Friday, February 18, 2011

February 18: Supertramp, "The Logical Song"

Artist: Supertramp
Song: "The Logical Song"
Album: Breakfast In America
Year: 1979

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Though it is often difficult to see the difference, often times, the brilliance of a song can be overshadowed by a pop sensibility, or even by the time period in which the song is released.  That is to say, when one releases a song that fits in perfectly with the era, it can be written off as a product of that time, and the importance the song has to the overall history can be missed.  It is due to this reason that among a number of bands, the music being made as the 1970's came to a close was in general eclipsed by the death of disco and the explosion of the punk sound.  However, it was the transitional music of this time period that provided some of the most unique and timeless songs in history, and few groups personified this idea as perfectly as Supertramp.  Though they had already been making their own blend of rock, jazz, and dance music for the better part of a decade, there was nothing that could have prepared the world for the release of their monumental 1979 album, Breakfast In America.  The album itself is a clear separation from nearly all of their previous work, as the songs are all far more pop-oriented than before, and yet their unique approach to the musical arrangements remains in intact, providing for some of the most distinctive sounds in music history.  Though each track has its own personality, there is no question that one can find Supertramp in their finest moment within the unmistakable 1979 single, "The Logical Song."

While within a modern context, the sound may seem slightly dated, when one takes a step back from "The Logical Song," there is almost no way to describe the sounds at play.  As the song opens, the combination of organ and castanet instantly gives the song a sound and mood like nothing else in history, and it is within this aspect of the music that one can quickly understand why it is almost impossible to categorize this band.  The way in which Roger Hodgson gets such a unique sound out of his Wurlitzer organ places the song in a  group all its own, and the castanets from Bob Siebenberg presents a brilliant contrast.  As layers are added by more keyboards from Rick Davies and bassist Dougie Thomson, "The Logical Song" begins to take on a sound that is not quite disco, yet danceable; whilst simultaneously being able to hold its own within those that played so-called "arena rock."  This odd ability to work within both styles at once is a truly unique quality, and it is the key to making it impossible to even remotely place Supertramp into any single style of music.  However, while the band does play with fantastic energy, there is no getting past the highlight of the song: the saxophone solos from John Helliwell.  During the two "breakdown" segments, he burns across the track, pushing the mood and impact to an unprecedented level, and it is in his playing that one can derive sounds of jazz and soul, to combine with the already complex arrangement that defines "The Logical Song."

Yet while the music on "The Logical Song" is beyond a term like "one of a kind," the vocals and lyrics from Roger Hodgson are also worthy of being placed into a category all their own.  Whether it is due to the sound of his voice, or the almost odd nature in how he sings, there are few vocalists as distinctive, and it is this aspect that makes "The Logical Song" truly unforgettable.  Mostly working in the upper vocal registers, his style is one of the few that defies any sort of description and must be experienced firsthand to be properly understood.  Yet it is within his singing that the uniquely danceable sound of "The Logical Song" becomes most apparent, as the rhythm in his delivery is akin to the disco sound, yet simultaneously completely uncommon.  Furthermore, Hodgson deploys one of his finest lyrics on "The Logical Song," and one can argue that it knows few peers, if any, when it comes to songs concerning the disillusionment that comes with age.  As the song progresses, the protagonist can be heard from his idealistic childhood, and then slowly seeing the realities of life, and the strangely tragic nature of the song is slightly veiled behind the soaring musical arrangement and vocals.  Though each line in the song is fantastic, and has a universal feel to it, few are as tragically beautiful as when Hodgson sings, "...but at night, when all the world's asleep, the questions run so deep, for such a simple man..."  In both what he sings as well as how he sings it, "The Logical Song" is finished off in grand fashion by the phenomenal vocal performance given by Roger Hodgson.

Truth be told, upon its release, "The Logical Song" found commercial success, yet quickly gained a rather negative reputation.  Perhaps due to the completely indescribable sound of Hodgson's voice, perhaps due to the frustration some may have found in trying to categorize the song, or even perhaps due to the rather somber nature of the lyrics, it is amazing to consider that the song went to the top of the charts, even with this negative hype surrounding.  This in many ways is the final piece one needs in understanding just what an amazingly unique song lives within "The Logical Song," and it is powered by the fact that there is simply no way to define the type of music which the band is playing.  Combining synthesizers, horns, and various percussion in a manner which has never been duplicated, "The Logical Song" can fit into a number of different genres, while at the same time standing completely on its own.  There is an almost nervous, unsettling mood to the song that also stands as unique, and it is perhaps due to the fact that the song is so original in every way that it has retained such a following over the decades.  It seems that every few years, a cover of the song is released, and yet none of them even come close to the original recording.  Succeeding in proving that there is room in pop music for endless artistic creativity, there has simply never been another song that even comes close to the overall magnificence that one can experience within Supertramp's unforgettable 1979 single, "The Logical Song."

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