Thursday, 17 November 2011

The 20 greatest pop songs of all time

According to me, that is. I've excluded songs that are too soulful, too long, too complicated, too intellectual, or just not "poppy" enough. So, nothing too "rocky" then. (I may have bent these rules a little bit.)

[20] - Fire Brigade (The Move)

The lyrics are absolutely ridiculous, but pop lyrics are allowed to be ridiculous. I've put this in twentieth place because of the brilliant melody. Try and find the song on YouTube. The best moment is around 1.25-1.40. (I get incredibly excited at this point. I won't say any more.)

[19] - Don't Worry Baby (The Beach Boys)

What's amazing about this song is the quality of the production. It's so smooth. (Compare it to the roughness of The Beatles' recordings around 1964.) Nice rhythm guitar. Sublime vocals.

[18] - Big Sur (The Thrills)

A massively neglected band (even by me, I only have their first album: the beautiful So Much For The City) The Thrills are/were an Irish band who were dropped by EMI after the poor performance of their Teenager album. They messed with their sound, which is a shame because Big Sur is pure Californian pop magic/genius/whatever.

[17] - Borderline (Madonna)

I've no time for Madonna. It's like Margaret Thatcher decided to become a pop star. But this is a brilliant song. It's quite melancholic, which can work well in pop songs. Other examples: Airport by The Motors, and Another Nail In My Heart by Squeeze.

[16] - Mrs Robinson (Simon and Garfunkel)

Folk music? I don't think so. This is a pop song. It has brilliant pop melody and rhythm. Goo goo g' joob.

[15] - Dancing Queen (Abba)

Influenced by Rock Your Baby, this is Abba's best song. Dodgy lyrics, but never mind. It's the melody and rhythm that matter. And the great piano part was an influence on Elvis Costello's Oliver's Army.

[14] - Maybe I Know (Lesley Gore)

I don't know anything about Lesley Gore. I just know I love this song. Jeff Barry was involved in the writing of it. More of him later. Some nice handclaps. Handclaps are always good.

[13] - Baby Love (The Supremes)

Not a personal favourite of mine, but it can't be kept off the list. A lot of Motown songs could be put on the list, of course. More handclaps.

[12] - Sunshine Superman (Donovan)

I could have chosen Mellow Yellow or Hurdy Gurdy Man (too "rocky"?) but I chose Sunshine Superman. Very cool. I bet Donovan wore shades when he was recording it. (By the way, I can't listen to Atlantis without seeing Robert De Niro stamping on someone's head.)

[11] - I Want To Hold Your Hand (The Beatles)

I didn't want to clog the list up with Beatles songs. This song is The Beatles at their most joyful. (And don't forget She Loves You.)

[10] - Friday On My Mind (The Easybeats)

An Australian pop band, which is unusual, I suppose. (Men at Work?) The best lyrics of any song on the list. A protest against the tedium of nine-to-five life.

[9] - All The Young Dudes (Mott The Hoople)

Bowie wasn't exactly a superstar when he decided to give this song away to Mott the Hoople. He's either a lovely guy or freakin' mad! My money's on freakin' mad.

[8] - Jukebox Jive (The Rubettes)

I'm not a fan of The Rubettes. But this is a wonderful song. Haunting melody and great feeling in the main riff.

[7] - Rock Your Baby (George McCrae)

A simple, groovy song - written by the guys behind KC And The Sunshine Band.

[6] - Suicide Is Painless (The Mash)

Is this a pop song? I think so - just about. Amazing melody. Quite emotional recording.

[5] - I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone (The Monkees)

Some might say this is a rock song. I say it's a pop song and a great one. So great that even The Sex Pistols wanted to record it.

[4] - I'm A Believer (The Monkees)

This was Neil Diamond trying his best to match The Beatles, and probably surpassing them in pure pop terms. As John Robb says in his book on The Stone Roses, the Monkees may have been a manufactured band but they had some of the best songs of the Sixties.

[3] - Be My Baby (The Ronettes)

Jeff Barry (again) had a hand in writing this, but it's really all about Phil Spector working at the height of his powers before he lost his mind and started pointing guns at people. Brian Wilson almost crashed his car when he heard it on the radio for the first time.

[2] - Louie, Louie (The Kingsmen)

The lyrics are so obscene, they had to be slurred. A total classic though. Hard to say why it's a classic. It has a coolness that exists beyond the words and music. Yes, that's why.

[1] - Sugar, Sugar (The Archies)

The ultimate pop song. (The Monkees turned it down, the fools!) It's pure, unadulterated pop. Simple music, simple lyrics, but there's something magical about it. Well done Jeff Barry (again) and Andy Kim!


There's no room for The Human League's Don’t You Want Me. What about Soft Cell's Tainted Love? Or Donna Summer's I Feel Love? Damn!

Or OutKast's Hey Ya!?

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The 20 greatest Lennon and McCartney "pure" pop songs