Friend Alix McLean (the closest to a mid-20s musicologist that I know) had some issue with my patronage to American band Wilco. In one of her recent posts, she defines what pop music is to her – a pretty Smiths tune, one of the best Beach Boys songs ever, and the song Annie Lennox continues to monopolize on adult contemporary radio for 20 years. No worries Alix, you can use my WordPress theme if you want.
First let me say that I am a Wilco appreciator, not an Ashes of American Flags-waver. Tweedy has a voice like an old friendly creepy neighbour, the musicianship of the band itself often verges on virtuosic, the songs are often fun, often provocative, but sometimes aimless (Ghost is Born jam songs), sometimes bland (a lot of their early stuff for me). I also don’t remember having the conservation with Alix about “pop” per se, just Wilco. But I’ll bite.
I first present War on War on Letterman. This song is more pop to me than almost all of your posted offerings.
First of all, if we’re arguing for their pop-quotient, this is too easy. A major, E major, and D major all over this song in a straight up 4/4 style. Nothing could be more American guitar pop. Melodically and lyrically, it’s quite straightforward. In a nutshell :
“It’s a war on war / you’re gonna lose / you have to lose / You have to learn how to die / if you wanna wanna be alive”
“Just watching the miles flying by / you are not my typewriter / but you could be my demon moving forward through the flaming doors”
Melodies are pleasant, happy, slightly plain. Lyrics are a bit better than average, especially 2nd verse. Arrangement is great – super poppy with some nice flair. Love the keys part, a lot. Wilco also has one of the best drummers in North America playing for them. The legend of Glenn Kotche is well known, mere mortals like us would barely understand. Polyrhythms, phasing rhythms, all the crazy shyte. But he can also perfectly pound drumskins for an American pop song.
Okey, another example:
First, this is a pop song. Personal, informal, four chords, repetition. The other thing I appreciate about Wilco in general is their sense of humour. It’s obvious on their new record (Wilco “The Album”), but Heavy Metal Drummer brings in some innocence to what would normally be considered a serious record (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). As a rock mythologist, Alix my dear ! You would appreciate the humour and simplicity in this song. To me this song pays tribute to their fondness of country elements. Listen to the whole song please, especially those words.
” I miss the innocence I’ve known / Playing KISS covers beautiful and stoned “. Funny. Anyone that loves rock music identifies with some of the cliches in this song. Twirling drum sticks, bleached blond hair, women falling in love with drummers.
Ok one more.
This is pop. Mid-tempo, classic rockish, alt-countryish. Impossible Germany, unlikely Japan… that just sounds good. One of my favourite Wilco lyrics of all time is in this tune – ” This is what love is for / To be out of place / Gorgeous and alone / Face to face”
Just because Wilco succeeds at mid-tempo doesn’t mean they’re bland. Anyone else with me ? I know of at least a few. Have at it, Hoss.