This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #414: Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack.
I greatly admire ingenuity and innovation. It is super easy to repeat successful formulas and produce pleasing results that will always be well-received because you know that what you are creating has already proven to be popular. But, for me, there is a difference between those who follow trends and those who create them. Today, we will take a pleasing look at a group that took an established genre of music (Hip Hop) and created something completely different out of it by using the same techniques (sampling, scratching) but, by approaching it in a completely different way. The group is known as Massive Attack. They are comprised of a group of DJs and sound engineer-types out of Bristol, England. The main group members were Tricky (who has a fine career as a solo artist), Grant “Daddy G” Marshall, Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles and Robert “3D” Del Naja. Here is a bit of trivia for you about Del Naja….there is a fairly strong rumour circulating in Art circles that Del Naja is actually the creative force behind guerrilla artist Banksy. If you know anything about Banksy and the clever, politically-sharp silhouette style art that he pops into place, here and there then, you might have a sense for the creativity that was brought to bear in music with his group, Massive Attack.
If you took the time to read my post about Afrika Bambaataa last week, you will already know that there was a strong movement in Hip Hop circles throughout the 1980s, to create music that was a hybrid of styles; funk, techno, rapping, etc. This created a genre of music that was very dance-oriented and energetic and fun. People like to dance and to party so, not surprisingly, this style of Hip Hop became popular. But, to the minds of those in Massive Attack, they looked at the foundational techniques used to create Hip Hop (music sampling, record scratching, etc.) and wondered what would happen if they turned the intent on its head? What if, instead of creating peppy, dance music and anthemic chants, they inverted the philosophy and created something that was cerebral and ethereal. In doing so, Massive Attack (along with Bristol compatriots like Portishead) invented a style of music that has become known as Trip-Hop. As with any new movement in musical circles, for a new movement to take root, a song/album must capture the attention of critics and fans alike. That album was Blue Lines released in 1991 and the song was “Unfinished Sympathy” by Massive Attack.
“Unfinished Sympathy” is a beautiful, soulful, highly orchestrated song about love and longing. It is about a relationship that began and was satisfying to the female singer, Shara Nelson but, which fell apart before it took firm root. The title for the song is a play on Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” which should give you a sense that this Massive Attack song is more in the classical genre than it is in the old-school Hip Hop genre.
The video for this song is noteworthy, too. It was shot in Los Angeles so as to capture a “golden sunshine” that can only be found there, apparently. But, what is special about the video is that it was one of the very first to ever be filmed in one, long continuous shot. In the video, Nelson walks through a section of downtown L.A., oblivious to the goings on around her (and, there are something distraction-worthy things happening as she walks and sings about her lost love!) The song is quite soulful and Nelson’s singing is beautiful. *This video was paid homage to in the song “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve, as well as noted in an earlier post, by folk-rockers Elliott Smith and again by Phoebe Bridgers, who all did that “walk-about L.A.”-thing because of this video by Massive Attack.
Anyway, I don’t want the term Trip-Hop to scare you away and keep you from checking out this song and video. This is chill music. The construction of the song is lush and layered and very thoughtfully done. If the brains behind Banksy are involved then, you can assume that it is special. And, it is. Enjoy the genre-defining genius of Massive Attack and their first big hit, “Unfinished Sympathy”.
A link to an article all about the artist known as Banksy can be found here.
Massive Attack has an excellent website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.
Thanks to KEXP for supporting groups such as Massive Attack and good music, in general. A link to their vital website can be found here.
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