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January 20, 2014 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Most people do not know Pachelbel's Canon by name, but they would recognize if they heard it. Aside from being "the Freebird of Classical Music", it also serves as a basis or a number of pop songs (as was illustrated once and twice before on Metafilter). However, the folks over at AV Club may have discovered the pinnacle of the song's use: Why “Hook” by Blues Traveler is actually a pretty genius work of metafiction.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (53 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
I used to play tuba and euphonium. For those instruments, Pachbel's canon is the same eight notes repeated endlessly, droning on and on, over and over again until your brain melts from boredom. Now those eight notes are stuck in my head again and I blame you.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:41 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


"Hook" has long been one of my favorite songs, for precisely this reason.
Well, and also because it's catchy as hell, of course.
posted by NMcCoy at 11:46 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Aww, Pachelbel's Canon takes me back to orchestra class in high school. My husband just gifted me a new violin for Christmas, I wonder if I can get back to playing that song (it's been 15 years!)

ALSO I will love "Hook" until I die. I can still recite the whole rap/spoken word verses and sometimes that shit just comes right out when I'm doing dishes or yardwork. Love your title, I was (ohmygod) hooked.
posted by polly_dactyl at 11:50 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I hasten to add that "Hook" turns 20 this year...sigh...
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 11:54 AM on January 20


I'm partial to How Jun Togawa used it. This blog post has a good round up of her variations (and cites an earlier Mefi post on her).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:56 AM on January 20


Ah, this song. One of those songs that make me cringe, not because I dislike it but because I still like it, and because it throws me into an existential crisis over whether I'm allowed to still like things that I liked in high school. Ah well. All hail the 90s.
posted by koeselitz at 11:57 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Ah, this song. One of those songs that make me cringe, not because I dislike it but because I still like it, and because it throws me into an existential crisis over whether I'm allowed to still like things that I liked in high school.

Popper's nimble, traipsing vocals, liable to take off soaring at any moment, and unmistakable and intense virtuosity with the harmonica, the harmonica of all things, should be more than enough to rescue Blues Traveler from the dustbin of Adult Contemporary Lite Rock. The playful complexity of the songs seals the deal. I like them better now than I did then, because they were so dreadfully overplayed. No-one listens to the radio anymore, so that's less of an issue.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:04 PM on January 20 [8 favorites]


I actually really like the guitar part on "Hook," truth be told.
posted by Mister_A at 12:07 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


As a kid who grew up loving music and having a good ear but not really studying it in any formal way, I fell hard for Canon in D when we started playing it in band in the sixth or seventh grade for an upcoming winter holiday concert.

Overplayed and undervaried as it is, it was also the first time I'd really really clicked on the idea of looping variations over a fixed structure in such a pure sense, and as a third chair clarinet who always got stuck with, and bored with, the dull tertiary bits of an arrangement, it was a good excuse to do what I already did sometimes with other pieces: play the other instruments' parts by ear instead. And Canon's built out of nothing but parts you can lift and paste elsewhere. I'd play along with other sections, I'd take a bit not in the current section and play it anyway (but only in the busier bits where I could get away with it).

I carried out of those undoubtedly dull and offkey months of rehearsals (pity the band teacher, pity all band teachers) an abiding appreciation for the ideas of looping and translation and restatement and cut-up arrangements well before I actually had any music theory education to put words to the stuff.

So the fact that Hook not only apes Canon's structure (though with a III instead of a iii for the forth chord in the cycle, a not un-subtle change that gives it way more energy as a bluesy rocker by hanging a mid-cycle turnaround off some extra harmonic tension), but also even steals little tiny bits of some of the, uh, canonical melodic lines, has always made me happy. Plus Popper can fuckin' play harp.
posted by cortex at 12:09 PM on January 20 [9 favorites]


Ha! When I was a maid of honor, my instructions to the other girls were, "When you hear TacoBel, make a run for the altar."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:15 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


"The second half [of Brian Eno's 1975 album Discreet Music] is three pieces collectively titled Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel. These pieces were performed by the Cockpit Ensemble, [who] were each given brief excerpts from the score, which were repeated several times, along with instructions to gradually alter the tempo and other elements of the composition."

I: Fullness of Wind
II: French Catalogues
III: Brutal Ardor

"The titles of these pieces were derived from inaccurate French-to-English translations of the liner notes of a version of Pachelbel's Canon performed by the orchestra of Jean Francois Paillard."
posted by Ian A.T. at 12:16 PM on January 20 [6 favorites]


Step by Vampire Weekend is a good recent example of this.
posted by umbú at 12:24 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I'm really surprised that he's so amazed to discover the meaning "behind" the song at this late date. The lyrics are clever, but not in any way subtle. The entire song hits you over the head with the idea that the words don't matter, the hook makes the hit. It seems like anybody who knew the song well enough 20 years ago to be able to recall the lyrics while playing church piano should have caught on to this the first time around.

I guess that's the ultimate meta-commentary then, that he could know all the words to the song without realizing what they said.
posted by vytae at 12:30 PM on January 20 [13 favorites]


Raise your hand if you read the text of this post then heard the song in your head then were all like GOD DAMN HOW DID I NOT EVER KNOW THIS
posted by clavicle at 12:36 PM on January 20 [12 favorites]


But not a real hook, that's cruel.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:40 PM on January 20 [12 favorites]


No wait, that's Barenaked Ladies.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:41 PM on January 20


Oh damnit and I just got the whole "suck it in suck it in suck in if you're Rin Tin Tin or Anne Boleyn" section out of my head again the other day.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:47 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Pachelbel’s Canon is up there with Beethoven’s Ninth in the competition for the classical musician’s “I Am Going To Kill Myself If I Have To Hear This Goddamn Thing One More Time” Cup.

It makes me sad that someone could be there vis-à-vis the Ninth :(.
posted by Slothrup at 12:52 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I think that he always got it was about a cheap and easy hook, but suddenly realizing it was based on The cheap and easy hook was the epiphany.
posted by sio42 at 12:56 PM on January 20


Yeah, I'm sort of confused by this article. The song's not exactly a secret code. "Woah, have you guys ever heard this Matchbox 20 song? It's about this guy, and, like, it's 3 in the morning, and he's lonely..."
posted by threeants at 12:59 PM on January 20 [6 favorites]


To slap another layer of meta-commentary on things, I'm surprised to discover that I can recite the whole speed-rapped part of the song from memory, but I completely forgot the chorus. When I try to play it back in my head, it just ends up turning into "Run Around".
posted by obvious at 12:59 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


I'll see you in hell, Pachelbel
posted by Mayor West at 1:00 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Readers,

A previous version of this comment used the word "lonely", where we should have printed "lone-lehhhhh-hehh". We regret the error.
posted by threeants at 1:01 PM on January 20 [6 favorites]


Btw, I don't think the author is a he.
posted by threeants at 1:05 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I saw Blues Traveler live when someone bought me a ticket to the H.O.R.D.E. festival. I guess I'm a hater, but I find that general style of harmonica playing to be wanky and kind of terrible. It's kinda like Yngwie's guitar playing. Clearly "good" if you mean "as many notes as fast as possible all the time" but I don't wanna listen to it. I'd rather hear Robert Plant play it ...

Something about the high tweedly-deedly-doo nature of it makes me think of Kenny G.

They were also terrible live. All the players had that "music store employee know-it-all" approach. WANG WANG WANG for 10 minutes; next song; WANG WANG WANG 7 string bass solo; WANG WANG WANG.

Sorry, I'm still traumatized from that show. Lenny Kravitz was there too *shudder*.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:07 PM on January 20 [6 favorites]


I've been partial to Hiromi Uehara's version ever since discovering at the end of a particularly fruitful trip through the dark playground of YouTube.
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:09 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Raise your hand if you read the text of this post then heard the song in your head then were all like GOD DAMN HOW DID I NOT EVER KNOW THIS

Raises hand

I think it's because you'd have to have:

1. Enough musical knowledge to make out the song structure
2. Know the lyrics
3. Care enough to think about the connection

I still couldn't have identified Pachelbel's Canon as the basis for the song but when this song came out I was 15 and just didn't think that deeply about music. Once the article made the connection to Pachelbel's Canon for me I made it the rest of the way on my own.
posted by VTX at 1:18 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Even when I used to be much more derisive of pop, and despite the fact that I kind of don't really like Blues Traveler at all, I always thought that last rapid-fire bit of the song killed. The doubled vocals and the nice little seemingly sloppy interplay where one singer lags or pauses or gets the jump on the other like they're tripping over each other, the way it rises and falls and goes rapid-fire or holds a single syllable to emphasize the lyrics in that way that you know there was careful consideration and construction of the phrasing down to the phonemes, the way "let it ride until I've died and only then shall I abide this tide" feels like it's galloping, and then the way it builds and builds and then just explodes into the final chorus, little things like that just make it work so well.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:20 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Lenny Kravitz was there too

I'm sorry for your loss ((hugs))
posted by threeants at 1:22 PM on January 20


I've heard the song, of course, but I never paid attention to the lyrics. At all. This is genius.
posted by Sequence at 1:34 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


it was based on The cheap and easy hook

Except the whole reason Pachelbel's Canon is so boring is because it doesn't even have a hook to begin with! It's a bunch of variations without an original melody to base them off.
posted by grog at 1:47 PM on January 20


The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack Pachelbel
posted by confabulous at 2:00 PM on January 20


My husband calls Hook "the most sarcastic song ever written." We love it a ton for that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:21 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Knew what the lyrics were about. Never occurred to me that the progression was based on Pachbel's canon.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:00 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


It's also pretty hard to sing. He's a great vocalist.
posted by fshgrl at 4:26 PM on January 20


We're 35 comments into a Pachelbel's Canon thread and nobody has mentioned the All Together Now by The Farm? Surely I can't be the only person here who attended a British university in the early 90s...
posted by jontyjago at 5:13 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I was terrible at music theory, even after years of playing music; I started to try to take it in college and quickly dropped the course. So yeah, I loved "Hook" and hated "Pachelbel's Canon," but I never realized it was the same chord progression!
posted by limeonaire at 5:21 PM on January 20


"I wanna bust all your balloons, I wanna burn all of your cities to the ground." Such a fantastic, angry song.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:36 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


...wanky and kind of terrible. It's kinda like Yngwie's guitar playing. Clearly "good" if you mean "as many notes as fast as possible all the time" but I don't wanna listen to it.


Oh, I'll show you wanky, my friend (albeit in poor resolution). You can tell by the shredding and the Ibanez Jem guitar that this 15 year old French kid idolized Steve Vai. He's now 22, mainly uses a Telecaster and tries not to be so flashy. Yngwie never learned that lesson.
posted by Devils Slide at 7:26 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I would just like to note, I've been pointing this out to people for years.
posted by hippybear at 7:36 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


What the AVClub article fails to even mention is how Hook actually uses the melody of Canon In D nearly intact. That "suck it in suck it in if you're Rin Tin Tin or Anne Boleyn" section? That's exactly the melody when the violins get busy in the Canon, only with the rhythm changed a bit.

Hook isn't just using the chords from Canon In D. It bascially IS Canon In D, repurposed and a tiny bit transformed, but so much so that if you know the Canon with any depth at all, once you realize what Hook is doing, it's impossible NOT to notice it.
posted by hippybear at 7:50 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


When I was a maid of honor, my instructions to the other girls were, "When you hear TacoBel, make a run for the altar."

This one's for you: Taco Bell Canon (warning: contains a capella)
posted by Mchelly at 8:06 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Oh, I'll show you wanky, my friend (albeit in poor resolution). You can tell by the shredding and the Ibanez Jem guitar that this 15 year old French kid idolized Steve Vai. He's now 22, mainly uses a Telecaster and tries not to be so flashy. Yngwie never learned that lesson.

Oh man, if I were in a band with that dude, hardly a sound check would go by where I wouldn't begin slowly strumming Canon out on my side of the stage while waggling my eyebrows at him expectantly.
posted by Maaik at 8:26 PM on January 20


Man, I always thought it was "the heart brings you back" and I wrote it off as having a lazily sentimental chorus. I guess that changes things.
posted by naju at 11:36 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Also, I'd always play this on my CD player when I picked Scorpion as my fighter in Mortal Kombat.
posted by radwolf76 at 4:35 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Hah, I just came to make the same comment as naju. I never knew the title or that might have set me straight.
posted by stopgap at 7:36 AM on January 21


Hook isn't just using the chords from Canon In D.

Yeah, like I said, all those little bits of the actual melodic lines stamped into Popper's melody is part of what sells it for me. And the juxtaposition of the normal-speed and rapid-fire verse lyrics and the long held notes of the chorus hook play up that contrast-of-tempo thing as well as an analogy to the original piece that relies so much on the same thing.

You know what'd be fun? Getting my hands on the actual stems for the recording and trying to piece Canon in D together by aggressively chopping up the melody line to reconstruct the original parts.
posted by cortex at 8:36 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


hippybear: We should form a club or something.
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:51 PM on January 21


We could form a club if you wanted, but I think you're more compatible with naju or naoko than with me.

Maybe there is a cabal!
posted by hippybear at 5:03 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


The mondegreen brings you back!
posted by naju at 7:52 PM on January 21


Great, I just fell down a Blues Traveler, Phish, Widespread Panic hole. At least I stopped myself before Rusted Root showed up.
posted by Mick at 11:41 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Well, at least this thread sent you on your way.
posted by koeselitz at 7:51 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


At least I stopped myself before Rusted Root showed up.

Why on earth would you want to stop before that? Rusted Root is fuckin' awesome. I see them every time they come to town!
posted by hippybear at 4:31 PM on January 23


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