Sunday, 8 January 2012

It's Just A Kiss Away

Sometimes, it seems like great music is about taking little pieces and re-arranging them.

Take Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones, for example.

A one-chord verse, and a clever re-working of Dylan's/Hendrix's groove on All Along the Watchtower (substituting C# Major for C# Minor - and yes I know it sounds like Hendrix is playing C Minor, but he tuned his guitar down a half step).

Anyway, that's it: one chord held through the verse, and three chords repeated over and over during a relentless, driving chorus.  Throw in a simple melody sung by an iconic voice and - presto! you get one of the most powerful songs ever recorded.

Of course, it's not quite that simple.  The arrangement is pure genius.  The unnerving repetition of the scraper, the tentative way the guitar comes in (the tremelo adding to the hesitation), the mournful oohs as the song builds and first verse starts.  You know this is a song about fear and loathing way before Mick starts telling you he's at the mercy of forces beyond his control, that he's afraid he might fade away. 

Then the chorus kicks you in the gut.  We're on the edge.  It's not about Mick.  It's usWe might not make it.  And before you know it, you're thinking, "Hey!  Give
me shelter, man!  I'm in trouble."

Not convinced?  OK, let's make it personal.  This is not a song about bad weather.  And war is not a vague concept in some far off, distant land.  It's rape.  It's murder.  It's here.

Then, once you're stripped, lost and without hope:  Love is just a kiss away.  And just like that your emotion shifts from despair to hope.  To defiance.

Simple music, clever arrangement, powerful words:  a great recipe for an overwhelming emotional ride.

Oh, and you can dance to it, too.

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