Have you ever been listening to a drab, mediocre song when all of a sudden you found yourself getting down to a few bars of music that are uncharacteristically good? Do you keep some songs in your collection purely for 20 seconds of awesomeness out of four minutes of lame? Here’s the phenomenon I’m snappily dubbing “mediocre songs with amazing bits”.
It’s like a grey school uniform with an unusually funky striped tie, or a plain green salad with a small pile of crispy bacon in the middle. That one section of cool music sandwiched in an otherwise boring song can make it all seem worthwhile.
Maybe you can think of some of your own examples, but here are my top 4. (And yes, this is Cultrbox’s first countdown list!)
4. Goldfrapp: Rocket – Penguin Prison Remix
Goldfrapp’s Rocket is an unremarkable pop-dance track. The Penguin Prison remix adds little for the majority of its 6:35 playtime. A sharper drum beat, some bass with a little more rumble. But then 4:38 happens and everything changes.
An infectious little synth starts pulsing away with a maddeningly addictive rhythm, and at 5:08 a lead electric guitar explodes into the track with verve and vigor that were nowhere to be found in the last few minutes.
It’s the sort of musical event that puts a big smile on your face. For about one minute out of that song, joy is compulsory. Resistance is futile.
3. Weird Al Yankovic: Hardware Store
Hardware Store is one of my least favourite Weird Al songs. It’s largely tuneless, and the chorus is dull. And then comes the bridge.
From 2:23 until 2:53, in a 30-second piece of fast-talking rivaling The West Wing, Weird Al lists the many products available in his hardware store. It sounds mundane, and in many ways it is, but the sheer pace, variety of vocabulary, and inventive rhymes make it one of his standout accomplishments. Check out these lines:
Pesticides for fumigation, high-performance lubrication
Metal roofing, water proofing, multi-purpose insulation
When I listen to Hardware Store, I invariably skip right to the bridge, and sometimes repeat it two or three times.
2. The Guess Who: No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature
This one track by The Guess Who is two songs bolted together. No Sugar Tonight plays until 1:58, and New Mother Nature picks up from there. At first, it seems like that’s all it is: two separate songs with a slightly ungainly transition between them. But wait, there’s more!
Both halves of the song are decent, or even pretty good, but at 3:53 something marvelous happens. The two songs intertwine, with alternating lines from each song weaving around each other as if they were always meant to be sung together.
Of course, when you’ve heard it, it seems obvious. But on first listening, I didn’t see it coming, and that feeling of giddy surprise stays with me on repeated listening.
1. Groove Armada: Pre 63
Perhaps the quintessential example of “mediocre songs with amazing bits” is Groove Armada’s sultry electro-jazz track Pre 63. It’s pretty cool throughout, in a forgettable easy listening sort of way. But I love it for five seconds out of 6:27.
From 3:49 to 3:54, there’s a brief, throaty, distorted arrangement of noise (it could be a synth or an electric guitar filtered until it’s unrecognizable), which makes what is quite possibly the funkiest sound to have ever massaged my ears.
Six and a half minutes, for five seconds of ecstasy. Totally worth it.
Those are my top picks for “mediocre songs with amazing bits”. What would you nominate? Drop your choices in the comments below, or on Facebook/Twitter.
(Anyone who nominates “all classical music” can go stand in the corner. But you might have a point. Hours of stuff no-one remembers, just to get a few moments good enough to sell Cornetto ice-creams and Hovis bread…)