The strange alchemy of songs

I have always been amazed how great songs — the right combination of words and music — have the peculiar power that they do.

There are moments in some songs that can utterly transport me to another emotional plane. Yet if I merely listen to the music in an instrumental version, or if I look only at the lyrics, nothing happens. The magic occurs only when the two are combined.

For example, Judy Collins’ cover of the Ian Tyson classic “Someday Soon” contains one moment near the end that thrills me, no matter how many times I listen to it. You can hear it in this video. In the refrain that starts around 2:58, when she sings the word “California”, I just melt.

I suspect this may be partly because of the way her voice in this passage becomes more wistful, tempering the excitement of awaiting her true love with the intuition that life won’t be perfect even after he returns (you have to listen to the entire song to get the full effect).

This sudden increase in emotional complexity makes the tale feel more vivid and alive and true, lifting it beyond a mere love story.

I don’t think such a thing could be achieved with mere words or music alone. Only through the strange alchemy of songs.

2 thoughts on “The strange alchemy of songs”

  1. Hmm, maybe I should spend more time listening to The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *