Forward Progress: Suddenly, Tammy!, “Hard Lesson” (1995)

Freeway forward progressIf you think “Hard Lesson” is a great album opener because it gets you charged up in a forward-moving way, if you’re amazed at how it pulls together all the lanes and overpasses when you play it on the freeway, then let’s talk:

Suddenly, Tammy!, “Hard Lesson”

We start with this simple syncopation, showing the slingshot effect of hitting beats early in the piano notes:

1……and…..2…..and…..3…..and…..4…..and
bum BUM……..BUM………bum BUM

Already changed up in the second measure:

1……and…..2…..and…..3…..and…..4…..and
bum BUM………bum BUM………BUM

And then a three-note group in the third measure brings the chord change with a gentle right hook:

1……and…..2…..and…..3…..and…..4…..and
bum bum bum BUM………bum  BUM

Measure 5, the piano left hand continues the same but the right hand starts chopping chords like this, adding to the rhythmic texture:

1……and…..2…..and…..3…..and…..4…..and
……………..chop……….chop………..chop chop

but varying the pattern, of course, in measure 7 and beyond – OK, I’ll stop. The point is, by these simple means we’ve been convinced in just a few seconds that the song is going to keep us moving forward with a steady pulse while poking up and down and in and out unpredictably within the four-beat box. “Hard Lesson” sounds genuinely unwilling to turn its rhythm gestures into a groove that you could take for granted. The singer and bass keep mixing up their patterns in the same spirit—they have lots to tell us. All while driving steadily with the drums around 60 miles an hour.

Coherence in bouncing around together forward is a life ideal: it’s seeing all your friends having good times at your party. “Hard Lesson” is compelling in this way because its variations stay in a sweet pop vein. We’re not talking about the raspy irregularity of a Deerhoof piece that kicks pop form around:

Deerhoof, “God 2″ (2014)

Precisely because “Hard Lesson” is thoroughly pop, it ruffles the pop waters more affectingly than anything that sounds experimental. Here we’re accepting the pop norm that heavily suppresses forward progress—the guarantee of compact hooks that show up quickly and return again and again with their shots of pleasure right on cue—but under this regime we’re progressing anyway.

Compare how Suddenly, Tammy! use the same resources to create more of a circling effect in “Whole Lotta Girl” (on the lost album Comet). This is nice too.

“Whole Lotta Girl”

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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.

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