Thursday, December 31, 2009

TUN3R's Top 10 Pop Hooks in Rotation for 2009

A reader of this blog recently posted a comment on an old posting by James Wallace lamenting the current state of music, in part due to an over emphasis on Pop Hooks.

I think I understand where this guy is coming from. Pop Hooks provide an effective way to short-circuit the overarching challenging of writing and recording a great song by means of a few clever bars - a key if you will. But in my opinion, this is what makes music so egalitarian and grass roots. Practically anyone has the potential come up with the next great pop hook and in turn leap frog trained singers, studio pros, and composers to the top of the charts.

Take for example the popular show American Idol. Every year the show ends with a winner who then triumphantly sings the final song written just for him or her. The song is probably designed to showcase the winner's powerful vocals. Unfortunately the song is also bereft of discernible melody, and is henceforth forgotten immediately. I'm sure a lot of money goes into writing and preparing that final song, and even more money goes into promoting it. The song represents the culmination of hundreds of millions of dollars of earned revenue. It always sucks.

Nevertheless, good talent can be still bought for a reasonable price, and if you're lucky that talent will produce a killer Pop Hook. But even from this perspective I still believe that there's a lot of luck that goes into generating a killer pop hook, whomever the source of success.

Before proceeding to my top 10, I should warn you that some of these songs may generate a certain amount of cognitive dissonance - you might hate some of these songs, but good luck on un-listening to them.

Ten: Stereo Love (Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina)
I have a soft spot for any song that can invoke imagery through its Pop Hook. I especially like songs that remind me of a different time or part of the world. Stereo Love's Pop Hook invokes Greece and The Mediterranean. Yes, the song has a fair amount of fluff in it, but it does remind me of good times vacationing on Ios Island

Nine: I Hate This Part (The Pussycat Dolls)
This song was released near the end of 2008, but didn't pick up much steam until January of this year. To tell you the truth, when I first found out it was from The Pussycat Dolls, I was a bit surprised. This is one those songs where the vocals form an integral part of the Pop Hook. Sadly, it's so popular you're all probably sick of it by now.

Eight: Party in the USA - Cahill Radio Edit (Miley Cyrus / Cahill)
I knew this song had to be on this list after hearing a distraught and confused sounding middle-aged woman requesting it on a morning radio show. "I'm so embarrassed to ask you to play this song. My daughter played it to me, and I can't seem to get it out of my head". Yes, there is something troubling about this song. Are we going down a slippery slope with The Wiggles, Backyardigans, or Baby Einstein as our final destination, with Mini Pops on the way? Who knows. Anyway, be sure to check out the Cahill Radio Edit version of this song for maximum Hookness.

Seven: Right Round (Flo Rida feat. Ke$ha)
There were a lot of good covers [sorry, "samples"] this year, including another song on this list. I began to wonder why the original "You Spin Me Right Round" by Dead Or Alive had not seen a successful hip hop cover until now; after all it has one of the best Pop Hooks from the 1980s. It probably has to do with the fact the original exudes a white queer vibe (as do most new wave songs from the 80s). Some how Flo Rida figured out how to mainstream the hook into hip hop. If he can do the same for Tainted Love and Come On Eileen I suspect he'll do well financially.

Six: Motherlover (The Lonely Island feat. Justin Timberlake)
This is a song about two recently released convicts who formulate a plan to have sex with the other's mother. Motherlover lives in its own little dead zone: Two weird for the angry anti-establishment crowd to get behind, and too offensive and mainstream sounding for the happy-go-lucky alternative crowd to support. But if it weren't for the lyrics, this song could easily be in high rotation and on the charts. I'm only aware of one Internet radio station that plays this song, and I doubt you'll ever hear it on terrestrial radio at all. Perhaps I've answered my own question about the limits pop hooks.

Five: Fireflies (Owl City)
This was the "unknown" breakout of the year. While not everyone cares for this song, I think it exemplifies the egalitarian nature of the Pop Hook. Just like Whitetown and Babylon Zoo, you too can create a chart topper.
If this song doesn't end up in some quirky romantic comedy by the end of next year, I'll be damned.

Four: Sexy Bitch (David Guetta feat. Akon)
It's been a great year for David Guetta, and this is easily his best release. Just one question about the G rated version of this song: What exactly is a Sexy Chitch?

Three: Major Tom (Shiny Toy Guns)
As strange as this may sound, I seem to find more and more music through television commercials. This version of Major Tom recently debuted on a Lincoln MKZ commercial. Another great song I found this year through a McDonald's commercial is "Blue Steel" by Bot'Ox. It was also through teevee commercials that Moby was able to get exposure for Play, which in turn took his career to the next level. I've read remarks from people critical of these artists for taking this approach. But let's be clear: these commercials provide tremendous exposure, the artists would not normally get. In turn, it cannot be said that the artists are "endorsing" the product being advertised, since the artists are unknowns. Only established celebrities are in a position to endorse products.
Getting back Major Tom. A big problem with songs reliant on Pop Hooks, is that they tend to exhaust the hook by end of the song. Major Tom sets itself apart by building up to a true Pop Hook crescendo - a rare phenomenon.

Two: This is the Life (Amy MacDonald)
Although first released over two years ago, I first heard this song as dance remix on Lolliradio this year, and immediately decided it had to be on this list. I was pleasantly surprised to find out Ms. Macdonald is from Glasgow, Scotland (which is where my parents are from), although the song sounds more Irish to my ear. While most of the other songs on this list are a bit poppy and shallow, this tune has some meat to it. As with Stereo Love, I find this song to be evocative. It reminds me of the day I walked across the entire island of Bornholm (in Denmark) in the rain with a friend. It was a miserable walk that took us a few hours complete. We ended up resting in a cozy pub sipping on pints of Tuborg until it was time to catch our ferry home. This is the life...

One: Day 'n' Nite - Crookers Remix (Kid Cudi / Crookers)
The first time I heard this song, I found it to be a bit simplistic - it feels too effortless. But this is one of those songs that you must listen to with a decent pair of headphones to properly appreciate the nuance of its Pop Hooks - especially its central refrain. I'm also fond of the song's lyrics. For those that remember, the early 90s was a heyday for slacker culture. Bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam framed slacker culture in three dimensional self-reflective way. These days most slacker culture is about celebrating the notion of "it's fun to be dumb". Day 'n' Nite brings us back to a more existential perspective. It is what it is.

So what's up for next year? Although we just launched the TUN3R iPhone App Peter is nearing completion of TUN3R's next app. I was already blown away by the alpha version.

This next app will forever change the way you listen to and interact with music.

Stay TUN3D...

2 comments:

Giselle said...

There's something about that squeal.. "yayyyayyyayyyyy" in the Party in the USA song that lodges in the brain like an icepick.

Neil Hepburn said...

Maybe it would be better if they replaced it with the "yeeeeeeaah" from that White Zombie song.