A realisation that has laid dormant inside me for a serious number of years now is that what I am principally attracted to in music is melody. It is the thing that does it for me. Contained inside the melody of a song you can somehow imagine your greatest ambitions, the deepest melancholy or the bluest ever sky. Music just stimulates these intense feelings for me, although it usually works best when combined with a matching lyric.
More often than not, some kind of context will contribute significantly to this emotional effect; for instance if I know that the Go-Betweens are from sunny Brisbane, then there is a reason that I am reminded of girls on sandy beaches and land-rovers cruising across the Australian outback when I hear them. The same thing happens when listening to Richard Hawley in the knowledge that he hails from the steel and mill city of Sheffield, England; I remember the time and place which this music represents. It will happen also with Edith Piaf; in fact the list of artists is inexhaustible.
This is an interesting point: because of this context that music is naturally placed in, some genres or even just a short musical hook, can only remind you of one place, culture or situation. For example when I listen to reggae I will normally be reminded of something like the hot sun shining down on a Jamaican bazaar, or Rastafarians with dreadlocks perhaps. Melody has one the most important parts to play in the structure of this musical experience. Some types of melody were created distinctly by movements or groups of people, such as the Chicago blues tradition, and before that in Africa or the major chord structure of the bass hooks featured in most reggae songs. When you hear these melodies, you are instantly emotionally and intellectually transported to a place, and like life itself it can be a dark or a beautiful place – think Scott Walker vs. Leonard Cohen.
Although most casual fans of music are indeed susceptible to melody the most in song (it is after all what the chart music manufacturers aim for), I would argue that they have a bad definition of what melody really means. Melody doesn’t just mean the same four to eight bars of notes recurring in succession. Melody, for me, consists of a rounded, engaging tune with a theme, which works best when it is not an oft-used one. The content of chart music usually consists of a simple but ‘catchy’ keyboard lick, with a 4/4 time dance-track imposed over the top. Alas, some people think that melody is tantamount to cheesiness, but it isn’t necessarily; besides, I am often unashamedly attracted to the sensibility of cheesiness in music. Manic Street Preachers are certainly able to channel this, as did Frank Zappa, albeit ironically most of the time. Decent melody outside of the pop charts is much more interesting than this and engrains itself in the musical world and delightfully in the head of the listener.
There were of course times when I was slightly ashamed to appreciate the melodic factor in music, mainly due to the pressure of music-loving friends. Those were friends that would only have time for Tool, Bullet for My Valentine, Cradle of Filth etc. Now I know why Nirvana was always my favourite heavy rock band. I don’t care anymore to feel shame admitting that I am attracted to a lovely melody in song for the reasons above than pretend to like or understand those from which it is conspicuously absent. I would like to look more into the components of music and their effects and need to look at the copy of Musicophilia I somehow acquired by Oliver Sacks and I also understand that Edward Said wrote a great deal on music. Meanwhile, I’ll leave this here with a great melody I’ve been digging the last week or so: