Everyone has preconceived biases as to what constitutes “good” music and “bad” music. Even if you’re not aware of it, you have them. How many times you heard someone say, “Oh, I like all music, except for country and rap.” In the words of Seth and Amy: Really?
You’ve listened to every single country song and every single rap song, and you feel qualified to say that nothing from those two genres grabs you at all? I don’t think so. In fact, even having “taste” in music is something I have always been a little uncomfortable with. But that’s a story for another time. Right now, I’m going to present you with five songs (and one bonus song) that will make you rethink those biases and will challenge what you think you know about music. Let’s do this.
5. Bizarre Love Triangle (1986)
by New Order, featured on Brotherhood
The 80’s are frequently regarded as the decade that contains the absolute nadir of pop music. One of the main reasons? The production. My theory behind the often terrible production of 80’s pop is that synthesizer and drum machine technology was advancing so fast that the music industry couldn’t keep up. Musicians and producers didn’t really know how to use this sophisticated technology, so they made music that ended up sounding mechanized and soulless. But New Order were one of the few 80’s bands that used the studio incredibly well. They took that robotic 80’s sound and made it work for them, creating multiple albums full of amazing and danceable post-punk. “Bizarre Love Triangle” is one of their best singles, and it shows that just because it’s 80’s dance-pop doesn’t mean that it’s bad.
4. Jolene (1973)
by Dolly Parton, featured on Jolene
You wouldn’t think it, but behind the Botox and failed attempts at rapping, Dolly Parton is a pretty talented singer and songwriter. People often complain about country music, saying that it’s just pop music with Southern accents and twangy guitars. And, to be honest, that’s the way country music has always been. But classic country was much more honest and less commercial than its modern counterpart. “Jolene” is one of the best songs that classic country had to offer, and it shows that even if modern country is a little vapid, that doesn’t mean one should dismiss the entire genre.
3. Diamonds from Sierra Leone (2005)
by Kanye West, featured on Late Registration
And you thought the era of socially conscious rap was long gone. Well, Kanye brought it back. Rappers often brag about their wealth, which is fine, because it’s part of their culture. But Kanye upended this stereotype in epic fashion. In this song, Kanye raps about blood diamonds over a clever sample of Shirley Bassey’s James Bond theme “Diamonds Are Forever”. He reveals America’s ignorance of the horrible cruelty that occurs behind the scenes of the diamond industry, using his platform as a pop star to expose the whole world to an important issue. Kind of makes you forget about the whole Taylor Swift incident, doesn’t it? “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” proves that 2000’s rap had not just become a genre of party anthems. It could also be a force for good.
2. This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us (1974)
by Sparks, featured on Kimono My House
This song will change your perspective on music simply because it’s so weird. I mean, have you heard anything like this before? If you’ve never listened to avant-garde pop, now you can say you have. But here’s the kicker: this song was a No. 2 hit single. That’s pretty impressive for a vaguely Japanese-sounding pastiche of pop rock and Western movie clichés. This song shows that a band doesn’t need to dumb down their sound in order to be popular. The influence that Sparks had is palpable in everything from Kate Bush to Ween, and the world of music is a vastly more interesting place because of it.
1. Toxic (2003)
by Britney Spears, featured on In the Zone
Yup, I’m going there. Say what you will about Britney Spears and manufactured pop music in general, but this song is both interesting and creative. Bollywood strings? Surf guitars? What other pop song features such diverse elements as those? And Britney actually sounds like a singer on this song instead of, well, Siri. “Toxic” is one guilty pleasure song that you don’t have to feel guilty about listening to. Pitchfork listed it as the 141st greatest song of the 2000’s, and Rolling Stone called it the 44th best song of the decade. “Toxic” is a benchmark in the dance-pop genre not only because it is one of the catchiest songs ever recorded, but also because it’s a mature and, dare I say, experimental take on club music. “Toxic” shows that maybe the industry isn’t so bad after all.
Bonus Song: Sugar, Sugar (1969)
by The Archies, featured on Everything’s Archie
1969 was possibly the best year in modern music history. Led Zeppelin dropped their first two albums and revolutionized hard rock. The Rolling Stones released their blues rock masterpiece Let It Bleed. The Beatles, on the verge of splintering apart, released Abbey freaking Road. Crosby, Stills & Nash redefined folk rock with their debut album and essentially predicted the first half of the 70’s. But the most popular song of the year was not from any of those artists. No, it was this sickly sweet song performed by a fictional cartoon band because all of the real pop bands were too embarrassed to play it. So how will this song change the way you view music? Well, many people consider the 60’s to be a time of perfect alignment, when popular opinion favored the highest quality music, and that music was legendary. After all, the most popular song of 1968 was The Beatles’ masterpiece “Hey Jude”. I’d hate to shatter your illusion, but silly bubblegum music has always been a fixture of the pop scene, and it always will be. People who lived through the 60’s and 70’s sometimes lament that “they just don’t write ’em like they used to.” After listening to “Sugar, Sugar”, you can respond to that statement the same way I do: “Thank god!”
Please like, share, comment, and follow if you enjoyed this post! Thanks!