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Friday, January 18, 2013

The best pop songs begin with an entrance; the best pop song is about an entrance

My favourite pop song is Jackie De Shannon's "When You Walk In The Room". The Searchers did a great version. Where the Searchers go Bruce Springsteen is never far away and he's featured it in his act over the years.

It's not the greatest pop song just because it's got that 60s surge, which seems to come from a place halfway between Motown and folk-rock. (Somebody should write a book about the tambourine in pop music.) It's not just the opening guitar peal, attempted by anyone who ever held a 12-string Rickenbacker. It's not even the fact that it's catchy.

What makes it the best pop song ever written is that the activity it describes is at the heart of pop music. It's about walking into a room. Hundreds of great pop songs begin with an entrance, with somebody walking into a room. This isn't an accident.
"You walked into the party like you were walking on to a yacht. 
"Well he walked up to me and he asked me if I wanted to dance." 
"The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves, like a vision she dances across the porch as the readio plays"
An entrance is an obvious way to start a pop song: it can be slapstick ("She came in through the bathroom window, protected by a silver spoon") or menacing ("You walk in the room with your pencil in your hand") or triumphant ("I'm comin' out") or it can even be an exit ("There she goes, there she goes again").

Pop music's a crutch, never more useful than when helping you enter a room full of strangers. This is something that still causes most adults a tremble of apprehension. When you're fifteen it's worse than that. In fact most fifteen-year-olds would rather stay out of a room indefinitely than go in without the support of their crew. The right music helps carry them across that difficult threshold. It stiffens the sinews and makes the blood pump more quickly. It's why 50% of movies nowadays have a sequence where the main characters move purposefully towards the camera in slow motion. There's a good sample here.

When you're a teenager rooms are like stage sets and life is fraught with drama. *He* might enter. *She* might leave. *He* might be with another girl. He might see *her* kissing somebody else. Remember what that was like? Remember the delicious agony of teenage romance?

"When You Walk In The Room" ("I can feel a new expression on my face/I can feel a glowing sensation taking place...I close my eyes for a moment and pretend it's me you want/Meanwhile I try to act so nonchalant") isn't just about walking in the room. It can also give you the courage to do it yourself.

P.S. And when anybody tries to tell you that the pop songs of the 60s were charmingly naive, ask them to point out where in the pop chart of today you'd find a line that hits the emotional bullseye  like "meanwhile I try to act so nonchalant".