Monday, March 09, 2009

Merry Melodies

One final note on "Music Monday"

Suzanne Vega had this meditation in the Times last week on the function of melody. Fosco has only ever listened to two songs by Suzanne Vega ("Luka" and "Tom's Diner"), but even based on those two songs, I think she's qualified to talk about melody. (But is she qualified to talk about non-annoying melody? That's a thornier question.)

Melody is interesting, although Vega's piece is not. Her essential point is that a good melody is not necessary to make a good song, but that a good melody can certainly make a good song. Profound? Not quite. All you need to do is think of the delights of "Love Shack" (not much melody) and "Mandy" (lots of melody) and you've gotten the point.

More interesting is Vega's list of her favorite melodies:

Some of my favorite melodies are: “You Took Advantage of Me” (Rodgers and Hart); “Birdhouse in Your Soul” (They Might Be Giants); “Almost Blue” (Elvis Costello); “The Art Teacher” (Rufus Wainwright); Mozart’s 40th Symphony; many songs by Laura Nyro. Sting’s melodies like “Roxanne” and “King of Pain” are elegant jewels. The Jason Mraz song “I’m Yours” is a good melody. “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder still fills me with joy.
I certainly have to agree with "Birdhouse in Your Soul," even though it's not one that would have immediately occurred to me. Good call, Suzanne. As for the others... I'm not quite sure that "Roxanne" works for me as a melody. I much prefer Jason Mraz's "The Remedy" to "I'm Yours." And Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony? How cliche!

Some other catchy melodies that come immediately to mind:
  • ABBA, "Lay All Your Love on Me."
  • David Bowie, "Life on Mars?"
  • Weezer, "El Scorcho."
  • Roy Orbison, "In Dreams."
  • Sun Kil Moon, "Ocean Breathes Salty."
  • lots of Death Cab for Cutie songs.
  • almost anything by Owl City, but maybe especially that Christmas Song.
  • the main theme of the fourth movement of Brahms Symphony 1.
Actually, in college one of my friends used to sing these words to that melody from Brahms 1: "The sandwich that Plato found worthy of every comment / was bacon, tomato, and slices of avocado." Try it--once you do it a few times, you'll never be able to hear the melody without those words (which is not a good thing, I guess). I have no idea where this came from (I tried Googling it to no avail).

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

I've never found out where that lyric came from -- I remembered it as Mozart rather than Plato, but neither one turns up anything on Google. Maybe you-know-who knows.

But there's a whole bunch of better-known mnemonics, many of them promulgated by Sigmund Spaeth or Josefa Heifetz, like these for the Unfinished Symphony:

This is the symphony
That Schubert wrote but never finished.
He never finished it
But no one cares ‘cuz it’s a nice one
A nice one

You've probably heard that one, but here's another for Ms. Vega (to the tune of Mozart's Symphony No. 40):

Give a hand to the band playing Mozart
He wrote music both charming and witty.
'C'est jolie, mon ami,' just to quote Sartre,
I agree with my friend that it's pretty.