Musical Cliches, part 1
All musical genres, be it classical, jazz, folk, rock or pop, use musical clichés. Clichés aren’t evil; they’re necessary. Yes, they can be overused (and by definition they HAVE been overused), but the commonalities we perceive in music help anchor us in the familiar and allow us to digest a forty minute symphony or a new rock record without feeling completely overwhelmed.
When an artist goes out if his way to avoid the familiar, (Rufus Wainwright’s latest album, “All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu” comes to mind) it can be difficult for the listener to truly absorb the songs upon first rotation (or even second or third). Ultimately, these songs might end up having lasting power, the ones that provide a deeper and more interesting musical experience, but there’s still something to be said about instant appeal, when a song achieves that spine-tingling perfection.
Paul McCartney’s song “Wanderlust” from 1982 comes to mind. It employs all of four chords, and I’m still amazed that the guy could continue to discover excitement and beauty in the same chords he’d been playing for over twenty years. Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” from 1997 is another example. It’s a simple 12-bar blues, but it’s oh, so good, and I never tire of hearing it.
In the weeks ahead, I’d like to highlight some of my favorite clichés in pop music and how artists have used them in ways that still capture our attention. If you’ve got any you’d like to mention, please chime in. First up for me will be the descending major scale bass line. It’s an oldie but goodie, and I’ll address it in two weeks.
Next week: a review of Rufus Wainwright’s Friday night show at the Chicago Theatre.