A recent newspaper report suggested that “if music gives you goose bumps your brain might be special” (The Independent). The report said that “those who manage to make the emotional and physical attachment to music actually have different brain structures to those that don’t”. Everyone who listens to music regularly knows what that means, so I thought I would look back on 10 pieces of music that give me the ‘tingle factor’;
‘Nubian Sundance’ Weather Report. The first time I heard this funky tour de force I wasn’t really sure what was happening. The clattering percussion, crowd noise, and the soaring voices, Joe Zawinul’s keyboards and Wayne Shorter’s soprano saxophone weaving in and out of the mix make this one of my favourite WR tracks. It is from their 1974 album Mysterious Traveller.
‘Snow in San Anselmo’ Van Morrison. Again, the strings and the boppish jazz sections are tremendous. The way that Van repeats the line “my waitress” three times, then there’s the choir! Very ethereal. This song is from the album ‘ Hard Nose the Highway’ from 1973. ‘Autumn Song’ from the same album is a close second in the tingle stakes!
‘I am a Town’ Mary Chaplin Carpenter. “I’m a blur on the driver’s side”, an evocative picture of roads winding through small American towns. MCC could sing the telephone directory, if you forgive the cliché! From one of her best early records ‘Come On, Come On’.
‘Let it Be’ The Beatles. Gospel tinged piano and Macca’s voice. Something about this song seems to reach out beyond itself to speak of something deeper. Although the version that was on the album of the same name is great, check out the original on the ‘Let it Be…….Naked’ album from 2003.
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ The Beatles. Can a piece of music be literally indescribable? It is possible to go into the minutiae of how this song was created – Ian MacDonald’s amazing book ‘Revolution in the Head’ does this for the entire Beatles canon – but the sound of this song still amazes me. Jonathan Gould describes this track in terms of a “sonic headwind” in his book ‘Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles, Britain and America”. There is nothing else on Revolver that prepares you for the sheer onslaught of this track with its dense percussive backing, sitar drone and backwards guitars and Lennon’s heavily compressed vocal. In my opinion more ground-breaking than the album that followed……….. “Listen to the colour of your dreams”!!!
‘Heatwave’ The Blue Nile “the rivers in the distance must be leading somewhere”. My wife Heather introduced me to the Nile and I thought they were Australian! But Messrs Buchanan, Moore and Bell hail from considerably closer. This song is from their first album A Walk Across the Rooftops’ from 1983 and the title track was a moderate hit. Heatwave is a fine piece of electronica with a heart, Harry Partch meets Steve Reich if you like, simple guitar figures played off against percussion and synthesizers and a ravishing vocal- they have made just four records and each one is a masterpiece. And singer Paul Buchanan’s solo album Mid Air from 2012 is great too. He has one of those voices…..in the right mood it brings tears to my eyes!
‘Cottontail’ Ella Fitzgerald. Great voice, a rhythm section running like a well-oiled machine…. Messrs Webster, Kessel, Mondragon, Paul Smith and Alvin Stoller….peerless. From her ‘Ella Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook’ from 1957.
‘Love and Affection’ Joan Armatrading. I saw Joan on the telly the other night on the Old Grey Whistle Test retrospective (hey kids remember that programme from the good old days? Cue the joke “I may be old but I got to see all the great bands”). Don’t ask me why but this song and the album it came from remind me of evenings spent in The Railway in Heaton Mersey in Stockport! Memories aside this is a powerfully erotic love song, Joan’s lovely guitar, soaring saxophone from Mel Collins and backing vocals from Clarke Peters…he played the detective who made the doll’s house furniture in ‘The Wire’. Although primarily an acoustic player she got into some fearsome and bluesy electric playing on her later records.
‘Suite; The Beauty of All Things/ The Dance/ Prayer for Mr. Davis’. Kurt Elling. This is an extraordinary piece of music. The first movement inspired by some words written by Benedictine monk and poet Thomas Merton about people in their ordinary routines “walking around shining like the sun”. Then there is the evocative Eastern sounding dance in the middle and the concluding threnody for Miles Davis. Apart from Kurt’s voice (now that Mark Murphy has died surely the best jazz vocalist around!), there is Laurence Hobgood’s ever inventive piano and Orbert Davis’ warm flugelhorn on the closer. “In hundred coloured tones you could hear sacred stories” indeed! Magnificent!! From Kurt’s album ‘The Messenger’ from April 1997.
‘Long Promised Road’ The Beach Boys. Light years away from ‘Surfin’ USA’ this, along with ‘Disney Girls’ and the concluding duo of ”Til I Die’ and the title track are the highlights of ‘Surf’s Up’ for me. There was a time when I never thought I would own anything by this group, but those voices and, on ‘Road’ the terrific lyrics and Carl’s heartfelt vocal. Terrific!