What makes a great pop song?

  • I think it's just enough intelligence in the lyrics to not be offensively idiotic (think Barbie Girl). If a song is too smart, like Positively Fourth Street by the Master, it can be a great song, but it’s not a good pop song because it hurts your head to really think about what he's saying. It's too deep. That's good. But not for pop.
  • These semi-intelligent lyrics should be paired with a great sound that forces you turn it up every time it comes on the radio. It doesn't matter who's in the car; you MUST turn up the radio when this song comes on.
  • I'd never really considered this until C-Dawg messaged me after reading this writeup, but it is true: You must not be tempted to sing along or whistle along when you hear the song: You realize that this would only harm the listening experience.
  • Lastly, the main thing is this: You cannot get sick and tired of it the more you hear it. You must always want to hear it when it comes on the box, year after year, assuming (of course) a reasonable amount of time has passed since you last heard it.

There is always a discussion going on somewhere about what the most perfect pop song ever recorded might be. Whenever that discussion occurs around me, I will offer the opinion that it is Till I Hear it From You by the Gin Blossoms. This song was first released in 1995 as part of the soundtrack to the movie Empire Records. Robin Wilson, the singer, and Jesse Valenzuela, the guitarist, co-wrote this with the pop genius, Marshall Crenshaw. The song became a huge hit on the radio. Unfortunately, it’s the only hit Marshall Crenshaw’s ever really had on the radio, and it’s not even his version. For the record, he never has released a version. I guess he knows he’d never be able to get close to this one. For some strange reason, it was never released as an official single until it was the B-side of Follow You Down, the first single from the Gin Blossom's second album, Congratulations . . . I'm Sorry. Congratulations . . . I'm Sorry was released in February of 1996. It did OK for a while, but within six months, it had disappeared from the charts. Following the supporting tour, the Gin Blossoms disbanded in 1997.

That’s a shame, really. No matter how commercialized and sold out you might think this music to be, I still maintain that their good songs were great, and none were greater than Till I Hear it from You.

From the Byrds-like Rickenbacker-sounding jangling guitar intro, with the perfectly timed bass, it slides into the vocals. The lyrics (as I said) are not real deep, but they are an original view of an old story. I love the first couplet. How many times have you felt like this? “I really didn’t want to know, honey. You could have just kept that story to yourself. I could have probably gone all day without hearing about how you gang-banged a covey of homosexual gypsy bikers on the pool table in my favorite bar this afternoon while I was working late. Now I’m not going to rest very well this night. Or any night for the rest of my life. Thanks a lot.”


I didn't ask.
You shouldn’t have told me.
At first I laughed, but now
It’s sinking in fast;
Whatever you've sold me.


There seems to be a bit of confusion over the "sinking in fast" line. Some think it's, "We're sinking in fast." That doesn't make any sense to me. But I really don't care. It's the first two lines that set up the whole tone of the song. That's all that really matters. The chorus is always like this:


Well, ba—by;
I don't want to take advice from fools.
I'll just figure everything is cool
Until I hear it from you.
(…hear it from you)


Even though there are several actual hooks in this tune, the real hook in the song is the "I'll just figure everything is cool" line; the way it dips and swerves. And how has cool survived as a viable term all these years? That's kinda cool, itself.


It gets hard –
The memory's faded.

(Overdubbed vocal in the next line for effect.)

Who gets what they say?
It's likely they're just jealous and jaded.

Well, maybe . . .
I don't want to take advice from fools.
I'll just figure everything is cool
Until I hear it from you.
(…hear it from you)
Until I hear it from you.
(…hear it from you)

I can't let it get me off
Or break up my train of thought.
As far as I know nothing's wrong
Until I hear it from you.


And, after this little bridge, comes the best instrumental break in a pop song ever. It has it all, and with style. The jangling Rickenbacker guitar sound gives way to a Les Paul-sounding solo. This is then combined with the build-up on the snare drum, topped off with the break in the wall of sound while the singer chimes in with the next great hook. A full stop which serves to set up the upcoming full stop soon afterwards. Just perfect.


Still thinking about not living without it.
(Outside looking in.)

(The Rickenbacker sound chimes in again here.)

Still talking about not stepping around it.
Maybe . . .

(Total stop before next line. The greatest total stop in pop music.)

I don't want to take advice from fools;
I'll just figure everything is cool

Until I hear it from you . . .
(. . . hear it from you)
Until I hear it from you . . .
(. . . hear it from you)
Until I hear it from you . . .
(. . . hear it from you)
Till I hear it from yo-ou.
Whoa, no;

(More jangle.)

Till I hear it from yo-ou.
Whoa, no.

(Louder jangle.)

Till I hear it from yo-ou.
(Won’t take advice from fools;)
(I’ll figure everything is cool.)


It fades out with these last two lines (with Wilson yelling some of the greatest "Whoaowhoas" since Otis Redding: "Whoaowhoas" which sound almost just like one of the guitar lines back in that marvelous break up there) along with the rhythm guitar hook.

Trivia: The Gin Blossoms took their name from watching a cable special on Kenneth Anger's book Hollywood Babylon II, which contained that famous picture of comedian W.C. Fields (who had quite a bad case of gin blossoms, the splotches on his huge nose, from years of heavy drinking). One can only aspire to either make a song this perfect or to drink enough to forget the quest.



CST approved

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