“Displace one note and there would be diminishment, displace one phrase and the structure would fall.” – Salieri (Amadeus, 1984)
What makes a song perfect? It must be more than just catchy; it has to have a hook that lives in your ear long after the song has ended. It needs to be organized so that each section (verse, chorus, and bridge) contains interesting motives that could each persist on its own, yet complement each other flawlessly when together. In the end a perfect song can need no additions, nor require anything to be cut.
And of course, the lyrics must carry a deep meaning to the artist. After all, how can one perform with everything they have unless they believe in the song?
Tauren Wells wrote such a song in 2017. “Hills and Valleys” is a beautiful tune with an exceptionally imaginative melody and lyrics set to Wells’ deeply held faith and his impeccable skill on the keyboard. The song opens up with a gentle piano line that hints at the chorus’ melody, and when he begins singing in hushed tones you have no idea how big his voice actually is. This in turn makes the building of the pre-chorus more intense, which is marked by quick, effortless switches up to his falsetto.
The song is accented by a lone cello, which adds more to the body of the sound than one would ever expect and complements his tenor with its low tone. The song is especially thrilling in the second half. There’s a moment at about 2:50 where his melisma moves through about 10 notes in a split second, and the high note he hits on the word “alone” at 3:24 is bound to give you chills.
Wells’ voice is one of the most flexible we’ve ever heard. He has the vocal control of a young Michael Jackson, with a timbre reminiscent of Bruno Mars. Mars won the Best Vocal award for his 2011 “Just the Way You Are,” and in our opinion “Hills and Valleys” is just as deserving for consideration.
In an explanation video, featured below, Wells explains how he wrote “Hills and Valleys”:
“I was just sitting there at the piano in my church, just playing and singing through some things, when I got this quote come to mind that said: ‘When you’re on the mountaintops of life, learn to bow low; and when you’re in the valleys of life, learn to stand tall.’ and I thought man, this is the perfect picture for the believer … “The thing for the believer is for us to understand how we deal with the tension of these mountaintop moments and these valley moments, and it’s to remember this, that no matter where we’re at, we are standing in God’s grace. No matter what we have, His grace is enough. He’s the God of the hills and the valleys.”