Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included Beck's "Timebomb," New Order's "Age of Consent," and Black Sabbath's "N.I.B."
Shortly after starting this weekly column, I've had a plan to revisit every G.S.A.T.M. entry in one 52-piece block to find out which ones truly were flights of fancy and which ones continue to command my attention. The early money would have been safely placed on "Guns on the Roof" and "Timebomb", which both lingered strong enough to merit a temporary removal from my iPod. How can I expect to find a new weekly love when I can't get those old songs out of my head? And though I no longer actively pursue past entries, the knowledge that I've thought about them in a ranking kind of way remains with me, so even as I'm listening to this week's entry, I might still be wondering if it can dethrone "Starman". That is until Saturday morning, while my wife and I were painting sets for a children's play while listening to the shuffle on her iPod. It was approximately an hour into the job when the world lifted away and rhapsody dripped out of the speakers in the form of Aimee Mann. I know I could be falling for the hot new thing in the moment, and only time will tell if the song sticks around to the end, but I'm confident "Voices Carry" will at least contend for the final four.
Don't get me wrong: the weekly due date works from a productive standpoint and a don't-get-crazy standpoint. I can generate content as well as appear relatively sane. If not for the weekly deadline, I might listen to "Voices Carry" well into the new year. It's funny to me how truly wonderful music not only makes all other songs sound less wonderful, but they inspire more hyperbole than a national political convention. All fear I might have about sounding like an idiot in print--locked on the internet "forever"--disappears and only the love of the song remains. This euphoric feeling and the world it surrounds always existed (at least in this case since 1983), but I wasn't allowed entry until I was ready to listen and accept. Since so much art actually exists in the brain, it's no wonder how much the enjoyment of such things remains on one's ever changing perspective. Whatever the reason, that Saturday was the right time for me.
The song fits into one of those standard models for song writing, where it starts quieter than it ends, crescendoing along the way at appropriate marks, but these standards work as a foundation for great rewards to come. "Voices Carry" really grabs me with the atmosphere built during and after the first chorus. The chorus feels like one of those things I've always known before I knew I knew it. Maybe this is a quality of every 25-year-old song, but I think it has more to do with the relatable, singable and beautiful construction of the chorus. The way Mann sighs "Hush hush" only to transition to a cooing of "Keep it down now" and eventually into the titular phrase, "Voices Carry" has everything that makes a song fun and effective. The fact that this song doesn't get constantly compared to Tears for Fears or the Police is a testament to the honest production and emotional quality. While it is unmistakably 80s in every way, those trademark electric keyboards and airy guitars never get in the way. The production elements are invaluable element to the song and in any cover version I've ever heard of the song (from Gang Green to Carrie Underwood), the most successful versions are the ones that don't stray from the original style. There's even a Courtney Love version which knowingly copies that breezy keyboard moan at the top with someone singing "Ah-ah-aaaaah, ah-uh-aah-aaaaaah." It might sound closer to Axl Rose, but at least they know they need it. For good or for ill, at least the 80s had a signature style.
And that's where the video comes in, which shouldn't hold up nearly as well as it does. It's been ages since I've seen it, and in that time I've lived with the current image of flat-haired Mann supplanting this version. So it may seem impossible given some of the most horrible hair of our lifetime on display, but what I was struck with the most was how beautiful Aimee Mann was. And is. You know someone's beautiful when they can make questionable decisions concerning their hair and still look cool. The white rooster hair, the shaved sides, the braid of a Padawan; Mann makes it work too well, encouraging a generation of less-cool people to make horrible mistakes. Aimee is a treasure and the center of the video and the song.
This brings up the most puzzling aspect of the video: how could anyone as sensitive, beautiful and cool as Aimee fall for a meat head like this guy? If you buy into the logic that a small-time rock artist like our Aimee would actually be in love with this Reagan-naught, then you understand what a horrible position our heroine has found. When the boyfriend's not lining up coke parties and buying glass coffee tables with all his Wall Street money (I can assume), he's cheating on her (I can prove). He can't even force himself on her properly. Midway through the video, when he confronts her about why she can't "do something for me!" what does he do? He pushes her against the stairs and shoves his pork-chop face onto that delicate porcelain neck and just drools. Clearly this man sucks.
The emotions of the song hit an early peak at this point, with Mann's "Oh!" after the instrumental/acting. This would come to be known as "The Moment of Volume Cranking" and as the moment where I become 100% positive I'm hearing the best sound imaginable. The song which would challenge all others for the title of Greatest Song Of The Year's Moments, or some other better-titled award. The guitar and keyboards change up slightly, and Mann finally lets us have it. No more dancing around the topic. This girl is fed up and most importantly she realizes it, leading us to the finale.
A mix of singing, backing vocals and Mann's yell-singing in a volcano of closing emotion, and as I bathe in the sonic tidal wave I consider never retiring the column and never leaving this place. It concludes with Mann delivering what could have been a standard scream-sing tirade about her crappy boyfriend, but the way the song has built to this point, there's no other possible outcome. Nothing less would be acceptable, and because the emotions feel honest, we can all rejoice and sing along, even if we don't have the same problems. What's remarkable about this section is she gave the central character a "victory" in a small and realistic way. She doesn't kill the guy or even really leave him. She just gets upset and yells, and in the context of the song, this has confronted the central battle head on and defeated it. And even though the video isn't the height of storytelling, acting or cinematography (though it might get some award for "Hazy Lighting"), tremendous power remains in the closing scene at Carnegie Hall, where Mann's mostly-silent on-screen persona finally melds with the mostly-unseen song character. The anger has been brewing inside her for too long, and maybe in the dreamy world of music videos, she's been dreaming all the band interludes, or maybe she's actually Aimee Mann and we've been seeing 'Til Tuesday in rehearsals for this track.
Whichever the case, I'm home and her pain has been lessened and we repeat the exercise forever and ever. Or at least for a week.
VIDEO NOTE: This one's from MTVmusic.com, but if you do a simple YouTube search you will find some great live versions. Very close to the studio version, but not so close that you wonder why am I bothering watching a live version.
Written By Phillip Mottaz