middle of the road and u2 and unresolved chords

I have always loved music. And have a family that always had some type of music on growing up.

I kinda wasted whatever real music potential I had but I can write a hook lyric on occasion (let’s call it the once in awhile magical couplet), couldn’t write a musical hook if my life depended on it, can on occasion write an okay bridge and can play maybe 6 instruments so badly that people will ask me to stop but know enough on a piano to be able to explain an idea.

Regardless. My mother knows her musical shit (and has a great singing voice).

And in the scheme of things for a 78 year old she is fairly open minded with the music I listen to.

She actually paid attention during my David Bowie phase and has cried listening to Space Oddity (until one weak moment on my part and told her it was actually about heroin).

She loved Crosby Stills Nash & Young but always referred to Neil Young as “that poor man with the adenoid problem” and always said “you know, he could get that fixed.”

She still believes if Noel and Liam Gallagher would take voice lessons they may becomes better singers and more popular.

She loved the classical undertones of Yes (and … impressively … she heard Amy Fradon’s amazing remake of “Your Move” and identified it as a Yes song).

She can recognize Sting, Stevie Nicks and Steve Perry’s voices as soon as she hears them.

She can sing almost every Beatles song in their library and I am relatively confident she would have divorced my father if Paul McCartney had knocked at the door asking her out.

She knows the Rolling Stones R&B signature rolling bass rhythm sound so well that she can listen to one of today’s bands and say “well, they ripped the Stones rhythm sound off didn’t they?”

Surprisingly she loves the gospel trained/based pop vocal singers like Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Al Green (who as she said “now THERE is a voice”) and Gladys Night. She loves the purity of their voices and that knack for timing that gospel singing seems to teach.

She thinks Natalie Maines has the best voice out there for angry songs or songs that have a message that people should hear (but should never try and record a lullaby).

She thinks Tom DeLong (I got lucky .. she heard an Angels&Airwaves song and not a Blink182 song or we wouldn’t have even made it thru the first stanza and guitar blast) sounds Irish and has excellent breath control and vowel delivery which makes his unique vocals unusual but clear (whoda thunk she could find something positive on the Blink182 leader singer).

And she thinks Aimee Mann has the saddest voice but beautiful voice in the lower range.

So. I pick my mother’s musical brain whenever possible when in the car which also allows us to avoid uncomfortable son-mother conversations and we get to listen to music on the radio.

Okay. Let’s begin when U2 ‘streets with no name.’ The song comes on.

First. She had never heard Bono sing before. Just so you know her review “weaker voice then she expected and poor breath control.”

Second. We talked about their songwriting. I explained how they seemed to write these rolling sweeping anthemic songs that consistently built to an addictive listening space. Kinda difficult to dislike their big sounding songs.

She listens.

And says.

“Oh. They do the same trick Wagner was infamous for … the unresolved chord. They tease you throughout the entire song and don’t resolve it until the last note. ”

Uhm. Ok.


There you go. A viable explanation for why their shit is anthemic and addictive. She did go on to point out that it wasn’t just Wagner but also Vivaldi and a variety of classical composers, but, good day on the mom music teaching front.


The Pretenders ‘Middle of the Road’.

Before I talk about this one let me state this is one of my favorite songs of all time. This is Chrissie Hynde at her vocal best on this song and when she purrs & meows in the middle it is priceless. In addition I believe it is one of the best crafted songs start to finish off any song you can hear.

But talking to mom can be tricky sometimes.

You kind of have to leave your own feelings at the door if you want to wander into the mom opinion house.

So. I left it slightly open ended but asked her what she thought as she listened.

I did happen to throw in that Chrissie is probably the best in the business at using sharp & flat notes (rather than true notes) in vocals (luckily mom agreed she was excellent at that).

She listened.

She. “Well. I don’t really like the music. They play too fast. But she has that great singer’s ability to sing parts in single time while the band is playing in double time. She slows the pace to the listener a little the way she sings. Also. Great in and out timing.” (and then she threw out some older generation singer who had the ability to consistently enter into a chord on an offbeat and it sounded right rather than late).

You know. Avoiding the son-mother conversations can have a positive outcome.

It was another good mom moment.



We do end up talking about singing voices a lot. Strength. Tone. Ability to hit intervals. Timing. Stuff like that.

But. Of them all … breathing is a biggy for her (not her own … the way singers breath when they sing).

In fact. Of all her gripes about today’s music this is probably her biggest gripe.

She has noted that significantly more singers today have crappy breath control when they sing versus her generation (and in this case she isn’t suggesting that her generation was better than ours).

I asked why.

This is simply a case of microphones. Frank Sinatra learned to sing in clubs without a microphone (or a good one). Gospel singers sang in churches without microphones. They couldn’t lean on a microphone to carry the day. It was up to their lungs to make their voice carry.

So. A Faith Hill. Shania Twain (yeah. that one surprised me).  Young Elton John. Uhm. I can’t think of anyone else. It’s a surprisingly short list (of popular bands today).

Oh. One last interesting tidbit.

Ever wonder how accents (bronx, cockney, spanish, etc.) disappear while singing? (I did).

Well. Singing is a natural cure for accents. “Most accents are created by laziness more than anything else. Singing and getting words and vowels in particular is anything but lazy for a singer. Its work.” Well. There you go.

Country singers (most) beat this trend but in general most heavy accents disappear while singing and only resurface when talking.

Oh. And why do songs in Italian and French and even Spanish sound better (even if you don’t know what they are saying)? Thank foreign vowels.

Ok. This was a random. Unsolicited (we weren’t listening  to some randy salsa sing or anything) .. “sigh. the Italians and French are so lucky. The way they pronounce their vowels is why you love to hear them sing.”

Wow. And I always thought it was because they all looked like Shakira and Ricky Martin (I didn’t really. I just couldn’t put my finger on why foreign songs consistently sound so awesome coming out of the speakers).

There you go.

A music lesson for the day. Courtesy of mom.

Written by Bruce