Learning to Listen Interview 1.2: Annie Randall, Associate Professor, Musicology, Bucknell Unversity

Riffs, Beats, & Codas regularly features interviews with experts, fans, and scholars of popular focused on a single prompt:  Please discuss a piece of music that helped you "learn to listen"?

                             Annie Randall, Associate Professor of Musicology, Bucknell University.

                             Annie Randall, Associate Professor of Musicology, Bucknell University.

When you posed this question I first thought of the songs I had on “repeat play” in preparation for my book on Dusty Springfield. One of them, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (1966), is now permanently intertwined with every part of my brain’s wiring.  YDHTSYLM is such an emotionally moving song; I listened really closely to it to try to find out what it was that gave it that incredible power. It goes without saying that the “answer” was very complex; there’s no single element that makes a song so cathartic for large numbers of listeners. Rather, it’s a combination of elements in just the right proportion that gives a song an almost magical power to move us.         

 I almost wanted to say “power over us” in that last sentence because it seems very hard to resist a beautifully crafted and expertly delivered song like this. In YDHTSYLM the rich character of Dusty’s voice is audible in her first few notes. She is a storyteller whose voice makes you want to listen to the whole tale. But even before you hear her voice, there’s that incredible blast of horns followed by a big, fat dramatic pause telling us: fasten your seatbelts! So, in the first ten seconds the singer, composer, and instrumentalists have set us up for an amazing ride. It’s like a roller coaster at an amusement park: thrills and chills! As we move past the opening, the songs climbs higher and descends ever more steeply—the upward modulations achieve this sensation—and Dusty Springfield was pretty much the only singer who was able to successfully execute these modulations.

 Incredible as Dusty’s instrument and musicality were, the lyrics of Wickham and Napier-Bell and the compositional devices of Donaggio and Pallavicini also share credit for the lasting power of this particular recording. Listening carefully to other versions of YDHTSYLM (Elvis and Cher not to mention numerous contestants on “X Factor” or “The Voice”) will make this point even clearer. Hearing these other versions, it’s apparent that the song is a well-constructed melodrama, indeed, a “pop aria,”—but it’s also true that Dusty elevates it to the level of a singular experience through her musicality and ability to connect with audiences. She owns it, as the saying goes.

                                        Photo image: www.vinyl45s.com

                                        Photo image: www.vinyl45s.com

 In listening closely to YDHTSYLM I learned that the most effective pop songs are those that observe some fairly basic rules of lyric writing and composition and have a talented group of musicians to interpret it and sell it to an audience. With all the basics in place, ultimately, it’s the quality of the performance that transforms a song into an emotional event that continues to resonate long after the experience itself has faded.

Annie Randall, Ph.D., is professor of musicology at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. Educated at Univ. of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, DePaul School of Music (Chicago), and Univ. of Kent at Canterbury (England), she holds degrees in musicology, composition, and early modern European history. Her publications include books on music and social justice (Music Power, and Politics), opera (Puccini and The Girl), and 60s Britpop (Dusty! Queen of the Postmods). 

Learning to Listen Interview 1.1: Theo Cateforis, Associate Professor of Music History & Cultures, Syracuse University

Riffs, Beats, & Codas regularly features interviews with experts, fans, and scholars of popular focused on a single prompt:  Please discuss a piece of music that helped you "learn to listen"?

Theo Cateforis, Associate Professor of Music History & Cultures, Syracuse University.

Theo Cateforis, Associate Professor of Music History & Cultures, Syracuse University.


Please discuss a piece of music that helped you "learn to listen"?

There are many songs that have helped me learn to listen, but one that immediately comes to mind is Golden Earring's 1974 classic rock staple "Radar Love." I've known this song for decades, as it was on the radio constantly when I was growing up in the 1970s. But it wasn't until much later on that I actually heard it with fresh ears and learned something about listening to popular music. I was a visiting professor at the College of William and Mary in 2001 and was in the midst of teaching my very first surveys of jazz history and American popular music history. I had always know "Radar Love" as a rock song, but when I encountered the song for the first time in a few years I suddenly heard the bluesy call and response coursing throughout the song's veins, heard the drummer's swing band cymbal work, and noticed the prominent big band and Latin-influenced brass riffs in the song's extended middle section.

Amidst all these hallmarks of earlier popular music styles, there are a couple wonderfully subtle moments where some sustained synthesizer tones poke through, marking the song clearly within its 1970s decade. The song itself, is a prototypical rock "road song," which situates the listener on a lonely highway with the singer. More than that, though, it falls in a category of what I like to call male-themed "journey" songs from the 1970s that take us through a lengthy instrumental section filled with various twists and turns (See "Highway Star," "Carry on Wayward Son," "Come Sail Away" and "Kashmir" for other examples). What I learned from listening to "Radar Love" with fresh ears was the myriad ways in which popular music's pasts and present collide at any moment. Likewise, the categories and boxes that we use to separate music from one another (jazz from rock, for example) often obscures the more open-ended musical universes that so many musicians embrace.

Theo Cateforis is Associate Professor of Music History & Cultures in the department of Art & Music Histories at Syracuse University. His publications include Are We Not New Wave? Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s (University of Michigan Press, 2011) and The Rock History Reader (Routledge, 2012), now in its second edition. He is a longtime contributor to The Big Takeover and former drummer for the indie rock bands Bunsen Honeydew and Four Volts.