Pop Philosophy

Great pop songs; pop dance clubs; song of the week

Listmaker, listmaker, make me a list Rolling Stone stopped being musically relevant about the time the magazine put Dr. Hook on the cover. So it's not surprising that the Dec. 7 issue's list of the 100 greatest pop songs is infuriatingly incomplete (as well as stuffed with questionable dreck). Music Editor Joe Levy covers his ass right up front, explaining in his Letter From the Editor that "the way we feel about [pop songs] is highly idiosyncratic ... your list, no doubt, is different than ours." (Then he gets that supreme arbiter of taste, Don Henley, to back him up.)

Well, it's true: My list of the best pop songs of all time is markedly different than Rolling Stone's. I'm pretty sure, however, that most people wouldn't place Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" anywhere near their top 100, let alone at the expense of Big Star's "September Gurls." And some artists -- Blink 182, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Billy freakin' Joel, and Garbage, for instance -- must have high friends in high places to have been included. Sure, some of the stories about the songs are illuminating (Eminem apparently came up with his Slim Shady character while on the toilet), but that doesn't make up for the presence of so much popular slop like 'N Sync. Just because a record sells a gazillion copies doesn't mean it's good.

So here is my very abbreviated list of great pop songs that Rolling Stone ignored, in alphabetical order:

  • The Bats, "Block of Wood"
  • Belle &: Sebastian, "String Bean Jean"
  • The Chills, "Pink Frost"
  • Allan Clapp, "Something Strange Happens"
  • The Clean, "Tally Ho"
  • Desmond Dekker, "Israelites"
  • Jacques Dutronc, "On Nous Cache Tout, On Nous Dit Rien"
  • The Flatmates, "So in Love With You"
  • The Go-Betweens, "Lee Remick"
  • The Jesus &: Mary Chain, "Upside Down"
  • The La's, "There She Goes"
  • The Lucksmiths, "Off With His Cardigan!"
  • The Modern Lovers, "Roadrunner"
  • The Primitives, "Crash"
  • The Records, "Starry Eyes"
  • The Wedding Present, "Everybody Thinks He Looks Daft"
(And this is without any mention of the Smiths, the Cure, New Order, the Monkees, Elvis Costello ... well, you get the idea.)

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Until recently, there really wasn't a place -- outside of your bedroom -- where you could hear such somewhat obscure, hooky tunes. The one existing outlet, "Popscene" (Thursday nights at 330 Ritch), tended toward overwrought Britpop bands like Oasis, Radiohead, and Pulp, along with well-worn groups from the '80s.

Early this summer, however, a cadre of local music fans started "Be My Ambulance." Held every Wednesday night at the CoCo Club, the event featured a revolving cast of DJs playing '60s girl groups, '70s funk and soul, '80s indie pop, and '90s electronica. When "BMA" closed up shop on Sept. 13 (with Winona Ryder in attendance, supposedly), two separate nights took its place: "Club Lovely" and "Modular Lab."

Conceived by Colin Koopman and Mike Trombley, "Club Lovely" is similar in sound to "BMA," but without the old soul. That means the DJs play everything from the ethereal British folk of the Clientele to the synth-drone of Rocketship to the go-go electro of Fantastic Plastic Machine. It's not dance music in the traditional sense -- you're more likely to do the head bop than the bunny hop. Still, Koopman intends the evening to be more than a swinging party.

"We don't want people to come and posture and be cool," he says. "That's not what indie pop is about."

"Modular Lab" features a slightly harder feel, with an emphasis on the early '90s shoegazer sound (a British trend that got its nickname from bands that played sprawling guitar melodies while staring at their toes). "We throw on a fair amount of pop, but shoegazer is kind of my first love," says Kevin Wood, who organizes the event with Mark Milic and Eliot Van Buskirk. "We started this whole thing just because we thought it would be cool to play our own music, the music we like to hear, and the music we make in our bedrooms, to an unsuspecting public."

Unfortunately, Nov. 22 will be the last "Modular Lab" at the CoCo Club, as the Eighth Street bar will close at the end of the month. Luckily, both events will move to the Edinburgh Castle, beginning with "Club Lovely" on Nov. 29 and alternating from then on. The new space will enable the event organizers to cut costs (both productions will be free), do joint shows, and include live performances.

"We don't want overexposure," Koopman says cautiously. "We're not into people not dancing and not having a good time."

A novel idea As reported last week, I am in the midst of National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.com). Presently, I'm a bit behind schedule -- in order to reach the target of 50,000 words, I should have 35,000 by now. Alas, I've got only 26,080 words written.

But it's been fascinating nonetheless. For one thing, your idea of writing changes when you compose this many words in this compact a time period -- writing conventions get tossed, punctuation gets lost, you start using m-dashes incessantly in order to boost word count. For the most part, I've dispensed with transitions and given myself over to superfluous tangents. One minute, my protagonist is trying to figure out if a female DJ has the hots for him, and the next he's relating how his best friend in college went from being straight to bi to gay in one semester. These bizarre leaps of logic and plot are what make these quickie novels intriguing -- with so little time to think about what you're writing, you end up putting a lot of yourself into the book, if not literally, then mentally. The books are like direct pipelines to the authors' brains.

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