White Lies' Charles Cave releases new solo single Too Much (listen below) on Friday (27 May). With the odd string featuring on the track he's made us a playlist of songs that demonstrate the “Strength Of Strings”. "Strings have been used in popular music for ever, and I have a total weakness for it," he explains, "whether it be fast disco runs in Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman, the bare, emotive scratches of Arthur Russell’s cello, or lush orchestral accompaniments to Mickey Newbury’s Americana ballads. Some would argue it can be a cheap trick to create overly filmic and sometimes saccharine pleas to the heart, and of course there have been some shady moments of ‘symphonic rock’, but I’ve picked some music here which I think, though all to very different effects, highlights what strings can offer ‘non-classical’ music." Listen now.
Arthur Russell – A Little Lost "I’m completely in love with this song and the album, Another Thought, from which it is taken. It’s Russell’s most exposed and intimate record and home to some beautifully minimal and tender songs. This one feels almost like a sea shanty; the acoustic guitar accompaniment to his wonderfully melodic cello playing, (which is here left less effected with echo than on some of his earlier records), and the ambient rolling vocal melody makes me think of him singing it from a boat out at sea. A great example of a solo string instrument taking the centre stage and becoming an equally expressive and in many ways vocal accompaniment to the voice."
Mickey Newbury – Heaven Help The Child "This incredible recording has the most graceful arrangement of strings - and other orchestral instrumentation - and takes the listener on an emotional stroll because of it. They begin as a shimmering bedding to Mickey’s spacious vocals and nimble guitar fingerpicking, rising in an emotive, filmic way before taking a turn to a more traditional Country bounciness. This is a true masterclass in songwriting and arrangement. - For another great example of strings in Newbury’s recordings, be sure to check out An American Trilogy."
Teena Marie – I Need Your Loving "What a great example of early 80s funk/soul. The sultry, lush string bedding carries it along only to then leap out with big, bold runs. It’s a great demonstration of using strings as a hugely energetic component to punctuate effortless groove and feel with a really glossy touch. Delicious."
Isaac Hayes – Walk On By "Isaac Hayes had a top 30 hit with this splendid version of the Burt Bacharach song. He uses strings and brass in a very tasteful and sympathetic way which allows them to feel like members of the band, improvising around the chords rather than just thickening things. With an iconic Morricone-ish string theme then interweaved throughout the track, this has been heavily sampled in the years since its release. This extended version is a total delight.
Chris Squire – Silently Falling "I have to pay tribute to the late Chris Squire in an attempt to draw more people’s attention to his masterpiece of a record, ‘Fish Out Of Water’, which he made - oh, you know - on some downtime in between a couple of 10/10 Yes albums in the early 70s! The strings join us about 4 minutes from the end with a beautiful motif over a colossal Zeppelin-ish stomp of a groove. Get this album!"
Mahavishnu Orchestra – Eternity’s Breath Part 1 "Jerry Goodman’s virtuoso jazz-rock violin is bad-ass. There is no two ways about it. Here, he joins John McLaughlin in unison for a series of riffs to rival Black Sabbath’s best. To me, this sounds like if Todd Rundgren started a doom-metal band (which he probably has). It’s these solid, purposeful riffs that always allow Mahavishnu, in my ears, to remain on the right side of 'free-form' noodling, and shows the violin off as having much larger balls than is sometimes thought."
Scott Walker – Farmer In The City "This 1995 track wouldn't seem out of place in a Scandinavian thriller series. It’s about as brooding and as haunting as strings get in ‘popular’ music. The stories of Walker’s production techniques suggest that the players on this track probably were put through unthinkably intense pressure during recording of performances to get just the right feeling. Listening on a good pair of headphones, with the lights off, you can really hear that. Not for the faint hearted."
Echo & The Bunnymen – Silver "For me, this is probably one of the most memorable opening string lines to any album, ever. I think anyone would struggle to imagine Ocean Rain without its iconic strings. Here is another example where it almost feels the band are accompanying the strings and not the other way round. The parts are so perfect, so tasteful and melodic without ever being too sweet; an effect that many bands have since tried to replicate and rarely get quite right. I was fortunate enough to see this performed at The Royal Albert Hall with a full orchestra, and it was nothing short of ecstasy."
Beck – Paper Tiger "Surely a bold homage to Serge Gainsbourg’s Melody, this track from my favourite Beck album has some of the sexiest string arrangements I can think of. Pure John Barry drama builds in frenetic swells, nice an loud above the enviably groovy rhythm track. I hate to use the word cool around music, but in this case, I think I have to. This is very, very cool."