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Thursday, December 09, 2004 

Curse you, Scalzi!

John Scalzi has another challenge up I can't resist. So here's a list of all the songs in my playlist exactly 3:00 long, complete with arguments why or why not they might be perfect pop (which says more about my conception of what "perfect pop" is, etc).

The Apples In Stereo - "Glowworm": A bit too lysergic and drifty to really be perfect pop, although the Apples managed this elsewhere ("Questions & Answers", "Seems So"). No.

Belle & Sebastian - "Johnathan David": Yes. Sprightly piano pop is a hallowed traditon, as are romantic themes, even if (especially?) you're on the losing end.

Black Box Recorder - "French Rock And Roll": No, no matter how much BBR would like it to be. They managed it on "The Facts Of Life", and that's about it.

David Bowie - "Repetition": Hells no. It's about spousal abuse; the end repetition of it shows through may be the most chilling thing Bowie's ever done. And I don't say that lightly. All of Lodger was pop-ish, but definitely not perfect pop.

Johnny Cash - "Cocaine Blues (Live)": From Folsom Prison; I actually prefer this to "Folsom Prison Blues". I don't know if Cash ever managed perfect pop, and if so this isn't it. But that just reinforces the fact that just 'cause something's not "perfect pop", that doesn't mean it ain't great. No.

Clinic - "IPC Subeditors Dictate Our Youth": In a perfect world, yes. This is not a perfect world. DJ / Kill boy / The son of son and the Ronettes' drum intro should be enough, but... No.

Dead Kennedys - "California Uber Alles": Of couse not. But definitely Jello Biafra's finest hour. That chorus still has a wavery power, all these years later. Whatever happened to Jerry Brown? No.

Freelance Hellraiser - "Smells Like Teen Booty": Crappy sound quality (hence genius) mashup of "Bootylicious" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit". In all its weirdness, the very mongrel spirit of perfect pop. Yes.

Guided By Voices - "Bulldog Skin": Perfect rock, maybe. I played the part / I played the start / I made a table out of clay... I can't tell you why it's genius, but it is. No.

The Hives - "Diabolic Scheme": Pelle's deranged loverman crooning over a backing that blends cheesy strings and the most relentless guitar note ever is definitely perfect pop. Props for the zombie backing vocals. Like Buster Poindexter on something. Yes.

Isotropy - "Wonderful Life (Gould Or God?)": Nice enough homemade instrumental techno pop I downloaded from MP3.com, back in the day. A little obvious, but still nice. Not perfect pop, though. No.

Ben E. King - "Stand By Me": I'm not going to argue with you about this. Of course it is. Yes.

Stephen Malkmus - "Discretion Grove": Sorry, indie boy. There's a nice kick to the chorus, but it's not really pop. And indie rock is very rarely perfect pop. No.

Mclusky - "That Man Will Not Hang": Screams of The maitre d' is not your special friend aside, not even close. Trebly, harsh, shouty... it's great, but it's not perfect pop. No.

The Moldy Peaches - "Anyone Else But You": Sweet, vaguely co-dependant "anti-folk" lovesong. Too twee for words. They were better when they were sincere. Not even vaguely pop. No.

Muslimgauze - "Turkish Sword Swallower": ha ha ha no.

Nine Inch Nails - "A Warm Place": Probably my favorite Nine Inch Nails track ever (and yes, I do like their other stuff), but way too ambient, floaty and gentle to be pop. No.

Olivia Tremor Control - "No Growing (Exegesis)": I only have two OTC MP3s on my computer, but they keep coming up for these. Not bad, but way, way too druggily psychedelic (most original psychedelia wasn't pop either, of course). Maybe with better production and more of a pulse. No.

The Police - "Can't Stand Losing You": I love the Police's whole reggae-inflected quasi-ska thing, but it's not particularly pop. This one is close, though. No.

Radiohead - "Killer Cars": Huh. I'd forgotten about this one. It's not, of course, but it's about as close as Radiohead ever got. No.

Radiohead - "Transatlantic Drawl": Oh, I wish. Deranged off-kilter post-techno rock track, complete with what would be squalling horns if it wasn't just digital. Utterly crucial b-side, but most definitely imperfect pop. No.

The Rolling Stones - "Time Is On My Side": My only crossover with Scalzi's list, and I agree with him. Pop songs can be creepy, of course, but for me perfect pop shouldn't be talking about abuse. Well, maybe selfabuse (neither "Hello Kitten" nor "Turning Japanese" are 3:00, though). No.

Sparklehorse - "It's A Wonderful Life": This song is barely there. A thing of gossamer beauty, yes, but far too self-effacing (and scared) to be pop. No.

Spoon - "Advance Cassette": Every fiber of my being screams yes. Acoustic songs from rock bands are occasionally perfect pop... That brief backwards sound during the chorus is just perfect, and this is about the type of romantic ache that so often characterizes pop. The ending drags a little too much, though. Ruled out on a technicality. No.

Spoon - "Small Stakes": Can perfect pop be constructed out of an organ, a tambourine, a little bit of piano and vocals? Maybe I'm just showing my background, but I'm going to say yes. Weirder things have been hits.

Supergrass - "Alright": God, yes. Almost too classicist to make it, but just barely squeaks in.

I've got two that would qualify for a "yes" vote(on the home computer at least): the Modern Lovers' "Astral Plane" and Portastatic's "Chesapeake."

I second your thoughts on the Sparklehorse, which is also coming up here.

I really need to rip more of my CDs so I can feel like a member of the digital age. Heck, I don't even have an mp3 player yet...

Hey! I'm the fool behind that terrible (really, quite terrible) song "Wonderful Life (Gould or God?)" that you mentioned downloading from mp3.com way back in the day. I hope I can make up for my past sins by encouraging you to listen to something more recent (and possibly good) of mine. Check out my new website: http://www.sleepcitymusic.com

Hey anonymous, I still get quite a kick out of "Wonderful Life (Gould Or God?)", although I can understand why you'd wince at it (we're all the harshest critics of our own juvenalia). Still, it was/is a nice little song, as was "Skies Are Holes Too" and a couple of other tracks of yours I have; I'll definitely be checking out sleepcitymusic. Thanks for dropping by.

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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