“The Telephone Call” By Kraftwerk
My favorite pop songs tend to juxtapose catchy, upbeat vocal melodies and instrumental parts with profoundly melancholic lyrics, and I can think of no better example of this dynamic than Kraftwerk’s “The Telephone Call”. The instrumental sounds like it could be played in the background for runway models at a fashion show. Glossy DX7 synth patches accompany an electro groove slammed with compression to create an infectiously bumping track that I’ve broken many a sweat dancing to. Ralf Hütter’s amateurish singing ability and charming German accent, coupled with the song’s nursery rhyme-esque vocal melodies, do a great job of masking the melancholy of the track’s lyrics which could otherwise go easily unnoticed.
I never understood why the goofy, deadpan lyrics on this track always inspire a surprisingly potent feeling of sadness in me until I recently revisited my favorite sad song of all time — Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday”. The genius of “Yesterday” lies in its simple, but meticulously chosen lyrics which tell a purposely plain and incomplete “love lost” story that listeners can easily project their own feelings and experiences into and seamlessly make the song about their own lives. Like “Yesterday”, “The Telephone Call” doesn’t inspire sadness by smothering listeners with a heartbreaking story. The vague, melancholic lyrics of the tune provide a framework I can plug in details from my own life into, and make myself sad by re-living my own sad experiences through the perspective of the character singing the song. Like many great songs, “The Telephone Call” isn’t about the fictional person singing the song, but rather the real person listening to it.