Saturday, December 12, 2009

Moments of musical wonder

Geoff over at wonder and wondering has tagged me with a music meme. The point, he says, is to write about moments when music just made you stand still in wonder, but not to write about your all-time-favourite music.

This is really difficult. I can think of tunes that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I hear them - Miles Davis' So What, Santana's Every Step of the Way, Vaughan Williams' Lark Ascending

I remember first hearing Jimi Hendrix's take on All Along the Watchtower (which I already knew from Dylan's John Wesley Harding album). I was learning to pay the guitar at the time so I must have been about 15/16 and I was speechless with wonder at the sound he drew out of a Telecaster. The falling chords in the instrumental section took my breath away.

I remember seeing and hearing the Smiths on Top of the Pops performing This Charming Man, Morrissey with Gladioli in his back pocket and wearing a hearing aid (it was the days before foldback was played through headsets). I was captivated. He was a thing of wonder! But the song reached in and caressed some deep part of my soul. I was married by then but listening, I felt like the awkward teenager I had been and yet I felt I was OK to have been it because here was this guy singing my feelings on top of the pops.

For me it has always been the combination of words and music that creates wonder. yes, great guitar playing will always send a tingle down my spine. But it's the way a lyric rising and falls within a sequence of chords that causes me to stop and wonder.

Very early on Leonard Cohen did it in the Stranger song. Over the simple picked acoustic, Cohen's mellifluous vocal sang:

And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind
you find he did not leave you very much not even laughter
Like any dealer he was watching for the card
that is so high and wild
he'll never need to deal another
He was just some Joseph looking for a manger
He was just some Joseph looking for a manger.

and the killer line

O you've seen that man before
his golden arm dispatching cards
but now it's rusted from the elbow to the finger

Joni Mitchell has the same effect on so many of the songs from her classic 70s period (Court and Spark to Don Juan's restless Daughter). The way her vocal rises through the uncertain love song, the same situation to the lines

Still I send up my prayer
wondering where it had to go
with heaven full of astronauts
and the Lord on death row
while the millions of his lost and lonely ones
call out and clamour to be found
caught in their struggle for higher positions
and their search for love that sticks around

I'm sent into all kinds of wonder every time I hear that tune.

I could go on. I guess the most recent music that has done this for me is Elbow. Each of their four albums have been little wonders. But One Day like This off Seldom Seen Kid still makes me stop still with a hush over my spirit. The simple vocal over the rising orchestra and choir

Well anyway, it's looking like a beautiful day,
so throw those curtains wide
one day like this a year
would see me right.

On the live from Abbey Road DVD where Guy Garvey and the gang are performing this with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the choir Chantage, there's a woman in the choir who is so utterly transported by what she's singing that she looks like I feel every time I hear it. It's a moment of sheer bliss and wonder when the song reaches its climax.

Not sure if this is what you wanted, Geoff....


Geoff Colmer said...

Hi Simon! Marvellous - and thank you!

Andy Goodliff said...

Simon - thanks for this post and just to say I've responded to your comment on Doug Campbell's Deliverance of God back on my own blog.