Arts: The Best Pop Song Ever?

Those familiar with this website know that I, Nikitas, am an artist as well as a conservative commentator. In my Arts section I generally discuss what might be called “high culture” or “fine art” with articles on Renaissance drawings or Ancient Greek architecture.

But today “popular culture” is everywhere. We hear about and watch popular movies and TV shows, and for decades we have heard pop songs on the radio. This pop music explosion has been a result of two technological advancements – magnetic (and now digital) recording, and radio.

 So what is the difference between “high culture” and “popular culture”?

It is this: To appreciate the “fine art” or “high culture” of a legendary sculpture or an historic architectural design requires education. To appreciate a pop song, however, requires none; it just hits you when you hear it. The reaction is purely emotional, not intellectual. And I have wondered from time to time: What great pop songs have captured me most over the years?

Well, if you grew up in the 1960s like I did there was always the Beatles. I recently spotted a book about the Beatles’ 100 greatest hits and I knew every single song. That is amazing. What a productive and creative foursome. And if you listen to their music you will realize that it is largely melodic and positive in tone like Here Comes the Sun, Ticket to Ride, Penny Lane or Blackbird.

The other end of the pop-culture scale is a group like Dexy’s Midnight Runners which had one single hit called Come On Eileen. But that hit was picked out by the TV music channel VH1 as the #1 song of the entire decade of the 1980s. So there. One hit is better than no hits. But the One Hit Wonders often lament that they have to play that one hit over and over and over.

When I was thinking about the Best Pop Song Ever I needed to weed through hundreds of possibilities. It could be hard rock like Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love or even Stairway to Heaven (our unofficial greatest pop song ever), or, on the other extreme Top 40 fluff like The Captain and Tenille with their 1970s One Hit Wonder Love Will Keep Us Together.

How about a song by The Association? The Red Hot Chili Peppers? Elvis? Creedence Clearwater Revival? Three Doors Down? Hoobestank? Chickenfoot? Five Fingered Death Punch? Kim Carnes? Jaded Pigeon? The Bee Gees?

Should I pick a heavy metal tome like Metallica’s Enter Sandman or something lighter like the chart topper Gloria sung by super-sexy Laura Branigan, and a remake of an Italian pop song. Poor Laura died in her sleep in 2004 at age 47 of a brain aneurysm. May God rest her diva soul.

How about Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky of 1971 with its memorable fuzz-tone rhythm. Or Here Comes the Rooster by Alice In Chains? Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird (always a contender)? The Allman Brothers Band’s In Memory of Elizabeth Reed? What about The Police with Every Breath You Take? Or Pink’s driving 2012 release called Try? Any one of them could be considered great in its own way.

What were the criteria for the Best Pop Song Ever?

First, it couldn’t be too mindlessly light like the Beach Boys’ Surfer Girl or Sheryl Crow’s bubble-gum hit Soak Up the Sun. Second, it had to be at least somewhat melodic; no head-banger heavy metal. Third, dark and dreary was out, like Black Sabbath’s God Is Dead (please no, that’s a lie), the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black, or Welcome to the Jungle by Guns n’ Roses. (When Guns n’ Roses got overplayed in the 1990s their critics referred to them as Pistols n’ Pansies.) Fourth, a killer live performance is mandatory.

Well, the selection has been made. And the envelope please!

This choice covers Best Pop Song Ever for a variety of reasons including its charismatic melody, its heavenly harmony and its dreamy rhythm. And with being a heterosexual man it helps that the vocalist is an adorable, guitar-playing Irish pixie named Dolores O’Riordan. Her group is The Cranberries which rocketed to international fame in 1993 with the hit song Linger, which O’Riordan said is about her first kiss.

Her seductive, chameleon-like looks, her energetic stage presence (she often appears barefoot), her crazy dancing, her songwriting prowess, her angelic voice with its lovable Irish lilt (she says “fer” instead of “for” and “mooch” instead of “much” and refers to her bandmates as “the lads”) and her unique twitters, bird calls, yodels, octave shifts and other vocal innovations make the group what it is.

So what is the Best Song Ever, according to the pop-o-meter?

It is here This is a live performance on YouTube of the Cranberries hit When You’re Gone. The song comes off of the album To the Faithful Departed and the single was released in 1996. The song was written by O’Riordan. If you have high-speed internet, check it out; it is a wonderful 4 minutes and 50 seconds. Otherwise you can google the soundtrack alone.

Amazingly this particular live performance from Paris is flawless and is actually better than the studio original. Note how the band slowly winds down the tempo starting about 30 seconds from the end. Cool. I’ve never seen that before. And it surely is the only great pop song with the word “stinking” in it prominently and repeatedly.

Here is a still photo from that video. Isn’t she gorgeous? The whole video is really superb; O’Riordan looks as hot as she ever will.

The Cranberries had such a comet-like career, with overnight stardom and a string of hits like Ode to My Family, Promises, Dreams and Zombie, that O’Riordan ended up in a nervous breakdown. But that is almost to be expected in the crazy world of international pop music, flitting from city to city and continent to continent under enormous pressure. She said once that “it really is lonely at the top” adding that there were times when the only people she could call from distant hotel rooms on world tour were her parents. That’s sweet.

The group broke up in 2003. O’Riordan took time off and now has four children whom she loves more than anything as if to admit what we all know, that stardom is not all that it is cracked up to be. She joked in one interview that her young son saw her leaving for the interview in a revealing tank-top and asked her, “Mum, aren’t you going to put on a cardigan over that?!” These are the precious moments that every parent knows, and that a packed concert hall can never match.

But, hey, tens of thousands of venerating fans can’t be all that bad either which is surely why The Cranberries reunited in 2009 and now play a regular tour schedule all over the globe.

O’Riordan is now 42 and she lives in Ireland. She is calmer and wiser and her interviews reflect an astute, worldly woman who has seen it all. She is one of the wealthiest women in that nation. O’Riordan is on Facebook and the group’s website is

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