This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, 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, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #253: Soon by My Bloody Valentine.
I boldly predict that many of you will not like this song. That is not surprising because the last thing that My Bloody Valentine wanted to be known for was the type of formula-driven music that most people crave. In fact, the musical, structural concept behind the song, “Soon” from their album, “Loveless”, is far more important than the actual song, itself. Additionally, the story of the making of “Loveless” is one of the most legendary and, at the same time, notorious tales in the entire history of recorded music. So, buckle up and settle in because, do I ever have a story for you!
The group, My Bloody Valentine were formed in Ireland in 1983. There are four official band members but, for the most part, the band revolves around the talents and interest of a man named Kevin Shields. To fully understand and appreciate this story of what inspired Kevin Shields to explore music as he did and to produce what many critics have hailed as “the second most important album of the 1990s, (after Radiohead’s album, “Kid-A”), is to journey along that thin line that separates genius from madness. The story of My Bloody Valentine is a story as old as music itself; it is the story of sound and how sound works.
For as long as people have been banging sticks on rocks in pre-historic times, people have known how to create sounds and then, by extension, how to manipulate what they are doing in order to create new, fresh sounds. The deliberate manipulation of how sounds are made and the desire to create new sounds for original purposes is where the story of My Bloody Valentine begins. My Bloody Valentine are the most influential band in a sub-genre of Alternative/Punk music called, “Shoegaze”. Bands who fall into this sub-genre became known as “Shoegaze” bands because of their tendency, while on-stage, to gaze at the floor as they play. These musicians did that because, on the floor, were various pedals and buttons that they would press with their feet while playing, The effect of this would be to distort or extend or amplify the particular notes being played. Because this required concentration, “Shoegaze” bands tended to be more stationary and less performative. The concept was that the real stars of the show were the sounds they were creating, rather than the musicians, themselves.
For someone like Kevin Shields, the desire to test the limits of our capacity as humans, to manipulate sounds, formed his vision for the album, “Loveless”. One of his primary focuses was on his guitar. In particular, Shields used a tremolo bar (which is a metal bar about as long as a traditional dinner knife) to change the normal sounds his guitar would make. The tremolo bar resides toward the bottom of a guitar, where a guitarist’s bottom hand would normally be positioned in order to play. Throughout the entire process of creating their album, Shields was constantly experimenting with ideas such as how loud could sounds be played before the notes stopped being musical and evolved into something new? Is the human voice just another instrument and, as such, can is be distorted, extended and/or amplified in ways that, when combined with distorted guitar sounds, caused a new sound to emerge, altogether? In any case, the process of releasing the album, “Loveless” stretched on for nearly two years. The band burned through almost twenty different recording studios, countless audio engineers and nearly bankrupted the record label to which they were signed, resulting in actual nervous breakdowns for the record executives involved. Everyone involved in the process of making this record commented on how difficult Shields was to work with and how impossible it was to deal with his, almost, manic obsessions with manipulating sounds.
I will close out this post with one example of what Shields was trying to accomplish with “Loveless”. “My Bloody Valentine” play at high, loud volume. One of his ideas was that he could create a sound that, when played at high volume and at great length, could actually alter the chemical make-up of his audience’s brains. So, there are segments when he plays his guitar, distorts the sounds and holds the notes at length, at volume levels similar to those of a jet airplane taking off. Shields has commented that he has observed that, at first, the sonic blast will assault the ears of his audience and they will reflexively cover them up. But, after several minutes, his audience would adjust/submit to the volume of his notes and will begin experiencing his music in an, almost, psychedelic manner. Some audience members have reported experiencing hallucinations and some have even stated that they were beginning to “see” the notes in a multi-dimensional way.
In any case, “My Bloody Valentine” is not for everyone. But, what is important to note is that the work Shields did, as bizarre as it seemed at the time, was critically important in moving the entire field of music forward. His work in sound manipulation paved the way for many modern bands of today to use digitized computer effects when playing live. This has opened up the field to scores of new sounds and sound effects that have all helped expand the range of musical possibilities available to musicians and their audiences. As I stated off of the top, I predict many of you who may give this song a try will leave unimpressed. The singing isn’t clear. The sounds mish-mash together a lot. There is no verse-chorus-verse structure. But, make no mistake, this song and the others that populate the album, “Loveless”, was an important leap forward, when it came to how music is made today. It is not everyday that someone has the vision and the desire to create something new and fresh out of something old that we all thought we knew the limits of (the guitar). But, that’s what Shields and his bandmates accomplished with “Soon” and the rest of the songs from their album, “Loveless”.
So, without further delay, here is “Soon” by “My Bloody Valentine”.
The link to the video for the song, “Soon” by My Bloody Valentine, can be found here.
The link to the official website for My Bloody Valentine, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting artists with vision. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.