I can fall in love with a song because it means something specific to me.
Other times I fall in love with a song because of something it only implies – because I can find so many different meanings inside of it.
“The Wrong Year” by The Decemberists is one of the latter category. Every time I hear it I want to cry, and I’m not sure if they are tears of joy, of grief, of relief, or some other emotion entirely. There’s some unquenchable ache it creates in my chest that feels like only my tears can fill or expel it (maybe both).
The Decemberists write hyper-literate chamber-pop that’s also hyper-specific – and, often, historical. For a long time I assumed there was something obvious I loved about the lyrics to this song that I simply didn’t recollect between listens.
Diving more deeply into it, there’s very little to the lyrics. Each verse is about some ungraspable fey person – first “Grey Jane,” then an unnamed “he” who is “struck down as a summerchild,” and finally the author themselves – sleeping like a ghost all winter.
Yes, “Grey Jean” could be referring to Lady Jane Grey, the teenaged so-called “Nine Days’ Queen” of England who was swiftly dethroned and not too long after beheaded. And, in fact, “struck down as a summerchild” could even refer to her brief rule in July of 1553.
However, that’s not what has drawn me in all of this time. I didn’t know about any of it until this very moment!
So, what is it that makes “The Wrong Year” make me ache deeply in my soul every time I hear it.
First, the chord progression. It couldn’t be simpler or more common: G D(7sus4) Em Cmaj7. At first when I hear them played with this jaunty rhythm it evokes the verses of Ben Folds’ “Rockin’ The Suburbs.” However, after a few listens just now I realized that these are also the chords to something much more familiar: the first line of “Don’t Stop Believin'” raised a minor third!
In fact, the first line of this song closely echoes the first line of “Don’t Stop Believin'”! [Read more…] about Music Monday: “The Wrong Year” – The Decemberists