There are lots of reasons to like music.
You can enjoy the feel of the music, the depth of meaning, the melodic qualities of a particular tune or riff, or maybe the groove that gets you down in yer rump-a-dump. Maybe you appreciate the technical capacities of a particular guitarist, the piercing or alluring vocals of a particular singer, the way a bassist sits in the pocket of a rhythm, or the bombastic ballsiness of this or that drummer (you couldn't handle that solo on strong acid man, I'm telling you).
Yes, there are many reasons to like music as there are musicians. One of my favourite things about music is the crescendo. The Oxford Dictionary defines a crescendo as:
noun; 1. a gradual increase in loudness in a piece of music; 2. a progressive increase in intensity.
Not every piece of music has a crescendo. But the ones that do are the ones that get me the most. I love to listen to a song build towards something really, really big. And then what I like the most is hearing what the musicians do at that point where they cross the threshold and have to keep going after that big moment.
Let me give you some examples.
Pearl Jam - Black
I listened the shit out of Ten by Pearl Jam as a kid, which means that I listened the shit out of this song. Twenty years later, I still know all of the lyrics. But to be honest, I don't really like Black. Of all the tunes in the Pearl Jam catalogue, Black is probably one of the weaker options. I mean, it's a solid early 90s power ballad, sure. But on the whole, it's a pretty immature song, lyrically and musically.
But sweet jesus, that guitar solo is soul crushing. I searched for a version of the song on You Tube that actually features Pearl Jam playing it live, but couldn't find anything that even comes close to this version from Live On Two Legs. Lead guitarist Mike McCready just hits something transcendal with his solo that lifts the song into a completely different space.
Not only is the solo raw and powerful and intense, but the moment after the crescendo in this song is sublime. That note that McCready just let's hang there for like 30 seconds, it kills me. That note is the sound of my heart breaking wide open the few times I've really and truly been broken in life. It's the sound of my my open mouth in the wind as I try unsuccessfully to catch my breath.
Without a word, Mike McCready captures the essence of the song in that note and transmits it in a way that is universal. After hearing that version of Black, I've never been able to look at the song the same way again.
Allison Krauss - Down to the River to Pray
Anyone who tells you they haven't closed their eyes and sat back to surrender into being swept up by this song either hasn't lived or is fucking lying. Popularized by the Cohen Brothers' movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Down to the River to Pray has been around since the 19th century is believed to originally have been authoured by US slaves.
This song is all crescendo. The entire structure is the building of volume and intensity as the lyrics move from sisters, to brothers, mothers, fathers, and finally: sinners. I always hear this song as a repudiation of our tendencies towards righteousness and an understanding of the underlying humility that comes with real experience of the divine. An experience of something divine -- or godly -- is available to sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and so-called sinners. He who sits in judgement need consider the footing upon which his own stance is grounded.
The unvarnished authenticity of this song, which makes me inclined to believe its suggested slavery origins, always leaves me teary eyed.
Otis Redding - Try A Little Tenderness
Otis Fucking Redding, ladies and gentlemen. Redding is the very definition of intensity. Every time I see a video of Otis Redding performing I am vividly reminded of the very many ways in which I am not a man. Wow.
Redding's version of Try A Little Tenderness at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival was a breakthrough moment for the singer. I chose the above video because you get a better sense for the blood, sweat, and tears that Redding puts into his performance, but you can watch the Monterey version here.
It doesn't take much to understand why that performance blew Redding's musical career out of the water. The song was a bloody chainsaw of energy and feeling that ripped through expectations about what sorts of ecstatic heights a human being ought to be able to whip themselves and others into on stage.
Interestingly and sadly, Redding's fate was not unlike the energy of the song that propelled his career. In Try A Little Tenderness, Redding simply can't keep the whirlwind of a song going and is forced to leave the stage having given everything possible as the band plays him out. In a case of life imitating art, Redding's new found success was short lived as the singer and members his band died in plane crash just six months following the Festival.
Van Morrison - I'll Take Care of You / It's a Man's Man's Man's World
Buckle in, that mother up there is more than sixteen minutes long. But it's worth every second of your attention.
Juma introduced me to this song when we had the fortune of living together for a number of months and I don't think I have ever heard a performer master the use of the crescendo quite so exquisitely as Morrison does in this duo. A double header of Bobby Bland's I'll Take Care of You and James Brown's It's a Man's Man's Man's World, Morrison is still in his prime for this 1993 live recording in San Fransico's Masonic Auditorium and lays down a serious lesson in performance and stage presence for this behemoth.
Morrison and the band bring us to multiple possible crescendos and then pull back, teasing that there's more yet in store for us if we can hold out. The song is like some of the best sex you've ever had -- maybe better. But in the end, Morrison delivers with a howling finale that makes me want to get up out of my computer chair and dance around as I type this.
I've talked about or hinted at divinity and God with a number of the tracks I've presented tonight, but I think Van is the only one to actually and explicitly go there himself. At the end of the song, as Morrison and the band have worked the stage into a holy lather, Van belts out a few comments like:
Did you get healed tonight?
'Let 'The Man' know you got it tested tonight'
Did you feel the spirit in the house tonight?
And that, folks, is how you end a song. Goodnight.