Tuesday, September 24, 2002

"Silence is Golden" is unquestionably one of my favorite songs, although I'm probably in a minority when I argue that it is also a great one. It was the one hit, or at least the one lasting hit, of those one-hit wonders The Tremeloes, although I think that phrase applies as much to certain hits as they do to the forgotten bands that made them. "Silence is Golden" is itself a kind of decadent wonder, not unlike Phil Spector's best songs -- syrupy, oozing, over-the-top and genuinely heartfelt -- although maybe it owes more to Spector's disciple, Brian Wilson, than to Spector himself. Well, both. Both had this aesthetic that told teenagers that their fleeting loves and infatuations and naive uptown dreams were worthy of the full orchestral treatment, and they were absolutely right.

"Silence is Golden" follows that same principle in its own unique way; it's about a love-besotted young man whose in love with a girl whose in love with a jerk; he doesn't want her to get hurt, but if he tells her the truth about the putz who's using her, she'll understandably figure that he's acting solely out of self-interest. So he shuts up, stands on the sidelines, and watches the tragedy reach it's expected end, his heart breaking for her and for himself.

The song opens with four little notes, quickly buoyed by a bevy of oooh-oooh-ooohs, bringing with it a sense of romantic sadness that keeps building and, in the rise and fall of verse-chorus-verse, breaking open with those great backing kettle drums at every chorus.

"Silence is Golden," "Precious and Few," "Dancing Queen" -- a lot of people who grew up with these songs thought they represented Top 40 senescence at its absolute worst, and it sometimes takes years and distance to see them for the little gems they are.

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