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!
(5) "You Oughta Know" [Alanis Morissette] vs. (12) "Sober" [Pink]
I feel bad that I wasn't able to conjure up the appropriate rapture about "Sober" in my writeup, so please go and read Mark's case for the song in the comments. He makes for a brilliant advocate. I don't know what my problem is, because "Sober" is an excellent song. There is just always a ceiling on my enthusiasm for Pink songs. Mostly because so few of them burn as brightly for me five years down the line. How often to I spin "Don't Let Me Get Me" these days? Sure, I love "Raise a Glass" right now, but the New Year's Eve trailer will probably kill some of that for me. Meanwhile, fifteen years on, and I am still in the middle of a passionate but vengeful affair with "You Oughta Know."
(4) "Smells Like Teen Spirit" [Nirvana] vs. (13) "Hey Ya" [Outkast]
I love what a close matchup this is, at least so far! It's such an apples-vs-oranges debate, it's hard to believe these songs are even from the same century (okay, okay, they're not, but don't be a dick about it). The point is, I have no idea what criteria someone would possibly use to make this choice, other than to very quickly ask themselves the question out loud and then vote the first song that pops into their head. I may or may not have done that. And voted Nirvana.
(6) "Livin' in a Prayer" [Bon Jovi] vs. (11) "Crazy" [Gnarls Barkley]
Someone in the comments on Mark's blog mentioned that it takes them a minute, after seeing the title "Crazy" to cycle past Seal's early hit in their mental rolodex before arriving at Gnarls Barkley. I confess, I have to do the same. Maybe that's not the sole reason I voted Bon Jovi, but I can't exactly discount it.
(3) "Edge of Seventeen" [Stevie Nicks] vs. "Take Me Home Tonight" [Eddie Money f/ Ronnie Spector]
This is the closest I have come to actually just refusing to choose either one of them, and maybe the biggest motivation for actually casting a vote was so I could see what the current results were. (At press time, they were almost dead even which: a) is as it should be, but also b) OH MY GOD, I am going to agonize over this one.) If the entire decade of the '80s was the Brady Bunch, "Edge of Seventeen" and "Take Me Home Tonight" would be Jan and Greg, a.k.a. THE BEST ONES. How am I supposed to now go one step further and decide which song is the Jan (THE BEST ONE, people, keep up). You'd think "Take Me Home Tonight" would have the advantage because of two people vs. one, but really, this is a Ronnie vs. Stevie contest and everybody knows it. Tragically, my #justlikeRonniesays hash tag game failed to catch fire today, which is perhaps a bad omen for her chances. I'm not even going to tell you how I voted, because that's my God-given right as an American. But I will say this: I will raise SO MUCH HELL if the eventual winner doesn't at least go two more rounds.
(7) "Here I Go Again" [Whitesnake] vs. (10) "Mr. Brightside" [The Killers]
Knowing what you know about me and The Killers, it should come as no surprise that this choice gave me zero anxiety whatsoever. Sorry, David Coverdale. You'll have to comfort yourself with the knowledge that you had the greatest head of hair in the 1980s. No small feat, that. Meanwhile, I'm off to plot out a strategy for my beloved Brandon Flowers to knock off Steve Perry in Round 2.
(2) "Don't Stop Believing" [Journey] vs. (15) "Love Shack" [The B-52s]
My personal finding that "Don't Stop Believing" is somehow backlash-proof notwithstanding, I was totally expecting the attrition from The Sopranos to Rock of Ages to Glee to have soured the public on the objectively great song. (Also, for my money, I still always think of it as the song from the roller rink in Monster.) But it's currently kicking the crap out of "Love Shack," which is both probably the right call and still crushingly disappointing. Listening to "Love Shack" more than a few times this week, I was smitten anew, at the playfulness, the nimble sonic grab-bag, the scratchy, prodding guitar licks during the "Bang, bang, bang" part. Bummer it's getting dropped so early.
(1) "Crazy in Love" [Beyonce f/Jay-Z] vs. (16) "No Diggity" [Blackstreet f/ Dr. Dre]
The Curse of Sixteen continues in the Groove Thang bracket, as "No Diggity," a personal favorite and assumed competition dark horse gets instead fed to the Beyonce beast. Which is no slight against Ms. Knowles. You know I deemed "Crazy in Love" the best song of the decade. And even though "No Diggity" hails from the '90s, I wouldn't rank it above. But I will absolutely cop to throwing a sympathy vote Blackstreet's way because COME ON. This is an ignoble fate for a song that still, in 2011, gets asses to shaking. If it's not already on at least three of your party mixes, you have some personal evaluating to do.
(8) "Work It" [Missy Elliot] vs. "End of the Road" [Boyz II Men]
And thus dies the last of my four V.I.P. invites into the tournament. The imminent demise of "End of the Road" doesn't hurt the way "Freedom '90" or "I Want It That Way" do. Even I am not about to entertain thoughts of endangering Missy's position in the competition. I tried to make a case for "Get Ur Freak On" in the nomination phase, but the finality of Nick's defense of "Work It" as Missy's apex made me go back and listen to it -- really listen to it -- and he's actually right. There is just so much more happening at any given moment than you even realize. I can't even begin to speak of the horrors that await in Round 2.
But I'm glad "End of the Road" made it into the competition. For one thing, it would have seemed fraudulent to evaluate the top pop of the last 30 years without including some Boyz II Men, because they pretty much owned the early '90s. For another, this particular song is secretly the craziest thing to ever spend 10+ weeks at #1. A full third of the song is a spoken-word Ho Pass issued by a broken man to a cheatin' woman. Not even Tammy Wynette would have attempted that one. And then THAT is followed by a grown man crying for a minute and a half, while the rest of his group tries to keep the song going without things getting too weird. It is quite simply the greatest. "Oh my God. OH MY GOD!"