Thursday, September 2, 2010

Something from Today...sort of

It is unusual for me to find something that I like from the 2000s decade in terms of music, but despite what you might think, I do actually keep an eye out for something that does sound good. No, I don't really listen to the radio, and if I do, it would be Bob FM (80s, 90s, whatever) but I am not completely closed off to today's music.

For instance, one good example was a song I heard in one of those many PS2 commercials a few years ago that had a really nice horn section with female vocals (it also briefly appeared in an episode of Chuck). It turned out to be a song called 'Around the Bend,' and the first chance I actually got to hear the song in its entirety was during a summer camping trip to Algonquin Park in 2009, when my cousins plugged their iPod into an external, battery-powered speaker on the beach and the song was on it. It didn't sound too bad, though the female voices sometimes got way too-high-pitched. The source for my knowledge of the title of the song comes from my eldest cousin Olesia.

The other night, I heard this interesting tune on TV (my mother watches the music stations) and it got me for, as every song does, its bass line. It was called 'Steady, as she goes.'

I had never heard of it before, though it had come out a few years ago. It was played by a band called The Raconteurs which consisted of people from other bands like the White Stripes and Greenhorns, etc., most of which I had never heard of (I know who the White Stripes are though).

It's a pretty good song, and if I were to review it, I'd give it a B+. It's not bad, it had a good sound, however it is extremely simple - which is also good, but I tend to think a song should a have more substance than just a verse-chorus-verse style, no bridge or solo perhaps. When a song can only depend on its eye-catching chorus or verse, or lyrics, then I think there should be a bit more to it.

Maybe it's part of the reason I don't have much interest in today's music, because they're a lot less structured or dynamic - going back to Madness for a second, most of their songs were very wide-ranging and had a lot of dynamic and structure in them, which keeps them interesting to the end.

Before I break the song down to its familiar sound though, I must note that the music video is interesting. Two were produced, but like most people, I am sure, the second one was more fun to watch. It's basically the band racing each other in an old-fashioned soap box race, but there's deceit involved - the bassist fixes the race for him to win.

I would never have thought the bassist would do that. It impressed me because I play the instrument myself, and am most in tune to its sound. I have a natural tendency to synesthetically evoke myself out of its sound all the time, and I also see myself as sounding the closest to that instrument in voice and demeanor. Therefore I really liked that he won, even if he orchestrated the drummer's 'crash and roll' down a steep hill, manipulated the guitarist into hitting a wall of hay due to 'slippery pavement,' and had the lead singer taken down with a blow gun.

Besides, you always expect the lead singer to win, or at least the lead guitarist - they are the part of the band that get the most attention, maybe the drummer too. The bassist is the guy in the corner or the other side doing his own thing. In footage of concerts and musical acts on stage, I try as hard as possible to watch the bass player and drummer, but can't because the camera always focuses on the darn guitarist or singer. You hear them the most, so you focus on them.
I've even found that when you don't hear other certain instruments but others like the bass or keyboards or whatever, the camera still focuses on the guitar or singer! Not usually, but in some instances. I just think that's bad camera work though.

It makes me a tad bit proud of the fact that the bass player was dominant for once. I know there are all sorts of bassists out there who are the lead singers (Sting is a perfect example) and therefore get a lot of exposure, but I mean generally. In the music video you don't see a lot of bassists up front and center, and for once, in this one, you do. Even if he fixed his outcome for the better.

Now the reason I think I liked the song in the first place wasn't because of the bass, but because of the notes it was playing. This is the familiar sound I mentioned earlier.

It goes C-G-A#-F. Play this on a piano or bass guitar, and you'll recognize it instantly. It's one of those bass lines that are frequently used, it's popular. The first song I can think of that uses the same bass is the song 'Is She Really Going Out With Him?' by Joe Jackson. The verses follow the same notes, only a semi-tone lower (beginning on B instead of C). I can spot that kind of bass line in an instant, and it's why I warmed up to the song very quickly, because it's a very likable and popular sound. It's quite bright in this song, as the guitar follows the same note procession with chords.

The Joe Jackson song only uses that bass line for the verses, while this song uses it for the entire thing, with slight variation. For example, in the Joe Jackson song, the notes go exactly B-BF#-F#AA-AE. The bass line in 'Steady as she goes' is C-CG-CA#-A#F. This is a key one semi-tone higher up than the other song, and there is slight variation on how much a note is played or how it transitions, but it still follows the same musical pattern.

Visually, if a note is visibly higher or lower, than it would look like this:

-       _
    -         _

So, for 'Steady as she goes,'

-   -      -_     _
       -                _

Another good example of similar, popular and well-used bass lines is the D-C-G riff. I've recognized it on songs like 'Werewolves of London" Warren Zevon, 'Sweet Home Alabama' by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kid Rock's sampling of that same song, and the guitar introduction of 'Please Don't Go' by Madness. Again, there are small variations between each and extra notes, but they're all stylistically the same.

Even the song a friend of mine and I started putting together has the exact same note progression, though it was suggested by me.

One more thing before I end this post: The song I briefly mentioned at the beginning of the post, 'Around the Bend' - I think another reason I liked it was because again, the bass and instruments followed the same pattern as they do in 'Summer Breeze' by Seals & Croft (the verses) and the chorus of 'Alive' by Pearl Jam - the F-G#-D#-A# procession ("Alive" ends with high A#, not the low A#).

All sounds the same, doesn't it?

Justin C.

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