Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What makes a good pop song?

Andrew Bird, a Chicago-based singer, songwriter, violinist, guitarist, whistler and NYTimes blogger (whew!), has a formula. He calls it the three H's: “Honesty. Humanity. And hooks.”

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? :)

15 comments:

titopao said...

I have to admit, I also like "Tamis ng Unang Halik" and other contemporary songs of the 80s. Brings back memories of my childhood ;-)

Err....di po ba it was the Boyfriends who composed/recorded "Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal" and not Ogie Alcasid? :)

Jego said...

My Sharona by The Knack. It has all of the three H's. Its honesty and humanity is all there in the lust for a young girl, and who can miss the hooks? From the guitar chords to the Muh-muh-muh-my Sharona.

Pop kamo e. So ayan. Eto pa:

The entire Thriller album except for the title track.

Eraserheads's Huling El Bimbo.

(By the way, Dean Jorge Bocobo of Philippine Commentary points to a positive review of a play written by a Filipino. In Scientific American.)

RentHead said...

I cannot agree with you more on "I Can't Make You Love Me". Bonnie Raitt's version of that song is a heartwrenching total surrender while George Michael's is more sensual. Kakainis nga lang, not very often do you find songs of that quality in karaoke machines, specially it times when you're in the mood to go emo! =)

Dennis N. Marasigan said...

Gibbs,

My list (these will date me):

1. Basil Valdez songs, mostly from his first albums (including "Sana ay Ikaw na Nga" )and especially those written by George Canseco (also including his later film ditties, like "Paano Bang Mangarap" and "Gaano Kadalas ang Minsan" )and practically everything in the "Corner of the Sky" album (the one with the Jaime Zobel de Ayala photos) including Gerry Paraiso's "You"

2. Most of Ryan Cayabyab's, including almost everything he wrote for Basil Valdez (especially "Kahit Ika'y Panaginip Lamang", "Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka" pre-Robin Padilla/Regine Velasquez, "Iduyan Mo" from the film "Aguila", and especially "Nais Ko", plus songs from his musicals ("lawa" and "lawin" from Noli/Fili, "Magbalik Ka" from Rama Hari, and a lot more

3. APO's songs, again coming from their second to fifth albums mostly, which included "Show me a Smile" , "Ewan" (by Louie Ocampo and Winnie Arrieta) and the immortal "Pumapatak ang Ulan", up to "Blue Jeans"

4. Willy Cruz' ballads, especially from the Viva Hits, with special mention of "Kung Mahawi Man ang Ulap" (that contains a line that spurred another Viva Hit, "Muling Buksan ang Puso"

5. I share your affection for Burt Bacharach-Hal David collaborations (with special mention of "Loneliness Remembers" (... what happiness forgets/I have to lose you to recall/ that life's not really all sunshine and laughter."

6. Gary Granada's love songs, for the wonderful melding of poetry and music

7. Barry Manilow's greatest hits, no matter how shmaltzy some of them can be

8. Some of Paul Willimas' greatest hits ("Rainy Days and Monday", "That's Enough for Me", and few others

9. Some of Marvin Hamlisch songs, especially those that came from his music theater works ("Falling" and a couple of others from "They're Playing Our Song"; "Kiss the Day Goodbye" from "A Chorus Line"

10. and a smattering of songs from other genres that have attained pop song status such as "Bed of Roses " from Guns and Roses

Dennis

R-yo said...

"I Cant Fight This Feeling" just reminds you of me, di ba? Because of the singer, of course. :-)

My favorite pop songs? Anything na kayang hatawin sa videoke, mula sa makabagbag-damdaming Kahit Isang Saglit ni Martin Nievera, hanggang One in a Million You at Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me.

Tahn said...

I totally agree with "bakit Labis Kitang Mahal"!

beektur said...

Mr. Dreamboy by Sheryl Cruz. Everybody now: Aaaaaaaaaannnng puuuuuuu-soooooh ko'y iyongiyo...

missingpoints said...

"Bed of Roses" is by Bon Jovi. Guns and Roses' poppiest hit is "Sweet Child O Mine," heard on jeepneys and mini buses everywhere.

Anonymous said...

marvin hamlisch's Same Time Next Year

Ooh Child by Five Fairsteps

Prince's Purple Rain and his duet with Sheena Easton, Arms of Orion (From the soundtrack of Batman)

Heart's These Dreams

K.D. Lang's Sexuality

Suspicious Minds by the great, Elvis Presley

filipino songs:

Bakit ba ganyan by Dina Bonnevie (ok na rin ang version ni Melissa Gibbs)

I Don't Love You Anymore - (i forget who sang this, the new minstrel? help me out. but i so love this song. ang sakit)

Init sa Magdamag - Sharon Cuneta

Rey Valera's classics, Sinasamba Kita, Kung Kailangan Mo Ako, Kung Tayo'y Magkakalayo, Kamusta Ka, Nalimot Ka...


tuxqs

Dennis N. Marasigan said...

to missing points,

thank you for the correction. i was referring to bon jovi's bed of roses.

dennis

Anonymous said...

At last...another person who finds Tina Paner's "Tamis ng Unang Halik"..memorable...and..beautiful.

Her version is very haunting, indeed.

Dave

Anonymous said...

All of...and I mean ALL of Florante's Songs. I miss Florante. Waaaa. Such poetry in his lyrics. Bring him back please.

Freddie Aguilar's Magdalena and Kumusta Ka. (Yes, more than his Anak).

Dennis

Anonymous said...

bakit wala ang mga kanta mula sa tambalang louie ocampo at odette quesada? di mo type?
/susan c

gibbs cadiz said...

TITOPAO, yey, another tamis ng unang halik fan! and yep, you're right, it was the boyfriends. thanks for that. :)

JEGO, aww, i like thriller the song, haha. but yeah, beat it is way cooler. hey, thanks for the dean jorge bocobo link! :)

RENTHEAD, baka kasi masyado malumanay ang i can't make you love me for videoke machines? baka di gumana ang score sa end, haha! :)

DENNIS, thanks! great list! i see we like so many of the same songs and artists. and yeah, i forgot paul williams. what would the '70s be without him? :)

R-YO, tigilan na kasi ang kahit isang saglit ni martin, kaya ka lalong nase-senti diyan e, hehe. :)

TAHN, yep, got that. :)

BEEKTUR, that's your favorite! :)

MISSINGPOINTS, thanks, dennis got note of the correction. :)

TUXS! rey valera, yes! and kd lang, she sang a version of 'secret love' (originally by doris day) that was really, really touching. the lyrics kasi--once i had a secret love, that lived within the heart of me--had by this time acquired a gay meaning, and kd lang sang it as a proud lesbian. the song became the soundtrack to the end credits of the vito russo documentary the celluloid closet, about how gayness has been depicted in movies. and yes, that clip of doris day singing secret love (dressed as a cowboy!) is there. :)

thanks, DAVE. that makes us three here! :)

SUSAN C., oh i do like odette quesada's songs. they partly define the '80s for me--especially give me a chance tsaka her songs for kuh ledesma--a long, long time ago and one more chance. :)

totomai said...

hehe, i even have tamis ng unang halik in my playlist, lol.

about ogie's songs, i particularly like mahal kita, walang iba. i think its my fave ogie song.

ted ito's ikaw pa rin is still ear-friendly imo.

dagdag ko na din gusto kita ni gino padilla hehe

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