Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pop songwriting

Ever since Rachel from the Seattle Weekly interviewed me last week I've been thinking more about the craft of songwriting. In that interview she asked me what made a good pop band and what I thought the best pop song ever written was (I feebly offered The La's "There She Goes" as an example of a great pop song, even though I don't know if I'd call it the best ever written).

Today I was reading Time.com, which has an article up about Kelly Clarkson (I will admit with no shame that I like her). The article is actually more about the producers and "Svengalis" of the pop music world, and Clive Davis in Clarkson's case specifically.

In that article was a statement that really intriguiged me:

And as any pop Svengali knows, making a pop record is as much a matter of craft and precision as it is eccentricities. It's about the thin line between hackwork and magic.


Hackwork and magic. After letting that digest for a moment, I think they have a point. There is a fine line between something that is incredibly cliche and something that is universally understandable. A lot of that is in the lyrical content. Some of it is the music behind the words (a key change at the end of the song to try to add emotional "oomph," for example). And some of it is in the delivery.

Consider the following choruses from two pop songs:

Hey, hey, (bop shuop, m'bop bop shuop)
Hey, hey, (bop shuop, m'bop bop shuop)
Hey, hey, (bop shuop) yeah, she say ya do. (Bop shuop)


And then:

Mmmm bop, ba duba dop
Ba du bop, ba duba dop
Ba du bop, ba duba dop
Ba du


The first is the Beatles and the second is Hanson. Most people probably have pretty strong opinions on the hackwork/magic matrix involved with those two.

I don't have any great points to make about all of this. But, I do find it really interesting to think about. Anyone have thoughts?

1 comment:

Michael said...

The Beatles and... Hanson? Hmm :).

The Beatles represent the moment that pop became art. Like how English theatre went from pantomime and baudy street theatre to art with Shakespeare.

Pop is/was all greasepaint and hurdy-gurdy stuff until The Beatles elevated it to a new level. Sure, they started out with crowd pleasers and covers until they honed their songwriting craft, but one listen to 'Hey Jude' makes you realize what they achieved. Go and listen to it again, this time carefully, and you'll see what I mean :).

But the beauty of pop is both simplicity and its occasional transcendence.

Hilsen/Regards from Copenhagen - Michael