Do you have songs in which you wait, eagerly, for that magic moment when a certain turn of phrase or instrumental bit seizes hold of you? Those are the things which sometimes earn a song an extra star in my iTunes library, moments which indelibly mark those songs in my consciousness.
Sometimes a companion has been able to perceive (or at least pretend to hear) what I’m raving on about, and occasionally one has told me of their favorite bit of a song.
Teddy Thompson, Leonard Cohen’s Tonight Will Be Fine
Leonard Cohen is a songwriter who really and truly is a poet. His songs are replete with wonderful lines, images, phrases, and truths. And there is a part of Tonight Will Be Fine that ran chills down my spine when I first heard it sung by Teddy Thompson, whose cover of this song is peerless. Best of all, when I showed this clip to one of my best friends, without pointing out why I loved it so much, right after this bit she sighed and said, “Oh, what a wonderful line.” It begins at 1:08 in the video:
Oh I choose the rooms that I live in with care The windows are small and the walls are bare There is only one bed, there is only one prayer And I listen each night for your step on the stair
Paul Simon, Graceland
In the title song from perhaps his best album, Paul sings this wonderful bit at 1:30 in the video:
She comes back to tell me she's gone As if I didn't know that, as if I didn't know my own bed As if I'd never noticed The way she brushed her hair from her forehead She said, 'Losing love is like a window in your heart Everybody sees you're blown apart Everybody sees the wind blow'
He was writing about his failed marriage to Carrie Fisher, a relationship which inspired several of his songs in that period. I can’t see, but I can hear the wind blowing through Paul in those lines, and I grow wistful in remembrance of those endearing little mannerisms of those I have loved.
ABC, All of My Heart
I believe this is ABC’s best song and it comes from their amazing debut album, Lexicon of Love, which I’ve gone on about before. I could pick many favorite rhyming couplets off this record, but here’s an example of someone else telling me of a line they loved. Back when I was playing this album regularly in the car, my love sang a line to me, telling me how much she liked it. It was the line about the lipgloss at 1:46 in the video:
Spilling up in silk and coffee lace You hook me up a rendezvous at your place Your lipstick and your lipgloss seals my fate
Mind you, she wore lipgloss and it certainly sealed my fate. Martin Fry’s voice soars on seals in the line, which really sells it. Little did we know that in a few years these lines from the song would apply to us:
Once upon a time when we were friends I gave you my heart, the story ends No happy ever after, now we’re friends
The Bangles, Going Down to Liverpool
This song is an extreme example of a tiny little bit of sound that always thrills me, for reasons I cannot fully explain. The song itself is a melancholy one for me, with its talk of the United Kingdom’s UB 40 unemployment form and the narrator’s attempt, to me in vain, to escape conformity and the working world. When my first major romance ended, I was despondent and often blasted this song in my car, waiting for that magic moment.
And it really isn’t much at all! At 2:42 in the video you’ll hear a tiny extra low rumble of the strings in the background during the word pleasant in the chorus, a very slight rattling error in the playing which I love. Try blasting the volume up and see if it strikes a chord for you, but frankly it probably won’t. My best male friend at the time humored me at first, then teased me for liking such an odd little bit of sound.
While I love this mellow cover by the Bangles of a song by Katrina and the Waves, that insignificant little rumble is what cinches it, perhaps because so much of the production and playing in the song is spot on and then that tiny little rumble tells me there’s a human being playing the instrument.
Johnny Nash, I Can See Clearly Now
Here’s another example of a musical bit that thrills me, and it is far cheerier. Midway through Nash’s wonderfully optimistic song, from 1:17 to 1:48 in the video, he throws in a swelling crescendo that makes my heart soar.
Magnificent. And notice how it just doesn’t have the same power at 1:23 to 1:54 in the popular cover by Jimmy Cliff.
Simon and Garfunkel, Keep the Customer Satisfied
Now for a song where something kicks in and takes the song higher and higher all of the way to the end. I waxed on earlier about Paul’s writing in Graceland, but in this older song there’s a bit of great organ playing early on, but then it is the wonderful horns and recording by renowned engineer Roy Halee that makes me crank up the volume and lift my arms in praise as if I were at a gospel singin’. Listen to how the horns start kicking in at 1:06 in the video and then really drive the song to great heights from 1:27 onward, with the drummer really thrashing his kit starting at 1:55. Oh my! In 1971 Roy won the Grammy for Best Engineered Album for this song and the others on Bridge Over Troubled Water. He certainly earned it.
And yes, I know the song is a commentary on having to write commercial songs to keep customers like me satisfied. In this case, very satisfied.
Ben Folds Five, Army
There is a similar great use of horns in Army by Ben Folds Five, at 2:06 in the video right after the ricky-tick piano bit midway through, although they don’t carry the song out to its finish.
Benmont Tench in Tom Petty’s Melinda
Sometimes it is not just a bit of song or verse, but a particular artist’s bravura performance that I eagerly anticipate in a song. That is certainly the case for Benmont Tench’s piano playing starting at 2:40 in the video. This is the kind of thing that made me beg my parents to let me start piano lessons when I was in pre-school.
Bernard Purdie on The Five Stairsteps’ O-o-h Child
And while I’ve never played the drums, I’m mightily impressed by Bernard Purdie’s tight performance on this song, enhanced by the great moments when the engineer rolled them left-to-right across the speaker field at 1:40 and back right-to-left at 2:02 in the video.
Pink Martini, Flying Squirrel
And I’ll close with a performance which is a collection of great instrumental solos by performers in my favorite live band, which I’ve driven six hours each way to hear on more than one occasion. One special instrumental after another, piling up into a magnificent whole. I love China Forbes’ singing and she is part of a band par excellence.