Today is This: Paul Simon's Deadly Crossover

Greetings!

Jake here on behalf of all of Sedgewick with the first installment of my new series "Today is This". Every other week I’m going to look at a song that has been inspiring, fascinating, moving, or just interesting. Call it a review, call it an analysis, it’s an exploration of the song from a particular angle. Some weeks I'll examine the arrangements, others the recording "space", and others the music itself (yes that means HARMONIC ANALYSIS for you theory buffs). I hope to engage with anyone and everyone who reads these to get other takes or even ideas for songs to peak at. It's a less a review and more a revelation. So with that in mind I kick off this first week with Paul Simon's "I’d Do It For Your Love" off his masterpiece record Still Crazy After All These Years.

This tune is a beautiful example of the complexity and craft that went into the making of this record. As a jazz geek, I'm often frustrated when a pop star attempts a "jazz crossover" record. Strings drenched in cheese and contrived vocal pyrotechnics are often the result (Bennett be damned, I'm lookin at you Gaga). Simon parted from this for this record by studying jazz theory and composition with bassist Bob Cranshaw before sitting down to write. The result is an astoundingly inventive cd that synthesizes his wonderful melodicism with more adventurous harmonic explorations.

I’ve included a transcription at the end of this so I can just skim the bigger points, but even at a cursory glance one can see just how much is crammed into this song. By contrast, Graceland is like four chords and this tune fits twice as many in within the first phrase! The verse is kind of a cycle down to G, with a few diversions here and there. What makes it so brilliant is the way the cycling of that cycle. It keeps going, never actually resolving to G (G being the tonic, or chord that is the song’s key) until it absolutely has to.

The bridge begins innocuously enough in Db, the key a tritone away from the tonic. For those who don’t know, this relationship was long regarded as the most dissonant one you could have in music, the church even banned the interval for a number of years in the middle ages. Yet Simon makes it so pretty because he of how he uses parallel major/minor relationships. You can see it in the chart, first he sings “found a rug in an old junk shop” over the Dbm, then his melody soars over the Db major when he sings “and brought it home to you”. The descending diminished-seventh pattern that follows reflects his chagrin when “along the way the colors ran, the orange bled the blue”.

What makes this song so successful is exactly what happens each time he sings “I do it for your love”. This phrase comes at the end of the aforementioned cycle and each time it comes up it’s a reflection of the journey he’s gone for that love. A journey that seemingly has no resolve. That is until the very end of this song. Coming out of the last verse he sings the refrain, once over the end of the cycle and then again as it finally resolves on G major.

It took a couple of listens before I really grasped the weight of that final chord. The song is, on a lyrical and musical level, a meditation on the trials and tribulations we push ourselves through in the name of love. This cycle could potentially go on forever, with distractions continually popping up along the way. The final G major isn’t just returning “home”, it’s the peace that comes from knowing in your heart you made the right decision and that you worked to get there. The music reflects the lyrics and vice versa, yet the effect is still something greater than the sum of it’s parts. It is a song that is so fully realized, it’s parts become inseparable. As a writer, I can’t think of any greater achievement than that.

-J