Verse-chorus-verse, a lifetime of feelings traversed


Do you have a favorite song? Oh, the world is filled with such beautiful and varied music.

But, is there one tune that has reached out to your soul in some definitive imprint? A song that grabbed a time and place and etched itself into the fabric of your psyche? Or, if not a time and place, perhaps a song that spoke melodically, rhythmically or lyrically to your hopes, your worldview, your values or your personality in a way that will never let you go?

Is there a song about which you could say, “If you want to know something very special and intimate about my history, my passions, my ideals and dreams, then put on these headphones, push the ‘play’ button, close your eyes and listen carefully. Then we’ll talk.”

Often favorite songs are attached to memories of time, place, people and experience. We hear the intro guitar riff, perhaps the drums, the strings, the horns or the a cappella vocals, and it’s like walking through the portal of a time machine. In the blink of an eye we are transported back … back … and we are somehow standing in a memory that is alive and vibrant.

Great love affairs almost always come with a portfolio of music. Ask any thriving, happy, healthy couple and they will remember that song that is their song. The tune that takes them back to the time of falling in love when everything sparkled with acute emotional clarity. When the bond was being forged in a white hot crucible of mystery, wonder and joy.

Some songs take you back to childhood. The other day I played Jack Jones singing “Lady” (circa 1960s) and I could practically smell the house of my youth. My mother loved that guy’s music. She would play that and other favorites really loud while we cleaned house on Saturday morning.

Times of great loss, times of ecstatic celebration, times of innocence — somehow we cross-reference the catalog of memories with a song that will forever mark that page in the story of our lives.

Some songs stand out of time. They just make you happy and alive. When I hear that cowbell, naked and alone, start to count out the intro to the Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Woman,” my blood starts to boil. I don’t know why. The lyrics really don’t matter to me.

I collapse into Keith Richards’ Fender Telecaster and the gutty, primal, nasty-ass guitar phrases that relentlessly chase and answer each of Mick Jagger’s vocal lines. Do you have a favorite?

My favorite makes me blush. It is utter innocence. It makes me feel eerily vulnerable. At once utterly happy and utterly ridiculous.

The chord progression is supernatural. Unexpected and counterintuitive. Had the song’s composer been so unlucky as to have had formal musical training, I doubt if the song could have ever been written. Because it breaks all the rules.

The song has no chorus. No obvious bridge section. Just an intro, never repeated, followed by verses. For you musician junkies, the song begins with an E-flat minor chord, and ends with D major. Raising the question, how do you start a song in the key of D-flat major and end that song in the key of D major? Answer: Your name is John Lennon, and you’re a savant. And besides, you don’t care about the rules.

John sings the lead intro. But then something shocking happens. The melody John writes for the main section is out of his vocal range. Too high. So, in midsong, John hands the lead vocal over to Paul McCartney, a natural tenor. John heads below with a hypnotic, often monotone low harmony that rearranges marrow in your bones. The “roads” of these two vocal lines continually converge and diverge, sometimes singing in unison and sometimes separating into harmony.

“If I fell in love with you/ Would you promise to be true/ And help me understand/ Because I’ve been in love before/ And I found that love was more/ Than just holding hands.”

The Beatles released “If I Fell” in 1964. I was 7. I played that song over and over on what we geezers once called “the hi-fi.”

Some 40 years later, when I studied personality theory, I learned my personality carried the nickname “The Tragic Romantic” (see the Enneagram). That my “type” is known for its vain fantasizing about a love that will rescue me from my own existential alienation.

There is no such love of course, and it is wrong and destructive to proffer that expectation to any mortal woman. But still … the longing.

What is your favorite song? And why?

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.