The “little phrase”

There is a famous “little phrase” in a sonata by the composer/family friend Vinteuil that becomes the anthem of Swann’s love for Odette, and this musical reference pops up at various times in Proust’s chronicle. Reading, one can only imagine the shape of this phrase. Easier to recognize is the phenomenon of a snippet of song that takes on a larger-than-life role in one’s musical library. My library, of course, is made up of rock songs, not sonatas. For me, the equivalent of the little phrase is the passage – maybe six or seven notes – that comes near the end of a song that makes me hold my breath in anticipation. If I am with someone when the song plays on the radio, I will say, in effect, “Quiet, please. Let me just concentrate on this brief bit.” As I think of them, or happen to hear them, I will list the little phrases that continue to thrill me, recognizing that it will be impossible – just as it was for Proust – to convey the sound I am citing.

Five Discs, “I Remember” – a seven-note bass doo-wop following the line, “Tell me baby, where can I be found.” [1:26]
Marshall Tucker Band, “I Heard It In a Love Song” – the phrase, “I was born a wrangler and a rambler and I guess I always will.” [4:12]
Hall & Oates, “She’s Gone” – after fits and starts, fits and starts, a key-changing crescendo builds up to a keening “she’s go-o-o-o-o-o-o-ne, oh why?” [4:35]
Wilco – “Impossible Germany” – almost three minutes into a noodling instrumental coda, an exhilarating three-cord progression resolves the tension. Have I heard this phrase elsewhere, or just from its brief introduction two minutes earlier? [5:17]
Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run” – you know where this is going, right: “1-2-3-4.” [3:03]
John Mellencamp, “The Authority Song” – “Kick it in” brings back the orchestra and energy after a pulsating drum hiatus. [2:44]
Sensations, “Let Me In” – only reason to listen to this oldie is for the five-note progression at the very end, after the last “do-wee-oop-we-ooo.” [2:50?]


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