March 6, 2007 – 11:10 pm
I was having a conversation the other day with a student of mine about Pop music. It’s part of what I do for a living. She was quite disparaging about pop music, and thought it was, for the most part, an inane pursuit: evidence of poor taste, and a wasteland of Britneys and Girls Alouds.
But real pop is an inspired craft. The perfect pop song is a beautiful balance of melody, harmony and rhythm — all of them bright and catchy, but there’s always something just below the surface. The best pop writers are poets and visionaries.
Admittedly, we haven’t seen a great deal of that in recent years, but I maintain the 70s and 80s were dripping with great pop. There was something in the air. Radio played it, people bought it in 7″ slabs of vinyl, and — through the haze of nostalgia — it was a simpler, happier time of catchy hooks, infectious riffs and smart lyrics.
And few were better at the craft than XTC. Of course, I was all about Drums and Wires — the edgier, late 70s album that featured ‘Making Plans for Nigel’. It was the first album I ever begged my parents to buy me, as far as I can remember. I loved Black Sea too. Generals and Majors was wonderful. But I stopped paying attention, and I shouldn’t have.
A couple of years ago, I spent the weekend in the company of a devoted XTC fan. Bryan turned me on to the wider catalogue, and I remain hooked. King for a Day from the Oranges and Lemons album is a lesson in how great a pop song can really be. And I think it’s a lesson some of my students could do to learn too.
Here’s where it launched:
It’s a Colin Moulding song. Not even one of Andy Partridge’s. That there’s a band with more than their fair share of great songsmiths.
Sure, it has the gloss of the 80s all over it. But as a critique of Thatcherism, it’s spot on — and as a slice of pure pop, it’s timeless.