Tuesday, August 10, 2010

8/10/10 - Songs of the Summer, #42-43: "Eye of the Tiger" and "Every Breath You Take"

The Master List

Top Song of 1981: "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor

"Eye of the Tiger" belongs to a very unique and particular subgenre of songs: those where the intro of the song is way, way better than the song itself. The opening power chords of this song are iconic for a reason: they are fantastic. The way they hammer down onto the muted guitar notes create instant momentum propelling the listener on a rocket ride to...a song that sucks.

Not all songs like this are as bad as "Eye of the Tiger", but there are definitely a fair share of songs that really fall off once the intro is over. So instead of spending more time elucidating the divide in quality between the intro of this song (awesome) and the rest of it (tripe), I will lay out some more examples below. I'd love to hear more examples in the comments.

Europe: "The Final Countdown"
Deep Purple: "Smoke on the Water"
Styx: "Renegades"
Jimi Hendrix: "Foxy Lady"
Led Zeppelin: "Misty Mountain Hop"
Radiohead: "The National Anthem"
New Radicals: "You Only Get What You Give"

(Thanks to Andrew & Mike for the assist on these).

Andrew additionally suggested a complementary category: great songs with bad intros, offering up:

Genesis: "Watcher of the Skies"
Rolling Stones: "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
Tool: "Parabol/Parabola"

I'd love to hear more in the comments.

Top Song of 1982: "Every Breath You Take"

The song so good, it was a summer hit not once but twice: once in this form, and once in 1997 when Puff Daddy/P. Diddy jacked it and renamed it "I'll Be Missing You". It speaks to the elementary power of the riff at the core of the song that it was good enough to sustain a summer hit twice fifteen years apart. It is, in fact, a great riff, and further supports the point that I made about the Replacements in an earlier post: it's a great riff greatly recorded. The spacey, haunting quality of the way the song sounds is what gives it so much of its melancholy power. There's a lot of empty space in the sonic architecture - note the way that the core riff is played pizzicato, with hardly any sustain. The notes cut off almost as soon as they begin, which opens up space for the bass and drums to be heard. The drums, though, are also somewhat muted, and despite Stewart Copeland's technical virtuosity, he plays only a basic backbeat. The space, then is partially filled by Sting's quietly pinging bass, and partially by nothing at all.

The sense of open space is there in the vocals as well; unlike the instrumental, there's a lot of echo and reverb in the way that Sting's vocals are recorded, which gives them a haunting, ghostlike quality. It's as though there's a haunting spirit floating around a empty house, which matches the feeling of the lyrics perfectly, as the narrator haunts his lost love. The irony of Sting's lament "Oh can't you see/you belong to me" when it's clear that the object of his affection couldn't disagree more is carried in the lyrics, but also the sonics of the song itself. Even when Sting amps up the vocal intensity in the chorus, the instruments expand a bit (the guitar takes up more space), but they stay restrained, further emphasizing the disconnect between the narrator and the stalkee. Even if the song weren't recorded in the style that it is, it would be great do to the solid songwriting on display, but the sounds of the song push it up into the stratosphere of greatness.


ariyele said...

first comment: the chorus of eye of the tiger is catchy as hell. so yes, the intro rocks more than the song, but i think the chorus redeems it.

ariyele said...

second comment: don't most of the songs in sting's collection have a ghostly quality resulting from his airy vocal style and similar production? synthesizers that add the feeling of floating?


ariyele said...