Friends and neighbours, I’ve got a theory. My thinking is this: pop songs, when executed to such a high degree we can basically round up to saying they’re perfect, achieve a level of embedded, canonised love in the minds of the public that no other genre can really hope to accomplish, partly due to pop’s pre-established advantage of being ever-present on radios and TV. In other words: perfect pop songs are better (or at the very least, more effective) than perfect songs of other genres. Of course the very thing that gives good pop songs their boost is the same thing that makes bad ones so insufferable – the fact that radio will pound them into the ground for months after release, their seemingly simplistic or shallow arrangements, and the ability (if not explicit goal) to stay stuck in your head for days on end. Pop has maybe the largest gap of any genre between its good stuff and its “Shape Of You”‘s, and this dichotomy is what causes ‘pop’ to be a dirty word in the minds of many even in the year of our Lorde 2017. But when a tune is done perfectly, with respect to the form and real feeling, it can become a symbol to represent entire periods of time, feelings or entire sub-cultures of people in a way that puts other genres to shame. Go on and have a small list of perfect pop songs, then, and tell me how hard you disagree.
Of course, almost every song from Pet Sounds deserves a look in here, with it essentially being the Illmatic of pop music in the 60s that completely upped the stakes on what music could be, do and sound like. But ahead of close contenders “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “God Only Knows” makes the cut due to something spiritual, and impossible to consciously recreate; the feeling of real serenity and ataraxia that simply pours from its every note. A big part of this is the Carl Wilson vocal, easily the Beach Boy who was most capable of delivering on real emotion; and his more straightforward work on “God Only Knows” cuts to the heart in the way a more technically brilliant performance wouldn’t have. Quotes from those present have attested to a sort of magic in the air on the day of recording this song; sure, I could record a grunge rock cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” on Audacity and then claim there was magic in the air on the day of recording, but c’mon, listen to that chorus and tell me you don’t feel the beginning of a few goosebumps.
The Beatles – Here Comes the Sun
Let’s get the big one out of the way first – George Harrison was the best Beatle. Okay? Cool, onto the good stuff. Abbey Road‘s greatest asset is its effortfless flow, the way 7-minute proto-psych jams sit hand in hand with Paul’s minute-long piano ditties and neither feel remotely out of place. The record runs the risk of losing its soul within all the genre-flexing, but as always George was the one to remind us that the Beatles were, in the end, just four human dudes making some pretty damn good music. “Something” could easily be here too – you don’t get the nod from Frank Sinatra for writing “the greatest love song of the past 50 years” for just any old jam – but “Here Comes the Sun”‘s simple, wide-eyed beauty at the English summer is one of the most entrancing qualities to ever grace a Beatles record, or indeed any pop song. After all, these are designed to be songs you can play every single day – what better gift to your audience than to remind them of the beauty of the everyday?
In which Tears for Fears twist every negative stereotype about 80s cheese pop into a genuine, marble-carved masterpiece of scream-along catchiness – complete with a surprising, genuinely blistering guitar jam leading into “Broken (live)”. Sure, I found this song through Donnie Darko like a true millennial, but how else would “Head Over Heels” be burned into my childhood like a perfect pop hit should be? On some days I think this might be the finest pop song ever recorded – and on the other days, I just listen to it again to remind myself that it is.
As my rambling diatribe of a Woodface review attempted to get across, this album means a lot to me. It doesn’t have the emotional sucker punch of “Better Be Home Soon”, sure, but what Woodface does have instead is Tim Finn, possibly the finest singer to ever come out of our little corner of the world where New Zealand and Australia reside; even better, it’s got Tim singing songs written by his brother Neil, the best/most consistent pop songwriter of all time. Lot of talent for one family, but Woodface never gets too full of itself; whenever songs like “All I Ask” threaten to get overly sentimental and moody, the silly humour of “Chocolate Cake” and “Italian Plastic” brings it back down to earth. Bang in the middle you have “Weather With You”, a song that cruelly reserves its chorus entirely for its second half, instead serving up clever musings on laziness and depressive moods for its first. Drop a needle on these harmonies and one of the most listenable guitar noodles of all time, and drift into the stratosphere.
When I said that a good pop song can be everywhere, this and “Ms. Jackson” are what I was thinking of – songs that seem to be permanently embedded on any iPod to ever be plugged into a speaker on a uni campus anywhere, mainstays of every drunken sing-along when you’re young and dumb. Except, as it should be, “Hey Ya!” is neither as naïve nor as silly as it first appears. I’m not beholden here to some fancy objective idea of ‘depth’, but the way 3 Stacks takes a depressing cautionary tale about the trust issues that eat a relationship from the inside and couches it in a song made of warm sunshine and daisies is pretty close to a masterstroke. Andre is one of the best to ever rap to a beat, after all, but he cuts to the core just as effectively by singing the blues on “Hey Ya!”.