Unsung Music & The Core of the Song

Meaning like, music that isn’t hyped very much. The title just sounded cool. But all these songs, though their style may be fairly polarizing, have fantastic core melodies and harmonic structures. And in my not very humble opinion (hey, it’s my blog… ;) ), that is the key to good music. Melody, not style. The style can come and go, be it as original or as mundane as you like; but the melody is what makes music, music.

I think sometimes we get too caught up in being original. And that’s not a bad thing in and of itself; the ebb and flow of music over time needs originality. However, it’s not very difficult to be original. Anyone can do something that’s never been done before. What’s difficult is to do something that’s never been done before that still sounds good. That still reaches people. And I believe the way to do that is with core melody and core harmonic structure. If you can do it in an original style, then awesome. But never let the style or the desire to be original take away from the sheer, simple, and pure music that you’re making.

So first off, probably the most un-hyped band ever to appear here. At the time I’m posting this video, it has 14 views. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you hear this voice in films within the next couple years. I give you, Bad Braids:

Now, from the under-hyped indie to the over-hyped indie. So, why is over-hyped indie being included in a post about under-hyped music? Because this band lets its marketing take on a life of its own. You wake up one day, and they have a new album. Or they have a new album, and you can take it directly from them for free if you like. The hype comes from fans and buzz. Yep, Radiohead. Now to be fair, even though they give off the air of not caring about hype, they may just be geniuses at it, and realize that the most powerful hype comes when you can make it appear as if you don’t care about it. But either way, it’s a far cry from what my beloved U2 did a few years ago when I wasn’t sure if they had actually changed their name to Blackberry.

I actually refused to like Radiohead for a few years, because to this day, when asking musicians what bands they listen to, you’ll still get people saying, ‘Oh you know, Coldplay, Killers, Editors…and this really underground band, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them…Radiohead?’ And I just want to choke myself with my guitar pick when I hear that. ‘Yes, I’ve heard of Radiohead. You understand that ‘Creep’ came out in 1992? That this video right here has 10 million views in 4 months? You understand that, right?!’ But instead, I just smile and nod, and listen to the inevitable following of the reciting of the history of ‘OK Computer.’ But eventually, I couldn’t resist their amazing music anymore, even as..uh…’awesome’…as their music-geek fans are. And whether it’s calculated or not, it’s a breath of fresh air how they choose to do their marketing. I’ll take the grass roots/internet buzz marketing any day.

So here’s the video. And the style, once again, is polarizing. You may hate it. And you also may hate the video itself. I can’t understand if Thom Yorke is making fun of himself, trying too hard, or doing some retro-disillusioned-vaudeville thing. However, the melody of the song and the way it interweaves with the chords, is absolutely captivating:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfOa1a8hYP8

The youtube version doesn’t allow you to embed this video. Hmm…not as grass roots marketing as I’d like. ;) But here’s what may be the genius thing of that video and song. Even if you hated it or weren’t sure what to think, was it the first music video online that you’ve watched all the way through in a while?

Next is a very lovely version of the coolest and moodiest Beatles song ever. My little sister told me about these guys. (Now that I’ve reached the not-college-age-demographic-by-any-stretch-of-the-imagination age of post-26, I try to stay up with what the college folk are listening to. My little sis is 20.) This may admittedly be a little too hiptastic for some of you, but the notes they choose for the harmonies are just lovely:

Kronos Quartet. Heat, Requiem for a Dream…you’ve heard them without knowing it. Amazing:

And then from almost unknown to once again, too known. But I’m not showing this for Carrie Underwood. She did do a very good job with this song, and has a fantastic voice. But what I want you to notice is Vince Gill. Probably one of the greatest musicians today that nobody except guitarists know about. I mean, this is the first performance I’ve ever seen of him when he’s not wearing yellow old man shorts. So, check out the vocal harmony notes he chooses. And then, if that’s not enough, he plays basically the solo that I’m always trying to play in every song. The tastefulness is almost overwhelming:

And much thanks to those of you who turned my attention to the above video. My life was never the same after watching Mr. Vince Gill’s solo. I did want to throw my guitar out a window for a few days every time I played it, but eventually, that solo and I came to an understanding. The understanding being that I am not Vince Gill. :)

Lastly, this guy basically pioneered ambient and electronica music. Yet very few people actually know his name. And the musical style is fairly polarizing. Very ’80′s, very literal. But I have never found anyone who can create moods like this guy. Mr. Vangelis, with ‘Memories of Green’, the coolest title for a song ever:

Wildly different styles, but amazing music nonetheless. Be original if you like, but if you can’t keep the core melody, then drop the originality and just write the song. And please go check out some of these very deserving and lesser known artists.

And most importantly, please, please, please always remember that the person you are talking to more than likely already knows who Radiohead is and wants to punch you in the face when you refer to them as the local indie art house band you just discovered because of your impeccable non-mainstream taste in music.

“Music is melody.” –Bach

Splendid.
Karl.

45 thoughts on “Unsung Music & The Core of the Song

  1. mmm … melody …

    when i first heard that cover of Eleanor Rigby, i was not very happy. but i must admit, it’s not bad at all ;)

    you (and many here) might not agree with me but i think the reason why the Beatles is still very popular is because they are the most melody-centric band ever … of course, imho! hehe

  2. Rhoy–well said! I actually completely agree with you. Well, maybe not most melody-centric band ‘ever’, but if they’re not at the top, they are pretty blasted close to it!

    Mark Colvin–ah man! Isn’t that just the most amazing solo ever? I don’t think I touched my guitar for a week in shame after seeing that.

  3. “I think sometimes we get too caught up in being original. And that’s not a bad thing in and of itself; the ebb and flow of music over time needs originality. However, it’s not very difficult to be original. Anyone can do something that’s never been done before. What’s difficult is to do something that’s never been done before that still sounds good. That still reaches people.”

    This passage here is just amazing. Well said, Karl.

  4. Man, Karl. You are so hip and indie. Radio Head!

    I have a hard time when I think about the fact that Kid A came out 11 years ago… And that album is STILL better than most music that comes out today. Like, woah.

    Eleanor Rigby is my favorite Beatles song. Yellow Submarine is my favorite Beatles movie.

    I wish I could tastefully solo.

    Or solo, for that matter.

    All I know how to do is use my volume pedal.

  5. Part of my personal manifesto is the following: “less is more, and more is a waste”. Vince doesn’t need to shred with a billion notes, when 5 will do just fine. Absolutely marvelous.

  6. Who hasn’t heard of Vangelis? Bladerunner has pretty much the most awesome, and awesomely ’80′s, soundtrack ever.

    Also, are you sure about that solo Karl? I didn’t hear any delay? ;)

  7. Holy crap – that cover of Eleanor Rigby! Amazing!

    And yes, Radiohead is the greatest band in the world. They are kinda frustrating in that they never really do the same thing twice (unlike a certain other Irish pop-rock band that gets mentioned around here from time to time), but that’s one of the things that makes them so brilliant.

  8. Elanor Rigby cover was very nice… and since we’re on the subject of very nice acoustic covers, here’s one I think you’ll appreciate : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGqN9PpW5Ic :)

    love Radiohead – was listening to the King of Limbs on vinyl yesterday and it blew me away… but unlike U2 I have to be in the right mood for radiohead. U2 suits any kind of mood!

    +1 on Vince Gill. Awesome voice and underappreciated guitar player. Just don’t watch any of his early 90s videos if you don’t appreciate a serious mullet!

    and Cam – thanks for the Living End track. Crowded House were masters of melody.

  9. Vince Gill one of my favorite musicians.

    The solo he does is just what this post is about… he is skirting around the core melody…

  10. Chariots of Fire soundtrack; Vangelis’ best work by far…

    Sorry to disagree with most of you, but I just don’t get what is so great about the Beatles – and I am British! Everyone raves about how great their music was, so I bought their ’1′ album, just to get a flavour; well, 26 tracks later and I still don’t get it. Okay, I can hear clever little bits here and there, but apart from Blackbird and Norwegian Wood, the rest just leaves me cold, I’m afraid!

    Let the burning at the stake begin…

    • lol at the Beatles comment :)

      seriously, you should listen to whole albums especially Revolver, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road to get the full appreciation of what they did … and it was in the 60s! half the band right now can only dream of writing a hit, let alone a memorable melodic one ;)

      Now tell me if this is not outstanding for a track released on ’67

  11. Comment from the Radiohead YouTube video:
    shush little kids…no arguing while a beautiful movement is in progress. respect thom yorke’s dancing

    Description of the Video:
    Choreographed by Wayne McGregor

    I’m sorry but I didn’t realize that needed choreographed… I love the song and I don’t mind the dancing but that is funny!

    Love Elanor Rigby! Except when it is covered on American Idol…

    Daraithe – I’m not CRAZY about them either. I have been getting into them more recently. Maybe it’s because I can buy them on iTunes. (Thanks for shoving that in my face Apple!)

  12. Hey Karl – you may have heard of a little somewhat obscure band from Charleston, SC called Jump Little Children; maybe not. They were very popular around here in the 90′s but this one song “Cathedrals” is addictive. Supposedly, Elton John heard this song and called them personally to confess his jealousy in not writing it himself. Check out this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsbQ2ZvFLn0

    Peace – Bud Reynolds, Sumter, SC

  13. This is what I just don’t get about screamo. Where’s the melody? How can anyone like music with no melody? I’ve really tried to be open minded about this and yet I just do not get it.

    • Screamo music definitely has a melody. Even if it is the same note over and over again it is a melody. The good screamo singers are changing pitch just like any other singer, they are just screaming the notes. It really isn’t for everyone though.

  14. Vince Gill just melted my face with a solo. And with no kind of overdrive or delay, no less!

    On the not-so-underground-not-so-original-but-oh-so-good note: Chromeo. So refreshingly good and not overdoing 80′s synth pop.

  15. I just saw this in a pedal board (with hard case) review ” If you’re a 15 year old Punk rocking garage bander, you’ll throw it at your drummer a couple of times during a band fight and I’m not sure how it will fare after that. Arguably, it’s so big that when it’s loaded with pedals it’s pretty heavy. So using it as a projectile may not be an option.”

  16. After hearing Vince Gill here I had to go back and hear one of my favorites of his; Go Rest High on that Mountian. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jXrmAKBBTU) Same type of thing except Vince is on the lead and Ricky Skaggs is providing the harmonies (along with Patty Loveless(I think) but Ricky’s harmonies are much more subtle). There are several writers that have a gift for melody and arrangement, Billy Joel, Phil Collins, Billy Joe (Green Day), John Denver; these are the artists that roll off my mind here at 12:45am. Different styles but the core melodies of their songs just hit you and catch you in to listening. Who do you guys think are some other artists that have the gift of melody?

    • James Taylor, Bruce Hornsby, John Mellencamp, Edwin Mccain, Amos Lee, U2 (obviously), Tom Petty… pretty much anyone who is good. lol.

  17. Sam–thanks, bro! :)

    Naal–ya know, I think that’s actually the first time I’ve mentioned Radiohead on this site, for that very reason! I’ve been a closet Radiohead listener for years…my backlash for how ‘cool’ it is to like them. hehe

    Wait, no….if you search real hard, you may find a Weird Fishes video somewhere on here.

    And I can’t solo either. :)

    Nic Lake–awesome. Love it!

    Jody–agreed. :)

    KennyG–agreed again. :)

    Keith–that’s what I thought! But I keep running into people who’ve heard his stuff, just never heard of him. And so nice to meet a fellow Blade Runner fanatic. I must admit, I am obsessed.

    Phillip–I enjoy a lot of their stuff, although I feel like they went through a period in the early 2000′s where they started trying too hard, and some of the magic got lost. But I think the latest two albums have picked it back up again. Just my humble opinion, though!

    And ya, U2′s still in a ‘losing the magic phase’ from this latest album. We’ll see if they can pick it up again, or if we’ll just have to be content with the catalog we have from them.

    Naal–unfair! I already made fun of them once in my original post. My psyche can only handle one U2-putdown per thread. hehehe

    Baggas–I’m with you on Radiohead…some of their stuff does have to be a mood thing for me. And there are some U2 albums where it can literally be any time. :) And on vinyl? Man, that’s what make it really cool! hehe

    And wow…Vince Gill. He could have a skullet, so long as he plays like he does. haha

    Jody–haha Same here!!

    Sal–beautifully said!!

    Daraithe–totally agree on the Chariots of Fire soundtrack! :)

    As for the Beatles, it took me a while to get into them too. It was one of those things where I couldn’t figure out what all the hype was about, and then I had Penny Lane stuck in my head for 3 weeks. And then I was like, ‘Ohhhh.’ hehe

    Rhoy–great point about listening to them in the context of their albums. I’m a big proponent of albums. I rarely ever listen to my iPod on shuffle or to greatest hits albums, unless they’re greatest hits albums from bands that really did have only like 10 listenable songs over their 30 year careers. haha

    Josh–haha I saw that comment, too! And I may be laughed at for saying this, but I was very unsure about that video the first time I saw it. But it stuck with me. And I’ve now watched it about 4 or 5 times, and I may cautiously be of the mindset now that something pretty groundbreaking is going on.

    Bud–right on! I’ll definitely check that out. And that’s my dream…that a famous person will call me and say how jealous he is that he didn’t think of my guitar solo. haha

    Toby–it’s been a long time since I’ve heard any screamo. Is that still going on? I would guess that it’s like any other style…there can be good ones and bad ones. But with some styles, it is is difficult to sift through and get tot he good ones. :)

    Josh–very interesting. What screamo bands are still around? That style seems all but dead in my area.

    Joe–seriously! No drive, no delay. But…I think having two amps makes up for it. ;)

    Nater2d–haha That’s awesome! I want it!

    Dave–great comment! And I love that someone put Green Day in the good melody category. They get overlooked because of their style sometimes, but they are masters of melody. :) I think I’d put Cranberries and Simon & Garfunkle in there too.

    Ben–right on! :)

  18. Can we all agree that anything by John Wimber should be banned from worship?

    Does anyone have any good Pentecost song suggestions. This was a bad music week, and I’d love for next year to be better.

    • Hey Craig, don’t know about John Wimber; the guy was a consummate musician who wrote many great songs, including for the Beach Boys (who are proverbially cool!). I think he got the concept of melody spot on, and even though some of his lyrics nowadays are questioned, he was writing the majority of his songs to bring the “unchurched’ into God’s presence.

      Having said that, I don’t like the Beatles and yet Morningstar use some Beatles tunes in their worship sets, and I respect them! Horses for courses, I think!

      • I know Wimber wrote some good songs during his secular phase, but I have yet to hear any of his worship stuff that doesn’t need to ever see the light of day again. More for lyrical content (or lack thereof) than for bad melody.

        I’ve gone through a couple of different Beatles phases, there was a point where I liked them, then I got tired of the folks who are a little to zealous, then I finally came back to the fact that I have a great deal of respect for them. They did some amazing things with some pretty primitive equipment and wrote some great songs. I have argued that the second side of Abby Road could be the best album side ever. (I know I’m dating myself but I do own this on vinyl)

        It seems like there are certain bands/musicians that just can’t be criticized. Any thoughts on who. Maybe this is a different post or a forum topic.

        • I think what it might be worth bearing in mind is that Wimber wrote songs for a particular generation and purpose, so I do agree with you to some point; I can’t imagine ever using a Wimber song in a worship set either!

          I guess I can just be grateful for his pioneering heart – I recognise his work and attitude opened one of the doors to the church acknowledging it had to become relevant to the times again!

          I think I had better give the Beatles another go, though I think I’ll stay away from vinyl (whatever that is! ;-) ) I know they pushed the boundaries of what was possible recording-wise, but I do maintain that they are ‘slightly’ over-hyped!

          Thanks!

  19. Karl, good call on Simon and Garfunkel. I think there are 4 parts to make a song “great” certainly melody but also arrangement, lyrics and performance. Look at early Van Halen, They had melody, arrangement and performance but their lyrics, with Roth, were weak. Hagar was better in the lyric department but a little less in the live performances (vocally just as strong). I think this is where worship music comes up short. We think that lyrics are the most important and let the other parts slide. All four need to intertwine.

    • Wimber was the guy behind the Vinyard movement. He wrote for the Righteous Bros and others back in the day. He wrote a bunch of worship stuff back in the early years of the contemporary movement. It pretty much all sounds out of date now. There also a bunch of folks who have theological issues with Wimber.

      Still looking for Pentecost song suggestions.

    • Thanks I’ll make a note for next year. We just has a bad song selection week which makes it hard to feel good about what was actually a good week.

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