Certain Songs #1390: Old 97’s – “Question”

Album: Satellite Rides
Year: 2001

And now we come to what is unquestionably my favorite Old 97’s song. Which is ironic on several levels, the most immediate one being that it’s just Rhett Miller all by his lonesome on an acoustic guitar. So I guess that it’s more like my favorite Rhett Miller song, which just adds to the irony in that Rhett remade it on his second solo album, 2006’s The Believer, but with a more full arrangement — keyboards and strings — and it doesn’t work nearly as well.

But man does it work on “Satellite Rides,” not only sticking out like a sore thumb in between the full-tilt rockers, but also in tone: there’s no distance from Rhett Miller and the simple proposal story he’s telling.

Now, I’m not much for sentimentality, but I’m an absolute sucker for sincerity — and while “Question” is undoubtedly both, it’s the sincerity that kills me every time.

She woke from a dream
Her head was on fire
Why was he so nervous?
He took her to the park
She crossed her arms
And lowered her eyelids

Miller sings this with his voice breaking, near the top of his range, all alone in the moment, like he’s both the guy and the girl in the song on the verses, and then the omniscient narrator on the chorus, which is one of my favorite choruses by anybody ever.

Someday somebody’s gonna ask you
A question that
You should say “yes” to
Once in your life
Maybe tonight
I’ve got a question for you

I mean, first off, the melody line is long and utterly gorgeous, which Miller then augments with his singing. Check out the way his voice breaks not once but twice when he sings “once in your life“, it’s all of the emotions of the proposal wrapped up into a single phrase.

She’d had no idea
Started to cry,
She said in a good way
He took her by the hand
Walked her back home
They took the long way

And with the exception of a repetition of the chorus, that’s pretty much it with “Question.” We don’t know what happened with them, whether or not they lived happily ever after. And that’s not even the point. “Happily ever after” is a combination of luck and work, and takes, well, ever after. The point of “Question” is being receptive to taking the leap. Once in your life.

“Question”

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