Week 400: “The 400” by Stars

There is power in repetition.

Several of the 400 songs featured on this blog make effective use of lyrical repetition. “Winter Song,” featured just a few weeks ago, repeats the line “is love alive?” until it feels less like a polite question, and more like a call to action.

Reaching way back to week 26, the entire second half of “Marching Bands of Manhattan” is this line, sung over and over:

Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole
Just like a faucet that leaks, and there is comfort in the sound.
But while you debate half-empty or half-full,
It slowly rises; your love is gonna drown.

It’s a great line, but it’s the repetition that makes it powerful. It’s relentless, like the leaky faucet in the lyric, and it gets me every time.

And then, featured in week 340, there’s “The Commander Thinks Aloud” by The Long Winters. Written about the tragic end of the space shuttle Columbia, the track ends with Roderick singing time after time, “The crew compartment’s breaking up.” He described the repetition in an interview on Song Exploder:

You sing it once, the second time everybody gets it, the third time they’ve heard it now, the fourth time they’re like, “okay, alright.” The fifth, sixth time it starts to get annoying…and then a new kind of gravity enters in the seventh time. You start to feel the emotion. And when I perform it live, if I’m not careful, I will start to cry during that part.

You get the point. And you probably know that repetition’s power extends beyond music. The things you tell yourself repeatedly have power. The things you do repeatedly have power.

For me, writing this blog has been a powerful repetitive action.

Sometimes it’s been easy- sometimes I’ve had a backlog of songs to share, lots of free time to write, and a seemingly endless supply of things to write about. Other times it hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I have no idea what to say. Sometimes no angle seems to work, and I dislike everything I type even as I type it.

But whether it’s been easy or not is irrelevant. The challenge is what’s relevant. I’m convinced that forcing myself to search for, listen to, and write about beautiful music has enriched my life in immeasurable ways.

So, two things: first, I highly recommend bringing something repetitive into your life. I know that spontaneity is great. But predictability can bring comfort and, believe it or not, promote creativity.

And second, if you’re one of those people who has read every single one of these 400 posts, thank you. If my tradition has become a tradition for you too…well that’s pretty neat.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The title. It’s a reference to a highway in Toronto that stretches from the city up to the suburbs, and on into cottage country. A symbol of a daily commute or a summer holiday…predictability, tradition, and repetition all at once.

2. The background noise: echoing guitars, ambient noise, feedback. All grounded by the constant, reliable piano.

3. The repeated line, “It has to go right this time.” Equal parts desperation and confidence. Power in repetition.

Recommended listening activity:

The same thing you did yesterday. But just a little better this time.

Buy it here.