What Is Your Mozart Song?

Rock him (Amadeus).

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.

The Mozart of New Jersey.

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?

22 Comments on “What Is Your Mozart Song?”

  1. Jables #

    What a great thought experiment. It’s tough, because you’d like to represent how many genres of music rock has to cherry-pick from when it’s deciding what to be. Songs like “November Rain” have aspects of classical arrangement, some amazingly lyrical shredding, and some pretty insipid lyrics. Then you have “Crossroads” by Clapton which is impressive in its raw emotional feel and the whole “Clapton is God” aspect.

    In the end I have to go with Pink Floyd’s “Time”. Huge, awe-inspiring arrangement and production, beautiful composition, incredibly lyrical guitar, meaningful lyrics, and a universal theme with which anyone can identify.


  2. Qwil man #

    Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.”

    It’s a very simply constructed song, but sustains itself throughout its verses with a very melodic guitar, which I feel a traditional composer would appreciate. However, it’s chorus is accomponied with old-fashioned growling power chords, which are such an important part of rock music to me that I think any rock song presented to him must not only include, but showcase.

    Additionally, the lyrics are genuine, earnest and kind. As much as I love heavy metal I don’t want to send back the messenges of “I love to fuck” and “I’ll kick your ass” that populate the majority of it. Additionally, the christian themes would make the song even more palatable to a dude of his demographics.


  3. Erik #

    If the purpose of the exercise were to impress him, I think I would choose Eleanor Rigby, simply because it involves elements and instruments that would be familiar to him while providing a great example of the new musical patterns established in the last 100 years. The lyrics are also quite poetic, and lyrical pieces of this nature would be new to him as well. Other candidates would be Elvis, for the reason that this was the real shocker to many “Mozarts” when he came on the scene, and “November Rain” for the reasons stated.

    My own version of the experiment would be to subject him to modern pop music to get his reaction in order to gauge whether there is a tremendous amount of artistic value inherent in such songs or whether we as a population have just become accustomed to it. For that reason I would play “Gangham Style.”


  4. atskooc #

    “i believe in a thing called love”–the darkness. this song is rock and roll personified. it’s perfect in it’s rock-ness (even if it is probably making fun of the genre in some way).


  5. Marshall #

    Simple: I would play him Eric Whitacre. It would blow his mind and not offend his sensibilities.


  6. STH #

    I would go for the diametric opposite of what you’ve chosen, Belinke. The music of Mozart and his peers was meant to be written by rare, inspired geniuses, played by elite professionals, and appreciated by the aristocracy. Rock is meant to be written, played, and enjoyed by everybody. So I’d play Mozart something catchy, relatable, and so simple I could teach it to him to play it on the guitar in 10 minutes. I think Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” would do perfectly.


    • Jez #

      Exactly. I suspect there was an analog to rock in Mozart’s time that certainly wasn’t classical, and I don’t think he’d be that impressed by a future version of the same thing. That said, and to avoid coming off as a spoilsport grump, I’m certain there is a modern day elitist analog in post-50s jazz (I’m not cultured enough to point to a specific piece though, or describe it more accurately than “post-50s jazz”, apparently).


  7. Gab #

    I don’t want to get into a debate about what counts as “rock” or not.

    I think if we’re going for a classic rock example, I’d choose “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin. The guitar licks at the beginning harken to something akin to what Mozart himself would have heard, but it gets taken in an entirely different direction, as well as has some nice, but not over-the-top guitar solos (and there are live versions where said solos are more intricate that could be used, too).

    For a modern rock song, I might go with *Fin by Anberlin- it’s rather epic in scope, incorporating everything from haunting melodies and a children’s choir, to a very deep meaning with a song that takes its own turn and ends as a rather different entity than as it began.

    I’m also tempted to want to have him hear a song NOT dominated by men. Something by Heart, maybe?


  8. Eric #

    “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

    What do I win?


  9. Sylvia #

    Anything from Pet Sounds.


  10. isaac #

    if it’s got to just be one song, probably something the who did. With everybody treating themselves as a lead their stuff is actually really dense musically. if i could play a whole album though, Dark Side Of The Moon for sure.


  11. Dimwit #

    For a song that runs the gamut I’d choose Stairway to Heaven. Intimate to bombastic I think it covers modern music pretty well.

    For niche segments I’d go with Devil Dog by Tim Connelly (folk/Rock), Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode, F#A# Infinity by Godspeed You! Black Emperor just to fuck with his mind and The Social Network Soundtrack for shits and giggles.


    • Timothy J Swann #

      I obviously considered one movement of Lift Your Skinny Fists, but in a way I thought it was so classically influenced that it wouldn’t demonstrate as much about rock so much as adding electric guitars to a structure he already knew.


  12. hats #

    No one’s said Bohemian Rhapsody yet, so I’m going to say it:
    Bohemian Rhapsody.
    There, I’ve said it.


    • Sean #

      Good move.
      I’m reading through the comments thinking “where’s Bohemian Rhapsody?”

      A song that spans a wide gamut from the operatic beginning, to the heavy (for its time) middle section, to the gentle finish. Quality.

      Otherwise, I’d have to go with Dave Brubrek’s Take 5. Just to see how Mozart would react to Jazz.


  13. Miguel Lavin #

    “Endless Rain” by X Japan. It’s the whole package.


  14. Alex Remington #

    Probably a cover. Either “Absolutely Sweet Marie” by Jason and the Scorchers, or “What a Wonderful World” by Joey Ramone.


  15. Anthony #

    Well since many of you had said what I was considering playing Mozart. Mine would have to be a toss up between ‘Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd’ or ‘Hotel California – The Eagles’


  16. John Moore #

    By the way, I think Mozart spoke good English, having spent much of his childhood in England. You’d understand him fine – he lived during the time of George Washington, didn’t he? Mozart could probably converse in French and Italian too. Good at music = good at languages?


  17. Timothy J Swann #

    My first-ish instinct from the songs that I love, is Paranoid Android, because you fit more techniques in a rhapsodic song – and you can hear a certain amount of rage in Mozart’s Requiem that I think he’d appreciate in the Radiohead rant.


  18. Gab #

    Not rock, but what if he heard a barbershop song or an a capella group? Like something from Rockapella.

    I’m more than half-serious. The only instruments in a capella are the vocal chords and possibly fingers and hands of the singers, and if Mozart was made aware of that, he may see the connection to Gregorian chants and the like, but be impressed by the “percussion” capabilities of the human throat.


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