I just read a great post at the oft-overlooked music blog “GuitarBlog.” You can find the post here. It’s part of an ongoing list of great moments in songs. Everybody knows these kinds of things–the squeak of a finger on a guitar string, the extra hit of the snare drum that sounds appropriately out-of-place… they are moments that, in a perfectionist’s universe, should not be there. Yet most listener’s actually look forward to these moments, and revel in them. I saved a quote from one of the Beastie Boys in an old issue of Rolling Stone, and it touches on this:
One thing the Beastie Boys do when we are finishing tracks is make sure there’s a Lee Perry part: some weird detail that’s not supposed to be there but somehow makes sense.
To quote a portion of GuitarBlog’s post, here’s a description of U2’s “Red Hill Mining Town” off their album The Joshua Tree:
3:59 into Red Hill Mining Town by U2. The iconic foursome have blessed fans with bleeding heart lyrics and earnest emotion long enough for us to know that this song was likely inspired by some nasty real-world experience. Sure enough, the Wiki entry indicates: “Bono has said that the song is about the 1984 UK mining strike and its strain on relationships at the time.” Even without the history, the driving beat of this track – off the near-flawless The Joshua Tree album – pulls the listener through blue-collar hardship, without a Hollywood ending in sight. The 2 lines at 3:59 – “Love, slowly stripped away/Love, has seen its better day” – just seem to stand a half-octave higher, if not in pitch then in sincerity. (And listen for Bono’s emotional inhale only a second earlier, at 3:58.)
Appreciating the small, subtle moments of an amazing song almost feels like betraying the work as a whole–like ignoring a painting to admire the paint. As a fan of anything will tell you, though: love is in the details.