Years ago now when I first started out writing about pop/rock/punk music I thought up this earnest, forever totalising, thoughts in search of a system formula: to be truly great, such music needs to contain an impression that held within it, there was 'excess' that any moment just might break.
It needed to be as if all the sonic elements were placed side by side, like primary-coloured cusinenaire rods, but that any moment it had the potential to shift ... as the singer, with her peroxide-blonde hair (so artificial) smiled. Self-aware, but innocent.
Other genres of music have this as well. Most notably Soul Music. Arguably, this concept is at the heart of much Jazz, where the musicians 'tame' it via solos (something I don't like personally, I get impatient when musicians expect the audience to praise them, after taking their money, and see it as a version of 'bad faith').
The Flamin' Groovies: a group from San Francisco, still going but best-known for the releases from the 1960s and 1970s, most notably 'Shake Some Action'.
Need to control my enthusiasm for this song, as it strikes me as pure genius; just listen to the beginning, from 0 to 30 seconds, with the ponderous bass-line providing the structure while the other elements come into play. And I love the lyrics too:
If you're thinking about much thrash/Heavy Metal; some EDM or even disco (what?) the opposite effect is desired, what you want is to be carried by a unified force. This music needs to be absolute, complete and carry the listener as if it were a wave, surrounding them.
The musical intelligence of 'Shake Some Action' comes from the fact that it does both at once. The elements are clearly defined, but hear how they work together: this is the very same quality that intrigues me about hip-hop production, in fact.
To hear another example of pop music/excess that is more apparent, consider this (yes, I know the pin-up pix are distracting):
Focus in on the bass/drums interaction, those two steps forward and back, perhaps you can see what I mean; notice how the vocalist's true gift shines through. (I don't think Chrissy Amphlett has been recognised for her songwriting/vocal talents, or skill as a performer; I even hesitated about including this song here because of the group's status as a very mainstream act). I once saw the group in front of a braying crowd of men in Australia who seemed completely unaware that she was playing with them. She carried their contempt and abuse, transforming it into a fuel for her performance.
Here, the song's transitions are subtle, but constant, see at 1 minute in where Amphlett sings: 'Oh well hope there's an angel looking out and watching over you ...' when it opens up.
Embedded in this song is a sweet pop-music 'excess'. Not only in the way all of the the musical elements shift and coalesce, opening up momentarily, but also in Amphlett's heartfelt delivery, especially towards the end when her voice becomes more desperate and urgent, with her spitting, tripping over words almost. Her phrasing has a certain magic too, stretching all those vowels unexpectedly, like an Antipodean Billie Holiday (the albino-mama of Danny Brown).
You can hear her body, with all those aggressive intakes of breath.
And then at the same time, pop music needs to have a sense of order and completion about it - the construction has to be immaculate (The Jam, understood this in their greatest moments: just listen to that pop-pop-pop/or bah-bah-bah bridge at 1 min 50 before Paul Weller returns). But then if this order is so important, if not essential, where is the space for this excess?
Perhaps this is just something personal to me, after all.
Coda: J Dilla 'Fuck the Police' (single released in 2001) for the sweet melody and message.