In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always worth hearing.
What’s the secret to a great song? Is it a great melody, with rich harmony offered as counterpoint? Is it a great beat that either lulls one into the perfect state of mind or gets everybody up and dancing? Or is it a beautiful voice or technically precise instrument playing?
The answer is simple: The secret to a great song, of course, is a bangin’ tuba part.
Seriously. Think of a song with an awesome tuba part that’s not great. You can’t. It’s impossible. Write a great tuba part, and the rest of the song will fall into place. As Exhibit A for my argument, allow me to present “Otpisani” by the Balkan brass group Boban Marković Orkestar, led by the great Romani trumpet player, Boban Marković. The Balkan Brass Band is a curiosity here in the states—and in most of Europe—but it’s serious business in Serbia, where Marković hails from. There, the sound of many brass instruments rising together to create songs that sound distantly of the Balkan and Romani folk songs of old is one of the most popular musical forms going, and its influence is reaching out into other arenas. (For an example of what this sounds like when Americanized and turned into indie rock, look no further than the work of the group Beirut.)
“Otpisani,” though, is the group’s masterpiece, and even if Marković’s trumpeting is the main draw, it’s the bass line that makes “Otpisani” great. (To be perfectly technical about things, the instrument in Boban Markovic Orkestar is a “helicon,” but that’s an instrument in the tuba family, so… close enough.) What’s truly impressive about it is that it just keeps going and going and going—sometimes for nearly seven minutes when the band performs live. Simply standing and lifting a tuba-like instrument for a whole concert is an act of physical endurance few musicians would want to undertake. Add in a technically demanding part that requires precise fingering and technique, and you have a recipe for a part that must be hell on Mustafa Salimović, the Orkestar’s helicon player.
Yet none of that effort translates to “Otpisani,” which is the perfect song for when your team makes a come-from-behind win in March Madness, or when you’re headed out to crush your enemies, or when your wife is going into labor, or when, you know, you’re just going over to Target for some cat litter. There is no situation that is not made 10 times more awesome and celebratory just by “Otpisani’s” vague proximity—you should hear it at funerals!—and all of that is thanks to one amazing part for your tuba (or tuba-like instrument).