Song #401 of 9999
Picking a place to start in 1997 is maybe the easiest decision I've had to make thus far. "Jóga" by Bkörk is not only the best song of 1997, it's really one of my favorite songs of all time. I almost hate to tear it apart and spell out its musical attributes because as a whole it represents a rather magical musical experience for me. But music theory stops for no man!
The words are really unnecessary to appreciate this song—the beauty lives in the lush musical landscape created by Björk and company in the studio. But to examine the words is to gain a deeper appreciation of what's happening harmonically. The verses chronicle a relationship between Björk and another, the gist of which seems to be "you seem to really understand me but I'm still wrought with confusion much of the time." (My paraphrasing is sillier but not much less eloquent than the verse itself.) Björk sets this lyric to a trio of hollow chords (no thirds!) that slither up and down a short scale: G#5 - A5 - B5 - A5. (Astute listeners will note that her vocal melody fills in the thirds to create G#m - A - B - A, but the chord qualities are sufficiently obfuscated.) That we are in E Major (with the aforementioned chords functioning as iii-IV-V-IV) remains a secret through the pre-chorus (C#5-A5-F#5-B5) with Björk's vocal melody now clinging to roots and 5ths before the song settles on A5 and she delivers the line:
then the riddle gets solved and you push me up to...
And then, whoosh! Clouds part, the sky opens and rays of sunshine explode from heaven as she clutches a G# and the tonic (E) is delivered for the first time. Luxuriant strings descend in scales, leap in 6ths and 7ths and rise pentatonically over I-IV-iii-IV. A rare 1/4 bar (or a 5/4 bar if that suits you better) connects two halves of a chorus, suggesting that the progression shares the same sense of urgency suggested by the lyric—who has time for one more beat! Why Björk chooses to equate a sense of clarity with a "state of emergency" is anyone's guess but would a more predictable lyric be better? If you're going for fantastic, go all the way, right?
What follows is equally brilliant. Filtered tectonic beats and a syncopated bass line contribute to a polyphonic texture that seems to lumber and soar simultaneously, with the force of (arguably) Björk's greatest vocal performance holding it all together. As sublime as pop music gets.