Over at The Critical Condition, Roommate Mark has unleashed the Ultimate Pop Song Tournament upon us, and our summer may not ever be the same. I, along with Nick Davis, was fortunate enough to be invited to help shape the field of 64 songs (from 1981-2011) and even did some of the writeups. Mark has started posting the first-round matchups, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to go over there and vote.
For my part? I'm going to highlight the matchups as Mark releases them and tell you how I'm voting and why. Because every good tournament deserves some armchair analysis!
(2) "Since U Been Gone" [Kelly Clarkson] vs. (15) "What's Love Got to Do With It?" [Tina Turner]
Look, I realize that Tina Turner doesn't need one more man in her life doing her wrong. But I can't help it, Tina! If it helps any, Kelly's pop-perfect breakout song makes the same case for liberating oneself from a crap relationship.
(7) "Karma Chameleon" [Boy George] vs. (10) "Straight Up" [Paula Abdul]
A lot of today's matchups are pitting '80s aficionados against '90s/'00s hits, and you know what side of the line I fall on. The charms of "Karma Chameleon" don't fade over time, or repeated listenings, and when it ultimately wins this matchup, it'll be a worthy victor. But my soft spot for Early Abdul endures, particularly the mechanical ramp up to the chorus on "Straight Up." Like a Transformer morphing into a giant dance floor.
(8) "Total Eclipse of the Heart" [Bonnie Tyler] vs. (9) "Time After Time" [Cyndi Lauper]
First of all, I'm going to pat us on the back for choosing the right Cyndi Lauper song. And then I'm going to pat Mark on the back for crafting this first-round matchup that seems to be driving people into self-flagellating fits. That said...I'm kind of nonplussed to see that "Time After Time" has such a solid lead, at press time. It's an achingly gorgeous song, but "Total Eclipse" is legendary and managed to live up to its own grandeur which, if you think about it, should not even be possible.
(1) "Alone" [Heart] vs. (16) "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" [Meat Loaf]
Once again, a 1-16 matchup where I can't help but feel like the low seed deserved better. There's a lot to snicker at with Meat Loaf's big, fat romantic epic, but it builds up to crescendos that few songs can even dream of, and Lorraine Crosby (thanks, Mark) taking things up to a whole other level. Please a make a point to listen to the full version of the song, just so you can hear her wail about building Emerald Cities out of grains of sand. All that said ... it's "Alone." There really isn't much of a discussion. Ann Wilson manages to combine Lorraine Crosby's voice and Meat Loaf's imposing frame in one perfect package, and that's BEFORE we even factor Nancy into things. Done deal.
(5) "Viva La Vida" [Coldplay] vs. (12) "Voices Carry" [Til Tuesday]
Big surprise, everybody still hates Coldplay. I still don't quite know where the vehemence comes from. Not when there's so much evidence that Chris Martin and Co. know their way around brilliant pop songs. "Viva La Vida" is maybe a notch below "Clocks," in my estimation, but they both hold far more singular positions in the pop pantheon than most are willing to give them credit for. I love "Voices Carry" passionately, but I feel the need to stick up for the underdog here, even if it's seeded higher.
(4) "Fast Car" [Tracy Chapman] vs. (13) "Not Ready to Make Nice" [Dixie Chicks]
"Not Ready to Make Nice" has one of my favorite extended-bridge sequences from the past ten years. I am incapable of not being moved when I hear it. That said, picking "Fast Car" is the easiest call of today's matchups. There is so much honest pain, conveyed so beautifully, I could burst open. And not even Natalie Maines can match the sobbing yodel in Tracy's voice.