Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Singing Their Hearts Out

I'd like to think i have a pretty varied taste in music, at one point my iTunes goes from the Foo Fighters, to the Four Tops, to Frank Hamilton, which i kind of love. I have, and enjoy, plenty of music which is simply fun and almost slightly throwaway, but the songs i love, the ones that get played over and over again are the songs with real emotion and passion within them.

Songs where you can tell that the musician cared about the song they were making, put real thought into the lyrics, wanting them to truly mean something to someone.

Songs where the emotion and message seem genuine rather than forced. Songs which draw in your full attention, not an easy task when most people, me included, very rarely sit down and just listen to an album, instead usually on their computer, or reading, or at least texting.

It's those things that set songs apart for me. I reckon it's why i've never properly got into the dancier and more electronic ends of music. As good as many of those songs are, and as much as i can enjoy them if i'm in the right mood, i find they rarely carry the weight of meaning that other genres achieve and it is that weight which tends to be the reason i begin to really like a song.

When i say songs with emotion and passion i'm not just talking about heart wrenching ballads. Rock songs, indie songs, folk songs and acoustic songs, pop songs, blues songs, rap songs, soul songs and classical pieces,all these genres and many more have songs within them which have struck me as powerful.

Sometimes a powerful song isn't what i want, sometimes i want a song which to use an inadequate adjective are simply more 'fun'. But the songs that matter, at least in my opinion, are the ones which clearly mattered to the person making them.

I reckon there are two types of serious music fan; lyrics people and instrument people. Pretty much everyone will lean towards one or the other. For some people it's the lyrics that make you love a song, for others it's the tune and the rhythm. That's not to say a lyrics person can't love a particular guitar riff or that an instrument person can't connect with a particular set of lyrics, merely that for anyone it tends to be one that matters more, that is the catalyst for them becoming passionate about a song.

I am definitely a lyrics person. If i like a song i pretty much inevitably try and learn at least some of the lyrics, precisely because it will be sections of those lyrics that drew me to the song in the first place. My dad on the other hand is very much an instrument person, he likes certain lyrics, but they're very rarely the defining feature of a song for him.

The inspiration for this whole post came in two parts, or more specifically two musicians. First up was Adele. It's not a situation i'm all that used to, where an artist i am really loving, someone who i feel sings with real passion and emotion, is also top of the charts and getting played everywhere, but i'm glad in this instance it has happened. I've never quite understood some music fans attitudes towards there favourite artists gaining success and mass-popularity. I guess they feel like their losing some of their connection to the music, it isn't 'theirs' any more if everyone is listening to it. You only have to go on Youtube and have a brief look at almost any popular artist's videos to see a selection of the fans boasting about 'having liked them before they were big' and making the assumption that popularity means that they've 'sold out'.

I'm perfectly happy to admit that though i'd listened to Adele's debut album, and liked a few of the tracks, i'd never really been passionate about her music until i heard the new album, particularly the now insanely popular "Someone Like You". It's one of those rare songs that makes me want to stop what i'm doing and just listen, precisely because it feels so personal and intense. Watching the live versions from the Brits and the BBC Live Lounge, watching the emotion of the song so clearly displayed on her face, it's a wonderful counter-weight to songs like 'Dirty Bit' by the Black Eyed Peas. This is a woman who managed to make a Cheryl Cole song classy and soulful (, two adjectives rarely associated with the X-Factor judge.

The other artist that inspired me to write this blog, is Tim McIlrath, or more accurately his band Rise Against. Now they're not exactly the kind of band a lot of people would expect me to like, but i definitely do. There's something so passionate about their songs, yet they also carry an intelligence and political message in their lyrics, which sets them a little apart from many of the other rock/punk/metal/whatever genre you want to put them in bands. On their last album they had a song with at times almost uncomfortably honest and open lyrics about the loss of innocence of an American soldier serving in Iraq called "Hero of War", on their new album released this week, there's a song about the prejudice and fear that can be the life of many gay Americans inspired by the suicides of several gay American boys in September 2010 (the names are read out during the song in the background). These are songs about real issues, rather than songs about bizzare dance moves or lives lived solely in the pursuit of wealth and 'bling'.

I don't consider it at all naive to suggest that these songs can really matter, that a song can make a difference to someone's life. There's plenty of songs which have got me through some pretty bad days, or given me the motivation to enjoy some really good ones. Songs are like stories, they're subjective and because of that they have the potential to mean a huge amount to an individual, they are capable of meaning so much more than the simple combination of vocals and melody would suggest.

If you want to read more about just how important i believe both songs and stories to be, have a read of two of my earlier blog posts. Here's the one about music and here's the one about stories, personally that's one of the posts i'm most proud of, so i hope you enjoy it.

As always i'll finish this post with a song recommendation. Today's is fittingly a song which i've always loved, because of the passion involved and the lyrics which manage to capture emotions most people will have felt at some point. Also it proves my point that songs with passion aren't just ballads in my eyes, The Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen in Love.

As a footnote to this blog i'll put the set of lyrics that are arguably my favourite, by anyone, right now. They're from Frank Turner's song "I knew Prufock before he was famous".

"And i know i'm not the one who is habitually optimistic
But i'm the one who's got the microphone so just remember this.

Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings
About fire in our bellies and about furtive little feelings
And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a flickering
And help us with remembering that the only thing that's left to do is live."

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