hen I first heard Counting Crows‘ “Mr. Jones” I didn’t like it; nothing definable, it just didn’t please. Strangely, when I saw the video and didn’t like that either, I suddenly realized that I did like the song (and still do.) After a few more huge hits, I decided it might be worth spending $12 on the CD. In retrospect, my caution seems silly, but that’s my nature.
Coming after the upbeat radio hit “Rain King”, the album’s three quietest songs almost lulled me to sleep; “Sullivan Street”, a sweet ballad; “Ghost Train”, dark and brooding; “Raining in Baltimore”, so quiet and slow that it takes a careful listener to find the melody, which then rewards that listener doubly.
Following that trio, the intro to the final song on the album, a vibrating electric guitar string, seemed sure to herald another lullaby to wrap things up. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“A Murder of One” struck me as a particularly witty title — a flock of crows being a ‘murder’, and a murder of one implying, besides the obvious, the loneliness of one when there should be more.
The vibrating string fades to a moment of silence, and then the entire band joins in the first crashing note of this moving, driving tune. Matt Malley’s bass is more prominent than I recall it on the rest of the album, Adam Duritz just a little more anguished, his timing even more impeccable than usual, but for me, the star of the musical part of the song is Steve Bowman’s drumming. Tight, hard, fast; he’s clearly using both hands, both feet, and his head to get that much rhythym and snap out of his kit. I was disappointed not to find him on the Crows’ second studio album, but such is life.
The title, far from being a simple bit of wit, is apropos to the lyrics about the anguish of seeing someone you care about in an abusive relationship, unable to escape because they don’t know anything else.
It also contains, in one verse, the children’s rhyme whence came the band’s name:
I dreamt I saw you walking up a hillside in the snow Casting shadows on the winter sky as you stood there counting crows One for sorrow Two for joy Three for girls and four for boys Five for silver Six for gold and Seven for a secret never to be told
The momentum of the music and the intensity of the lyrics feed on each other to create an effect not unlike caffeine, every time I hear the song (thrice and more, just while I’ve been writing this.)