By Andrew Ford and Anni Heino
Francis La Trobe University Press, PB, 288pp
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What does English singer-songwriter Kate Bush have in common with 16th-century composer Thomas Tallis? Or Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore with Bob Dylan? These are among the connections that musicologist Anni Heino and broadcaster Andrew Ford draw in The Song Remains the Same, named for a Led Zeppelin lyric and spanning cultural touchstones from Mahler to My Little Pony.
In an introduction that gently and lovingly teases apart the features of the musical form known as the ‘song’ – words, music, structure, performance and more – Ford and Heino outline the scope of this book, which brings together analyses of some 75 songs across 800 years: “We only had two rules: no operatic arias (because we didn’t want to cut them adrift from their dramatic contexts) and only one song per composer.”
From Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to Schumann’s Im wunderschönen Monat Mai, each of the works selected becomes an exemplar of a particular idea – from the differences in how we think about the ‘essence’ of a work by Schubert compared to a recorded pop song in the chapter on I Heard it on the Grapevine, to the necessary qualities of a stadium anthem in the chapter on Queen’s We Will Rock You.
These examples are placed in a context that looks back to medieval music and forward to contemporary pop – the chapter on Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti, for example, refers to sexual euphemisms in Shakespeare while the authors find Wagnerian ‘Liebestod’ in Springsteen’s Born to Run.
Arrayed in succinct, bite-sized essays, this book rewards dipping in and out as much as linear reading – but hewing only to songs you know might mean missing out on some pearls. There are myriad connections illuminated, such as the influence of The Ballad of Mack the Knife on the title theme from the film Goldfinger, in a chapter that cuts to the quick of a musical DNA stretching across decades.
Intelligent and entertaining, The Song Remains the Same is a beautifully crafted love song to the song.