Give Me A GOOD Song And I’ll Sing It Like I Mean It – But What Makes A Good Song?

Recently, I’ve begun to notice that I’m becoming increasingly conservative in my views. While that may not mean I’ll be voting for Dave “Foreign Diplomacy Master” Cameron or going down the bingo hall to try for three pounds of winnings and a tacky hat (after all, Paddock Wood is still an Ice Age or two behind being that advanced), I am becoming fusty and square about music. We all know that I’m a Britpop obsessive and nostalgic, but at the moment I’m becoming more and more resistant to new songs and types of music. It’s all very well that I can dismiss dubstep as being “like a pigeon taking a vibrating shit in your ear” and tell Tinie Tempah to get someone with an adequate grasp of English grammar to write his lyrics (and, indeed, his name) for him, or indeed suggesting that Plan B can take some musical advice from Damon Albarn and co., but it seems that unless a song meets my requirements, it’s carmen non grata. And it seems that I’m sticking more rigidly to the list of requirements.

Whilst I try to judge a song on its overall merits, I find it hard to see past an absorbing guitar riff or brilliant lyrics; on the other hand, sometimes a shoddy bit of axemanship or ill-advised rhymes can ruin a song. ‘My Insatiable One’ by Suede is a fantastic song with outré lyrics (“On the escalator/you shit paracetamol” or “On the high wire/dressed in a leotard/there wobbles one hell of a retard”), but is ruined by the throwaway line “And he was my inflatable one” at the end. Brett, what were you thinking? That line makes me cringe every time I hear it, 99 plays on my iPod notwithstanding. On the flip side, originally I found their song ‘The Next Life’ somewhat dull; that is, until I heard the lyrics – in particular, the adorable “Far away, we’ll go far away; down to Worthing and work there… and flog ice creams, ‘til the company’s on its knees!”. Finding romance in the mundane background of the West Sussex coast drew me in until I began to appreciate the strings and piano, and indeed the whole package. A good guitar riff can bring people together – I just remember how a friend’s Facebook status about the song ‘Layla’ by Derek and the Dominoes inspired a long conversation about how brilliant it was. Why is it brilliant? Because of that guitar solo; it’s an instantly recognisable classic.

That’s the thing – I wouldn’t say there were any particularly poignant lyrics at the moment, or fabulous riffs or beats; most songs sound the same at the moment. As ‘ItsKingsleyBitch’ (a hilariously angry YouTube vlogger who points out the stupidities of popular culture whilst being simultaneously amusing) points out, Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’ has got the same beat as Ke$ha’s ‘Tik Tok’. Both have been huge sellers across the globe, when they’re nearly carbon copies of each other. They have the same beat, plain stupid lyrics – “sunkissed skin so hot, we’ll melt your popsicle” is one of the most skin-scratchingly horrible lyrics I’ve ever heard; “the party don’t start ‘til I walk in” may not be Keats, but it’s at least a quotable line to repeat on entering a party and doesn’t go down as a failed attempt at being coy and cute (what the hell is a popsicle, in any case?) – and almost indistinguishable singing voices. Insert unexpected rant tangent here; why do the glut of mainstream artists think it’s cool, witty or ironic to deliberately misspell their song titles? The days of Gwen Stefani teaching kids how to spell ‘bananas’ have never seemed further away. Another verboten regular feature in the radio station repertoire is that of mid-song raps. It was bad enough with ‘Can’t Stop Partying’ by Weezer, ft. Lil Wayne; now even the likes of Justin Bieber and The Jonas Brothers, in ill-advised attempts to gain credibility points, have joined the unnecessary ‘featuring’ culture that pervades the charts right now. I honestly don’t see why every other song in the charts features the same few artists (I think this was also a point made by Kingsley, but is one which I whole-heartedly agree with – my disdain for needless raps was manifested in a song in Dave The Musical three years ago, with the lyrics “Now it’s time for the mid-song rap/It’s me Judd G with some spoken-word crap”). Are the artists taking credit for the bulk of the song too lazy to think of a post-second chorus filler? Back to the point; chart music is so bland, I can’t stomach it.

It seems that I’m regurgitating points I’ve made before about why chart music is shit, so I’ll return to the body of the article. The other requirement I hold that makes a good song is a decent singing voice. Now, accents are all very well – I’ve got most of Oasis’s back catalogue – but there are some accents which just don’t make for good listening. The Arctic Monkeys, probably the most overrated band in the modern age, are critically and commercially adored. Fastest selling debut album in British musical history, blah blah blah. Even I was conned by the deceptively economical punk brilliance that was debut single ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, and entranced by second single ‘When The Sun Goes Down’, so I invested in the album. Except it wasn’t an investment. Alex Turner’s voice grated after three songs, to the point where I have only ever listened to it again in other peoples’ cars and in shops; I still only have three songs of theirs on my iPod. Ironically, I love Pulp, whose frontman Jarvis Cocker is also imbued with a thick Sheffield accent. And guess what, Pulp are Britpop. Then again, I’d rather listen to Cocker’s lyrics than Turner’s overly hyped lines. Rhyming “ghost” and “toast” isn’t really worthy of thousands of orgasmic odes to the Monkeys, and even “dancing like a robot from 1984” is pretty crap. They’re also humourless – something that “And I want to call my mother and say ‘Mother, I can never come home, because I seem to have left an important part of my brain, somewhere – somewhere in a field in Hampshire’” from ‘Sorted For E’s And Whizz’ cannot say for Pulp. I liked the Arctic Monkeys originally because their guitar lines were infectious, but without the voice or the lyrical nous to befit it, they haven’t lived up to my original expectations.

I’m not saying the singer has to have the voice of a nightingale (Suede’s Brett Anderson sounds more like a cat, but in a good way). Damon Albarn isn’t blessed with superb vocal chords, but Blur are strong enough on the other fronts to not need a massive-lunged leading man; besides, his everyman voice fits in with Blur’s aesthetics… though, I suppose, so does Alex Turner’s. I guess there are songs which will fit my requirements but not be to my liking (4st 7lbs by The Manic Street Preachers – the lyrics are full of concisely emotive lines and imagery, but it’s such a harrowing account of anorexia that I can’t listen to it for fear of nightmares), and songs that don’t fit the list at all but still have a healthy number of plays on my iPod (Courtship Dating by Crystal Castles). There’s no infallible logic to music, it seems, and that’s the way I like it.

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One response

  1. Frigging brilliant writing!! I wish I could write stuff like this! You’ve been hiding this from me all this time you crazy fool!

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