Bedford Falls: why music is so valuable

Isaac Castella McDonald 21 November 2019

Bedford Falls by Ford is a song that means a lot to me.

It is a song that reminds me of walking in the field close to my home. It is a song that puts a tightness in my chest and the happy-sad bitter-sweet chamomile-coffee feeling that comes with this. It is a song that makes me emotional, because it makes explicit the ability of music to convey (to vent, to sooth) emotions so much better than words can.

If you are reading this then you must listen to the song before you continue. Its 3 minutes 23 seconds of inconspicuous lo-fi, made a defining song by the interplay between this simple beauty and the sampled speakers at the beginning. The sample, taken from Capra’s iconic 1946 film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, is spoken by the suicidal George Bailey:

‘Listen, I don’t want any plastics and I don’t want any ground floors, and I don’t want to get married ever to anyone! Do you understand that? I wanna do what I wanna do. And you’re, and you’re…’

In the ellipse he makes a noise which perfectly conveys his inability to put the strength of his emotion into words. It’s a stifled and broken noise of desperation followed by the song, which having been a distant backtrack up until this point, becomes his sentence as it enters.

I’ve never heard such a noise, but it is so important to me because it so perfectly describes an inability to express emotion in words, after which the song steps in to make the point that it can.

This call and response is a beautiful dramatisation of the musical emotional expression, this magical connection between impartial frequencies and dopamine receptors, memory cortexes, tear glands, that is in fact another human being, the artist, reaching through the vast and lonely gulf of the impartial sea and saying ‘I feel it too’. This song is not an argument, a treatise, an explanation, it is simply an acknowledgement of struggle that exists for no other reason. It is a happy-sad submission to this bitter-sweet life.

Since the first human societies music has been useful as a social glue, evoking emotions in each member of a group which are shared. The congruity this shared emotion creates between the inner and outer worlds of a human is what Jung saw as a crucial factor in a human’s wellbeing (1).

Have you ever wondered why dancing feels so good? My feeling is that part of the pleasure of dancing comes from this created congruity between your inner intentions and outer world as you get sillier and sillier and sillier (or, if you are so inclined, more serious). It’s rare you get to actually physically reflect the way you feel in such a dynamic way in a communal context…

George Bailey’s emotion being so strongly detectable here becomes a similar exercise, one of empathy, one of sonder (2), one of joy, one of grief. All music does this, but Bedford Falls, for me, makes the existence of music as a socially, emotionally charged phenomena explicit.

40,000 songs are now being added to Spotify every day (3). If Spotify started at this rate on New Year’s day of 2019, it would have already surpassed the number of books in the University Library by 60%. If the average song length is 3 minutes, this is over 83 days of content (no sleep) added a day. If life was always short the inconceivable quantity of online content being produced every day makes it seem a lot shorter. In a musical world where it’s impossible to  hear it all, it’s more important than ever that we chart a course across this rising sea.

One way to do this, and one that I suggest, is to judge songs not on your ‘critical’ judgement of them, or how you think a certain artist or genre is perceived by your friends (you don’t have to like Death Grips, you can like Post Malone).

We should value songs purely on the way they make you feel. Life is far too short to dilly-dally listening to songs you don’t really emotionally respond to. Bedford Falls is a simple song, one of the thousands added to Spotify on a day in 2018, but it stands out for me because it implicitly supports this way of evaluating music. This makes it definitive in the current musical landscape, of incredible saturation and limiting pressures around image that can disrupt people’s course across the ocean of audio.

So give it a listen, and if you have Spotify then hit Discover or Radio, find the most obscure artist with 1000 monthly listens and give them a try. And, whatever you do, think about how magical the uniquely human emotional response to these strange impartial frequencies really is.

The town Bedford Falls from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Image credit: Wikipedia commons


(1) If you are interested in this idea, see this website:
(2) Definition: sonder (uncountable) (neologism) The profound feeling of realising that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.