Is It Growing On Me or Am I Shrinking Into It?

I was asking myself this question yesterday. I don’t think I’ve come up with an answer yet but sometimes when I type it all out there is some sense at the end. Not always. Let’s see.

It’s not an earth-shatteringly important question or anything so, if you’re after one of those, you'd best rush back to Twitter because there’s probably another one due along at any minute.

It’s just about songs... and maybe some other stuff. Sometimes I hear a new song and I don’t like it very much. Then I hear it again and again and, yes, again and, suddenly, I seem to like it a little more and then a little more than that. It grows on me. Or does it? Is the song growing on me or is it more the case that I am shrinking myself into it?

Let’s take a case in point. The new Bond song. ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’. I heard it. I did not like it. I thought the higher range parts sounded strained and uncomfortable and that is was without the subtle edge that one expects from this type of thing. I heard it again, I did not like it. I heard it again, still no.

Then, on Friday night, after not hearing it for quite a while, I saw Sam Smith singing it on Graham Norton’s show. Wait. Stop the presses. I liked it a bit. Since then, it’s been in my head, I’ve been humming it a bit. The bit I like best is when it goes from the upper register to the words ‘’For you’. I still don’t love it, nor do I even like it a lot but there’s no doubt I now have more time for it that I did when I first heard it and hated it.

What’s that all about? Am I becoming more open with each listen to the tones and nuances of the production or am I just a big slut, falling for something that is being repeatedly thrown into my face?

There were a few elements at play on Friday night. Firstly, I didn’t really know anything about Sam Smith. I knew he sang songs and has been noted as a vocalist but I hadn’t really come across him much except in passing radio tunes. I thought he presented as a very likable person, nervous, vulnerable, a bit overwhelmed and chuffed and then he went and performed his song very well. I found myself on his side. Plus, he had a mid sized orchestra, all giving it heaps, some good lighting and a widescreen cinema format. I like all of these things. Add to this the fact that I knew the song a little now and I could almost feel my brain walking along the peaks and troughs of the melody as it was being sung. There is not doubt, I was being brought along gently and it was working. Also, I’m an unapologetic James Bond devotee and I’m looking forward to seeing the new one on Monday night at the same time as the World Premiere is happening. All of this contributed to an almost hypnotic state wherein I found I could at least find peace with the song.

Looking at all the evidence, I can’t help but feel that it is me who is getting more compliant in my acceptance of the tune as opposed to the wonder of the song being gradually revealed to me. It’s like an advert on the telly, which I might see over and over again, and then end up singing happily along with. It’s like that.

There you go. We got an answer.

But, wait, it’s not the only answer. There are definitely times where I gradually come to respect and, yes, love, a song where first I felt nothing for it. I’m trying to think of an example and, as I do, it’s Tom Waits who I inevitably think of. I’ve been a huge fan of Tom Waits since I was a teen and I love much of his work but, sometimes, when he brings a new album out, I don’t get what he’s doing. The work can seem gratuitously arrhythmic and random. Then, after a time, I start to see the value. Take for instance on ‘Frank’s Wild Years’, Tom has a song called ‘Please Wake Me Up’. At first it seemed impenetrable and slight but slowly the melody and the value emerged for me until now it is a personal favourite. You could look at ‘Green Grass’ from the album ‘Real Gone’ in the same way.

So, you see, sometimes it’s a real thing, this 'growing'.

I think the truth of the matter may be quite simply stated. Two people said it to me at the same time when I asked this question on Twitter yesterday. They said: It depends on the song.

That’s probably it. It depends on the song. Sometimes you fall in love legitimately, sometimes you get duped, and sometimes it’s a little bit of both.

As I told you at the start, this may not be just about a song. 

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

‘Angie’ by the Rolling Stones. So we’re talking August 1973. We were driving down the Kingsway in East Kilbride—or it might’ve been the Queensway (easy to get the two mixed up)—and the single came on the radio for the first time and I hated it. And I said so out loud. Granted it was no ‘Brown Sugar’ but I doubt it deserved the vituperation I poured out on it. Well, I know it didn’t because, over the years, it’s grown on me and now I think it’s one of their best songs. But it was 1973 and I was… 59 + 1 = 60 + 13 = 73 which would make 14… which can’t be right because I working at the time and 17 so either it wasn’t ‘Angie’ or it wasn’t East Kilbride. Okay, Black and Blue was released in 1976 and the lead single off the album was ‘Fool to Cry’ so I can see how I might’ve got those mixed up but I can’t imagine me hating that one and surely by 1976 I’d’ve heard ‘Angie’ many times. Maybe it was the album version of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ from 1968. No! That’s a brilliant song. It has to be ‘Angie’. The point is somewhere at some time I opened my mouth and said how much I hated a song that really didn’t deserve it. At least I think it was me. Now I’m not sure about that either. I might’ve watched a programme on TV in 1976 where all this happened.

I’ve a number of albums which I’ve bought over the years where I’ve wondered what the artiste was thinking when he or she released the thing. They’re usually third or fourth albums after all the hits’ve been used up. The simple fact is all artists grow up and as they do their work matures and they’re not satisfied with a catchy tune. You have to listen to the work. And by listen I don’t mean hear. I mean devote yourself to that piece of music. Which nowadays so few of us do and I’m one of the worst culprits. Music is on constantly here. Mostly orchestral I admit but occasionally I’ll stick on something with lyrics depending on what I’m working on. I can’t write over words any more. I used to be able to when I was sixteen. But not now.

“One cannot read a book: one can only reread it.” So said Nabokov. We’d never think of only listening to a record once—although I own some where that has been the case—but I do think we need to listen more in the same spirit as what Nabokov’s on about. I suppose we might call it close listening. I remember a few weeks back listening to a recording of Tubular Bells. There are several out there but this wasn’t the 1973 original—it was some later remastered version—and I was amazed at what’d been going on there all along and I’d missed it and I must’ve listed to my old LP a [fill in an improbably large number of your choosing] times.

I’ve just listened to the Sam Smith song (never heard it before now) and it’s okay—I see what you’re talking about with the falsetto—but I doubt I’ll remember it in an hour’s time. It’s not a bad song but it feels like an album track as opposed to a single and the whole thing about a Bond song is that it should be immediately memorable—which you can say about ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘Diamonds are Forever’—and if possible sung by Shirley Bassey. Can’t for the life of me remember how the theme song to ‘Moonraker’ went through.

Just checked the clock and in under nine minutes I’ve already forgotten the song I just listened to. Sorry, Sam.