In addition to song lyrics, I’ve got a mild obsession with drummers.
Admittedly, in the past I’ve written mainly about drummers who also sing lead vocals from behind the drum kit — a pretty small group, which has got even smaller in recent years since Don Henley started singing from the front of the stage for the Eagles.
But I was whizzing down a motorway the other day when “Breathless” by The Corrs came on the radio, which has one of my all-time favourite drum tracks on it.
The Corrs are interesting because they have one of those rarest of things for a band — a female drummer.
My sister used to tease me endlessly about having a bit of a thing for Andrea Corr, the lead singer in The Corrs and an admittedly good-looking lady. But the truth is I had much more of a crush on Caroline Corr behind the drums than her sister. Especially on the track I’m writing about today.
You see, “Breathless” is a love song. It tells the story of someone who is losing the will to resist… “Can’t hide it/Can’t fight it” …and asking their companion to leave them breathless. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a reference to having a 3-mile run together before turning in for the night…
In the context of that narrative, you might expect a gentle song with plenty of strings and a swelling chorus. That would be Option 1 for most composers given the lyrics of “Breathless” to work with.
Admittedly The Corrs had a helping hand on this occasion from “Mutt” Lange — the co-writer and producer behind global monster-selling hits by acts like Shania Twain, Bryan Adams and Def Leppard.
History doesn’t record whose idea it was to give “Breathless” a slightly different treatment, but maximum points to whoever it was.
“Breathless” has a delightful juxtaposition between Andrea Corr’s smooth, silky voice, a restrainted slide guitar solo from brother Jim Corr and a flourish or two on the violin from the other family member, Sharon Corr.
But “Breathless” is really driven from the drums. For a song with a gentle and romantic topic, Caroline Corr takes no prisoners and lays down the sort of highly active drum track that wouldn’t be out of place on a more up-tempo rock song.
It’s one of those delightful musical treats that probably shouldn’t work in theory, but somehow in practice it creates an end result that couldn’t be bettered.
A few reviewers described “Breathless” as having a Blondie-like feel to it.
I can see their point, but the only Blondie-like element to it I can hear is the drum track, which could indeed have been laid down by Blondie’s iconic drummer Clem Burke. It’s got the same level of busy-ness and intensity that he brings to Blondie’s sound. And I don’t think any professional drummer would be offended by a favourable comparison to the great Clem Burke, so that’s all to the good.
However the rest of “Breathless” is far too restrained to be a Blondie song, in my opinion at least. Much as I like Blondie, I couldn’t imagine Debbie Harry singing that sultry vocal for a moment…it’s not remotely her style.
And I don’t suppose Chris Stein would be happy with only having a brief slide guitar solo as his contribution to the song either. For me, the drums are the only Blondie-like element to the song. But they are just brilliant, and so delightfully unexpected given the song’s subject matter.
When “Breathless” first came out I was always fascinated by the fact that Caroline Corr uses some pretty hefty drumsticks on the track. I’m not enough of a drummer to know…in fact I’m not a drummer at all, truth be told…but I imagine that’s part of the trick to getting the sound right on this track.
Those big sticks get used with some force on the drum kit, essentially making the one-woman rhythm section which drives “Breathless” along with a force that completely belies the lyrics about that wonderful moment of anticipation before two people’s lips meet for the first time, which is what the rest of the song is about.
That said, of all the things I recall wishing when I’ve been in that situation myself, I don’t recall a single instance when a thunderous drum track was one of them…
That’s why it shouldn’t work…yet it does. Brilliantly.
The lyrics, written by The Corrs and “Mutt” Lange have a nice touch to them as well.
And if there’s no tomorrow
And if all we have is here and now
I’m happy just to have you
You’re all the love I need somehow
It’s like a dream
Although I’m not asleep
And I never want to wake up
Don’t lose it, don’t leave it
You could easily imagine those lyrics being sung at half the speed, with strings and choirs in the background.
Yet the most prominent element in the mix for “Breathless” is the drums. That’s what elevates this Corrs’ song from what, in other hands, could easily have been some anodyne girl-meets-boy pop song and makes it into a classic.
A deserved UK Number One back in 2000. And a trip down memory lane for me with one of my absolute favourite tracks from back then.
With one of my favourite drum tracks, courtesy of Caroline Corr, who I’ve got to admit I still have a bit of a crush on, here’s The Corrs with “Breathless”…
The video is below but, if you prefer, you can listen to this track on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/5OQGeJ1ceykovrykZsGhqL