“It sounds like circus music,” Lisa responded when asked what she thought about The Best Song in the World (not it’s real title) – a song I am currently in love with.
I discovered the song earlier this year, and it’s actually a live performance of a recorded song – performed by the original artist who utilizes, as a backing band, the talents of the amazing Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which, it turns out, is perhaps the greatest backing band in the history of the world (though a hat tip to the the Melbourne Orchestra who performed Bluey: The Album, a wonderfully-relistenable album by all standards). I was moved similarly emotionally by one other orchestra-backed song recording: Ben Folds’ Narcolepsy backed by the Perth Symphony Orchestra – an alternate arrangement of the original song.
The Best Song in the World is a Showstopper. All the great Showstoppers give me goosebumps in addition to sharing the following qualities:
- A Showstopper happens in many musicals, but it’s tough to get right. They are almost never found on non-stage musical records – one of the few exceptions that comes to mind is Sgt. Pepper’s A Day in the Life, which has the requisite twists and turns and compelling story to make it one of the rare rock album showstoppers.
- Be Our Guest is perhaps the greatest Showstopper I ever experienced live, repleat with exploding bottles, confetti, and an extended ending! Unfortunately, I cannot find a video recording of the exact performance – you had to be there to experience the over-the-top amazingness of it all.
- Other notable Showstoppers include Defying Gravity, All-American Prophet, There Is Life Outside Your Apartment, and The Room Where It Happens.
- …more to be described later…read on.
The strange thing about The Best Song in the World is that it isn’t part of a musical – it’s on a comedy music album. While I’ve enjoyed bits of well-placed music on comedy albums such as Piece of Shit Car, King Tut, and Death Star, I absolutely detest music comedy albums. So I was very surprised to learn that The Best Song in the World is on a music comedy album. Additionally, I don’t like much else by the songwriter – they have their moments on other albums, sure, but nothing to write home about.
Still, The Greatest Song in the World has all the qualities of a Broadway Showstopper, including:
- Chord changes that surprise me.
- Lyrics that are clever, dumb, and never obvious. (Fwiw, our only joke filter on Happy Endings Church was, “Is it dumb enough?” – a standard that, paradoxically, took a lot of trial-and-error and intention to develop.)
- Lyrics are legitimately funny at times but never play on “it seems like I should laugh here” sensibilities. e.g. It doesn’t resemble Friends or The Office (American version) or Netflix shows in any way. I know it’s a good lyric when I laugh out loud suddenly, surprisingly, and uncontrollably. Shows like Always Sunny In Philadelphia, The Office (British version), and What We Do In the Shadows (Season 1), 30 Rock (Season 1), and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 1) elicited that reaction in me at times.
- Peaks and valleys and slowdowns and speedups. It’s tough to convey emotion without “bring things down a bit here”, which is the music equivalent of, “Shut the f&*k up so I can hear myself think!”. There isn’t a recipe for “bring things down a bit here”, but when you bring things down properly, when it make sense emotionally, when you take me on an emotional ride, you’re on the right track. Think Suddenly Seymore, not Popular (an amazing song in its own right but not a showstopper).
- Many qualities that disqualify it from all the pop charts (too long, too clever, not enough repeats, no overriding form).
- The fact that I don’t want it to end – I want them to go on longer! Roger Ebert used to say, “There’s no ideal movie length – You want the good movies to go on longer, and you want the bad ones to end sooner.” Same principle here.
- They carry the plot forward; you learn something important. This immediately eliminates most decent TV musical fare such the bearable tracks heard on Garfunkel & Oats and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
- There is no predictable form – The uniqueness of the song’s form, itself, keeps us surprised and engaged. This is my main criticism of artists I otherwise enjoy such as the aforementioned Ben Folds, my current “on repeat” darling Five Iron Frenzy, and just about every rock, pop, country, hip hop, and rap recording – These otherwise talented artists songs’ forms are entirely predictable! (e.g. “Here comes the chorus…Here comes the bridge…Here’s the outtro…etc.”). Conversely, in The Best Song in the World, the form is freely manipulated by the artist and takes us where we need to go, emotionally, at the moment we need to go there.
- There are surprising key changes, usually chromatic. This energy-building songwriting technique can be found at the end of many pop hits – Non-musicians likely know this as “holy cow that was awesome” moments in those songs. But it’s a pretty simple, well-trod maneuver that, when executed correctly at just the right moment, is goosebump-inducing.
- They don’t take themselves too seriously. There’s a part very near the end of The Best Song in the World where the singer does this move that, really, only a violin or horn should do – it’s a long chromatic sweep that you’ve heard a million times but never like this. It sounds ridiculous, and it’s amazing.
The Best Song in the World is over 11 minutes long and starts out with a 5-and-a-half minute monologue, followed by 60 seconds of musical storytelling setup, then followed by the most amazing 4-and-a-half minutes of music the World has to offer. Or told differently for the musicians in my reading audience: The song starts out with a delightful, bounce rhythm with corresponding melody, builds steadily for a bit, then explodes near the end into a cacophony of orchestral instruments, including a friggin’ turn-of-the-century policeman’s whistle blown at just the right moment so you feel like you are chasing a criminal down the streets of 1911 London! It’s a curious adventure from start to finish and one that I’ve listened to, maybe, 100 times so far this year (and counting)!
So what is The Best Song in the World? I’m actually curious to hear both your guesses as well as your personal Best Song in the World, because we almost certainly disagree in a big way – But like Al Michaels once said on Great Sports Moments of the 80’s – “That’s part of the fun of it!”
If you absolutely must know which song I consider to be the Best Song in the World, call or text, and we’ll sauce it out that way.