Michael Jackson – Billie Jean
Choose Your Own Adventure
You are an unstoppable musical juggernaut, arguably the most gargantuan ever. Rich, famous, respected, beloved, you’ve got the whole world in your sequined hands.
What do you do for an encore?
A) Squander your talent, money, and sanity (chisel your nose to spite your face), gradually losing your grip on that world, letting it fall to the dance floor below.
B) Take five minutes to listen to yourself. Hear yourself as the whole world hears you. Can’t you hear your bassline? Listen: Metaphoric, hyperbolic, onomatopoeic, the bass is like a monster’s heart, da da dumming monstrously.
Ben Folds Five – Brick
Bricks, drowning, the day after Christmas? The images are coded, but the sound is crystal clear. The funereal chords, the catch in the throat. The unheard scream, the deafening whisper. Burdens so heavy they threaten to sink. Repression so deep it threatens to surface. Gifts unwanted, already opened. Cold and wet and lonely and selfish. These mysteries, as a boy, I thought I understood, but now, as a man, I know I don’t. These topics are unknowable, unthinkable, unspeakable. Unsingable, unplayable, and now, I know, unwriteable. The tune reveals more than a paragraph can, more than I would ever dare.
Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Can I talk about the intro, which always steals my breath, the way the guitar, like, kisses the synths? The way the drums, like, tap dance, on tiptoe? The way the whole thing’s like a sunrise, or something? Can I talk about the voices, weird, otherworldly, finding each other and fitting together, hands in gloves, or hands in hands, all of the parts, like, saving the whole? Can I talk about the bridge, which, I don’t know, soars, or maybe explodes, or really, ascends? Can I talk about the song, and only the song, and not the one who listened?
P.M. Dawn – Set Adrift On Memory Bliss
Critics praise rappers for being cinematic. Few were as filmic as the great* P.M. Dawn, who captured a scene, and my eternal admiration, with a flow that literally flowed, like a Steadicam:
“The camera pans the cocktail glass, behind a blind of plastic plants…”
The group was perfect only once**: This line, this verse, this lovely song. Even as a kid, as I rapped and bopped along, I knew it meant something deeper than dancing.
I was, and am, what the title said.
*Here, “great” means “underrated.” Also: “actually pretty great, really.”
**Or, “one time more than most of us.”
The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody
How did it feel to make this song? The singers, musicians, writers, engineers – the eavesdropping janitors, hushed hangers-on – did they shiver, tear up, swallow lumps, forget breathing? The high note – THE high note, the highest, the holiest – fluke or fate or living fiction? Did they try to repeat it, or know it was impossible? Did they know what they’d done? Could they recognize its timelessness? How does it feel to hear this song? The fan scribbling gibberish – slow dancer, dreamer – must he succumb? Will he always surrender? The note says yes; the words are redundant. This song feels like _____.