Recently I was listening to “Are You Experienced” by Jimi Hendrix and observed that the droning note in the song is utterly mesmerizing.
A drone is when a single note or chord is sounded continuously throughout a piece of music. It is popular in Indian music and with Scottish bagpipes.
After hearing “Are You Experienced” I began to think about other Rock music songs that employ the technique. There are many songs with Indian Raga influences that came to mind, like “See My Friends” by the Kinks, and a few tracks by the Beatles and the Byrds. But I was fixated on songs with more prominent, single note drones.
One that came to mind was “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground. Listen to how John Cale uses his viola, varying his attack to enhance the song’s emotion.
VU’s “Venus in Furs”, from the same album, also fits the bill.
Another is the Johnny Cash version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” The piano drone in the choruses provides the tension that drives the song.
It’s coming up on 5 years since Lou Reed passed away. When he died, many of my readers were asking me to pay him a tribute with a SotW selection. At the time, Reed received so much press that I didn’t feel like I had anything new or worthwhile to add to the coverage.
With the distance of time, I’m ready to weigh in by sharing my passion for a beautiful song that Reed wrote for the Velvet Underground’s third, self-titled album (1969) – “Pale Blue Eyes.”
The song has a very sparse arrangement – an organ lingers on long notes, simple bass figures, an electric guitar strums simple chords (and bends a few strings) and a tambourine keeps time with single shakes on the 2 and 4.
The delicate music is a perfect complement to the lyric about a passionate relationship that sounds like it’s ending. But the kicker comes in the last verse where Reed reveals the person he loves and wants to keep so badly is married.
It was good what we did yesterday
And I’d do it once again
The fact that you are married
Only proves you’re my best friend
But it’s truly, truly a sin
The influence of “Pale Blue Eyes” is justified through many great bands that have covered it. R.E.M. gave us a version on their 1987 rarities album, Dead Letter Office. (DLO also had 2 other VU songs on it – “There She Goes Again” and “Femme Fatale.”) A diverse group of other artists has performed the song live, including Patti Smith, Hole, Alejandro Escovedo, The Killers, and Crowded House(!).