Last night I watched an excellent programme on BBC4 – Pop! What is it good for? produced & presented by Paul Morley. In the hour long programme, Morley nominated six of his favourite pop songs & then visited places associated with the song & met with various people to deconstruct lyrics, discuss the song’s personal and social importance, and to understand the process of creating the perfect pop song.
Paul Morley (50) and pop music are moreorless the same age and in true Morley fashion he attempts to explain how in the post-empire era, pop music has helped give the world a sense of Britain and Britain a sense of itself.
I assumed the six candidates to be in no order of preference and more a selection offering the spectrum of Morley’s love & fascination with pop, more than his favourite songs of all time. The songs were:
Kylie Minogue – Can’t get you out of my head
T.Rex – Ride a white swan
The Kinks – Lola
The Smiths – This Charming Man
Adam Faith – What do you want?
Sugababes – Freak like me
The sign of a perfect pop song is to imagine Elvis singing it, Morley explained. The programme offered renditions of each and for me, Elvis sang Kylie best.
What do you want? by Adam Faith was the first pop song that Morley could remember hearing, and was indicative of the time in the 1950’s when Britain sort after an answer to Elvis. whereas Ride a white swan was a pop song from his teenage years and included magical lyrics as pop turned from hippy to glam. And The Kinks Lola lyrics were dark and interesting to a young boy.
As Morley said in the programme, everyone is introduceed to pop music at a different time, and therefore we all have our own opinions as to what makes the perfect pop song. I could be wrong but, Adam Faith aside, the shortlist of pop songs have a dark or twisted nature, the use of wonderfully poetic lyrics, and tunes that never escape your head.
The last selection, Freak like me was an odd choice, and though I don’t agree with it, when Morley deconstructed the essence of the song with the producer, I understood why it was there. The song relies heavily on Tubeway Army’s Are friends electric and marries it with the original Freak like me version, the first single from r ‘n’ b artist Adina Howard in 1995. What was explained was the idea of mashing up two completely different tracks from two separate eras and making onbe song sound as if it was meant to be.
The show was interesting and entertaining, though I was left wanting a debate on what makes the perfect pop song. The programme is well worth watching. As Morley says we all arrive and look for different things. Without too much thought here is my six suggestions for Elvis to sing:
Slade – Cum on feel the noize
Smashing Pumpkins – 1979
Tubeway Army – Are Friends Electric?
The LA’s – There she goes
Doves – Black & white town
Joy Division – Love will tear us apart
What does that say about me? What are yours?