by Darren Callahan

I have a theory. When there¹s the perfect combination of artist,
arrangement, lyric, composition, and recording, it is possible to have a
"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, of 25
songs that fit this theory.

"Constant Craving" by KD LANG

Ben Mink is God. He is simply an amazing writer and arranger. KD Lang¹s no
slouch either. Together, they have created one of the most perfect moments
to hit the radio in the last 20 years. A perfect closer to the near-perfect
album, 'Ingénue.'

"God Only Knows" by BRIAN WILSON

Producer, arranger, writer, bandleader, Brian Wilson has many great moments
in his catalog. Obviously the world drools over every song on 'Pet Sounds,'
but it's 'God Only Knows' that has the ability to stop time. The end makes
you weep.

"Dancing Queen" by ABBA

Disco: Love it or hate it. Still you can¹t deny props to this sad song
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 best
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 riffs with
such pissed-off fury? Beside, listen to that snare drum. Takes your head

"Ashes To Ashes" by DAVID BOWIE

The perfect combination of art and pop, guitar and synthesizers, funk and
punk, emotion and distance. There is no other song like this in the galaxy.


Why this one? Elvis has probably 100 songs as good or better, right? Well,
maybe. But this book-as-metaphor-for-relationships is just perfectly matched
with Elvis as pop thinker. Love those female backing vocals, love that CP70
piano riff, and love those drums. I want to play repeat every time it comes
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, but
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 track
from Britain's reclusive, alcoholic bad girl gets to the heart of the
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 the
warbly Fred Astaire version is the topper. Besides, even as a straight guy,
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 Rogers/
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. The
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 want to
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 moody verse/
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 plagued by
personnel changes and inconsistent albums, firmly has a dozen pop gems in
their hands, this being the best. It's what summer feels like.


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.


Song for hermits, it is. There are many songs that address loneliness, but
none quite so defiantly. Also, there's implied hurt in the words and music
that make all the bravado just a guitar strum from crumbling. "I have my
booksŠ" it says. So perfect for the time, too, but somehow lasting.


Lindsey's pretty darn underrated. I constantly have to go to bat for him.
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 song,
but the production, the "panning" of the vocals, and the weirdest guitar
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. It just


How can a song with a drum machine and synthesizers have so much dynamics?
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 nose.

DARREN CALLAHAN has released 15 albums under various names and labels since
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 Drama
Award. More information can be found at www.darrencallahan.com
<http://www.darrencallahan.com/> .
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