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10 Years, 100 Songs: #20. “Speak to Me…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 17, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

Some songs just manage to defy the odds. The All-American Rejects never seemed like a particularly notable band–“Swing, Swing” was pretty underrated, sure, and “Dirty Little Secret” had a fun video, even if the song itself was kind of shockingly mean-spirited, but little about them seemed destined for any specific greatness. And honestly, that didn’t even change all that much the first couple times I heard “Move Along.” But the success of that song was that same kind of slow-burn effect that I talked about with “Lazy Eye,” where the song just kind of seeps into the pop culture of the time (the song only peaked at #15 on the pop charts, but spent an astounding 38 weeks in the top 50) until it eventually feels like an inextricable part of its DNA . Soon enough, it was a lot easier to recognize “Move Along” for what it was–one of the ultimate anthems of the emo era.

It’s probably bad timing of me to have this song in a back-to-back with “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” since if the emotive affectations of one turned you off, it’s pretty certain that it did so for the other as well. Indeed, I imagine many people would take one look at Tyson Ritter’s face in the “Move Along” video–squinty, pouty, half-covered by moppy hair, and just impossibly pained-looking–and decide that this kind of song is probably not for them. But then again, this was rock in the 00s, in essence–perhaps the people who complained about the piercing, overly-wussy vocals of Fall Out Boy and the All-American Rejects were the same type of people who cried foul at Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots for having vocals so mush-mouthed that no one can understand what they’re saying. I certainly would know better by now than to give those people any real credence, so perhaps the same hard line must be taken to those who still complain about whiney vocals in the year 2009.

Really, though, I’m not even sure who I’m acting defensive against here. I’ve been consistently surprised with the kind of people who have willingly voiced support for “Move Along.” I remember it finishing well on an indie-dominated music webboard I used to post at, sandwiched in between Wolf Parade and M.I.A. singles. Meanwhile, my oldest friend, the experimental poet who wrote the Xiu Xiu piece I linked to back in my #68 post and barely even listens to music anymore, loved playing the All-American Rejects in Rock Band. Clearly, something about this song stood apart, raised it to a level of quality perceivable even by non-mainstream rock/pop acolytes. (And it certainly wasn’t the kiddie/teen chorus that joins in before the song’s climax, the one part of the song that continues to grate on me to this day).

Of course, a good intro goes a long way to explaining the appeal of just about anything, and the beginning to “Move Along” is as solid an introduction as can be found in the Naughty Oughties. The menacing and thudding drum intro leading into the rumbling one-note bass line (And I feel like I’ve used the phrase “rumbling one-note bass line” like a half-dozen times in this series already–sorry, I guess rumbling, one-note bass lines were just that big this decade) makes the song sound like it should be seconds away from erupting either into a Sepultura or Dead Kennedys song, but then the choppy, major-sounding guitar part zooms in to provide relief from the impending threat–a neat little musical microcosm for the self-preservational themes about to be related in the song. You kinda get what the deal is with “Move Along” before Ritter sings word one.

And the lyrics are a little cheesy, no doubt. According to songfacts.com (who never lie as far as I can tell), Ritter–an Oklahoma boy by nature–wrote the song in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but decided to eschew specifics in order to make it more of a universal message. Indeed, “Move Along” reads like a song that was inspired by something specific but expanded to be all-encompassing–coming off as genuinely felt, but still largely spoken in general truisms. (If it had been written four years earlier, it would’ve been gobbled up in post-9/11 montagery and never would’ve made it to the end of the decade.) It’s never distractingly cringeworthy, but taken on their own, some of the lyrics (“Another day and you’ve had your fill of sinking,” “Could be a night where your life ends”) just seem kind of tired and pandering.

But really, with a song like this, subtlety and originality isn’t really what we’re going for–the lyrics are far less critical to the song’s meaning as the dynamics and emphasis put behind them. And dynamics are the key to “Move Along,” as it masterfully drops and adds intensity for the proper maximal effect. Take the first verse, as after a stanza of tensely vocals and forebodingly minor bass work, the bottom completely drops out, as Ritter’s wail turns into a tremble (“Hands are shaking cold / These hands are mine to hold”) before a voice from the background/subconscious exclaims “Speak to me!” and the all-out chorus is triggered. Then take the second verse, which basically pulls the same trick, but builds on the first one, as now when the song drops, some shuffling drums are added to keep the song’s momentum going, while Ritter now moves an octave up on his subtly-tweaked “YOUR HANDS ARE MINE TO HOOOLD!!!” and the subconscious voice now shouts “Speak TO ME!!!” to bring the chorus back. It’s absolutely textbook stuff, and provides much of the song’s power.

The rest is in the hook. You can’t have an anthem without a shout-along chorus, and “Move Along” is certainly more than happy to oblige on those grounds. The general rule with these types of choruses is that they have to sound personally meaningful without actually stating anything specific, and the song checks those boxes with gusto. “When all you’ve got to keep is strong / Move along, move along, like I know you do.” What, if anything, does it really mean? Hard to say, but shouted by Ritter like it was the most important vocal he would ever lay on tape, we understand well enough. Also helping the chorus achieve lift-off are the drums, which previously just a grumble now soar into a frenzy, and the guitar, which goes from a jarring stop-start to sweetly flowing wave. By the end, what you’re screaming along to isn’t nearly as important as how loud you’re screaming it. It’s a chorus that elevates from whatever emo trappings it might possess to just become fantastic, timeless pop music.

In case you had any lingering doubts about the song’s potential for universal reach, the Rejects ram it home with the song’s Marc Webb-directed video (#3 for him on the countdown, for those keeping score at home), in which Ritter both semi-literally casts himself as Everyman (a montage of Ritter in about a dozen different personas, cut together to make one continuous lip synch), and asks the rest of the world to save him from drowning (a scene of Ritter falling backwards into an empty swimming pool, where a sea of hands suddenly emerges to carry him to safety). It’s a little thick on the We’re All in This Togetherness, but it’s undeniably effective, and instantly comes across as the exact video that the song was reaching out for. (What’s more, it made for two semi-iconic videos in a row for the Rejects–pretty damn good for a band in the second half of the Naughty Oughties).

“Move Along” always felt like a song that the Rejects were as lucky as anything to stumble upon, and this has been a little borne out by the singles that followed in its wake–namely middling ballad “It Ends Tonight” and fun but slight kiss-off “Gives You Hell” (technically the band’s biggest hit, which makes less than no sense to me). But this is no great tragedy–not many rock/pop bands are likely to come across a song as elevating as “Move Along” more than once in their lifetime, and we can only hope that those that do make sure to get themselves heard. Speak to us, indeed, Tyson Ritter.

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow
26. Lil’ Wayne – “A Milli
25. Shaggy f/ Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent – “It Wasn’t Me
24. The Strokes  – “Last Night
23. Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
22. Radiohead – “Idioteque
21. Fall Out Boy – “Sugar, We’re Going Down
20. The All-American Rejects – “Move Along”

5 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #20. “Speak to Me…””

  1. This coming one spot in front of “Sugar” makes my day.

  2. Also, my favorite AAR song is “The Last Song,” which has as good a video (they’re playing on the field of the friggin’ Coliseum) and as great a chorus (“As I go/Remember all the simple/Things you know/My heart is just a crutch and/I still hope/That you will miss me when IIIIIII am gone”) as “Move Along.”

  3. MBI said

    Mow the lawn, mow the lawn, like I told you to.

  4. Justin said

    “Gives You Hell” for song of the decade.

  5. Jane said

    Supper sale for back friday>> Join Now

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