~~ PLAYSTACK ~~
25 PERFECT POP SONGS
by Darren Callahan
I have a theory. When there¹s the perfect combination of artist,
arrangement, lyric, composition, and recording, it is possible to
"perfect pop song." The stars align, you wouldn¹t change
a note, and it
makes its way to a mix tape. Below is a list, in no particular order,
songs that fit this theory.
"Constant Craving" by KD LANG
Ben Mink is God. He is simply an amazing writer and arranger. KD Lang¹s
slouch either. Together, they have created one of the most perfect
to hit the radio in the last 20 years. A perfect closer to the near-perfect
"God Only Knows" by BRIAN WILSON
Producer, arranger, writer, bandleader, Brian Wilson has many great
in his catalog. Obviously the world drools over every song on 'Pet
but it's 'God Only Knows' that has the ability to stop time. The end
"Dancing Queen" by ABBA
Disco: Love it or hate it. Still you can¹t deny props to this
disguised as a happy song with its "see that girl" harmonies
and piano build
to elevate the moment. A powerful toe-tapper from an under-rated catalog.
"Under Pressure" by QUEEN (with DAVID BOWIE)
A four-minute opera that never loses its momentum. Hands down the
structure of any pop song I can recall. More emotional than "Bohemian
Rhapsody" and one of the few duets that doesn¹t sound made
in a record
company's offices (I¹m talking to you, Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock!).
"A Town Called Malice" by THE JAM
Sure it¹s a Motown rip off, but could any other band play those
such pissed-off fury? Beside, listen to that snare drum. Takes your
"Ashes To Ashes" by DAVID BOWIE
The perfect combination of art and pop, guitar and synthesizers, funk
punk, emotion and distance. There is no other song like this in the
"Everyday I Write The Book" by ELVIS COSTELLO & THE
Why this one? Elvis has probably 100 songs as good or better, right?
maybe. But this book-as-metaphor-for-relationships is just perfectly
with Elvis as pop thinker. Love those female backing vocals, love
piano riff, and love those drums. I want to play repeat every time
over the radio or jukebox.
"It¹s Too Late" by CAROLE KING
Holy crap that¹s a great chorus. Good thing the rest of the
song is just as
"Empty Garden" by ELTON JOHN
Yes, EJ basically sucks ass when he writes songs about famous friends,
this tribute to John Lennon is oddly touching.
"Let My Love Open The Door" by PETE TOWNSHEND
Two minutes of energy and love that's as thrilling as a first date.
"They Don¹t Know" by KIRSTY MacCOLL
The Tracy Ullman cover version is more famous, but the original 70s
from Britain's reclusive, alcoholic bad girl gets to the heart of
matter. It¹s a Brill Building masterpiece written 3000 miles
away from NYC.
"Cheek To Cheek" by FRED ASTAIRE
This Irving Berlin standard probably has a hundred arrangements, but
warbly Fred Astaire version is the topper. Besides, even as a straight
it makes me want to dance with Fred Astaire.
"Where Or When" by BRYAN FERRY
This is an odd choice. Feel free to argue. Dance bands covered this
Hart tune for decades, but it wasn¹t until Mr. Roxy Music did
a version on
1999's 'As Time Goes By' that I really got the delicacy of this number.
Rhett Davis recording is also fantastic.
"Is That Love?" by SQUEEZE
Elvis Costello produced this pitch-perfect love letter to ex-girlfriends.
"One Step Ahead" by SPLIT ENZ
How long can a band sustain a minor-key chorus? About this long.
"The Whole of the Moon" by THE WATERBOYS
All hail Mike Scott, here at his anthemic best. This song makes you
be a better person. The "you did this and I did that" lyrics
go on for 5
minutes but I still don¹t care.
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by THE POLICE
Slightly edging out "Don¹t Stand So Close To Me", this
exuberant chorus is only made cooler by the longest tag in pop history.
This is when Sting actually didn't have his head up his butt.
"Last Perfect Thing" by WIRE TRAIN
Find "Between Two Words", buy, repeat. Wire Train, although
personnel changes and inconsistent albums, firmly has a dozen pop
their hands, this being the best. It's what summer feels like.
"Contact" by BRIGITTE BARDOT
1960s pop writer Serge Gainsbourg showing he's 20 years ahead of electronica
in this looping go-go song, sung in breathy French by Bardot.
"I Only Want To Be With You" by DUSTY SPRINGFIELD
She really does only want to be with him. I can tell.
"I Am A Rock" by SIMON & GARFUNKEL
Song for hermits, it is. There are many songs that address loneliness,
none quite so defiantly. Also, there's implied hurt in the words and
that make all the bravado just a guitar strum from crumbling. "I
books" it says. So perfect for the time, too, but somehow
"I Want You" by LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM
Lindsey's pretty darn underrated. I constantly have to go to bat
Doesn't help that he's lost his voice. However, this fantastic opening
number buoyed 1984's album 'Go Insane.' At the core, is a great pop
but the production, the "panning" of the vocals, and the
solo ever, make this a little bit o' genius.
"She Said, She Said" by THE BEATLES
Far darker than pop should allow. Love those compressed cymbals.
"Stay" by THE BLUE NILE
How can a song with a drum machine and synthesizers have so much
They take out or add layers like they're making a house of cards.
"The Girl From Ipanema" by STAN GETZ & ASTRUD GILBERTO
If anyone makes fun of you for listening to this, punch them in the
DARREN CALLAHAN has released 15 albums under various names and labels
1988. He has written drama for the BBC, The Sci Fi Channel, NPR, Radio
Pacifica, Boston's Radio Days, and is the winner of the National Radio
Award. More information can be found at www.darrencallahan.com
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