First, honesty, because I believe that people will only put up with a lie for so long and I want my songs to last forever. For me, finding out if a song is honest or not is a gut thing. An honest song will show innocence, vulnerability and strength all at the same time: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” sung by Bonnie Raitt and written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin or Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Songs that rise above the songwriter and performer and have a life of their own.
Then, it has to be full of humanity, and by that I mean the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual sides of humanity. The big themes — the brokenness and the triumph of it all. So people can relate to what I am writing and singing about.
Then, finally--and this is extremely important to a song--it has to be filled with hooks, basically because I don’t want to bore people to death with all the honesty and humanity I am parading about. Hooks, as most of you know, are an absolute staple of pop music, bits and pieces of rhyming syllables or words, rhythmic chords and melodies chiming in and out and strung together in some fresh way so they never leave your brain, so you can’t stop thinking about or humming that song wherever you go. No hooks? Then it is not a great song and never will be.
Examples of great hooks? There are so many, but here are a few that come to mind. The chorus of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears” (“Take a good look at my face….”). The refrain of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” (“I can’t get no…”). The very first line of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” or of “Killing Me Softly With His Song” sung by (but not written by) Roberta Flack.
Do you agree? Keri ba 'to, Vince?
More to the point, since we're on the subject of good pop songs--what's a good pop song for you?
Let's have a roll call! I'll start, since I have a long list:
1. Anything '80s I dig, even the most schmaltzy ones--Survivor's The Search Is Over and REO Speedwagon's I Can't Fight This Feeling, to name just two guilty pleasures. New Wave--woohoo! But not Menudo. God, not anymore.
2. All of George Canseco's songs, especially when they're sung by Kuh Ledesma or Basil Valdez (Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan for Kuh, Gaano Kadalas ang Minsan for Basil--ah, that song's extraordinary wordplay: “Mabuti pa, mabuti nga, mabuti na'ng hanggang maaga'y magwakas...”)
3. Most of Ryan Cayabyab's (I still think Kailan is an exquisite ditty, even if no one has ever sung it again quite like the way Geneva Cruz did at the cusp of young womanhood--not even Geneva now). Also, the Apo and the Eraserheads--Pumapatak Na Naman Ang Ulan and Overdrive are generational cousins in their witty embrace of Pinoy slackerhood.
4. The ballads that Vehnee Saturno composed for Ariel Rivera (e.g., Simple Lang and Minsan Lang Kitang Iibigin). Ditto for the glistening odes to yearning that Louie Ocampo wrote for Joey Albert. (Yakapin Mo Ako and Ikaw Lang ang Mamahalin--brrr, how many nights have I drowned in those songs while chugging cold beer?)
5. Martin Nievera's Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin and his pre-bombast songs (How Can I?, Be My Lady, even You Are My Song, but the Regine Velasquez version, not the Madman's). Similarly, Gary Valenciano's early hits (Sana Maulit Ulit, his version and Lea Salonga's).
6. Ogie Alcasid's first songs (Nandito Ako and Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal--the latter also rousingly remade by Lea), before he began writing with Regine's built-in amplifier in mind and eventually devised those tortured, nosebleed refrains (Hanggang Ngayon, aver?) But I gotta give it to Ogie: he hasn't met a hook he didn't like.
7. Willy Cruz's roster of Viva compositions, especially those most identified with Sharon Cuneta (Bituing Walang Ningning and Sana'y Wala Nang Wakas). I believe it's high time for a pop history book to celebrate that golden period of film and music, when Viva's glossy melodramas spawned some of the loveliest Pinoy melodies ever made.
8. Quirky one-off wonders, like Tina Paner's Tamis ng Unang Halik. Am I the only one who's moved by this song?
9. Foreign: aargh, andami din. Andrew Bird already mentioned I Can't Make You Love Me; George Michael's version of this song is heart-wrenching. Marvin Hamlisch's The Way We Were--an eloquent complement to Barbra Streisand's shimmering vocals. Kris Kristofferson's majestically sad Help Me Make It Through the Night. Tina Turner's slower, scorching take on Al Green's Let's Stay Together. Boyz II Men's I'll Make Love to You. Lionel Richie and Diana Ross' Endless Love. Luther Vandross' A House Is Not a Home. Carole King's You've Got a Friend. Elvis' Love Me Tender. Oh, the humanity.
10. Almost all of Burt Bacharach (and those Hal David lyrics! “What do you get when you kiss a girl/You get enough germs to catch pneumonia/After you do she'll never phone ya...”). Plus, Sinatra and the Beatles and the Bee Gees. Can anything be more honest than Ol' Blue Eyes' That's Life? Or George Harrison's Something?
11. Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Aminin--Whitney with her brilliant pipes (Didn't We Almost Have It All, yezz!), Mariah with her songwriting. When it comes to hooks, My All is hard to beat.
12. Pop kamo? Madonna. 'Nuff said.
Kayo naman! What's your favorite pop song--guilty pleasure or otherwise? :)