Song of the Year
There have been some great albums released in 2011 - we'll get to those later in the week. But isn't it about the song these days - once again? The album being a dead format and all. Well, I still listen to albums, I still review albums, I still buy - and (gulp, I guess) collect - records.
There are great albums - where it all feels close to perfect. But a great song gets to exist on its own, in and of itself. It can enhance other songs; it can (also) be (further) enhanced by other songs on its parent album. But for the three or four or six or nine minutes that it exists it - hopefully - creates a world, conjures a mood, tells a story.
Be My Baby - that's greater than anything else The Ronettes did. Heck, it's better than anything else Phil Spector did. You want to listen to Be My Baby you don't worry about what comes next on the album, you just take that in - get lost in its world, absorb the story. You just, for the precious, active, moments, live in the space between the kick-pedal beater and the skin of the bass drum.
I'm all for celebrating the big song - and yet I've never singled out a song of the year before. There is always a song of the year, and often it is killed as a result of the popularity, picked up for adverts, pumped out during sporting events, played by every knob who twists a volume knob. You thought you were the one who discovered it - it was cool even when it was number one/because it was number one. It was played on the b-net stations and the commercial ones too. It wasn't even the best song on the album - and it was a key single owned by people who didn't even care if there was an album.
Recent examples could include Outkast's Hey Ya! (2003) and Gnarls Barkley's Crazy (2006). Bet you don't really want to hear those songs again ever, right? But they were/are huge. And they started out as groovy wee ditties, a little cute, a little cheesy but still quirky, still with something of an edge. That edge was smoothed off pretty quickly with repeated plays though.
And every year there's a Hey Ya! or a Crazy - I'm just not sure there's a Be My Baby or a Walk On By. They don't tend to come around all that often. But there is always a song of the year.
Now there have been some amazing songs this year. Many of the really great albums that I love this year hooked me in, initially, with one really great song. The Last Living Rose was the first song to speak to me on PJ Harvey's Let England Shake. I love the whole album but that song is still my favourite.
Likewise, Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What (which I have banged on about this year, I know) is a great album right through but the best song to my ears still is Love & Blessings. And that was the one that got me on the first listen.
There have been plenty of others but I'll make a call. I titled this post Song of the Year, not songs of the year. And this year's big song - very much the song of the year in fact - is Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye.
It will (if it has not already) most likely go the way of Hey Ya! and Crazy - but like those songs it's a gem of a pop composition, so simple, so accessible, instantly catchy. And yet it doesn't feel like contrived chart fodder. This is real music made by a real musician for the right reason/s. It just happens to have pop hit written all over it, all through the song's DNA.
The song rides on a sample/hook taken from the opening seconds of Luiz Bonfa's Seville. From there a xylophone-hammered melody is as naive, whimsical and memorable as any nursery rhyme. And you're hooked. The song has got you.
The story of the song is strong, played out between Gotye and his duet-partner Kimbra. There's drama buried between the lyric, the delivery and the song's constant snatch of melody between the xylophone and the Bonfa sample. A crafty/crafted pop-hook resulting in a crafted/crafty pop-hit. It's not even about what they're saying - the story is more in the way they are saying it.
Okay, so it probably won't be around forever, and there'll be plenty of people who will be thrilled to hear that (and, therefore, to not be hearing the song), but for me it's the Song of the Year. Easy. The rest of the album is good too - I like it. I don't consider it one of the albums of the year; it's top-heavy and Somebody That I Used To Know is the star, kinda like if a movie was made with the cast of Friends and Al Pacino. Somebody That I Used To Know is the scenery-chewer in Gotye's latest musical movie.
Speaking of musical movies, I'm sure the video helped sell Somebody That I Used To Know to plenty of people. I still haven't watched it all the way through. It's the song that does it for me. The video might be clever but it's neither here nor there for me.
So, there you go. Song of the Year. That's my call. Now you can crucify me for this - go for it. But perhaps, instead, you'll consider offering your Song of the Year instead. What is the big song of 2011 for you?
Anyone else agree that it's Somebody That I Used To Know? Or is that just a song you used to like?
Postscript: On the Blog on the Tracks Facebook page somebody wrote that Gotye's big hit single could have been on Fleetwood Mac's Tango In The Night. I sure hope that was meant as a compliment. That was how I understood it.
And follow Off the Tracks to read 'The Vinyl Countdown' - an album-by-album review of my record collection.
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