What do you think is the best pop song ever?

A few folks registered surprise that I am a fan of Sly and the Family Stone. Well, you can blame Glenn Reynolds for my running Sly — he slapped the band up on his Facebook page, first — but the truth is I’ve always been a fan of funk. Really, who isn’t? All you squares, go out!

The other day I pulled up to the house with windows open and the CD player blasting “I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five. It was blasting because I am over 50 and losing my hearing, but also because I can’t resist the song, which sounds fresh in every decade, and never fails to raise my spirit from that first skim down the piano keyboard. The young Michael Jackson is remarkable, and the minimalist rhythm guitar — chiming that one chord, throughout — just kills me.

My son Buster, hearing the racket (I was singing along…) wondered if my hearing loss was well-served by the high volume and I told him to shut up because “I Want You Back” is the best pop song, evah.

He disagreed. He likes the song, but doesn’t think it’s the best ever of course, insisting on subjectivity, which I know is reality but can be tiresome when one simply wants to declare a thing the “best ever” and move on. All week he’s been throwing songs at me — by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Prince, Billy Joel, Smokey Robinson, U2, The Supremes and that one great song by Katrina and the Waves and saying, “how is that not the best pop song, ever?”

Then he surprised me with this one, yesterday. It’s not a pop song, per se, but damn, it’s every bit as irresistible and fresh as anything by the J-5; it has a cocky beat, tight syncopation and a free vocal that just dances around the horns like another trombone. It’s a pop song, yeah. And it kills. Best ever? Oh, man. Who can say? This artist alone would have a few hits in the running, then.

Enjoy. And then tell me — what do you think is the best pop song, evah?

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About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.electricvenom.com Venomous Kate

    My all-time favorite has to be “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire. It’s such an upbeat song that it can dispel even my worst mood, and so bouncy that I always find myself chair-dancing along with it. Plus, that ‘ba-de-ba de de, ba-de-ba” hook gets stuck in my head for days!

    [Yeah, that's one of Buster's faves, as well -admin]

  • Julie

    Woo hoo! I love that one, Kate! *and* I was born on the twenty-first night of September :)

  • Paul Burnell

    I think in terms of being unremittingly catchy it has to be Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t get you out of my head”. Its a perfect pop song!

  • http://begojohnson.com Maria Johnson

    You know that question about music is like asking which is your favorite kid :)

    This Sinatra song is delightful, and it would be my favorite to dance with my hubby. If he’d dance. Ha. (I’d dance it with Maks Chmerkovskiy for sure!). I actually liked Michael Buble’s cover before hearing Sinatra. Old Blue Eyes is better. Always.

    Walking on Sunshine is definitely the best for waking up in a good mood. I have to admit that I Want You Back is great fun, but what about ABC? Makes me want to join a “Wobble” dance line.

  • http://dailywoof.wordpress.com Kensington

    The one pop song I keep coming back to, decade after decade, is “And Your Bird Can Sing.” It’s just over two minutes long, and it’s irresistible. If there’s a flaw, it’s that the lyrics are perhaps too cryptic. But otherwise, it IS pop music at its finest. Period.

    [Annnnnddd....the earworms begin! I must say I haven't heard that in years. The vocals and guitar are great, but that bass. McCartney really did have the most melodic and spry basslines, ever. -admin]

  • http://american-rattlesnake.org/ Gerard

    That is a great Sinatra tune. I’d probably go with something by my one of favorite musicians, Joe Jackson. Either that, or my favorite folkie, Suzanne Vega. Blue Period is also up there in terms of great pop songs. And how can you have a conversation about great pop songs without mentioning Paul Collins and The Beat?

  • Romulus

    I have been listening to a lot of oldies pop recently. What I expected was a nostalgic trip to my youth. Instead, I got a shock: so much, including iconic songs from all categories of rock, pop, R&B, Motown, etc, sounded forced, contrived, utterly commercial, and lame. Whoa. A few songs are still fresh and penetrating: the best of the Beatles still qualify; surprisingly many of the Stones classics do not, at least for me. Jim Croce holds up very well indeed, as do Simon & Garfunkle. “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Midnight at the Oasis” still retain all their power to shock, tease, and provoke. The earnestness and relative innocence of many 60s and 70s songs still attracts and charms, but most now disappoint me.

  • KingCranium

    I nominate “Oh, What a Night”, by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The sweeping vocals, wonderful harmonizations, breezy keyboards, and simple message of being wowed by the first sight of someone have made me return to the song. I think you could play this now and have people who’d never been exposed to it would fall in love with it.

    I think there may be no sweeter nugget of pop satisfaction than the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t it Be Nice”. It combines their trademark beautiful harmonizations with mood-setting instrumentalizations, impeccable production, and a simple message of young people on the cusp of adulthood who just can’t wait for it arrive.

  • http://www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast Tony Rossi

    The Sinatra choice is a good one. I’m also partial to Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” because it’s like three songs in one. Springsteen’s “Glory Days” is also a favorite.

  • http://www.stateofplayblog.com Thomas L. McDonald

    There is a version of The Way You Look Tonight that was performed by Fred Astaire (who originated the song in Swing Time) on his remarkable album The Astaire Story. Now, Astaire would be the first to admit that he was not a brilliant singer, but he did have a way with a song, and introduced more standards than any other performer of his time. The Astaire Story is a double-disc album of Astaire and Oscar Peterson performing standards with just Peterson’s basic combo. The results are brilliant, and the Astaire performance of The Way You Look Tonight, while not vocally dazzling, is my favorite for its perfect mixture of melancholy with joy.

  • Erika

    I don’t really like pop, but the pop I don’t like are the new songs, such as all of those by Lady Gaga. However, there are some wonderful new pop songs and singers out there. I think the best pop song of all time is “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlsBObg-1BQ

    Adele has such a classic, rich, and powerful voice, and “Set Fire to the Rain” makes my heart twist painfully.

  • Steven

    [comment deleted as it landed in the wrong thread. I hope to be as kind as you someday, though -admin]

  • http://www.myspace.com/peterriedesel Pete in Mpls.

    It’s tough to pick just one, but one song that does come to mind is “Strange Brew” by Cream. That song hasn’t left my head since I first heard it – or I should say – first saw it. There’s some footage out there of Cream playing, if I remember right, this German television show. It was a kick to watch the host announce the song and then dance away in groovy fashion as the mod Cream began to jam. In the words of Austin Powers: “Yeah Baby!”

  • kevin

    Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana.

  • http://denythecat.blogspot.com Brian Sullivan

    Al Green “Let’s Stay Together” is best pop song ever!

  • Janet

    See some of my favorites already listed – but how about ‘My Sharona’ by The Knack? I can still remember the first time I heard it on the car radio.

  • carol

    “Til You Come Back to Me,” an Aretha Franklins song written by Stevie Wonder et al.

  • Michelle

    I agree with Maria

    “You know that question about music is like asking which is your favorite kid”

    One of my zillion favorites that hasn’t been mentioned, though, is “Soulshine” by the Allman Brothers. It’s one I could listen to over and over again.

  • jjshaka

    Wouldn’t it be Nice- Beach Boys ( Pet Sounds- also the best pop album ever too)

  • Teresa

    The latest release “Sinatra, the Best of the Best” has all my favorites. Although this is of topic re pop, Diana Krall is also a favorite jazz artist.

  • dianne

    anything by squeeze. every song makes you smile.

  • Frank Gibbons

    Baby I Need Your Loving – The Four Tops
    I’ve Been Loving You Too Long – Otis Redding

  • Beth

    “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin. Followed very closely by “Mack the Knife”.

  • Andrew B

    “In A Big Country” by Big Country. I was working part-time in a record store and, in April of my sophomore year, I heard this song. I played it over and over, the soaring music telling me that the world held infinite possibilities.

    I am older and wiser, but all I need to hear is the first few notes and I am carried back across the years and the weary cynicism fades…

  • Claire

    Sorry Beth, its Mack the Knife

  • Mike

    The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations”

    Not Pop, but Rock: The Who – “Pinball Wizard”

  • John Casteel

    “Me and Bobby McGee” written by Kris Kristofferson but made a legend by the one and only Janis Joplin. Kristofferson actually did a decent job singing it too, but not in the same league with Janis.

  • Jane Hartman

    A Hunka Hunka Burning Love and That’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it. Maybe not the best, but memorable.

  • Matthew K

    I’m a fan of songs that never became terribly popular, but have excellent hooks. Therefore:

    ‘Achin’ To Be” The Replacements
    “Last To Know” Del Amitiri
    “I’m An A Adult Now” The Pursuit of Happiness
    “Way Down Now” World Party

    And one that was a hit
    “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” Travis Tritt (written by Darrell Scott)

  • Scott

    Well, for playin’ guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell, there’s Love is Strange by Ian and Sylvia (late 50s); and then. for British Invasion flirty humor, a song I think won’t make it in Castro: The Game of Love (Mindbenders).
    Peter Kreeft has written about how powerful music is in capturing our imaginations, for better or worse. Didn’t Arius set his heresy to a catchy tune that seduced many?

  • Thomas R

    Sometimes I get mixed up on what’s Pop as opposed to soul or soft-rock or whatever. I’m not sure I can pick just one song. Although “Georgia on my Mind”, “I only have eyes for you”, or “Unchained Melody” might be up there as they’ve had great renditions. For “dancier” pop-music I think the 80s was pretty good, but maybe that’s because I was a kid then.

  • Scott

    Re: Love is Strange: oops- Make that Mickey and Sylvia. I&S were folkies.

  • Ellen

    Ack! Way too many to count, but I love Down on the Corner by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Heck, I love all of CCR’s music.

    It’s not a pop song, but I think the live version of In Memory of Elizabeth Reed by The Allman Brothers Band is the best live song ever.

  • jkm

    The swoop of Michael’s voice on “Oh, baby, give me one more chance . . .” almost made me go with you on “I Want You Back.” But I’m too old to be able to settle on one. I’d have to have favorites for eras and genres.

    On my list, though, since you ask . . .
    Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, The Temptations (and really, I dare anyone NOT to roll down the windows, crank up the tunes, sing along, and be lifted on more endorphins than Prozac knows what to do with by Motown)
    Graceland, Paul Simon (it’s theology, honest)
    From Me to You, The Beatles (not the best, but the first, and therefore the one I imprinted on)
    BLUE (the entire album, but if forced to pick, A Case of You), Joni Mitchell
    Solsbury Hill, Peter Gabriel (another irresistible mood lifter, best viewed from the Secret World Live concert http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-V7cXEddJs so you can bounce along)
    Galileo, Indigo Girls
    And OK, anything Sinatra pre-1970s
    And it won’t last, but Colbie Caillat’s current infectious “Brighter Than the Sun” is the epitome of pop.

  • Joseph

    Again, there are too many to pick one, but one that comes to mind is the Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Also, Don McLean’s “American Pie”.

  • http://www.myspace.com/peterriedesel Peter in Mpls.

    Two more best songs ever: The Beatles “Penny Lane” and The Bands “The Shape I’m In”.

  • Mark L

    Maybe not pop, but I have always been partial to Dan Seals’s “One Friend.”

    And strange as it seems I love the politically-incorrect 1940s song “Civilization” (Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters). Marvelous piece of satire that is still relevant today.

  • Christine

    My wedding song (The Way You Look Tonight) !!!

  • Claire

    Ooh, yeah, Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”!

    Or, wait — for sheer bopability, how about the Go-Gos “We Got The Beat”? Still love that!

    BTW have you seen the Jive Aces “Bring Me Sunshine”? You Tube it. Awesome!

  • Pingback: Michael Jackson 1958 – 2009

  • jcd
  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    Well, when it comes to pop/rock songs I’m a big fan of the very unchristian Rolling Stones. Jumping Jack Flash is about as perfect a rock song as you can get. I also have a soft spot for Miss you, which in the long version seems to reach a mini epic.

    I also love, love, love Frank Sinatra, which I don’t see as pop. He transcends pop. My favorite Franky songs: The Best Is Yet To Come, Summer Wind, My Way. Oh but there are so many.

  • Jesme

    Sinatra’s recording of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Best pop recording ever. Period.

  • Jeannette

    “Rubberband Man”, Spinners
    “Glad” by Traffic Just try to hold still through these two.
    “Can’t Take It In”, Imogen Heap
    “Let them brush your rock and roll hair” is the best line.

    And this is the WORST song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPnGPIMUnus
    I tell my daughters that we didn’t ALL dance like that in the 1970′s but she thinks I am pretender.

  • Erika

    Jeannette – Oooooo! “Can’t Take It In” – I love that song! It conjures images in my brain of Lucy leaving the wardrobe and all its wonders behind, and I feel that peculiar sensation that C.S. Lewis called ‘joy.’ Happy, but wistful – like I’m missing out on something grand. Thanks for mentioning it. :)

  • Kurt

    From the “before my time” category, I’d have to say that Petula Clark sure had a memorable string of hits in the mid-60s. Although I am mostly used to hearing them as amiable background noise (either in my childhood, or now, in stores which like to play retro tunes), when you actually listen to the lyrics, they are charming and upbeat and catchy and surprisingly well done. “Downtown” is certainly the best known, but “Don’t Sleep on the Subway” is almost as well known, and there are many others, too.

    As far as “I Want You Back,” I have to confess it is also quite catchy, but though it is probably sacrilege to admit it, I didn’t really decide I liked it until a year or so ago when I heard the Colbie Caillat version playing on Pandora and got to listen to it more closely than I had before.

  • Claire

    Ooh, Downtown, that’s great! Forgot about that one!

    And — Sinatra — how about Fly Me to the Moon?

    I should be wrapping right now. How fun is this?!


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