Not Only But Also...
Songs That Stopped Me In My Tracks
Jim writes: When was the last time a
song stopped you in your tracks? I'm talking about one of
those moments when you may have been driving in your car, half listening
to the radio, and had to pull over because they were playing a song that
grabbed you by the ears and forced you to stop and listen to it.
Songs That Stopped Me in My Tracks #1
At some point, this incredible piece of music began playing. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. A mix of jazz and funk. A voice that was at once angry, insistent, and compelling. A voice that demanded attention as the performer spat out words to a poem which contained the recurring line/refrain, "the revolution will not be televised..."
The revolution will not
The revolution will not be
© Copyright, Gil Scott-Heron
On and on went the voice, for what seemed much longer than the few minutes the song took to play through. I sat hypnotized by what seemed like the perfect mixture of form, rhythm, lyrics, and a performance by a man who clearly believed every word his was reciting. It was probably a year or more before I heard the piece again, confirmed the name of the song, and finally found out who the performer was.
Gil Scott-Heron is regarded by many as the 'godfather' of rap. Many of his poems, for that is what they are, are set to music which, although it may sound dated and quaint today, has roots firmly set in the black American culture from which it arose.
Even now, over 30 years since I first heard it, that song has the ability to stop me in my tracks and distract me from whatever it is I am doing.
Sure, many of the political references in the song are now outdated. Name checking disgraced U.S. President, Richard Nixon, and other political leaders and cultural references of that era may not mean much to people listening to the song today, but all the people named in the song can easily be replaced by any number of the current crop of political leaders and media celebrities, and the song would remain just as compelling today as it was when it was first recorded.
In fact, the song does remain compelling despite the outdated cultural references, precisely because of the power of Gil Scott-Heron's performance, and the conviction with which he recites his words.
Songs That Stopped Me in My Tracks #2
Now picture this... Leicester Square, during the middle of the day. A constant stream of traffic: double-decker buses, taxi's, cars, trucks, motorbikes, etc. And blaring out across this river of London noise, Dylan singing the story of Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter.
Copyright © 1975 Ram's Horn Music
I was stopped in my tracks. The lights at the intersection changed so that I could cross the road and get closer to the source of the music, but I couldn't move. It was as if I had been nailed to the spot. And I was not the only one. There were several other people standing on that (and the opposite) corner, pretending to be waiting for something or someone, while in fact we stood, transfixed by the masterful storytelling, the driving rhythm, and the incredible violin playing of Scarlet Rivera.
On and on the song continued,
Like Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution..., Bob Dylan's Hurricane still has the ability to grab my attention like few other songs are able to do whenever I hear it. And when I do hear it, I can't resist the temptation to recapture the moment when I first heard both songs by turning the volume up as high as I can - to immerse myself in the musical and lyrical world the song creates.
Songs That Stopped Me in My Tracks #3
I spent a pleasant couple of hours with Sarah-Jane, and jumped in the car for the drive home, just as the sun was beginning to set over the ocean (my niece lives near the beach at Semaphore). As I turned the key in the ignition the car radio came on, and as I headed towards the Esplanade that runs along the foreshore, one song ended and another amazing piece of music began.
looked back and glimpse the outline of a boy
If I could have stopped the car right then and there in the middle of the road I would have. But it wasn't just the song that caught my attention.
A golden sun was starting to set over the ocean, and a very light breeze was creating waves that were no more than ripples on the surface of the sea. As for the weather - it had been a perfect day, and the evening temperature was going to be just as good.
I pulled into the first empty parking bay I could find close to the Semaphore jetty, turned off the engine - but not the radio - and surrendered myself to the music and the stunning sunset unfolding before me. Nine and a half minutes later the song ended, and I waited for the announcer to tell me who and what I'd been listening to.
The song turned out to be, I Surrender, from a performer I had never previously heard of, David Sylvian.
Now don't ask me why, but some things are just meant to be. A week or so later I was flipping through a row of CDs in the secondhand section of my favourite music store, and lo and behold, there it was - I Surrender, the opening track on David Sylvian's 1999 album, Dead Bees On a Cake.
Of course, I immediately bought the album, and took it home for a play. And play it I did - again, and again, and again. The album has stayed close to the top of my favourite albums since I first bought it, and I have since added one other David Sylvian CD to my collection, while continuing to keep a look out for other recordings by this talented artist.
So what do these three songs have in common?
As song writer's and performers, it is our job to write the best lyrics we can possible write; marry those lyrics to great melodies; and bring them all together in such a compelling performance, that anyone lucky enough to see or hear that performance will still be talking about it years later.
For me, the songs I have written about do all that and then some. Of course, you may hear the same three songs and remain totally unmoved by them. Hopefully, though, you will be able to point to your own selection of 'songs that stopped me in my tracks'. When you do, ask yourself what it is about the songs that you find so compelling. Then ask yourself, which of your songs might have the ability to stop listeners in their tracks.
It's 'a big ask', as we like to say here in Australia, but then, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
© 2006, Jim Lesses
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