It would be easy to think, from this week’s posts, that the three minute pop song was a phenomenon of the 60s and early 70s, never to be heard of again. Even They Don’t Know, from the 80s, was produced with a certain retro feel, and the same case could be made for the British ska scene in general, if not of Three Minute Hero in particular. But I am here to report that the three minute pop song is alive and well. Here are an example from the 90s and one from 2003. Each has thematic elements that are universal to pop songs throughout the ages, and each, musically, belongs entirely to its time.
Fountains of Wayne: Hackensack
Hackensack is a beautiful pop ballad, and a love song. The guy pledges devotion to the girl who has left him behind, swearing to be there for her should she ever return. The production is understated for this kind of song, compared to how it might have been done in the sixties or seventies. But the emotion comes through every bit as clearly. For this kind of song to work, every element must be exactly in place, and yet it must all feel effortless. I offer this as a fine example of how it’s done.
Toad the Wet Sprocket: Walk on the Ocean
Walk on the Ocean is a little more complicated. This is a little gem of songwriting, of the sort that makes the charts only once in a while. Taken literally, the song tells of a couple who make a trip to the seashore, and then come home. If that was all, it wouldn’t be worth remembering the song. But Walk on the Ocean also works on another level. It seems to me that the trip to the seashore is actually a remembrance of the characters’ youth. They remember all of the friends they’ve always said they would get back in touch with, but probably won’t. And they remember an innocence lost that can never be regained.