The qualities of pop music

This exercise asks us to consider what makes pop music good or bad.  I think what I am usually looking for in a good pop song is something distinctive and original (that elusive ‘catchy’ aspect), and a balance of repetition and variety.  There has to be something musically interesting – this could be in the harmony / rhythm of the song, or it could be a guitar riff or bass line that hooks me in and makes me want to listen to the end.  The following examples are ones that I consider to be good:

Sting: Englishman in New York

This song was released in 1987 and definitely shows Sting’s jazz influences, featuring saxophone and piano.  It has a distinctive off-beat percussion track, and the saxophone dovetailing in with the vocals is quite effective and original.  I also like the instrumental section in the middle with the jazzy walking double-bass line and saxophone improv.

AC/DC: Back in Black

On to a completely different style – AC/DC’s tribute to their former singer is a rock song known for its opening guitar riff.  I like the fact that there’s not too much going on in the verses – just a simple but catchy guitar chord accompaniment and distinctive drum hit on the second beat of the bar, with the guitar riff at the end of each four bar phrase.

In contrast, here are some examples of successful songs that I don’t consider to be very good:

Galantis & Hook N Sling: Love On Me

I found this in the current Radio 1 singles chart, and I think it typifies what I don’t like about a lot of pop music – excessive repetitiveness, to the point where the word ‘singing’ is actually repeated on the same pitch for over ten seconds at least once during the song.  Some predictability in a song is good, but this takes it to the extreme and there is also nothing musically interesting about it either, the whole song is based on a single melodic idea (which isn’t particularly inspiring either).

Jason Donovan: Another Night

This 1980s hit is another example of a very bland, boring song.  In contrast to the AC/DC song which has an interesting percussion track with plenty of rests, the rhythm in the drum and bass tracks in this song is constant and unchanging.  In the chorus, the backing vocals are singing the same words in exactly the same rhythm as the lead, and there is no variation in dynamics throughout the song either.


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