Wednesday, June 2, 2010

1981 - Bette Davis Eyes

I'm going to try an experiment: learning my song as early as possible in the day, instead of allotting a time slot at the end of the day. It's only happened early in the day of its own accord a handful of times, and I like the frame of mind it leaves me in for the rest of the day: alert, observant, satisfied that I have both crossed something off the to-do list and given myself a little present in the form of a song I now know.

Speaking of presents, it's my birthday month! Ok, so my birthday isn't until the 19th, but I've had an emotionally arduous year, and it's the first of what I hope will be many 29th birthdays, so I plan to celebrate all month. For this project, I have chosen to learn a song from each year of my life. In most cases, I chose the song that was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on or around my birthday. I've made a few exceptions for songs I hate or that really don't lend themselves to piano. The song for June 6th...

P.M. (well, to be more precise, very early A.M.)
...sometimes I get interrupted mid-sentence.  I was writing that last bit on my phone on the subway, and I had to get off the train at that point.

So anyway, as I was saying, the song for June 6th will be chosen by my best friend Sarah, who is thirteen days older than I and whom I have known since we were six years old. 

1981, the year I was born.  "Bette Davis Eyes" was actually written in 1974 by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, but it was 1981 when Kim Carnes' version became a hit. 

Perhaps because I would love to know just what it takes to make a pro blush (or even what that means), perhaps because I've been told I have Bette Davis eyes, I really like the lyrics to this song.  Not particularly clever in terms of wordplay, but they do contain some nice imagery, eg "pure as New York snow", "she'll take a tumble on you/roll you like you were dice" ...


Ahem.  So, phrase lengths!  Debbie (of Monday night's jam session) came over today and played through some of her original music with me so I can work on arranging it.  I need a little, low-stakes arranging project to build my chops, she would like some arrangements for her songs.  Debbie lamented that her songs are "the same thing over and over again", and then, a little later, that she wrote this "weird, random part" near the end of one song.  So basically you wrote a great pop song, I told her.  We talked about how the hooks - the really basic, catchy parts -  are what draw us in and give us something to hang onto, but it's that quirky bit that's different and tasty that makes us go back and listen to a song over and over again.  Well, actually, it's the combination of hook and quirk that is so delightful.  Quirky hook.  Hooky quirk?  (No.) ...Kind of like sugar and butter - wasn't there some sort of scientific study a while back about the irresistibility of a certain ratio of sugar and butter?  I must be hungry. 

Anyway (running out of consciousness and brainpower) - in "Bette Davis Eyes", the songwriters do us a favor by eliding some of the cadences to keep the momentum going in this bridgeless, refrain-happy song - that is, the end of one musical phrase and the beginning of the next sort of overlap.  This happens in the middle of each verse, eg "She'll lay you on the throne/She got Bette Davis eyes/She'll take a tumble on you..." - if one is used to counting in 4- or 8-bar phrases, one would expect another measure between "Bette Davis eyes" and "she'll take a tumble..."  But we hear "Bette Davis eyes" so many times in the song, we don't really care if it lands with room to spare every single time we hear it. 

I don't have a clever conclusion to this entry, so I will just fade out, like this song and so many others from the 80s...

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