A couple weeks ago someone over at Balloon Juice DougJ had a post up asking what was the greatest song ever. My contribution was Ballroom Blitz by Sweet as the greatest rock and roll song ever, but I’m not sure I even believe that. I don’t know what I’d call the greatest song ever. There’s just too many ways of looking at it to decide on one. But Ballroom Blitz is what I consider a perfect song.
I consider a song perfect if I hear it and think, there’s no way to improve on this. It’s the best this could possibly be.
For me that means the song does what it sets out to do, and does it in the way that makes the most sense for the genre and the artist that made the song. It should be both novel but respectful of the traditions of that genre. It should be entertaining. It doesn’t necessarily mean I like it. Let’s start with a genre I write a lot about- punk rock.
The Perfect Punk Anthem- Brickfield Nights by The Boys
I don’t actually know a ton about The Boys. Probably their best known song is Sick on You, which was originally recorded by the keyboard player’s old band, Hollywood Brats, an early 70s glam band that could easily pass as the English New York Dolls. That’s about all I know about The Boys.
This song is a classic ode to English teenage life, one of many, many songs that came out around that time. It’s about hanging around, getting in fights, picking up girls. They lyrics aren’t amazing, but this isn’t subject matter that requires them to be. The harmonies are solid, the guitar playing is good. This is punk rock after all, there’s no reason for it to be any better.
There are a few things I especially like about this one. It builds nicely from fairly well-used beat. As a general rule, songs should always build. Anthems especially.
The Boys also use a trick which I don’t hear too many people using, but it’s a good one- start your chorus off on a minor chord. I looked up the tab, and it claims the chords are C sharp minor, E and B. The chorus really hits the stratosphere on those last two chords. Maybe coincidentally (or maybe not), the chorus for Ballroom Blitz starts on a a minor chord.
I like the noodly bass line towards the end too. It’s nice for a song to build and it’s nice for a song to add in some little details to listen for.
There were several other songs that were contenders, but for various reasons I just don’t think they’re on the same level as this one. I don’t want to nitpick them because they’re all great songs. I’ll throw them on here, maybe you’ll agree with me, or maybe you’ll think they’re better.
This song covers mostly the same subject matter but is surprisingly gritty- discovers teenage sex, tries shooting up for kicks- for a band whose punk credibility was considered fairly dubious.
Undertones Teenage Kicks
This is a great standard that almost every punk band will jam on at one point or another. It’s just too much fun.
Squeeze Up the Junction
I’m not sure Squeeze would be considered a punk band nor would this be a punk song, but it fits pretty well with the others. In this case, it’s like Brickfield Nights- a bittersweet look back on being young.
I have some more ideas for what the perfect song is in other genres, I’ll get to those soon.