I discovered this song while on a YouTube tangent recently. It was a long and bizarre tangent that somehow ended with me watching a French magician performing a card trick on the Penn & Teller reality show “Fool Us”. The trick was cool, but I was more fascinated by the song that accompanied it.
Upon finding out whose song it was, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard it before, since Massive Attack was pretty popular in the late 90s, when I was into similar bands. Somehow I’d never heard it. Once the 90s were over, the song continued to gain popularity as the opening theme to the TV show “House”, and was covered by a wide array of artists, from Brad Mehldau to Simple Minds. Oh, and these guys.
But my favourite fact about this song is that Andrew Vowles, the primary songwriter for Massive Attack, originally wanted Madonna to record the vocals. Madonna loved the track and was up for it, but the other two members of the band wanted Scottish singer Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Being a democratic bunch, Massive Attack turned down a willing Madonna and went with Fraser.
Right or wrong, you’ve got to admit: it takes serious guts to say no to Madonna.
What makes this a beautiful song:
1. The percussion. I love the combination of deep kick/rim snare. It was a staple of mid-90s trip hop, giving a simultaneously driving and chilled sound.
2. The harpsichord. If you can name another song written in the past 100 years that features the harpsichord, place your open palm on the screen and accept my high-five from across the internet.
3. The vocal melody. The opening line of each phrase is slightly unusual, throwing in an unexpected major 6th on “Love, love is a verb”. The rest of the melody contains just enough major and minor moments to keep the song content, but slightly on edge.
Recommended listening activity:
Bobbing your head while driving way slower than the speed limit.