Ever notice how any worthwhile work of fiction, be it a book, film or television show, is typically only as strong as its supporting cast?
Would “The Help” have been so good had Emma Stone not gotten, well, some help?
Most of the things written about AMC’s “Breaking Bad” praise lead actors Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul for their regular brilliance on the show (and deservedly so), but it’s hard to ignore dependably great performances from Bob Odenkirk, Dean Norris, Jonathan Banks and other supporting actors who have helped make Vince Gilligan’s drama one of TV’s finest shows.
And it’s far from the only example of a television show being great, in large part, because of its supporting cast.
Imagine if “Seinfeld” were a show about a comedian wandering around his apartment, making witty observations about his life and the world to himself.
I picture the series ending with Jerry staring intently at a package of airplane peanuts then saying, “You ever notice ... how I’m always alone?”
A slightly panicked smile slides from his face, the camera zooms to a closely cropped shot of his now sullen, confused visage then fades to black.
No Soup Nazi, no Crazy Joe Davola, no Puddy, no Izzy Mandelbaum. Not very much fun.
Reality TV would be similarly hopeless without compelling supporting casts.
Would anyone tune in to watch “The Real Housewife of New Jersey”? Not likely. For starters, there would be no one for the aforementioned housewife to shout at about perceived (and often imaginary) social slights and etiquette, an ironic phenomena on such programs when one considers how little any of these people know about decorum or civilized behavior.
The rule also applies to music.
Great songs almost always feature a moment that makes the listener interrupt whatever conversation they were having, their hand darting toward the volume knob.
“Wait, wait, hang on, I love this part.”
“That part” is rarely a well-crafted lyric or guitar riff but is instead some fleeting moment in the song — a particular guitar solo, vocal run, a drum roll or a well-time “Hey!” shouted at precisely the right moment.
These, I contend, are the supporting casts of music, the things that make a song great and are so integral to its success but often go overlooked and underappreciated.
What draws me to these moments is that they indicate a level of care and an attention to detail.
The artist has thought carefully and toiled over his work, searching for the elements, large and small, that will make his work more impactful.
Such thoughtful and purposeful meticulousness is worthy of our appreciation and praise.
This week, a playlist featuring music’s supporting cast, eight songs featuring handclaps, whistling, cowbells and other cool sounds that have seeped their way into my musical consciousness. And they’re there to stay.
I should pitch my “Seinfeld” spin-off to NBC. That, my friends, would be a show about nothing.
• Daryl Hall and John Oates, “Private Eyes” — I was recently rendered helpless against the handclaps in the chorus of this classic while standing in line at a sandwich shop. Had to clap it out.
• Beastie Boys, “She’s Crafty” — The cowbell is crafty. And it’s just my type.
• Outkast, “Hey Ya!” — Handclaps are one of the many things that make this Outkast song one of my favorites.
• Peter Bjorn and John, “Young Folks” — Whistling is rarely used effectively in indie rock. This is the exception.
• Stealers Wheel, “Stuck in the Middle With You” — Handclaps and cowbell. An irresistible combination.
• Otis Redding, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” — The most famous whistling this side of Mayberry.
• Simon & Garfunkel, “Cecilia” — A song that uses handclaps as effectively as any.
• Elastica, “Connection” — Not sure if it’s bass guitar or a vocal effect, but the “Oooah” sound in this song makes me love it.