S-Tier Songs, Vol. 20

Time again for a new S-Tier song. For the rundown of what has been “inducted” so far and the basic ground rules of this whole deal, head to the main page here. Note that in the near future, probably after number 25, I’ll start a second page so that I don’t have a miles-long list.

Today’s pick was not a single from its album but was picked out by fans as a highlight track right away. It has gone on to become one of the band’s most famous songs and its fame has grown, even in the midst of a major singer change in the band.

Nightwish – Ghost Love Score

Today’s song comes from the 2004 album Once. In a neat coincidence, I have previously covered Once as an Album of the Week. And after looking back at that post, it’s no surprise that I spent most of my words talking about this very song.

Ghost Love Score is a long, epic movement clocking in at over 10 minutes. It is not a simply-structured pop song with verse/chorus/repeat, rather it is a symphonic piece arranged in movements. It is in parts both progressive and classical, and bears the accompaniment of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. (That would be part of the album’s €250,000 budget) The song was composed by keyboardist and band leader Tuomos Holopainen, as per usual with Nightwish’s music.

The song is about someone looking back fondly on a past relationship. The pair are no longer together, yet the narrator still keeps a place in their heart for their former lover. This isn’t a story-song with a plot or anything like that, but the song does explore the range of emotions when looking back on lost love.

While the band and accompanying orchestra are in fine form on this run, the most-discussed aspect of this song is the performance of the singer. Original vocalist Tarja Turunen cut the studio version of the song and the live version presented above. Her performance on this song is majestic and otherworldly, though that could describe the vast majority of her singing over the years. Ghost Love Score is an operatic performance, which Turunen excels at. It is not an opera, but certainly the vocals are of that style.

Nightwish’s star was on the rise during the Once album cycle and Tarja Turunen became noted as one of the best singers in the world. Then, in a very unexpected twist, she was dismissed from Nightwish in 2005. In fact, she was fired just after the concert that the live footage above is taken from. While the drama surrounding the move is both long and not entirely clear, Nightwish was now without what many considered its star performer, and the one who made Ghost Love Score such an especially compelling song.

Turunen was replaced with Anette Olzon, a Swedish singer who had previously fronted rock act Alyson Avenue. The two albums Nightwish recorded with Olzon suited her more rock-oriented singing style and were well-received by most fans, while derided by others for not being Tarja’s work. It did stand out when Olzon performed some of the older material, as Olzon and Turunen had very different singing styles. While a lot of the discourse over these differences became toxic among fans, I don’t feel it’s wrong to point to the contrasts objectively while being respectful of Anette.

Olzon did perform Ghost Love Score live. Her renditions were well-executed and she approached the song in her style as opposed to trying to imitate Tarja, something only a select few singers on the planet can do. I wouldn’t pass judgment on Anette’s singing or make nasty remarks about her simply for not being able to mimic one of the best singers on the planet, but I’ll also admit that a song like Ghost Love Score didn’t hit exactly the same way without Tarja.

In 2012 while on a US tour, Nightwish entered another stage of drama and the result was the exit of Anette Olzon. The band already had an emergency replacement lined out – former After Forever singer Floor Jansen, another standout singer who also had been speculated as the pick to replace Tarja in 2007. Jansen stepped in to help finish the tour and then was promoted to the role of full-time singer soon after.

And this is where the story of Ghost Love Song takes another turn and the song truly propels itself into the heights of Internet fame. Nightwish performed at the 2013 edition of the famed Wacken Open Air festival in Germany. The show and some documentary footage were filmed for a release later in the year, packaged as Showtime, Storytime. Nightwish performed Ghost Love Score as part of their set and it was this performance that lit up YouTube and social media. The song became the primary fuel of the emerging “reaction” channel movement and everyone with access to a camera filmed their hot takes of Floor’s performance.

Floor Jansen was honestly the perfect singer for Nightwish – someone able to handle multiple styles yet also sing in the range and scope that Tarja previously offered. Her Wacken performance of Ghost Love Score was a complete home run and the song’s viral reaction would introduce Nightwish to new fans all over the world.

It isn’t a terribly common thing for a new singer to come in and knock an old song out of the park, but in the case of Nightwish and Floor Jansen that’s just what happened. Floor was able to fill Tarja’s shoes and even add her own element to the song, in a case of one of the best singers in the world tackling the work of one of the best singers in the world. Ghost Love Score still lives on today in scores of YouTube reaction videos, even if that format has grown beyond stale at this point. Hard to knock it when it brings a masterpiece such as this to the masses.

Why is this an S-tier song?

Ghost Love Score is a wonderfully composed epic that combines the realms of classical music, heavy metal and even film score in a way that suits many fans of all those areas. And its centerpiece is the performance of the singer, a song that has now featured a few of the world’s best vocal talents that have raised the bar of talent and performance in metal.

4 thoughts on “S-Tier Songs, Vol. 20

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