By The Landlord
"One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world." – Malala Yousafzai
"That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." – Neil Armstrong
"When I'm not with you I lose my mind. Give me a sign. Hit me, baby, one more time." – Britney Spears
Welcome one, welcome all, to the Song Bar! This weekend, on 11 February, will make it exactly one year since we opened our doors, stoked up the fire, polished the glasses, turned on the jukebox, uncased the wine, mixed cocktails, pulled pints and pulled out all the stops to help make this the damn finest virtual music venue bar where you can discuss, play and share music in the whole wide world. Not a bad goal, is it?
And what a year it has been. We’ve covered 52 weekly topics from addiction to the apocalypse, intelligence to irony, lust to laughter, songs with screams to elevating spirituals. Countless celebrities have visited. It’s been a white-knuckle ride of emotion, banter, brilliance and bravado, with no fewer than 23 brilliant guest writers perusing and picking playlists from your thousands of song nominations, each also choosing a drink and snack of the week. And many more of your taking part with your inspired musical knowledge.
We’ve uniquely mixed and synthesised the weird and wonderful, the strange and the obscure, and that’s only for starters in my introductions. We’ve also talked about pets, poetry, recipes and much going on in our real lives, and friendships have been forged and strengthened through music right here. On Record Store Day last year we also started our weekly Vinyl Tap section to profile new albums, and just over a week ago opened up a new room where you can enjoy Song of the Day. Every week our punter numbers have increased, now rising at an exponential rate. They are not only reading and taking part in the latest theme, but increasingly, many also peruse old topic introductions and playlists. So whether you’ve posted, or written last week or last year, everything you do is continually enjoyed, and has life everlasting.
So what has all this it all boiled down to, or perhaps, more appropriately, distilled? Well, this week’s subject, to match our first birthday, is all about the number one, the figure or the idea. For initial fun, that can be interpreted in many ways, first up, in countless uses of or synonyms in titles or lyrics, or subject matter. So your song suggestions could perhaps about be about or include a one-horse town, a one-trick pony, being as one in mind or body, a one-way ticket or road, doing things one way or another, the power of one, a one-night stand, the one I love, being one of a kind, being number one in the charts, or even zeros and ones in binary code.
Perhaps your song might be set in a singles bar, or talk about something that’s a one-off, unique, the one and only. Or your could play one on one, take one step, or even ask if one is the loneliest number or the greatest? Or your song could take one more chance, or be set on one fine day, for wish for just one night. And on one goes. There’s a rich opportunity for interpretation, but all songs suggested must have an essence of the singular within it.
A singularity could indeed also appear on this week’s musical horizon. This word covers variety of unknown eventualities it is hard to see beyond. In mathematics a singularity is that point where an object is not defined. It is, in fact, a form of one step beyond to a form of infinity. A technological singularity predicts such an acceleration of joined-up knowledge in artificial intelligence that we cannot predict what will happen. A race of robots gaining consciousness? The self-perpetuation of machines taking over the human race? Well, that has certainly been the stuff of many sci-fi books and films including an Isaac Asimov series of books and the film inspired by them, I, Robot, but in which there is also the one robot who is different. As the saying goes, you have to be odd to be number one.
How do we cope with the pace of change towards singularity? Through biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics , genetics or information technology? The idea of the singularity, that some combined superintelligence will abruptly trigger some runaway technological growth to a point where matter and mind combine, is both an inspiring and frightening concept, and rather humbling to us, a messy race of animals made of bags of chemicals.
Perhaps one way we deal with this is by framing this idea in music. So here’s a sample bit of singularity in song form, courtesy of New Order. “We're players on a stage / With roles already scripted / We’re working for a wage / I’m living for today / On a giant piece of dirt / Spinning in the universe”:
Another idea associated with the number one is that of synchronicity, where a crowd of objects, or living things, somehow become one. In a scientific, yet also musical experiment, we can see this in action in Japan, with 100 metronomes all set off at different points and clicking out of synch. But watch what happens after around one minute:
Do they talk to each other to synchronise, and become like marching soldiers? In a sense, they do. The metronomes are on a suspended surface, so the vibrations cause a form of mutual musical adjustment, not unlike when a band attempt to get in time with each other. Here’s the same experiment on a more basic level with some coke cans:
But take the medium away – and things go out of sync again. I can't help see this but as a profound expression of how human society and natural world connects and functions on both a physical and subconscious level.
At this time of year one of the natural wonders of the world can be found in the dusk-time murmuration of starlings, where thousands of the birds gather and swoop together to make beautiful swirling shapes. No one is quite sure why this happens, but it could include a form of social function or as a way to create heat before bedding down for the night. Yet each bird follows the others nearest to it and all combine to create a beautiful visual music, thousands gathered together to form one form. Enjoy a symphony of it here:
Or on this beautiful short film about the same phenomenon in Brighton:
Human nature is also attracted to a form of coordinated flocking, though rarely in such poetic forms, but these examples may also express something deep in the way we communicate with each other, each following our neighbours, all to create a larger patterns that could be beautiful, or perhaps the opposite. In a more haphazard form we gather together for social events – musical, religious, or sport – often for similar reasons, but the process of many people becoming one is even more elevated when rehearsed in any kind of team. It can trigger a transcendent sense of oneness in the brain. Why? A superb book on this very subject is William H McNeil’s Keeping Together In Time: Dance and Drill In Human History. There are thousands of examples of this in military drilling, or the parades of North Korea, China or many other examples, but here is a particularly eccentric and more recent example:
And now let’s enjoy an exquisite use of hand movement making many people into one, here shown from three perspectives:
How about specifically musical examples? Large orchestras clearly demonstrate this, but a more unusual, if basic one, comes with the Italy-based group Rockin' 1000, where 1,000 musicians gather together to bash out cover versions. Here’s Bowie’s Rebel Rebel:
So feel free to also suggest where the concept of coming together as one is in the music itself. You can see the sheer love of music expressed here, and of course love is also going to be a large theme within this week’s topic. Here’s another great cover version, previously chosen for another topic, but hard to ignore when it comes from the rich tones of Johnny Cash: “ One love / One life / When it's one need / In the night / One love / We get to share it / Leaves you baby if you / Don’t care for it … One."
But for comparison, let’s also enjoy a one-true-love song from another mature great, Mavis Staples:
As the Song Bar Landlord I'd always like, for you, dear readers, to have one on me, or one for the road, but perhaps you’d like to also explore that phrase with Joanna Newsom or any other artist. So now it’s time to really get the party started. Together we are stronger, as they say everywhere, in the UK, Europe or elsewhere, and like those three musketeers of Alexandre Dumas fame, unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno, un pour tous, tous pour un. And it remains a very special pleasure to continue sharing, building, improving and enjoy this place with you.
It also gives me great pleasure to welcome again this week’s guest writer, the terrific treefrogdemon, who took up the task of playlisting in our very first week when I launched the topic of songs about moving on. So, then, just as every other week, please place your singularly relevant, synchonised, or other one-based nominations in comments below before last orders on Monday evening, UK time, before we commune for title puns and then playlists published next Wednesday. Happy Birthday all round! All for one, and one for all.
New to comment? It is quick and easy. You just need to login to Disqus once. All is explained in About/FAQs ...
Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.