Saturday, 16 March 2013

Lent for Extroverts 28: Mood Music

I have a love-hate relationship with music on the radio. It's different with an iPod - you choose those tracks yourself - but with radio, I can be suddenly ambushed by a song that comes on without warning, and unaccountably I have to switch channels for sadness.

I have two songs which are currently off limits but there have been and will be many others.  I can't remember when this unfortunate state of affairs started;  it was an issue with certain 1980s albums associated with past broken hearts, but I usually saw sense and buried the CDs in a cupboard till the danger was past. But it's the unpredictability of radio which is the problem. You have no control over what it evokes and it can take you by surprise.

Maybe it's to do with endings because there was a particularly bad episode when my last child started Primary and I would walk home from the school run at about 8.45 am, come in the house and put the radio on. And sometimes it went right off again. I presume the two things were linked.

Luckily I'm always discovering songs which make me feel terrifically happy for no apparent reason, so in the car I'll put the latest one of those on loop and work out how many times I can play it for the duration of the journeys between meetings. Fourteen times with a regular 3 minuter is a nice 42 minute journey to Diocesan Church House. The time passes in a flash. And at the other end the meeting is bound to be more bearable.

A recent research project at Goldsmiths College, London University has shown that even a 15 second snatch of a track which makes you happy can significantly enhance your perception of someone else's face looking happy, even if you're looking at a neutral face. And if you've been listening to music which makes you sad, it will appear everyone you encounter looks sad too.

I try to analyse musically why some are sad and others happy; it may be tempo, key signature; the voice. It could be a song's association with certain people or situations past or present, and the words of course; but none of these alone is the defining factor. It's nebulous. In fact, my sad song could your happy one and vice versa.

Anyway, here they are: two sad, one happy.


Sailing, by Christopher Cross.

An amazing guitar riff sets the scene, playing around a set of three notes which are very close harmonically but which change subtly through the build up and into the first verse. I think it's them. They cannot decide on major or minor and it just unsettles me. The chorus sort of resolves into major 7th chords which are then layered with further harmony into major 9ths. Cross's voice is perfect. I could've picked his 1981 theme to Arthur, the classic Dudley Moore adaptation which came out when I was sweet 16. What a year, what a song. But Sailing just has the edge for me.

Lifening, by Snow Patrol.

Apart from the fact the Gary Lightbody is probably a genius, it's his voice (vulnerable; gets me every time) and choice of chords. He begins in a major, with the bass note of the acoustic guitar on 1. Then the bass note goes up to 2 while the major chord is suspended, picked over the top; THEN, genius, he drops the bass note two semitones below the home note and ends on the fourth, before repeating it all through the song. It's the clash of major chords while the bass goes walkabout that does it. And the lyrics: a simple desire for the basics of happiness, nothing more: 'A hand upon my forehead/a joke and then a laugh/waking up in your arms/a place to call my own./This is all I ever wanted from life...'


Writer, by Ellie Goulding.

I think it's the combination of her really high and child like, faultless voice, and the rhythm, which took me a while to suss. It's genius really: 9/8 in the verse, with a weird (in a good way) stress on the 1st and 7th beats, switching effortlessly to 12/8 in the chorus. It just gives a fairly straightforward song something more. I think after a few more journeys to Church House I might get sick of it, but it's doing the trick right now. What are your sads and happys?


  1. try Zorbing by Stornowaay just catching and a beautiful voice crackling with sensitivity

  2. Ellie Goulding makes me think of Alexandra and our trips to university open days last year - she compiled a CD for each trip! Snow Patrol is one of Edward's favourites and he has just played me Lifening so thanks for the moody blog. My sads at the moment? 'Small Bump' and Eponine's song. My happys? Lots!