Okay, so it’s a bit of a clickbait title, but “the 5 best pop songs (in my own personal opinion) of the last 25 years as compiled August 2017” doesn’t really sound as interesting, does it?
Not only that, but having been rebuked for indexicality with some of my other communications, a post that simply talks about ‘the last 25 years’, is going to be another note on my employer’s record for deictic transgression.
Enough of that though, let’s get on with the matter at hand: what are – in my opinion – the best pop songs of the last 25 years?
What constitutes a ‘pop’ song is of course something that’s open to debate, so let’s not do that. We all have approximately the same idea of what pop music is
And with our cut-off year of 1992, there are plenty songs from my ‘constant rotation’ list that are differing degrees of ‘just’ too old. There She Goes by The La’s and Madonna’s Vogue miss out by a couple of years, New Order’s True Faith by five.
And what about everything that didn’t make the cut? Natalia Imbruglia’s Torn, TLC’s Unpretty, You Only Get What You Give by the New Radicals, Madonna’s Swim, Britney’s breakthrough school disco classic Baby One More Time, Kelis’ Milkshake, … so many choices, so many fantastic pop songs, so little time to list them all.
So on with the top five countdown…
5 – Call Me Maybe / Carly Rae Jepsen (2011)
A breath of fresh air when this one came out. It sounded fresh, spacious, restrained and properly pop. At the time, I remember reading some people complaining about the lyric “before you came into my life I missed you so bad”, as that would be impossible; these people completely missed the point of what you can do with lyrics, poetry and theatre dialogue: you can say things that technically aren’t possible, but that convey a particular message with a sentiment that often can’t be conveyed using language ‘properly’.
Did these same people take similar issue with Shakespeare? “My dull brain was wrought with things forgotten”, well, how? You’d forgotten them. If you’re going to take issue with something, take issue with the grammatically nasty “I missed you so bad”.
I fear I may have wondered off topic. Let’s get back to Carly Rae Jepsen’s slice of pop greatness. Number 1 in 15 countries and 2 Grammy nominations is a good way to get back on topic. I don’t really know what to say about this one, other than it gets into your ear, under your skin and goes around in your head for days.
4 – All I Wanna Do / Sheryl Crow (1994)
I remember the first time I heard this record, sitting in the back seat of the family car on our way into town for the usual Saturday morning trip for a brisk walk around the city’s shops. At the time, nothing else sounded like it (actually, that’s probably still true now).
While it still sounds unique today, I would say it sounds as though you could actually release it this week and it would still be great. This song instantly turned me into the person who bought all her albums the first week of release and Sheryl Crow became the second artist I saw live more than once.
While Sheryl Crow has perhaps gone on to produce singles that might be critically appraised as ‘better’, such as If It Makes You Happy, Home and Anything But Down – as well as a top quality Bond theme – All I Wanna Do just has that extra special bit of pop magic.
3 – Pure Shores / All Saints (2000)
While I have huge respect for the success that The Spice Girls achieved, I always preferred All Saints, and with their second album, I think my choice was absolutely correct.
While Pure Shores might not have been as successful had it not appeared on the big screen in The Beach, it’s still a cracking record. Not only is it a great song, but the production fits it perfectly, all sweeps and swooshes that carry the listener off to those eponymous shores of purity.
2 – Ain’t That Enough / Teenage Fanclub (1997)
Okay, some might call this indie, but it’s just a great bit of jangly guitar-magic that, as far as I’m concerned is every bit as pop as The Byrds. From the Bellshill Beach Boys’ sixth studio album Songs From Northern Britain, Ain’t That Enough is, in my opinion, the standout track from an album that includes such (nearly as good) classics I Don’t Want Control of You, Planets and Take The Long Way Round.
You could quite easily make a case that this isn’t the best Fanclub album, with Grand Prix or Bandwagonesque perhaps taking that spot and, thinking of the whole album, you might be right, but there’s just something about this something about putting this record on and hearing the line ‘Here comes a sunrise, ain’t that enough?’, that just makes your world feel a little bit less miserable.
1 – Sparks Fly / Taylor Swift (2010)
Those who share an office with me will likely not be shocked by this choice: they know I’m a huge fan of Taylor Swift’s early work (although Style is a great song). What they may not know is just how much I love this track. I think this song is truly, truly magnificent. I mean, just that opening line “The way you move is like a full on rainstorm, and I’m a house of cards” is pretty epic in it’s own right.
It’s not a complicated song, four chords played in mostly the same order, with a slightly different order for the pre-chorus, the guitar hook and the solo aren’t technical displays of virtuosity, but they don’t need need to be. This song is like a perfectly prepared piece of trout served simply with a slice of lemon, it can’t be improved by covering it in a think layer of icing and putting a strawberry on the side.
There are a few other Taylor Swift songs that are great pop records, You Belong With Me gets close, as does Love Story, Should’ve Said No and I Knew You Were Trouble; Our Song is great, but perhaps a bit too ‘bubblegum’, but Sparks Fly is the perfect confluence of everything good about all of those other tracks.
I’ll just sum this song up by saying that I have probably listened to this on average once a day for the last several years and it still gives me goosebumps. Quite simply, this record is as close to the perfect pop song as I can imagine. Spectacular.
And there we have it. I’m expecting nearly 100% of you to completely disagree with my list, but you know what? That’s great. That means that there have been so many great songs and you’ve got so many memories, events and experiences attached to them that nobody will ever convince you that they’re not the best 5 pop songs of the last 25 years, because they’re your top 5.
And that’s why music’s amazing.
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