yours as well.

 

With great hesitation I will posit that my favorite song is Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.”  The main reason for this choice (and my corresponding choice has little to do with production values and much to do with the songwriting itself).  Starting from the song’s introduction, the piano sound and chords chosen are epic and contemplative.  After the initial A major chord, I love the D major to D minor initial chord progression, which sounds happy and resolved yet heavy and deep (emotionally) to my ears and thus very appropriate to the topic about to be addressed in the lyrics: finding one’s soulmate in life.

Chordally the song is complex.  Within the first 4 bars McCartney has already played 8 different chords.  While I don’t believe the sheer number of chords one writes in a composition determines its overall value, I do think musicians have a responsibility to write music that isn’t repetitive and bland.  McCartney doesn’t disappoint.  Even though the song basically uses two progressions, one for the verse and one for the chorus, those progressions in their own right are complex and interesting enough that the listener does not become bored.  (At least this listener doesn’t.)  The chords lead nicely into one another and are not jarring yet they take the listener to new places and with each passing beat elicit new emotions.

As soon as the lead vocal comes in the lyrics both assert and ask questions, causing the listener to both think and feel.  “Maybe I’m amazed by the way you love me all the time.”  Do I know why you are so special to me?  Does anyone really know what causes human love and emotion?  What is the reason I am so amazed by you?  What qualities or specific things make love work?  Is it something tangible and scientific or is it something we can never grasp as humans?  As the lyrics continue all of these questions unfold even as McCartney lists all of the wonderful things about his interaction and relationship with his lover.  To me this is a hallmark of a great lyric.  It touches upon the deepest questions in the human psyche.  At the same time the lyrics are simple and don’t elude the common listener.  I’ve heard a lot of pretentious lyrics in my life.  “Maybe I’m Amazed” is definitely not an example of that.  This may be the hardest thing for a songwriter to pull off – be deep without being overly showy.

Another thing McCartney is able to do successfully is write a love ballad that does not get sappy or boring.  One can hear the excitement and exhilaration in the chorus of the song, in which the vocal screams high above a neatly-moving chord progression in which you can feel the tangible excitement and bliss that the protagonist feels for his lover and his own amazement at his own luck.

The guitar solo is well-placed and has a very memorable melody to it, adding edge to the song, further bringing it out of the realm of a potentially sappy death.  McCartney seems to be able to straddle different lines of emotion simultaneously while keeping the listener’s excitement and interest, never becoming ponderous.  To my ears this one of the best-written rock ballads of all time.

 

With even greater hesitation I will assert that my least favorite song is “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons.  I think there were a number of songs that I could have picked for this category, including some of the new rap that I listened to from Spotify’s Billboard 100 chart yesterday.  But “On Top of the World” is certainly a contender in that category, and as in the example of the best song, the songwriting itself is the main reason for my choice.  On top of the world cycles through two chord progressions, one for the verse and one for the chorus.

Starting from the beginning, the song borrows too heavily from “Cecilia” by Paul Simon.  With “Cecilia” already being a track that I’m not particularly fond of, (sorry, Paul Simon fans) Imagine Dragons places themselves in an already precarious position by borrowing from this track.  I’m sorry but adding multi-layered hand claps does not make your boring song any more interesting, nor does African-style congas or tribal sounding melodic call and response lines.  All of this just adds a sort of “vibe” to a track that is boring melodically and harmonically. At least Paul Simon originated this kind of vibe.  At this point for Imagine Dragons in 2017, it’s been done before, ad nauseum.

Lyrically, “On Top of the World” is much less deep than “Maybe I’m Amazed.”  Here are a few verses of this masterpiece:

 If you love somebody
Better tell them why they’re here ’cause
They just may run away from you
You’ll never know what went well
Then again it just depends on
How long of time is left for you

Ah, the good old “if you love somebody, better let them know” cliche theme.  Personally I have trouble relating to this theme.  If I love someone, I usually let them know it and they know it well.  I guess personally I do not relate to this musical lyric very well.  Maybe this is for the “players” out there, which, if you listen to today’s pop music lyrics, especially rap music, seem to abound in today’s society.