Saturday, January 27, 2007

Musical Moments

When I was in high school, a friend described me as "the type of person who listens to guitar solos". I didn't realize some (most?) people don't.

I don't really hear lyrics when I listen to music. I'm aware of the words being sung, of course, but I rarely have any emotional response to them, other than the way they're being sung. For example, I only have a vague notion of what Joe Strummer or Sly Stone sing, but I love how they sing it.

I'm not into lyrics or "story songs", but I dig other aspects of music: a groovy bass line, a soulful vocalist, tight harmonies, unusual instrumentation, exceptional tone, original technique, surprising syncopation, or maybe an incredibly poignant note in a solo -- one that fits the context of the song perfectly! In short, I'm more inspired by the delivery of the message than the message itself.

Also, rather than entire songs, there are specific moments in certain songs that always excite me; always send multiple chills down my spine. So instead of favorite songs, I have favorite "musical moments". Here are a few...
  • "Machine Gun" -- Jimi Hendrix -- It's difficult for me to describe my relationship to this song. So much power from three people. Amazing vocals, both Jimi and Buddy. Forceful, soulful drumming. It's the tone of the guitar I love the most, of course. It's angry. At (3:11) singer and guitar are one. At (4:00) the player finally relents to the guitar's obvious desire and lets it scream. One angry, long sustained scream to introduce a solo. Not overplaying. Just one fantastic note. Gives me chills every time.
  • "Gimme Shelter" -- The Rolling Stones -- The intro always blows me away; dark and gently descending, culminating in that note at (0:50) Richards holds on the verge of feeding back with beautiful vibrato, one of those notes on a hollow-body that resonates to the point of shaking furniture if left unchecked.
  • "Hey" -- Pixies -- I love how he sings "If you go, I will surely die" at (0:36). I also love the guitars throughout, both the bass/rhythm interplay and the lead. The chorus is beautifully unusual, the word "chained" alternately and unapologetically broken. The entire second verse is a masterpiece, "Said the man to the lady... the sound that the mother makes when the baby breaks". I even like the lyrics on that one, but loved the way he sings that last line long before I realized what he was saying! ;-)
  • "There There" -- Radiohead -- These guys are like musical crack. And this song is exceptionally potent. One of my favorite bike-riding tunes. I always get chills when the background vocals come in at (2:01). I have no idea what they're singing.
  • "My Funny Valentine" -- Miles Davis -- When he flattens that note at (1:06) , he turns the whole song much darker and mysterious.
  • "Georgia on My Mind" -- Jerry Reed -- A study in timing. Both the intro and the outro are amazing, especially the harmonics at the very end. I love when he says "Yeah" at (2:21), himself seemingly amazed at what his own fingers are doing. He indeed has amazing fingers, but not all of his recordings reflect this. Fortunately, every track on "Explores Guitar Country", beginning with this one, does. Did I mention how amazing he is? ;-)
  • "Advance Romance" -- Frank Zappa -- Ok, I admit the opening lyric to this song initially hooked me. How can you not pay attention to a song that opens with "No more credit at the liquor store"? Wow! Love the drumming and slide guitar on this one, too.
  • "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- Queen -- Everyone loves this song, and for good reason. And what's the image in your head at (4:08)? The "Pacer scene" in the movie, Wayne's World, right? :-)
  • "I'll Take You There" -- Staple Singers (1:15) The solo begins with the piano trills and ends with the forever-familiar bass breakdown, the rim shots, kick drum accents and Mavis' vamping throughout. Love that groove.
  • "Statesboro Blues" -- Allman Brothers Band -- For my money, Duane achieved perfection on this recording. His slide has such a vocal quality, as if it's translating Greg's lyrics for all the guitars in the audience.
  • "Reelin' in the Years" -- Steely Dan -- Most people have no clue who Elliot Randall is. He's known mainly for one thing: he's the guitarist on this song. It was recorded in one take. The lick he plays around (4:02) in the outro is one of my all-time favorites in all of guitar-lick-dom.
Those are but a few of many. What are yours?

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