Monday, August 16, 2010

8/16/10 - Songs of the Summer, #45-46: "Papa Don't Preach" and

The Master List

Top Song of 1986: "Papa Don't Preach" by Madonna

In 2010, the Summer of Gaga, it's worthwhile to go back to the original source, because Gaga seems like the chopped-up remix of the original article; the two share an overwhelming desire for fame and success, a willingness to deploy eroticism in service of same, and a knowledge that all of the identiy exploration/transformation, sexual and otherwise, don't mean a thing without great songs to wrap the whole package in.

"Papa Don't Preach" is Madonna at her best; pouring all of her efforts into turning out a great song, so that it can be a hit, so she can be famous. She would obviously go on to have many more great songs and her plan worked to perfection, but there's something incredible about the kind of high-quality pop music that comes from burning ambition not yet realized. It usually results in songs like this; drum-tight, without a wasted moment.

The song started with strings that nod to disco, before kicking in with a terrible-sounding '80s bass part that is nonetheless a fantastic bass part, before Madonna starts singing the verse. The verse then maneuvers back and forth between major and minor keys, before landing on that staccato chorus. The effect is that of a gently undulating rollercoaster, peaking naturally at the chorus after the melodic hooks intensify throughout the pre-chorus.

This is true '80s club-pop; sonically, I can't stand it, but I can't deny the greatness of the song itself. A theory I've always had is that a great song will sound great played on acoustic guitar along (probably not an original theory), and this song passes that test with flying colors.

Top Song of 1987: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston

This is perfect example of a song, that, while superficially similar to "Papa Don't Preach", falls short of the former song's greatness due to inferior supplemental construction. By which I mean that both songs have great choruses, but "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" is just marking time until the chorus rolls around.

The song begins with synth bass, as "Papa Don't Preach" does, and then the instruments kick in, but it maintains the same burbly club-pop mix all the way through the entire verse. The verse itself isn't that catchy - Houston can obviously sing, but the way the synthetic vibes skitter around her vocals just detract from the main melody. Even when she hits the pre-chorus, she just continues along a somewhat half-catchy melodic path, as opposed to Madonna's deft shift between minor and major key to capture the shades of grey of the situation depicted in the lyrics.

But, the chorus is pretty awesome. The syncopation between that monster hook and the double-note synth stab is pretty much unstoppable.

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