Cellos Rock!

When you think of cello and its distinctive mournful tone, you probably think of classical music. What many people don’t realize is that it’s equally well-suited for pop music. In fact, many modern (and even some not so modern) record-makers have turned to and rely on this beloved four-stringed instrument for its richness and depth in musical expression.

Don’t believe me? Check out these eight songs. Proof positive that cellos rock!

1. “Mad World” – Seal

This gift from the band Tears for Fears employed a lot of electronic elements when it was first released in 1982. Since then, more introspective versions have emerged, most notably from British singer-songwriter Seal. His cover features a crying cello in the introduction that goes on to complement his vocal delivery in the verse and finally moves into the chorus to heighten the intensity of the message. The addition of the cello’s aesthetic to this passionate tale allows the listener to dive deeper within themself and better appreciate the emotional impact of the lyrics. Listen to it here.

2. “Good Vibrations” – The Beach Boys

Brian Wilson’s use of cello in this iconic song defies the instrument’s somber reputation. Played with rapid-fire staccato bowing technique, the relentless cello line lifts every chorus to new heights (though they are most clearly heard in the outro to the song), creating an unforgettable low-end counterpoint to the laconic legato theremin part layered above it. There’s no understating the contribution these cellos make to what has proven to be one of the most uplifting feel-good songs ever recorded. This scene from the biopic Love and Mercy brings the “Good Vibrations” cello session to life. Listen to it here.

3. “Blue Jay Way” – The Beatles

Although The Beatles, with the help of producer George Martin, used cello on a number of their recordings (“Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday” and ”I Am The Walrus,” among them), none feature the instrument more prominently than “Blue Jay Way” — a white cello even makes an appearance several times in the video. George Harrison wrote this plaintive song while waiting in a house on the Laurel Canyon street of the same name for a friend to arrive. Like the “fog upon LA” he sings about, the cello dances in and out of the track several times, almost mournfully laughing at the drone of George’s dry plea for company. Listen to it here.

4. “Wonderwall” – Oasis

This mesmerizing Oasis hit starts with acoustic guitars strumming a four-chord Beatle-esque progression. Verse one is sparse and tasty, but when that cello kicks in on the second verse, the song becomes undeniable. It continues playing throughout the entire rest of the tune, never outstaying its welcome … and why should it leave? It’s too good, the commanding thread that holds the song together. Hard to imagine that this record would have been so successful without that added cello. Listen to it here.

5. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – Nirvana

In this haunting and ominous live Nirvana performance of the traditional folk song, the cello (played by Lori Goldston) creates a brooding world that effectively accompanies Kurt Cobain’s brand of moody lament — this time about a cheating lover. It makes its entrance like angry footsteps coming to find her at the start of the second verse, then becomes more severe as the song continues and Cobain’s rage intensifies. Listen to it here.

6. “Taxi” – Harry Chapin

The cello is featured prominently in the bridge of this 1972 classic Harry Chapin tune. Sung by a “cab driver” recounting an old flame to whom he randomly gives a ride, he recalls their young love, their disparate dreams and the separate paths they pursued in their life journey. What better instrument than a cello to take us down that nostalgic road and connect us more emotionally to his story? Listen to it here.

7. “Don’t Lose Your Faith In Me” – Robben Ford

The artist is asking for forgiveness and a second chance, and the cello is sympathetic. Producer Susan Rogers writes about the making of this track in her book This is What It Sounds Like, explaining that although Ford had a good singing voice, it wasn’t his strong suit. She knew she had to compensate with instrumentation that offered a timbre that would shine the light on sincerity in his vocals — a timbre that wouldn’t get in the way. The cello, along with its stringed cousins, did just that, surrounding and embracing Ford’s voice like a warm blanket. It’s as if the strings forgave him within a song that is asking for forgiveness itself. Listen to it here.

8. “A Thousand Years” – Christina Perri

In this romantic confession of love performed by Christina Perri, a gorgeously played cello enters on the introduction and continues to punctuate the song in gentle 3/4 time. Later it joins its other stringed companions (violins, violas), adding texture. All strings are lovely, but you can count on a cello alone to hold up the bottom end and carry the weight of a profound love being expressed in song. Listen to it here.


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