Why hello there. Back for more, I see. As ever, we’ll begin with the curatorial delicacies: this episode’s selection of nibbles comprises dashes of the winsome and even a little of the melancholy. Whilst my music theory knowledge is questionable at best, I reckon these tracks to be in the same key too – not only that, but the start/close notes flow on from the last instalment’s choices (lucky, lucky you!). Anyway, see what you make of these – I guess it goes without saying, but I love ‘em…
1. Bobby Vee – Take Good Care of My Baby
We kick things off this week with an absolute classic from the coveted songbook of Carole King. Ably assisted by her then-husband Gerry Goffin, Take Good Care has all the soft pop charm of the Brill building, underpinned by the unmistakable melodic excellence of its prestigious authors. Bobby Vee scored a transatlantic number one on this songs release in August 1961; it was especially popular in the UK where it would become ingrained in music history as one of the songs demoed by the Beatles at their doomed Decca audition on January 1 1962. After those initial observations however, sentimental and historical, you find yourself wondering if songs like this really require any further analysis. Lyrically and musically, it’s an extremely simple song, devoid of any real poetry or verbose, musical obstacle. And, at just under two-and-a-half minutes, it’s also too short to wander that far from the entirely expected: dreamy, male singer + catchy chorus + token fifties key change = classic pop track. Why then, do I hold it in such high regard? Well, I’m a sentimental fool. I remember this song featuring in an advert for toddler milk when I was quite small (and that advert featuring, in turn, on a TV-taped VHS copy of Annie that I reportedly cherished). Aside from that personal connection however, I’m struck by the perfect, saccharin quality of this song. It’s my favourite of the old pop 45s; I’d struggle to tell you why though. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the major-minor fall in the chorus; perhaps I have a fondness for that twinkly piano in the background or for the production, particularly the sweet, double-tracked vocals… it’s hard to put my finger on. So pervasive is the sugary goodness of this early pop music, that you can’t help but love it – and if ever there was a perfect manifestation of the formula in action, it’s this track.
2. The Beatles – I Will
A neat tie-in now to the previous track, with I Will, the 16th song on the aforementioned Beatles’ eponymous album. At a minute and 46 seconds, it’s one of the Beatles’ shortest tracks, and certainly one of the briefest on my playlist. Now, I know what you’re thinking – I could’ve chosen any Beatles love-song. Does my fetishizing the White Album appal you? Are you sickened by my desperate, hipster-esque attention seeking; by my allegiance to the forgotten album track over the applauded hit single? Do you question my objectivity? If you do, I have done these things too – so don’t worry; I commend you. The trouble is this: there is something inescapably lovely about this song – its glistening 12-string Rickenbacker intrusions; McCartney’s almost whispered delivery; the gentle, bubbling percussion. The chords (suspensions and sevenths in abundance) meld together wonderfully; the tune is catchy; the arrangement and production are excellent – it’s flawless. Just like Bobby Vee, the Beatles exude something almost queasily sweet here – unquestionably adorable, perhaps even unjustifiably nice. It’s especially peculiar in the context of the full record; the White Album is infamously patchy and in places, its mundaneness borders on the aggressive. Even when it’s entertaining you, the album is a strange, unwieldy beast (The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, for example – to quote Tony Kenner, what’s that all about?) I Will then, is one of the more tangible moments on The Beatles and, subsequently, one of the most relieving. It doesn’t want to challenge you at all – which, given it’s potentially complicated subject matter, is a really rather pretty thing.
3. Randy Newman & Sarah McLachlan – When She Loved Me
Every now and again, Pixar break our fragile hearts. You felt it during the tragic montage that opens Up; when Woody and the gang accepted their fate during Toy Story 3’s tear-jerking incinerator scene; when Wall·E temporarily forgot Eve. One such moment occurs midway through Toy Story 2; Jessie (pictured) recalls, in song, her previous owner – a young girl who grew up and got too old to play with her anymore. When you think of Toy Story, you think of the buoyant, country-music inflections of Randy Newman’s You Got a Friend in Me. It’s hard to believe then that the same songwriter can have such a sad alternative in him, a sadness made greater still by the trembling beauty of Sarah McLachlan’s ghostly soprano vocal. Even outside the context of the film, When She Loved Me is a gorgeous thing. The production is impeccable; the arrangement is subtly filled by strings and horns; moreover, the lyric, and its angelic intonation are breath-taking. Newman’s composition is truly excellent; he weaves a wounded quilt of sound – patches of catchy melody upon patches of moody deviation. When the words and sounds collide, the full effect is felt, and it’s dreadfully powerful indeed (a doomed promise of eternal love at the apex of the discordant bridge is especially poignant). People seem to really enjoy the sentimental carnage Pixar leave in their wake; it’s even become a measure for just how good we think a Pixar film is – did it make me cry? If not, why not? You may think there’s something perverse in that… or maybe it’s just Disney getting us to look a bit harder at ourselves and enjoy doing it, save despairing. Either way, When She Loved Me represents one of the most articulate moments in modern children’s cinema, as devastating as it is beautiful.