Filed under music

Song of the Month: Feelin’ Love by Paula Cole from This Fire

This song was never a single from Paula Cole’s second album, but it really should have been.

In his song, Cole manages to convey in music and lyrics the feeling of sex perfectly. Some of it is in the doubles-entrendes lyrics, but it also comes from the music itself. Cole’s breathy singing conveys a sense of longing and desire that can’t be misunderstood and at the bottom of it all is Tony Levin’s brilliant bass playing.

This is the part where I get a little music nerdy on you.

In most pop-rock music, there’s a chord progression underlying the song with one chord per measure.¹

In Feelin’ Love, the chords in the verses mostly alternate between G and C with a handful of Fs and E♭s thrown in for good measure. Most of the time, with this sort of chord progression, on the first beat of the measure, the bass player would play the root note of the chord and then play something that pulls the harmony to the next chord. For example, in a jazz player, the bass player might play G A B♭ B♮ under the G chord to lead into the C chord and then perhaps pull back to the G with C A F F♯. 

But Levin’s bass line inverts expectations he doesn’t even play on the first note of the measure² but comes in off the beat and then not with the root note of the chord but rather the 5³. Then, he plays a 7 and 8 to bring us to the root but pulls back to the 7 right away. The effect is to mimic the effect of a lover bringing their partner to the brink of orgasm and then stopping to prolong the experience. Quite simply, there is no more sexual bass line in all of music than this one.

  1. More or less. Sometimes, there might be a long stretch without changes as is the case in modal jazz, or there might be more rapid changes of chord, but we can pretend that this is close enough to the truth for our needs.
  2. Coming in after the one is one of the characteristics of reggae music, although it tends not to be done on every bar, but rather would be prepared by coming in an eight note after the 3 on the previous bar. Levin isn’t quite doing that here.
  3. That is the fifth note of the scale under the chord, so for a G chord, we would have G₁A₂B₃C₄D₅E₆F₇G₈⁴
  4. Those of you who know a little music might be saying, “shouldn’t that be F♯ and not F for the seventh note? But in this case, because the song itself is in C, G acts as a V chord which means that it will keep the notes of the C scale and have a flattened 7th note.
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Song of the Month: I’d Have You Anytime by Evan Rachel Wood from Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International

This is a bit of an odd bird on a tribute album to Bob Dylan in that it’s really much more of a George Harrison song than a Dylan song (the melody on the verses is unmistakably Harrison-esque), but let’s put that aside. 

I first became aware of Evan Rachel Wood from her turn in the Julie Taymor–helmed Across the Universe where she played Lucy, Max’s sister and Jude’s love interest and had two solo numbers including an exquisite version of “Blackbird” which substituted a droning harmonium for the originals finger-picked acoustic guitar accompaniment to great effect. Here again, the song is beautifully reimagined as it might have been performed by a 1930s chanteuse. The end result transcends the original.

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Song of the Month: Lavender by Marillion from Misplaced Childhood

Misplaced Childhood is, I think, the best of the neo-prog albums that came out after the first wave of prog, with a great mix of accessibility and extravagance. And somehow, with all of that, and the fact that the album is essentially a single long song (split in two in the original release but performed without break on CD version of the live album The Thieving Magpie) somehow didn’t keep them from producing a couple charting singles in the midst of the 1980s when even Genesis and Yes had become more pop than prog.

The BBC’s Top of the Pops, from which the above performance is taken, is an interesting bird. The performances are mimed to pre-recorded tracks (eagle-eyed viewers will notice there are no cables plugged into Steve Kelly’s keyboards) and for this performance, lead singer Fish had lost his voice and even though he was miming the performance decided to use a big pad of paper to present the lyrics he was “singing” to the audience. It’s a brilliant piece of stagecraft and should I ever perform with a band again, it’s something that I fully intend to shamelessly steal.


Song of the Month: Somebody’s Baby by Jackson Browne from Solo Acoustic Vol. 2

Something new. Once a month I’m going to highlight a song from my music collection that’s worth a listen or twenty.

To start things off, I’m going with a solo acoustic version of Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby.” The song was originally released as part of the soundtrack for Fast Times at Ridgemont High which I don’t think I saw until a few years later when it showed up on cable. I still have no idea where in the movie the song appears.

This version, with all the 1980s production stripped out manages to catch the emotional core of the song, the longing and desire for the unattainable.

For me, the song is forever attached to my own high school experience. It received steady airplay all through my freshman year of high school and is forever engrained in my mind with my memories of a girl in my Advanced Algebra class who I had a secret silent crush upon, which I could never act upon because she seemed an ethereal being beyond the grasp of a mere mortal such as myself and she was a junior while I was a mere freshman so even if I weren’t afraid of talking to girls, there was no hope that she would respond positively to me asking her out.

I remember that she wore skirts and dress blouses to school every day except Wednesdays, a conundrum that was finally unravelled when I discovered that she was in the work experience program at the school that had her working part time at a local bank for class credit (in the 1980s it was typical for banks to be closed on Wednesdays, thus her casual attire on that day).

There was another student in my math class who also had an obvious case of lovesickness for her, which as far as I could tell, he also never acted upon. He had a somewhat nerdy demeanor and felt kind of like a potential future version of myself from my vantage point. I would like to imagine that he eventually managed to work up the courage to ask her out and they began a wonderful relationship, but most likely no such thing ever happened.

Jeannie and Anthony, this song is for you.


Occasionally a song surprises

A couple weeks ago at mass, there was a song new to me, “Take from my Heart,” by Karen Schneider Kirner and John T. Kyler. The credits indicate that the lyrics are adapted from the “Act of Resignation” by Catherine McAuley. It managed to be the perfect blend of lyric and melody to really touch me in a time when I had forgotten that music could do this, at least not church music. 

So much contemporary Catholic liturgical music has lyrics which are scriptural paraphrase and end up, over time, being a bit dulling to me. There are a handful of songs which have some turn of phrase or melody that reached me, but it feels like a long time since I’ve had some church music do that for me, so I felt like I should call out this song as something special which I’m thankful for. I’d also note that the publisher on this is World Library Press who I tend to associate with the drabbest of the drab when it comes to liturgical music, so this was an especial surprise.