Tuesday, August 15, 2006

So the crowd gets silent I start to play

Pop songs can be based on any number of instruments--synthesizers, guitars, or--the focus of today's post--pianos. Pianos can often be overpowering in songs--drown out the singer and taking away the vocal-based aesthetic that I so love. However, when used properly, they can add a lovely melodic element to songs, magnifying their power and giving them a very timeless sound. Even though the piano-based pop song is far from dominant in today's world, there are a good number of artists making such songs, so these are only a few of the many out there.

Billy Joel - Piano Man--could I get any more stereotypical? The interesting thing about this song is how much, despite the title and Billy Joel's reputation as the Piano Man, the piano takes a backseat to Billy's voice. It's clearly there the whole time, but it's also not the main focus; in fact, the harmonica parts are possibly even more prominent than the piano, which provides a simple-sounding backing.

Five For Fighting - The Riddle (You & I)--bringing us quickly up to the present, we have this song, which is currently working its way through the U.S. charts. John Ondrasik's (the man behind Five For Fighting) distinctive high voice is, as with Billy's, the focus here, but the piano seems more noticeable here. On the strength of this song alone, previous Five For Fighting singles "Superman" and "100 Years" have reentered the iTunes top 100 chart. "The Riddle" is in a vein very similar to those, though it's more happy and hopeful sounding than them.

The Fray - Over My Head (Cable Car)--right, so I can't get too excited about this song. I blame VH1, which had The Fray as their "You Oughta Know" artist (I'm getting frustrated with that program in general; it seems like VH1 is just taking artists popular in the UK and then promoting them as their own discoveries--Daniel Powter, KT Tunstall, James Blunt, and Corinne Bailey Rae have all been "You Oughta Know" artists at some point). From the moment I heard this song, I knew it was destined to do well and be overplayed, and for some reason that made me less inclined to like the song. It's that sort of meaningful-sounding piano-based pop/rock which will probably soundtrack television shows for at least a decade.

Jon McLaughlin - Industry--moving outside of the Hot 100, we have major-label signed but still indieish artist Jon McLaughlin (but not indie in the sense of a certain type of guitar-based sound). His songs are beautiful but there's also a bit of fun or passion in them--maybe something that I feel is missing from The Fray's song. The chorus has a bit of an anthemic feel. Midway through the song, there's a sudden quieting followed by an amazing build up; then, suddenly, the song feels like it stops, and you're left in the lurch, wanting more, before the chorus returns for one last go-round.

Jon McLaughlin - Praying To The Wrong God--one more Jon McLaughlin song; the audio quality on this is somewhat subpar, but the song is good enough that I thought I should include it (even though I think CD-quality sound will add a lot to this song). The piano is still clearly important here, but the song is maybe a bit more pop-sounding than "Industry." The lyrics and melody could easily be used by any major pop artist, so I have hope that, even sung by a relative unknown, this song could do well if released as a single; I know that might be somewhat unlikely (it might not be the instant attention-grabbing introduction a "new" artist needs, and I have no idea as to Jon's future plans), but I can hope, right?

To buy Billy Joel's album Piano Man, go here (physical) or, for The Essential Billy Joel, here (digital); for Five For Fighting's most recent album, Two Lights, go here (physical) or here (digital; only valid for US residents); for The Fray's first album, How To Save A Life, go here (physical) or, for just the single, here (digital); and for Jon McLaughlin's albums, go here (physical; hopefully, his self-titled first album will be in stock again soon).

Next up: the next post will probably be sort of random--some clips or low-quality versions of new or newish songs by famous artists.


Paul said...

wowsers in my trousers - what a great post. Billy Joel Piano man reminds me of when i was with all my friends on my last night in State University New York - geneseo campus before i flew back to england and they all knew i loved Piano Man so i was playing it on the piano and sobbing away while everyone sang. Aah memories :)

How have i not heard of Five For Fighting? I really REALLY like this song - it is super lovely. Also the Fray are great - i have been meaning to check them out for a while now :)

Will listen to Jonnie boy when i get home and give you my opinion on him then! Thanks again for some great songs and memories :)

Poster Girl said...

Piano Man may be the perfect sing along song--I'm glad I could bring back some memories (even if they are of leaving).

I haven't listened to any full albums by Five For Fighting, but the Riddle is really sweet and quite pretty--it's definitely my favorite single of theirs, out of those I've heard.

Ross said...

Pretty effective info, thanks so much for this article.
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