Has pop music radio gone to hell? Or have the young whippersnappers who used to find gold in the charts turned into crusty old farts who just simply prefer the things they’ve always liked. Here’s a look at the 1974 Top 10 of the Hot 100, compared to this year’s Top 10.
One Hell of a Woman, Mac Davis. Format: Adult Contemporary. Mac Davis was a singer songwriter and this is a professional song with a Middle of the Road appeal. “She’s soft when she loves me, like a kitten in my hand, and she makes me feel like a hell of a man.”
Roar, Kary Perry. Format: From Wikipedia: “An empowerment song, “Roar” is styled in power pop, and incorporates folk, glam and arena rock elements. The lyrics address standing up for oneself.” A standard modern pop tune, written by Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Cirkut. Martin and Dr. Luke have written scores of pop songs like this one, which use big bold hooky choruses and a mashup of tempos and sounds to entertain. This is pure formula. “You’re gonna hear me roar.”
BATTLE: Two professional pop songs ably delivered. Unbearably dull. NO WINNER.
Bennie and the Jets, Elton John. Format: Weird, kind of show biz story mashing up pianoman jazz with surreal storytelling. Noted for it’s stuttering refrain. “Oh this is weird and wonderful, oh Bennie she’s really kean, she has a electric boots a mohair suit you know I read it in a magazine.” Totally catchy and fairly irritating, by the end this is a dance groove thing harkening to glam but fairly genre busting.
Cruise, Florida Georgia Line. Format: Modern country. Two dudes with guitars tell the story of meeting a hot chick. “Baby you’re a song make me want to roll my windows down and cruise.” Poppy standard guitar solo, percussive banjo backup with a twang.
BATTLE: Quirky if klinky tinkly dance tune wins over absolutely mind-bogglingly boring dumb fake country tune. Winner: 1974
The Streak, Ray Stevens. Format: Country comedy. Standard pedal steel riff over a series of vignettes about a dude who runs nekkid through the supermarket and the gas station. “They call him the streak, likes to turn the other cheek.” Ripped from the headlines of the day. Total drivel.
When I Was Your Man, Bruno Mars. Format: Pop ballad. Mars is known as a professional singer in a variety of styles. This is a missing you type of ballad, a man looks back and regrets. Pure treacle. “I should have bought you flowers and held your hand, shoulda give you all my hours when I had the chance.” Compare to 1974’s The Way We Were.
BATTLE: Unfunny novelty against unconvincing formulaic ballad. NO WINNER
TSOP: The Sound of Philadelphia, MFSB. Format: Dance groove instrumental. Insipid elevator music.
Just Give Me a Reason, Pink featuring Nate Reuss. Format: Power ballad duet. Pretty stock format, with big drums and catchy chorus. I like Pink’s voice and Nate Reuss, from fun., is good. “Now you’ve been talking in my sleep, things you never say to me, that now you’ve had enough of our love.” Professional pop song, likeable and assertive enough to get really irritating after you’ve heard it enough times.
BATTLE: Insipid dance track versus formulaic duet with excellent singing. Winner: 2013
The Locomotion, Grand Funk Railroad. Format: Dance novelty sludge. Grand Funk was known for headbanging muddy rock, bad playing, worse singing, but scored a most surprising hit with Little Eva and Carole King’s dance novelty of the early 60s. “A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul.” Genre busting in its way, would seem to appeal to no one but instead piqued everyone’s interest. Really terrible.
Mirrors, Justin Timberlake. Format: Michael Jackson imitation. Danceable ballad, Timberlake’s producer layers the sounds deep, with the noticeable effect being the handclap rhythm track. “Show me how to fight for now and I’ll show you it was easy coming back to you once I fought my way out of it.” Terrible whiny pop dreck.
BATTLE: Terrible undanceable heavy rock band does have a tune with an excellent hook and they bring a fairly amusing guitar solo, while the other is just bad. Winner: 1974.
Dancing Machine, Jackson 5. Format: Dance. This is pretty standard Funk Brothers groove music, sounding as much like the Bee Gees as the Jacksons. “She’s a dancing dancing dancing machine, why don’t ya get down.” Pleasant, decidedly minor. Notable because it’s rhythm is just a bit slower and more wavery than what will become disco.
Can’t Hold Us, Macklemore and Ryan, featuring Ray Dalton. Format: Inspirational tribal dance pop. Modern dance sounds, including lots of layers of sound, plus the clear rapping of Macklemore leading the way. This sounds autobiographical and grandiose and inspirational. No part of it but the beat lasts for long, with arrangement changes, sonic changes, but the rhythm persisting. “Now they can’t tell me nothing, we give it to the people.” Ray Dalton’s singing of the chorus/hook, is very catchy, but then so is most everything in this insistent pop collage. Not so much a song as an earnest and engaging sales pitch for a story and some ideas.
BATTLE: Both are okay, neither is very good. Today I’d rather hear Can’t Hold Us because of the hooky refrain, but I don’t want to vote for it. TIE
Come and Get Your Love, Redbone. Format: Blue eyed soul/rock. Sounds like it should be a Philadelphia soul song, a Van McCoy joint, but instead it was the biggest hit of America’s first Native American rock band. “If you want want some take some. Get it together baby. Come and get your love.” Funny guitar sounds and fake strings say all you need to know about this irksome bit of ear candy.
Harlem Shake, Baauer. Format: Techno dubstep. Midtempo dance track built of disparate tracks of rhythms, clips and distortions. Utterly flat to my ear, but popularized by accompanying videos of people dancing to it, which went viral this past year. “Do the Harlem Shake.”
BATTLE: Both are irritating. NO WINNER
Love’s Theme, Love Unlimited Orchestra. Format: Easy listening instrumental dance track. Incredibly repetitive groove built on soporific strings and a guitar looped through a flanger. Sound track for a trip to a wedding hotel. Awful.
Radioactive, Imagine Dragons. Format: Rock Dubstep. Giant arena rock, with big heavy bass drums and mashing snares accompanying singalong chorus, connected with power ballad verses describing the apocalypse. “I’m radioactive, radioactive. All systems go, the sun hasn’t died. Deep in my bones, straight from inside.” Plus dubstep undertones and sound effects. Sneaky catchy, and pretty bleakly vacant.
BATTLE: Imagine Dragons get in my head, and while I’m not entirely happy about it, they earn it over Love’s Them. Winner: 2013
Seasons in the Sun, Terry Jacks. Format: Singer songwriter oddity. Notable for white reggae carousel sound, about death. “Goodbye Michelle it’s hard to die, when all the birds are singing in the sky.” Weirdly morbid and bizarre, but of course it is a French song by Jacques Brel translated into English. “The stars in our reach are now starfish on the beach.” A musical revue about Brel was very popular back then.
Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell. Format: Dance groove. One hook, over and over and over. Starts one place and never strays, with a sexual creepy vibe. “I know you want it, but your a good girl, but the way you grab me, want to do the nasty.” Awful.
BATTLE: Somewhat pretentious French lounge music versus appalling creepy dance music. Winner: 1974
The Way We Were, Barbra Streisand. Format: Soundtrack tearjerker. Big strings, Marvin Hamlisch written mush. “Memories. Like the corners of my mind. Misty watercolored memories, of the way we were.” Classic.
Thrift Shop, Macklemore and Ryan featuring Wanz. Format: Rap novelty. Incredibly hooky, genuinely funny, rap song. Clever saxophone. Like the other Macklemore, this is more essay than tune, more poem than dance track. “I’m gonna pop some tags, got 20 dollars in my pocket, I’m i’m hunting, looking for a come up, this is fucking awesome.”
BATTLE: The Way We Were is a horrible song, utter tripe, even though Barbra sings it wonderfully. That’s almost enough to call this one a tie, but I genuinely liked Thrift Shop the first 50 times I heard it. I’m over it now. Winner: 2013.
Popular songs are a mixed bag. There was always bad stuff and there will always be bad stuff, but there is some good stuff in the mix, too. Today’s sounds are definitely more highly-produced and engineered, but otherwise they’re making the same effort to engage the listener and worm their way into their head. Their aim is to please, and that is certainly a good enough reason to dismiss it all out of hand. Unless you’re into the Swedes.
TWO SWEDISH BANDS
1973: #20. Hooked on a Feeling, Blue Swede. Format: Caribbean groove, Lion Sleeps Tonight chanting, with Brill Building lyrics.
2013: #27. I Love It, Icona Pop. Mash up of thumping Eurodisco and thumping power pop nihilism, all fun.