Music in Notes has moved!

Earlier this month, with the help of my friend Pat Ryan, Music in Notes moved to its new home at https://www.musicinnotes.com. All of the posts here have been moved over to the new site, and new posts, including a new one at 11 AM EDT today, will be there on the new site. I hope you will join me at my new digs.

On the new site, there is also an option to tip me by buying a cup of coffee or tea. I’ll be using that money towards the upkeep of the site. Thanks for all your support!

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Surviving the spectre of COVID-19 / “Song Analysis” #61: Pet Shop Boys – Numb

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I have been writing quite a lot during the pandemic, but there’s a lot of drafts that sit unfinished. Every time I’ve started a new draft of one of these analyses, I think about how infinitesimally unimportant my writing is in the current world we live in, and I feel guilty. People are fighting for their lives from hospital beds and from the streets. There are pockets of unrest and discord all over the world that look like tinderboxes ready to explode at any moment.

None of us here on Earth have a crystal ball, but I think it’s safe to say that everyone on this planet is in for a rough ride for the foreseeable future. There are a lot of people hurting, confused, and feeling hopeless. There is a lot of advice out there already, but I wanted to provide my take on things you can do today that will help you cope during this difficult time.

My best recommendation? Stay safe and healthy, which means isolating when and where you can and wearing a mask if you must go out and interface with other people. If you need help, reach out. I cannot stress this enough. Life is always tough, but it’s especially tough now given that many of the usual, healthy coping mechanisms like seeing friends, being social, and going to the gym are prohibited or may look very different than what we’re used to. We’re going through an unprecedented time, and the feelings you have may be unfamiliar or heightened. None of this “I have to be productive like everyone else in isolation” if your mind can’t go there. It’s self-defeating and entirely unhelpful. Don’t compare your response to that of others. We all react to stress in different ways. Give yourself plenty of slack. Be gentle with yourself.

If you haven’t already tried this, a constructive, artistic outlet to release your negative feelings can really help. It’s a great option if meditation, sitting still, and contemplating your navel doesn’t work for you. Listening, dancing, and/or singing to music can be therapeutic. Writing out your feelings can be another big help. Just getting it out on paper is a good exercise to get it out of your system. Writers like me do this all the time.

Above all, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed, please don’t suffer in silence. It isn’t hopeless. Help is available. I saw this Instagram post from A Safe Place Inside Your Head recently, and it really hit home for me. I can help you find other resources, too. Find me on Twitter.

Title: ‘Numb’
Where to find it: ‘Fundamental’ (2006, Parlophone [UK], Rhino [US]); ‘Concrete’ (2006 live album, Parlophone [UK])
Performed by: Pet Shop Boys
Words by: Diane Warren

I put song analysis in quotes in the title of this post, because I feel that the words of the below song are self-explanatory. I did, however, want to post the lyrics for the person who is reading this post, can relate to them, and may find solace in the song as a whole. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with disconnecting from the news and social media right now. We are in the middle of an emotionally overwhelming situation, with the end and resolution uncertain.

I’ve been listening to a bunch of different music while in isolation. In the past week, I’ve been seeking out live albums on Spotify that I’ve never heard before. I came across ‘Concrete’, a 2006 live album of the Pet Shop Boys that was recorded for a BBC Radio 2 programmed called Sold on Song. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe specifically chose songs for the setlist that had been previously written to have orchestral backing, making this a beautifully unique set.

‘Numb’ is an unusual song to feature on Music in Notes, in that the song was not written by the Pet Shop Boys themselves. It was written by Diane Warren, a well-known name in the pop music world, having penned many a mainstream top 40 hit. The song was a single off their 2006 album ‘Fundamental’. This song follows 3 years later after another famous tune called ‘Numb’ by a singer we sadly lost in 2017.

I hope that if you’re reading this post, reading the lyrics, watching the live performance in Mexico, and hearing Neil Tennant’s plaintive voice below provide you some solace. Please know you’re not alone.

Verse 1
Don’t wanna hear the news
What’s going on
What’s coming through
I don’t wanna know
don’t wanna know
Just wanna hide away
make my my escape
I want the world
to leave me alone
Feels like I feel too much
I’ve seen too much
For a little while
I want to forget

Chorus 1
I wanna be numb
I don’t wanna feel this pain no more
Wanna lose touch
I just wanna go and lock the door
I don’t wanna think
I don’t wanna feel nothing
I wanna be numb
I just wanna be
wanna be numb

Verse 2
Can’t find no space to breathe
World’s closing in
right on me now
Well that’s how it feels
that’s how it feels
Too much light
There’s too much sound
Wanna turn it off
Wanna shut it out
I need some relief
Think that I think too much
I’ve seen too much
There is just too much
thought in my head

Chorus
I wanna be numb
I don’t wanna feel this pain no more
Wanna lose touch
I just wanna go and lock the door
I don’t wanna think
I don’t wanna feel nothing
I wanna be numb
I just wanna be
wanna be

Bridge
Taken away from all the madness
Need to escape
escape from the pain
I’m out on the edge
about to lose my mind
For a little while
For a little while
I wanna be numb

Chorus 2
I don’t wanna think
I don’t wanna feel nothing
I wanna be numb
I don’t wanna feel this pain no more
Wanna lose touch
I just wanna go and lock the door
I don’t wanna think
I don’t wanna feel nothing
I wanna be numb
I just wanna be
wanna be numb
I just wanna be
wanna be numb

Outro
All the madness
I wanna be numb

Song Analysis #60: The Hollies – Bus Stop

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It’s Christmas time. Even if it wasn’t, I think we all need a break from the madness that’s going in our world. Fully considering both, the song I chose for today is from a simpler time, but it has an interesting back story.

Music editors, music journalists, and even musicians themselves these days often bemoan the lack of inspired songwriting hitting the top of the charts. It can feel pretty sobering to see the laundry list of songwriters, producers, and players on an album created in the 21st century album because some of us remember when it was just the bands, the singer, and a producer who were involved in the making of one. However, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, chart-topping hits that were written by people and that the bands themselves didn’t have a hand in writing at all was commonplace. In America, Elvis Presley and the Monkees didn’t pen their own material (or at least most of it), and the public didn’t care. For a fictional dramedy about that time period, I recommend the Alison Anders-directed film Grace of My Heart, which feels entirely believable to me following my experience as in the music business.

Graham Gouldman is an English musician best known for his work with 10cc, responsible for the cloying 1975 hit ‘I’m Not in Love’ that Gouldman cowrote. What I did not know until I started digging around to write this analysis was that he wrote one of my favorite songs ever. Perhaps even more surprising is that his own father, Hyme Gouldman, a playwright, started the song for him that led to The Hollies’ first hit in America.

Title: ‘Bus Stop’
Where to find it: ‘Bus Stop’ single (1966, Parlophone)
Performed by: The Hollies
Words by: Graham and Hyme Gouldman (credited to Graham Gouldman)

Verse 1
Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say
Please share my umbrella
Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows
Under my umbrella

All that summer we enjoyed it
Wind and rain and shine
That umbrella, we employed it
By August, she was mine

“Chorus” 1
Every morning I would see her waiting at the stop
Sometimes she’d shopped and she would show me what she bought
Other people stared as if we were both quite insane
Someday my name and hers are going to be the same

Verse 2
That’s the way the whole thing started
Silly but it’s true
Thinkin’ of a sweet romance
Beginning in a queue

Came the sun the ice was melting
No more sheltering now
Nice to think that that umbrella
Led me to a vow

“Chorus” 2
Every morning I would see her waiting at the stop
Sometimes she’d shopped and she would show me what she bought
Other people stared as if we were both quite insane
Someday my name and hers are going to be the same

Verse 3
Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say
Please share my umbrella
Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows
Under my umbrella

All that summer we enjoyed it
Wind and rain and shine
That umbrella, we employed it
By August, she was mine

I consider ‘Bus Stop’ one of the finest examples of quintessentially English ‘60s pop. I say it’s *English* pop because of the words chosen and its reflective mood. Where else would it raining so frequently to necessitate our hero to be carrying an umbrella with him all the time? In summer, we’re told “wind and rain and shine”, that poor brolly was equally “enjoyed” and “employed”. Graham Gouldman was born in Broughton, Salford, greater Manchester – that’s the North West of England for non-Brits reading this – so he was certainly a lad who knew something about rain. A song like this would not have been written in America. I can’t imagine someone at the Brill Building in New York coming up with this. We go through all four seasons in this song, so it couldn’t have come from Los Angeles, either. Notice, too, that the minor key throughout, including that observed on the guitar line, has an Indian influence, likely nicked from and aping the style of the Beatles‘Norwegian Wood’ and the Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’ popular at the time.

It’s pop that’s super easy to sing along to. Most of the words here are one syllable, handily adding syncopation through the vocals. However, this isn’t pop in the way you might think of it if you used the Archies’ ‘Sugar Sugar’ as the gold standard template for bubblegum pop. I’ve noted the two interloper sections of text as chorus in quotations, as these sections aren’t choruses in the conventional sense. They’re not the kind of chorus you would jump up and down at a show to sing or scream along to. We’re used to thinking of choruses as the parts that have less finesse because they have to be repeated multiple times throughout a song.

What does Gouldman do with these faux choruses? Something amazing. The notes twirl in the air to convey our hero’s enchantment with his girl. He’s on cloud nine, and he’s taken us with him. We might not have shouted these words back at the Hollies at one of their concerts, but for sure, the emotion comes across in spades. The emotion swells further because guitarists Graham Nash and Vic Steele join in with lead singer Allan Clarke to deliver awe-inspiring harmonies. Nash would, of course, soon move on to form Crosby, Stills, and Nash, another group who would be known for their gorgeous harmonies.

You know that feeling of being in love? Well, folks, he just hit you with it right there, too. “Someday my name and hers are going to be the same”: this was back in the days when double-barreled last names and the idea that women could keep their maiden names (good heavens!) weren’t even considered. It is one of the sweetest sentiments in pop music, that he’s thinking one day he’s going to make her his wife. Bonus: The long-suffering brolly gets thanked for his role in this: “Nice to think that that umbrella / led me to a vow”.

I am a child of the American suburbs, where you needed and still need a car to get around. The idea of romanticizing a ‘Bus Stop’ was lost on me until I started traveling in Britain and in Europe. You can wait and spend a lot of time a bus stop, and I can believe that people could meet their mates while waiting for a bus to show up. Maybe I should wait for more buses!

Lastly, a live performance of the song by the Hollies, in which some of them are sporting those godawful frilly tie-fluff things that would eventually open the door to the ‘70s frilly shirt. Ack! At least the music is good!