There is a thought experiment I find myself conducting a lot recently. I’m alone in a room with Mozart. In the room are two comfortable chairs and an amazing stereo. I’m going to play him one piece of rock music, and then we are going to discuss it for exactly five minutes. (Assume that Mozart can suddenly speak modern English.) After that, Mozart disappears. The question is, what song do I choose?
This is NOT a situation where he’s going to return to his own time and try to invent the electric guitar (although that would also be an interesting thought experiment). In my imagination, Mozart isn’t going to remember a thing. My main motive here is a desire to impress Mozart. I want to show him that we people of the distant future can make awesome music. Ideally, I want to reduce him to tears at the awesomeness of it all. (This thought experiment may be subconsciously inspired by Beethoven’s visit to San Dimas.)
I’ve thought about this for a while now.
At first, I was leaning towards the Beatles. Maybe “Hey Jude.” Mozart was known to think up a good melody from time to time, and he liked the piano. I could imagine him finding that one accessible, but still novel. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to pick a more traditional rock song. “Hey Jude” doesn’t have a verse/chorus structure, it doesn’t have a guitar solo, and it ends with a highly atypical five minute na-na-na-na build. (True story: when my son was three, I sang him “Hey Jude” as a lullabye. Eventually he opened his eyes and asked, “How long does this part go on?” “Until you go to sleep,” I told him. “Oh cool,” he said, and fell asleep.)
My next Mozart song was “Paradise City.” It’s got a pretty traditional song structure, and it also has some crazy technical guitar playing at the end. I felt very strongly that Mozart needed to hear some good old fashioned (from our perspective) shredding. The concept of an instrumentalist showing off his chops would have been right up his alley.
But recently, I’ve changed it up to what might be the greatest rock song of rock’s baroque period: “Livin’ On a Prayer.” It’s not quite as much of a virtuosic display as “Paradise City,” but I think it might be more interesting to a composer. “Paradise City” has a total of six chords by my count. “Livin’ On a Prayer” has twelve. It starts with a synthesizer, which is neat. It’s got some very interesting minor-major transitions (which we’ve dissected at great length). It also has a key change, which is conspicuously lacking from “Paradise City.” I’ve come to feel that any good Mozart song MUST have a key change.
It just feels right that I’d sit Mozart down and say “This is what a rock song is.” But really, it’s a very personal decision. Maybe you’d pick a Phish song, to show off the freewheeling, improvisational potential of modern pop music. Maybe you feel that the piano has to be front and center, so you go with “Piano Man.” Maybe you’d want to pick a rap track, because he’d love the storytelling aspects of it (remember, he can understand English in this thought experiment).
So go ahead guys: you have one track to blow Mozart away. What do you do?
Yes, Falco is allowed, but do you really want to justify that decision to the world afterwards?