It’s All Hooks: Let’s Active, “Won’t Go Wrong” (1986)

News! I’ve just received a $500 million NSF grant to spend next year at an underground cyclotron in Switzerland where I will try to verify that the ultimate constituents of reality are not bosons, or quarks, or strings, but hooks.

As if! Aesthetic studies aren’t funded at quite the same level as physics. But the theory that hooks are the ultimate constituents of aesthetic reality is a promising one. Here in the hooksanalysis lab, using a sophisticated array of speakers and headphones as well as finely honed conceptual tools, we’ve been finding undeniable hooks in many, many places in popular music. And when you think about it, how could any portion of sound impress you as music—or how could anything impress you as anything (even a boson)—if it weren’t somehow a hook?

It’s hard to recognize the pervasiveness of hooks because there’s a foreground-background limitation in focusing on them. A beloved hook is always set in material that surrounds and supports it.[1] You could turn your attention to an element right next to Hook #1 and fall in love with it as Hook #2, but then Hook #1 would be demoted to second fiddle. Everything can’t be hooks at the same time. Or am I only saying that because my powers of attention are sluggish? Could one be constantly electrified by distinct hooks arriving one after another in a song-length piece?

Now I’m imagining an ideal track that is solid hooks, hooks wall to wall, hooks at every level of magnification, a jampacked jewelry case of hooks, a track built up by geniuses for months filling every nook and cranny . . .

But no, no, this ideal is misconceived. Hooks aren’t tiny atomic baubles, they’re organized wholes scaled to human perception and movement—“one-ah two-ah” measures of beat, “some enchanted” phrases of melody, four-note chords, four-chord progressions, and so forth. When you hear a track that geniuses worked on for months, like “Good Vibrations,” you don’t stop to admire something every millisecond, you get effectively caught up in some well-judged larger things going on together.

That said, there’s a real contrast to be noted between the far more common tracks that are set up for enjoyment of just a few privileged hooks and tracks that are more like loaded jewelry cases. Not all of the latter work well, but we can celebrate the ones that do.

Since I am talking about a superhook of having assembled an abundance of hooks, the overall effect, as of any hook, must be delightful. There must be no sacrifice of clarity or drive. We don’t want to be worn out with cleverness. We don’t want to find ourselves squinting at tiny baubles. It must be a great experience that we long to repeat.

There should be some nominations in this category from the worlds of hip-hop and electronica, worlds which so far have gone unrepresented in Hooks due to limitations of the main Listener.

Within said limitations, the Listener finds himself enjoying the “it’s all hooks” feeling most intensely on Mitch Easter’s masterpiece of writing, arrangement, and production, Big Plans for Everybody by Let’s Active. Whenever I feel like paying attention to a detail, which is almost constantly, the detail is marvelous. The special sound-events are spaced just right so that they don’t bury each other and I can feel them adding up.

First serving:

“Won’t Go Wrong”

Second serving:

“In Little Ways”


Dear readers, I’ve once again come to a point of hanging up Hooks as far as my own contributions are concerned. I reserve the right to have another relapse, like I had so happily from last November till now; meanwhile, I exhort you to formulate hook thoughts, because if you let a hook go by without thinking about it, it pisses God off.

Next week, I’ll sign off with Outro #2.

[1] In the earlier post “Hooks and Peaks” I examined the pathology of hooks draining meaning from everything around them.


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Arrangements and Sounds, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s