Saturday, November 03, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment XVI

You've probably heard of Linda Ronstadt, if not for her roots in California folk rock, then perhaps for her many covers or her later flirtations with the Standards.

Unless you're a fan of folk music, you probably don't know Kate and Anna McGarrigle are at all.

And unless you were really paying close attention to the adult contemporary music scene in the early-to-mid 90s, you probably weren't aware that Ronstadt did a cover of a McGarrigle sisters song, namely tonight's selection "Heartbeats Accelerating" (link points to a video on iFilm).

Although I tend to prefer the lesser known original artist when it comes to songs like this, I have to admit that I like Ronstadt's version better. The McGarrigles' voices are too ghostly, and the accordion just doesn't work. Ronstadt's arrangement boldly takes the song in a different direction. If you listen closely to the musical arrangement, you can hear several musical styles at work.

Upon the subtle opening rhythm is layered a keyboard that is akin to a pipe organ. It's solitary nature reminds me of something that might be played in the church of my youth during the post sermon gathering of offerings, or perhaps as an interlude between to hymns sung during the distribution of communion.

The organ soon gets lost in a cymbal crescendo, but if you listen really closely, the theme remains in the background, plods its way through, and resurfaces at the end. Kicking in just prior to the crescendo is second keyboard track that is reminiscent of a reggae skank.

The verses lead off with Ronstadt singing without the full strength of her pipes, so it's not immediately obvious that it's her. Even when she does kick into high gear, it doesn't quite sound like her, and I can't put my finger on why. The latter parts of the verses cue the listener that this has some folk roots. The reverberated guitar is a nice touch, reminding one of the theme to the TV show Twin Peaks.

The lyrics are anticipatory, perhaps the thoughts of a young woman trying to puzzle out love. Whom will she love and when will it happen? I find it interesting that she speaks to Love as an elusive entity unto itself, something that manifests itself through another person (What earthly body will you assume?). Indeed, I was reminded of this song when Cat posted a recent comment about love finding me.

I first heard this song driving the long, lonely road between my home and the place I went to graduate school. It was perhaps early January 2004, about the time I was to undergo the Ph.D. candidacy examination. I didn't know it was Ronstadt at the time, but the unique sound of the song stuck with me.

I heard it once again in January 1996, just after I had left graduate school for east central Illinois. It was then that I went on a quest to identify the song. Fortunately at the time, search engines were sophisticated enough that you could punch in select phrases in quotes and turn up the lyrics to a song. Lyrics sites were not out there, but sometimes you'd find things on newsgroups. Indeed after several months of sporadic searches, I hit paydirt with a post on DejaNews. With a title in hand, I could find a CD.

To say that the sequence of notes that are used in the beginning of the latter part of the verses (e.g. "Will you come on a Saturday night? Maybe then the time will be right? Love love where can you be?") have been an earworm would be an understatement. The tune will play in my head at random times, especially when I am driving long distances in the cold dark night.

My mind plays games with the notes, trying to picture what they would sound like played to different instrumental arrangements, perhaps a chorus of dulcimers or a harp with orchestral back up. After a while, I can picture an entirely different piece of music that is vast expansion on this theme. Sometimes I wish I had the ability to transcribe these things into written form. Other times, I think it's for the better because they'd probably come across sounding worse than my fantasies. And then there are times that I wonder if I'm just an Asperger's case that slipped through diagnosis.

Nonetheless, enjoy the song, and remember to change your clocks. (No this doesn't mean I'm now 1amsomewhere)
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