The Artistry of Sting: Five Great Songs

Gordon Sumner, the English songwriter and musician known as Sting, celebrates his 70th birthday tomorrow. Between 1977 and 1986, Sting was the lead singer, bass guitarist, and principal songwriter for the band, The Police. Later, his solo career blossomed. Sting’s songs are filled with fascinating harmonic complexity and depth. Here are a few examples. There are many others that are equally interesting, including the jazz-infused Englishman in New York (a track which features Branford Marsalis on soprano …

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Classic Rock: Yes’ “Shoot High, Aim Low”

Shoot High, Aim Low comes from the 1987 album, Big Generator, by the English progressive rock band, Yes.  The song is hazy, hypnotic, and sonically alluring. It drifts over an eternally reassuring rhythmic groove, laid down by Alan White (drums) and Chris Squire (bass), which emerges from the chaotic “white noise” of an orchestra warming up—an obvious homage to The Beatles. Exuberant Spanish guitar riffs punctuate warm, glowing synth tones. Occasionally, seemingly “wayward” harmonies challenge …

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Remembering Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen, the legendary virtuoso rock guitarist, passed away yesterday following a battle with lung cancer. He was 65. The band Van Halen, formed in Pacific Palisades, California in 1972, was credited with “restoring hard rock to the forefront of the music scene.” The band’s original lineup (until 1985) included Eddie, his brother Alex Van Halen (drums), lead singer David Lee Roth, and bassist Michael Anthony. Later, Sammy Hagar replaced Roth. Eruption …

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Debussy and the “Tristan Chord”

On Monday, we heard the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, a work which opened the door to the dissolution of tonality and the atonal sound world of the twentieth century. One composer who was profoundly influenced by this music was the young Claude Debussy. In 1887, Debussy called Tristan und Isolde “the most beautiful thing I know, from the point of view of the profundity of the emotion.” Yet, in a …

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Three Great Songs from Rush’s “Moving Pictures” Album

Neil Peart, the legendary drummer and lyricist of the Canadian rock trio, Rush, passed away last week after a battle with cancer. He was 67. Rolling Stone rated Peart among the top five greatest rock drummers of all time. His playing exhibited a powerful virtuosity which frequently drew upon complex, shifting meters. Variety‘s recent tribute notes that “Peart was famous for his state-of-the-art drum kits—more than 40 different drums were not out of the …

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Remembering Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” passed away yesterday. She was 76. As a child, Franklin began singing gospel music at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father, C.L Franklin, was minister. All of the lament and longing of the African-American experience, from slavery, to civil rights, to the musical call and response of the Black church, can be heard in her voice. David Remnick’s 2016 New Yorker profile, quoted President Obama saying, …

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“Yes”: Three Great Songs from the “90125” Album

Rick Beato offers a fascinating analysis of the Yes song, “Roundabout,” at his Youtube channel, Everything Music. His deconstruction showcases the incredible virtuosity and musicianship of the English progressive rock band’s members, including the late bassist Chris Squire and vocalist Jon Anderson. We also get a sense that Yes didn’t just write catchy songs, but rather, extended, symphonic, works of art, filled with innovative electronic processing techniques such as “backwards piano” and double tracked vocals. Amazingly, the musical adventure which …

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