Despite once being a student in a subject centred primarily on books, poetry and… more books, I somehow find it far easier recite Eminem’s prolific lyrics than I do the work of our ever-prominent national laureate, William Shakespeare.
Given the time, I’m far more inclined to pick up a guitar than a book, and I often consider that not having access to a piano at home is probably good for my health given that it prevents me from developing a severe vitamin D deficiency. (Remind me of this on pay day.)
Where one might consider folding the corners in a book worse than any other form of graffiti, I genuinely can’t think of anything more sickening than being on public transport without my earphones or with a dead phone battery, thus, being on the move without background noise. It’s been a problem since my first iPod circa 2006 and one that I blame entirely on my music-loving father.
My dad has subjected me to his music library for as long as I can remember. He has a varied set of music ideals upon which my musical education has been based and they range from the likes of Springsteen, Queen, Billy Joel, Meat Loaf, Mike Oldfield, Phil Collins (or Genesis), Train and Elton John to Les Mis, Dear Evan Hansen, Wicked, Fiddler on the Roof and virtually any Andrew Lloyd Webber production. Luckily for me, he still has many of these artists on vinyl from his youth which have now found their way into my room. Although widely appreciative of song, his taste isn’t as varied as a listener with access to a wealth of music via a streaming service quite just yet. That saying, there is a genre that will always unite us across all barriers…
“I love that song – but the piano version!”
Take Britain’s Got Talent Finalist Calum Scott, a singer from Yorkshire, whose emotional acoustic rendition of Robyn’s virtually unknown ‘Dancing On My Own’ in his first audition went onto be released as a single that would reach number 2 on the UK Singles Chart. Robyn’s upbeat delivery of her song masks her underlying turmoil and detracts from the incredibly personal situation depicted in the lyrics whereas Scott’s instrumentally far more exposed rendition emphasises his vulnerability and, in turn, relates more to his audience. Listeners grow empathetic at the mercy of his voice against the soft piano backing track and you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s the tune everyone is screaming out into the abyss (i.e. their absent significant other) at the end of a night out. I’m giiiiving it my all but I’m not the guyyyy you’re taking home… Sing it louder, babe. I don’t think they can hear you from their new partner’s house.
Summer is the time of year when we are most likely to see the BBC Live Lounge gaining popularity once again as artists take on many of their most famous hits in a strictly acoustic environment for broadcasting. It’s no surprise that so many of these performances go viral and eventually go onto be released for purchase and streaming in their own right. Consider this a direct nod to Ben Howard whose rendition of Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ went onto become his defining track in 2012. No disrespect to the former Pop Idol contestant whose bubbly, synth-infused hit also smashed charts as a pop record but it does force listeners to question what it was about Howard’s delivery that had us begging for more and for Jepsen’s to be turned off.
The acoustic genre means a lot of different things to different people. For example, to the people writing the English dictionary – a breed clearly lacking in emotion – acoustic music is defined merely as “not having electrical amplification” and nothing more. Literally swapping out the drum kit for the cajon and the Stratocaster for the Martin & Co. Done. Dusted.
However, to me, it’s music that is more focused on the poetics and underlying meanings of lyrics that are often missed amid loud musical ensembles, heavy instrumentals and grizzly effects. I believe that the delivery of acoustic music involves the musician putting themselves in a far more vulnerable position resulting in an often more melancholic delivery that is also heavily associated with a complex level of storytelling.
Proof in three, two, one…
So, without further ado, and before I open this can of worms any wider, I’ve quickly summarised some incredible acoustic renditions of some popular songs that you need to hear. You can read them here.