Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12: Jewel, "You Were Meant For Me"

Artist: Jewel
Song: "You Were Meant For Me"
Album: Pieces Of You
Year: 1995

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Following the over-produced, highly artificial, almost annoyingly excessive sound and style that dominated a majority of the 1980's, the stripped down, straightforward sound that came back into style in the 1990's was beyond refreshing.  Whether it was the re-termed punk sound (grunge) or the return of the classic sound of hard rock ("alternative"), the 1990's gave new life to everything there was to love about a number of different musical genres.  Even the folk and jazz movements made brief comebacks within mainstream music, and it was this exceptionally eclectic mix that allowed some of the most uniquely beautiful artists in all of music history to emerge.  It was in this short-lived "folk revival" that one of the most definitive voices of the generation surfaced, and to this day, there is simply no other singer in the world that is quite like Jewel.  Bringing an amazingly innocent, yet soulful sound, it was rarely more than just her voice and guitar, and there are few records in history that are as outright endearing as one can experience within her 1995 debut, Pieces Of You.  Filled with lyrics to which all could easily relate, alongside one of the most stunning voices the world has ever known, Jewel quickly established her own, unique sound, and a string of hit singles vaulted her into the mainstream.  Though it is sometimes overshadowed by her other hits, there is no song that better displays everything that makes Jewel the icon that she remains to this day than the simple brilliance that one can experience within her 1995 single, "You Were Meant For Me."

Truth be told, there are actually two versions of "You Were Meant For Me," though they are extremely similar.  The "single version" was a re-recorded take, clocking in at about thirty seconds less than the original album version, and yet the overall tone and composition are nearly identical.  The core of the song, like a majority of Jewel's early music, centers around the lone sound of an acoustic guitar.  Though there are other instruments on the track, it is the guitar that retains the focus throughout the song, and it is this straightforward, unaltered sound that sets the mood for the song.  The way in which the guitar seems to sway gently defines the sorrowful, almost morose tone, and yet there are a few small touches within the guitar part that give the song a bit of an upbeat feel.  It is also the way in which the other instruments blend together with the guitar that makes "You Were Meant For Me" so delicate, yet perfect.  The organ in the background manages to heighten the mood whilst staying largely anonymous, and yet once one concentrates on this aspect of the song, the balance that it provides becomes quite clear.  Similarly, the rhythm section, and brief appearance of a second guitar prove to be an ideal example of how to make a song sound full, yet not over-crowded.  The final element that pushes the music on "You Were Meant For Me" into a category all its own is the fact that at its core, the melody is exceptionally catchy, and it remains one of the most easily recognized songs in all of music history.

However, as fantastic as the musical arrangement is on "You Were Meant For Me," there is no question that the key to this song, much like the entire catalog of Jewel, is her unparalleled vocal talents and emotion which she conveys through her singing.  Quickly showing her uncanny ability to work the entire vocal scale, there are points on "You Were Meant For Me" where the emotional level is almost overwhelming, and one can easily feel the proximity that Jewel has to the words that she sings.  Much like the music, it is the straightforward and unaltered nature of her voice that is so endearing, as even today, there are very few artists that present themselves in as open and honest a manner as one can find here.  The contrast between her more restrained, more introspective sound on the verses and the soaring, pained bridge and chorus section stands as one of the most breathtaking vocal contrasts ever captured on tape, and it is this aspect that serves as the key to the songs' longevity.  Furthermore, the lyrics which Jewel sings can be easily related to by listeners, and it was this "everyman" feel within her music that garnered her one of the most dedicated fan-bases of the era.  Even almost two decades later, the lyrics remain just as potent, and they are such that each listener can pull their own "favorite line," from the bevy of simple, yet unique musical phrasings.  The almost strangely ordinary wording that one can find on "You Were Meant For Me" proves the power of simplicity, and the stunning way in which Jewel delivers each line proves that it is often "how" you say something as opposed to the words which are actually being sung.

The impact of "You Were Meant For Me" is absolutely undeniable, as it delivered Jewel her first number one hit, largely overshadowing the first single from Pieces Of You.  To this day, the song remains one of the most memorable of the entire decade, and it has made a number of appearances in television and films since its first release.  Yet "You Were Meant For Me" also manages to separate itself from the rest of the record in more subtle ways, as when one looks at the entire album as a single work, it is a bit of an anomaly.  The unique swing that runs throughout the song gives it a tone unlike the rest of the record, and there is also a bit of a "grin" that can be felt, even with the rather somber and sorrowful nature of the recording.  This is perhaps due to the fact that "You Were Meant For Me" is one of two songs on Pieces Of You that was co-written by Steve Poltz, as within his catalog, one can find similar contrasts.  However, even with this rather distinctive sound, the song fits in perfectly with the rest of the record, and the fact that the album achieved such a level of success is not surprising in the least.  "You Were Meant For Me" remains one of Jewel's finest vocal displays, and it is the straightforward, untouched sound that vaulted her so far above the other performers of her generation.  Though she had a number of unforgettable hits, and Pieces Of You remains one of the definitive albums of the decade, there is simply no other song in history that combines the universally relatable lyrics and absolutely breathtaking vocal performance that one can experience on Jewel's magnificent 1995 single, "You Were Meant For Me."

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