Fine-Grained Music Appreciation, Part II

This is part two of a multi-part series. Click here for part one.

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough - Michael Jackson. You thought this was just a silly dance song by an overrated pop megastar? Shame on you. I want you to listen to this song real good. Preferably with some quality headphones. And crank it. There is a lot happening in this song beyond the endless repeating of the chorus, and it’s difficult to pinpoint just one special moment. That’s because there are many such moments. There is the funky guitar meandering in and around the main string riff throughout the entire song. Actually there are two tracks of guitar: one in each channel. The bass is also doing some very cool things every few bars (2:00, for example), and the horns punctuate sharply here and there. Now listen to the subtle string swell at the 0:49 mark when Jackson sings “power…” and again at 1:31 and 3:13. There’s even an understated cello segment at 3:25. I swear I hear new things every time I listen to this.

Flowers Become Screens - Delerium. There are about a thousand different mixes of this song, but the Babylon mix is my favorite. It’s a techno-dub tour de force with lots of rich texture, but the best part happens at 3:30, and it sounds like the incarnation of pure triumph. Listen as the high soaring vocals come in after a brief synth-flute passage. The song is already very moody, but when you hear those sweet vocals floating in and restating the main melodic theme, it’s like ecstasy. Again, listen to it loud.

The Big Sky - Kate Bush. This song has one of the best screams in rock and roll, but no one ever gives it proper due. And yes, there are actual lists that compile the best screams. It’s a ten ton stampede of blissful noise, and the boom is lowered at 2:45 when the long coda begins. Then there’s Bush’s scream at 3:46. And another at 3:53. Oh my god. There has been many a road trip where this song was played at unnatural volume levels. And there was much rejoicing.

Daddy Come Home - Tom Tom Club. Bagpipes are the whipping boy of musical instruments, but TTC uses them to great effect here. There’s something about a drone in music that can set a mood like nothing else. Maybe there’s an anthropological reason for that. I’d really like to know. Listen as the bagpipes come creeping back in at 3:16, and how the vocals drop in pitch at 4:10. Then the pipes really start smoking. It’s an odd little number; a doleful funeral vibe with lyrics that suggest a long-absent father returning in time for a birthday party, but it’s only a dream. A bit of a departure from the normally upbeat Tom Tom Club.

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