Song: "Wicked Game"
Album: Heart Shaped World
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As has been stated many times before, one of the most difficult things to accomplish within a song is conveying a truly authentic and powerful mood. Obviously, as one moves further into that feeling, attempting to make it the central aspect of the song, it becomes more of a challenge and more of a musical rarity. Furthermore, if an artist is attempting such a task within a genre that is not popular at the given time, getting any exposure for the song is rather unlikely. However, when all of these elements come together properly, it almost always yields a song of such quality that it cannot be ignored long by the general public. In an era of musical excess in terms of both sound and style, Chris Isaak brought listeners back to a time seemingly forgotten. With his subtle, yet amazingly full voice, Isaak was a throwback to the early days of rockabilly and made a case for the need for artists that had true talent and were not relying on an image or "studio magic" for their sound an success. Showing a heavy influence in many ways from the great Roy Orbison, Isaak brought a sound and image to the end of the 1980's that had not been heard in years, and in every aspect, it was a refreshing change of pace. While he had a number of fantastic songs, over the decades, his name has become synonymous with his biggest hit, and there are few songs that can match the pure sonic beauty of Chris Isaak's 1989 single, "Wicked Game."
In many ways, the entire mood of the song is set in place perfectly by the opening two notes of "Wicked Game," as the perfectly toned guitar instantly sets the mood. Even those not familiar with the "Sun Studio Sound" can feel that the song is a throw-back to the early days of rock, as the guitar of James Calvin Wilsey flutters lightly, creating one of the most sensual guitar progressions ever recorded. There is a light rhythm guitar that can be heard throughout the track, and one can easily picture the song being sung in a dingy apartment as the rain falls outside. This strong sense of imagery proves the overwhelming sense of authenticity in the song, as it does not seem forced or contrived; it comes off as a truly honest musical lament. The light drumming from Kenney Dale Johnson lends an almost jazz-like feeling to the song, and the bass of Rowland Salley provides a perfect thump that often sounds akin to a beating heart. The combination of the musicians is as close to musical perfection as one will find anywhere in history, as none of them attempt to steal the spotlight, letting the collective sound build into something far more powerful than the sum of its parts. There is no denying that "Wicked Game" could have just as easily been released in 1959 as opposed to 1989, and it is largely due to the sensational performance of the musicians strong.
However, while the music is superb, in many ways, there was no way to prepare the world in 1989 for the voice and singing style of Chris Isaak. Clearly having a perfect understanding of what made the voices of his influences so fantastic, Isaak brought a sound that had not been heard in decades, and he did so with a strength and honesty that makes it seem in no way like a copy. Falling somewhere between crooning and crying, Isaak works the entire vocal scale, from his deep singing on the verses to the stunning high notes that are found within the choruses. It is this element that proves his unmatched talent, and also one fo the key aspects to making him such a hit at the time. Combining his phenomenal voice with his "greaser" appearance, there is no wondering why he became such a sensation, and the video he created for "Wicked Game" only added to his status as a sex symbol. However, looking beyond this fact, one cannot argue that another key aspect to the success of "Wicked Game" is the honest and beautiful lyrics which Isaak penned. Without question one of the most moving laments ever written, one cannot get around the heartbreak he conveys on lines like, "...what a wicked thing to do, to make me dream of you..." There are no attempts at puns or over-stating the obvious, as "Wicked Game" presents an honest view of heartbreak and longing in a way that no other sing in history has achieved.
Truth be told, "Wicked Game' had been out for nearly two years before the "general public" got wind of the musical brilliance that lived within the track. The song found fame when it was used as part of David Lynch's 1991 film, Wild At Heart, and most trace its roots directly to a radio station in Atlanta, Georgia that first started pushing the song. Since that point, "Wicked Game" has become a consistent part of popular culture, popping up in many other films, TV shows, and other aspects of commercial media. Also, there have been a number of cover versions of "Wicked Game" released, the most notable being that recorded by Finish rockers, HIM. The fact that such a wide range of artists have recorded their own take on the song serves as a testament to what a phenomenal song Isaak composed, and more than two decades later, the mood of the song is still just as strong. Throughout "Wicked Game," Isaak proved that much like it blues, it is often what you don't play that is truly gives a song impact, and through this idea, "Wicked Game" remains a song with a beauty and sensuality that remains absolutely unrivaled. From the delicate guitar playing to the mesmerizing voice of Isaak himself, there is not an off moment anywhere on the song, and the mood continues to build with each passing second. Making a case for the beauty of honest, more simple music, there are few songs that convey as much emotion and grace as one finds in Chris Isaak's extraordinary 1989 single, "Wicked Game."