Hearing Blur’s ‘Sunday Sunday’ on the radio earlier today served as a reminder of how rare it is – still – to encounter singles that speed up and/or slow down in the middle. It’s even rarer for such tempo-tampering efforts to be a success; the boss of Blur’s record label boomed “you can’t have a hit single which speeds up in the middle”, and, in that particular brass-band-knees-up-shoutathon instance, he was right.
Nonetheless there have been a few others which have defied logic, convention and a nation’s preference for songs that stick in the same metre and preferably have a beat you can clap along with at the start of each bar like you see all those people in Union Jack plastic hats doing at the Last Night Of The Proms. In reverse order of ubiquity:
‘Dear Jessie’ is effortlessly proceeding on its graceful, charming, pink elephants-and-lemonade way before – yikes! It’s a bit of Viennese waltz whimsy, and you’re suddenly up and dancing round the room. “Close your eyes/sleepy head/Is it time/for your bed?” From back when Madge knew what a tune was and knew how to sing it.
4) LIONEL RITCHIE
“They said to me, Lionel, you can’t have a hit single which speeds up in the middle.” And they were wrong! ‘Say You, Say Me’ is unquestionably the man’s finest hour, not just for its nifty metre-mayhem (complete with weird electric guitar noodling) but also the only documented use of the word “masquerade” in an American chart topper, plus the classy video with Lionel conducting a battery of spotlights with his bare hands.
3) PAUL MCCARTNEY
Is there nothing this man can’t do? Bend an ear to ‘Live And Let Die’, with not one, not two, but three different sections all in different times! Exhibit A: the moody, wistful opening bit with that “ever changing world” line that’s always getting folk in an online kerfuffle. Exhibit B: the howling madness that follows, replete with screaming sliding strings and Obligatory 007 Orchestral Hits. Exhibit C: blimey, it’s not only a spot of reggae funk! See also ‘Listen To What The Man Said’ which slows down right at the end for a bit of pedestrian sax-lead wigging out.
2) DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS
The section in ‘Come On Eileen’ where everything grinds to a halt, stops for breath then slowly winds itself up again. It’s the only bit in the song where you can actually understand the words and, as such, the only bit where, whenever and whatever the context it’s being played, everyone joins in.
You couldn’t call it unexpected. There are probably tons of examples on all those preposterously-titled 70s albums, but three obvious ones spring to mind: ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, with Fred doing a bit of stately crooning at the pianoforte both before and after the manic main action; ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, with a million and one time changes, all of them shameless; and ‘Flash’, chugging along nicely until – yup – Fred interrupts with his keyboard yet again to remind us how the titular tyke is “just a man, with a man’s courage”. Grrr – get back to the samples, dammit! “Dispatch Warlock and Ajax to bring back his body…”