The Small Faces have another take on the weekend. After pissing off the neighbors with their noisiness, they have no choice but to have a Lazy Sunday. The song is an exaggerated cockney music-hall romp. Ir’s far from the normal relaxing Sunday sounds of other artists, restless and ramshackle, despite Steve Marriott’s claims that he’ll “close [his] eyes and drift away.” Lively and joking, it shows that there’s still fun to be had in the final hours before the week begins.
If Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down showed the weight of a Sunday, Sunday Sun by Beck shows the weightlessness of it. An airy, aimless ramble with a sun-kissed sound, the song is a wave of warmth. Although it eventually ramps up into Beatles-lite for a sprawling outro, the meat of the thing is a piano-heavy, lilting dream full of ooohs and ahhhs. It’s one of the sweetest songs of Beck’s career, perfectly capturing the feeling of trying to hold onto a leisurely Sunday before it slips away.
There’s no day of the week so loaded as a Sunday. Friday and Saturday may bring good times, but with Sunday comes greater meaning: the end of the weekend, the end of the party, religious rigor, relaxation and much more. One of the songs that best captures the weight of its many shades is Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down. It was written by Kris Kristofferson, but it was Johnny Cash who poured his soul into it. The song recognizes that Sunday should be a day of redemption and contemplation, but it only manages to achieve the latter. Instead, it reveals a lack of peace and a disconnectedness that lead to crushing loneliness. It’s bad enough to be down-and-out, hungover and on your own, but to see the bonds that others form on Sunday (religious, familial, social) while remaining on the outside is a cruel fate. Just try not to be moved as Cash delivers one of the most isolating verses in all of country history:
On a Sunday morning sidewalk
I’m wishing Lord that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’
That’s half as lonesome as the sound
Of a sleepin’ city sidewalk
And Sunday mornin’ comin’ down
Any song that places Sunday in its title has a lot of mood to live up to. Sunday Morning, by The Velvet Underground and Nico, uses the sharp contrast of the glockenspiel against Lou Reed’s lazy, laconic delivery to perfectly evoke its namesake. It’s innocent, clean and calm all at the same time. Where the comedown from the weekend meets the encroaching week to come, it’s a moment of possibility and defeat perfectly rendered in cool detachment by the band.
Glockenspiel has become one of the calling cards of Sufjan Stevens’ epic opuses. The biggest and most complex piece from his first hugely impactful album, opens on the instrument alone. Oh Detroit, Life Up Your Weary Head (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!) then proceeds to through every other instrument in Stevens’ stable at the tune to create his signature, galloping cacophony. The glockenspiel theme is repeated by heavy, blaring brass, but the welcoming tones of the opening few seconds are never out of mind for the rest of the song.
Everyone knows that what made The Beach Boys special was Brian Wilson’s arrangements. That goes for songs that he composed, as well as songs that he adapted for the band. Sloop John B is a Bahamian traditional that had been covered by American groups before, most notably The Kingston Trio. But it came to life with Wilson’s sharp vocal harmonies and jangling instrumentation. It’s a symphonic approach to what is normally an extremely simple song. The mix is soft and warm, producing a blanket of sounds that can’t be picked apart, aside from the metallic march of the glockenspiel. Most artists use the instrument more airily, but Wilson employs it in a relatively unique, rhythmic fashion, almost like a child banging on the keys with two mallets. In direct contrast to the way it often ices the top of a song, here it plays more like an anchor, grounding the piece with its uncomplicated part. It’s a composition trick few others would have thought of, proving Wilson’s status as a rock ‘n’ roll visionary.
The most all-out song on Arcade Fire’s debut album, Funeral, Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) is a crunching, key-changing, discordant cannonball of a song. Sitting atop the whole thing is the surprising brightness of the glockenspiel. While pretty much any instrument is fair game in any Arcade Fire song, the glockenspiel provides an unexpected bit of contrast and lightness in what is otherwise one of the heaviest songs the band has ever produced. Dense with harsh instrumentation, and replete with Win Butler’s shouts and screams, the percussive layer that floats above the rest of the track adds necessary texture and tonal variety to what could otherwise have been a much more ordinary guitar-rock track.
On No Surprises, Radiohead are using the glockenspiel for more than just its sound. They’re also using it for what its sound conjures. Its extremely simple presence in the track recalls a children’s lullaby or a nursery rhyme, as it dances around the similarly gentle keyboard. It’s no accident that these songs sound sweet and innocuous, but often hide dark truths and sinister stories. No Surprises is first and foremost gorgeous. Anyone not paying attention could be forgiven for thinking it an exalting ode. But listen to the lyrics for even a second and the despondency reveals itself immediately. “I’ll take the quiet life/And a handshake of carbon monoxide,” confesses Thom Yorke, before revealing this is his “final fit” before he ends it all. Hauntingly beautiful is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but what about unnervingly beautiful? Disturbingly beautiful? It’s not just that Radiohead have created such a lovely song about being in such pain, but they’ve also managed to make it equally unnerving. Who knew such jagged sadness could sound so uplifting.
It’s the song (the first of many, actually) that would have made Mystery Jets massive pop stars in a perfect world. The 80s inspired Two Doors Down is a bubbly dose of teenage puppy love. Blaine Harrison smoothly confesses his affection for the neighbor girl that stays up all night playing drums and listening to Marquee Moon on her turntable. It also happens to make judicious use of the glockenspiel. Rather than being front and center, the band mine the instrument’s brassy qualities to provide the sugar on top of an already saccharine-sweet track. The whole thing wraps with a brilliantly blaring saxophone outro. They don’t come much catchier than this.
In the almost 60 years since his death, Buddy Holly has become just about as famous for the way he died as for the music he made. But during his life, he was known by music aficionados as a giant of rock and roll. The way that he shaped and pushed the form in just a few short years was spectacular. It’s no wonder then that greats like The Beatles were in awe of getting to play on the same stage as him when they appeared on Ed Sullivan. Other rock pioneers like Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran turned out some great tunes, but their body of work was largely repetitive. They had a few spectacular hits and many limp misses. Listen to Buddy Holly’s catalogue, though, and you’ll hear frequent and successful experimentation that laid the groundwork for rock for years to come. On Everyday, he would play with instrumentation, relying on a twinkling glockenspiel and pitter-pattering, metronomic beat. The subtle guitar only makes a brief appearance in the heart of the song. Otherwise, the arrangement remains sparse and sweet allowing Holly’s vocal track to float to the front. It’s probably the gentlest track he ever recorded, perfect in its simplicity and use of negative space.