Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Don't Dream It's Over" - Crowded House (Crowded House)

Wow. Look at this video. Whereas images of, say, A-ha or Duran Duran are forever frozen in the mid-80's in my mind, I've closely followed Neil Finn for his entire career, so seeing him again in his mid-20's heavily made up like an 80's vaguely Euro pop-star is kind of...just...wrong. I like the smashing tableware, but what's with the tempura-on-a-stick floating across the screen? What the hell is that thing?

So first: it's a huge, timeless, international hit song. It's more than 20 years since it was released, and just walking around in every day life you're likely to hear it playing over the PA in a grocery store, or on some Classics-of-the-80's-90's-and-70's radio station that's tuned in at your hair salon. mtg once asked me rhetorically, "What do you think you have done in your life more times than Neil Finn has performed this song?" Beyond, "get up in the morning," not a whole lot.

I imagine (with only minimal evidence to back me up) that Neil didn't write this song thinking it would be a single. I've always assumed that the follow-up release, "Something So Strong" was originally meant to be the single from the fact that their producer Mitchell Froom is listed in the liner notes as having co-written it. It wasn't even the first single released off the album ("Mean to Me," which didn't make much of a dent anywhere, holds that honor). I don't know what the lesson from that is other than, write and record a lot of songs because you never know.

I forget all the time that the original Crowded House was a power trio, though that's probably because of the prominent overdubbing they always did--here a second guitar (it might actually be the same guitar again with a different effects array) starting in the second verse, and the organ in the last third. A lot of detail in the jangly, chorused, and now totally iconic guitar riff--Neil gets multiple different sounds out of the same chord by hitting the low strings on the downstroke and really ripping the treble notes with upstrokes. Really prominent bass. Thick layered chorus of voices on the Hey Now's from which Neil's distinct wail just sort of emerges. No real bridge, just the organ, and only a very brief turnaround where the chords are any different from the verse. The only thing it (the turnaround) does is sort of "surface" from the organ part into the last verse, but it does that one thing perfectly.

This song sounded totally current in the context of 1986--I remember mentally lumping it in with the aforementioned Duran Duran's and A-ha's of the musical world that I knew then. Part of it was the lyrics--"my possessions are causing me suspicion but there's no proof." They were just kind of inscrutably Euro-cool (though Neil is, of course, a Kiwi--a subtlety lost on me when I was 12). The verses are full of little evocative pockets--"in the paper today, tales of warring and waste, but you turn right over to the t.v. page." That one line manages to paint an entire picture of a relationship that, at 12, I had never experienced, but could nevertheless instantly understand. Then there is the chorus, a chorus that anyone can understand. Plus, as an added bonus, every time somebody says, "hey now..." you think of this song. Lesson: your verse lyrics can be complicated or make no apparent sense if you have a simple, accessible chorus. This is a lesson that I note that EVERYONE in indie rock has learned.

The guitars--that 80's Les Paul sound--is the only element of this song that's really of an era in any way, and while it sometimes sounds a little bit dated and cheesy to me, I never feel that way for long. This song is just so damn good.

1 comment:

fronesis said...

One note on singles. My sense is that the relationship between singles and albums has changed a LOT in the last 25 years. This song was the second of how many singles (at least 3, but I'm guessing more). Singles could be released slowly over a LONG period of time. I think of Albums like Thriller and Joshua Tree that had singles released over multiple years. Thus, the single was literally a small part of the album, and the album had a longer life of its own that could sustain singles. Today, the single must give birth to the album. If the single flops, then the album will never get off the ground and therefore never deliver more singles. So, yes, write a lot of songs, but you better pick wisely when you release them.