Sunday, October 31, 2010

Strings, Piano, Trumpets and Cleverness

You know, I just realized that I never wrote a song review on the song 'Our House.' I talked about it like crazy over the first few years after hearing it for the first time, listened to it relentlessly, and it often came up all the time up to now, but I never did a review on it.

Firstly, let me just get this out right away, prior to my talking about the song: I want to say that I was going to send a birthday present, originally, to someone, and I think they have to right to know, now, what it was originally going to be: One cheap, inexpensive webcam (fulfilling a condition of mine), a copy of my 'Nice Guy' manuscript, and for Christmas (as I think, despite birthday and Christmas being only several days apart, the presents should be separated), either a Glee-related thing, or a sort of creative piece by me, whether it be some sort of photo compilation poster thing or a photo-realistic drawing, probably pertaining to her. All these would have been either not expensive or don't even incur costs.
If I hadn't said so many nasty, easily evil things at once that I so regret, including on this blog, and they responded, I would have sent these items when the time came. While they got a chance to see me on my webcam, I never got a chance, not once, to see them. 
Thanks a lot mom for really enforcing those theories on me, making me act too fast and waaayyyy too bluntly. God I can't think of anything else, rarely, at the moment...

Now, on to the song. I won't be going crazy about it, just giving it a professional review.

When Chas Smash, the band's original compere, then eventual backing singer and trumpeter, suggested that the band focus on childhood memories for songwriting, everyone got to some sort of result. Chris Foreman began writing 'Rise and Fall' (also the name of the album 'Our House' was featured on) which was then finished lyrically by Suggs, Dan Woodgate got to writing 'Sunday Morning' (his only sole writing credit on both music and lyrics and where those piano chords come from) and Lee Thompson got to writing 'Blue Skinned Beast' (not a childhood memory but a comment on the Falklands' issue back then). Chas Smash wrote 'That Face' (a review I already wrote here) and then started writing lyrics that went 'father wears his Sunday Best...'

Meanwhile, Chris was coming up with something on the guitar that started to work. Eventually, I'm guessing the two paired the lyrics with the piece Chris had come up with, then they started sessions and implemented the rest of the instruments in. Mike wrote a piano part. Mark came up with a bass line.

According to the producers of the band, Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, Langer then began suggesting bits and pieces, like the guitar solo. The beat was fast and fun.

Recording it was one of those really fun processes. Clive would be suggesting different keys to start the chorus in, like starting on D then going to C. Even Langer himself got in and sang the chorus with the rest of the band (while also trying to get them to all sing in the right key).
Mesmerized by the cleverness of the song, they had David Bedford come in to record a string section to push it to its limits. Chas even worked out a trumpet part that took awhile to do through sheer effort (as he was learning at the time).

The song got to #5 on the UK charts when it was released in November of 1982. A year later, released on the compilation Madness, the U.S. managed to get a hold of the song, and it climbed up the charts there, ending up at #7. It was the highest stateside hit Madness had ever achieved after 'It Must be Love' entered in the top forty.

As for the song itself, it is indeed clever. It starts off with a very classical-like piano introduction (the exact introduction is a guitar fade-in, which is perfect as Chris, the guitar player, wrote the music). Then Mark's bass slides in, giving the sound concreteness and foundation. Like it's really there now. Then, Chas's trumpet begins. Great touch, a nice measure to the already runaway sound.
Finally, David Bedford's amazing western-like string section cues, sounding high and lovely, then going even higher. It all segues into Sugg's vocal: 'Father wears his Sunday Best...'

The song is a must-hear, in my opinion, for these reasons: The trumpet, the piano, and the string section. You put all these together in a song like that, with its clever musical patterns, and you've got an amazing hit. It's a simple beginning-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-guitar solo-chorus-rap-final verse-ending chorus standard. It's not too difficult yet it's amazing.
The lyrics tell of a standard, middle-class household family, likely from the middle son's point of view. There's a lot of nostalgia in the song, especially in the little 'rap' that comes after the third chorus:
"I remember way back then
when everything was true and when
we would have such a very good time
such a fine time
such a happy time

And I remember how we played
simply waste the day away
then we'd say
nothing would come between us
two dreamers"

Chas Smash really proved a clever, mature lyric. It's been said that he came a long way in a very short time; when Madness released their first album in '79, One Step Beyond..., he wasn't in the band, just the guy who announced them at gigs. Then he became backing singer and started learning an instrument, the trumpet. By now he was a pretty strong song-writing force, even writing the lyrics for the band's most recognizable song.

It's a really good piece of music. The instruments make me think of a lot of people synesthetically, and in general the song is a sort of yellow-gold to me, largely due to the piano. Mike did an amazing job on it. It has a distinctive sound of classical music mixed with slight rock and western-style strings fused in.

It's one of their most better efforts. Unfortunately the band really didn't give too much attention to it; had they really played off of it well in the states and promoted it and their image, they would have been known a lot more in the past than just as the people who did 'Our House.' It was the only song of theirs that made it anywhere over here in North America; everywhere else they were as popular as ever. But all we know is that one song.

It's clever, and it has all the right instruments cuing at all the right times, creating a sound that is eternally fun and amazing.

Music: A
Lyrics: A

One more thing: Synesthetically, it is always a great idea to have a tamborine sound at the exact same time as the snare drum, for me. That's the case in the song, and, with the piano to go with it, I get a strong visual image of skyscrapers of Manhatten. In the distance, with the air in between making them look like they're tinted blue.
It's great.

Finally, here's a video of me playing one of the most effective piano parts:

I played the last two chords wrong (they're slightly lower-sounding that what I played, that's all) but it's very close.

Justin C.

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