Dec 27, 2009

Top Five Feelgood Pop Songs

There's nothing like a good song to pep up your mood.

Now obviously music tastes vary drastically from person to person; and I am already on the record as saying I have, to most people, an appalling taste in music. But there's one thing I think we can agree on - that some songs are way ahead of the pack in their ability to perk you up, make you want to dance, and get those good vibes flowing.

So here it is - my Top Five Pop Songs That Just Make You Gosh-Darn Feel Pretty Bloody Happy.

5. Abba Mamma Mia (1975)

It's a close-run thing between Mamma Mia and Waterloo when it comes to Abba's cheesiest yet catchiest ditties. But despite my love of Waterloo's historical references, Mamma Mia takes the cheesecake with its simple, optimistic lyrics about loving being in love even though it's all gone to pot. The tinkly piano is pure tacky brilliance, and the head-over-heels rush of "My, my - how can I resist you?" is the vocal equivalent of throwing your arms wide open and exposing your inner romantic out to the world, no matter what the risk of having it trampled on by unfaithful boyfriends, nasty in-laws, boorish love rivals and sexually transmitted infections.

As for the video clip, it's classic 70s, classic Abba, classic pop. Everything Abba ever was converges in this video - glitzy, cheery, clean-cut (yes, even with Bjorn's beard) ridiculous and yet sublime. Say what you like about Abba - they wrote classic pop songs that remain as popular as ever at office parties and hen's nights. You cannot hear this song and not want to tap your feet, sing into a hairbrush, or do the Agnetha/Frieda head swap moves.

4. Scissor Sisters I Don't Feel Like Dancin' (2006)

Clever, sassy and fun, I Don't Feel Like Dancin' thoroughly deserved its colossal chart success (although bigger in Europe and Australia than in the band's home nation of the United States; just proving once again Americans don't appreciate the more fabulous things in life). Electro-popped out with a great beat and just the right amount of synth, it's the best ode to staying in for some good times since Wham!'s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. Of course, even if you are at home, in your PJs, enjoying a bucket of chicken and a three litre tub of Haagendaas double chocolate, you can't just stay on the couch - you MUST get up and bop away like you were a 15-year-old in your first nightclub.

The video is all stop-motion and retro 50s technicolour - nothing hugely exciting happens, but dang, you can't fault lead singer Jake Shears's flawless dance moves and righteous vinyl purple jumpsuit, or Ana Matronic's beautiful bouffant and Clara Bow eyes. Turns out the song was co-written by Elton John, who also played the piano. If anyone knows anything about writing popular songs, it's Sir Elton, so start shaking your groove thing for him.

3. Phoenix Lisztomania (2009)

Phoenix is a French band, but I won't insult your intelligence any further by pretending I know anymore about them than that. To be perfectly honest, the whole band seems so impossibly cool that I don't feel qualified enough to be a fan. I found the Lisztomania somewhat by accident, so maybe it's OK if I just like this one song and don't worry about the rest. Then I won't feel like I'm intruding into the turf of music hipsters, and I can go back to messing around down the Lady GaGa end of the pool.

But Lisztomania is wistful, winsome, whimsical and wonderous. I have no idea what the lyrics mean, even though Phoenix have been very polite and sung them in English for ignorant mono-linguists like me. But it's the melody that really matters here; the deft guitars and bittersweet keyboards charm the cockles of your heart and make you want to dash off to a Montmatre cafe for an creamy gateux and bottle of Orangina.

The video purports to be "on the trail" of Liszt himself, supposedly the first great rock'n'roll composer; the Mick Jagger of the mid-1800s. The band is seen being adored by fans in much the same way Liszt himself was; although the Hungarian pianist probably had buxom Parisienne seamstresses throwing their bloomers and ooh-la-las at him rather than some hairy hipsters in thick-rimmed glasses. Still, there's a ye-olde-filter on the camera, and a big black bomb-shaped balloon, and lovely countryside. Let the happiness sweep you away, "like a riot, like a riot - oh!"

2. Toto Africa (1983)

At a recent work function, I requested Africa by Toto from the DJ, only to be told that he couldn't play it because it was "a partykiller". After I washed his face blood off my right hand of justice, I asked again. Eventually, after sending in backups to press the case, Mr "Hands Up For Detroit" Bigshot DJ eventually relented and spun the wheels of Toto steel. And you know what? EVERYONE BEGAN DANCING. Why? Because even people who SAY they don't like Africa by Toto, secretly LOVE Africa by Toto.

And why shouldn't they? It's a cacophony of overly poetic lyrics and misappropriated jungle beats. But combined, they form a masterwork of early-80s soft yet progressive rock. Why are the wild dogs crying out in the night? Why, it's because they're growing restless, longing for some "solitary company". How is that even possible? And the majesty of "Kilamanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti". They're comparing a MOUNTAIN, to ANOTHER MOUNTAIN. And Mt Olympus is actually smaller than Mt Kilamanjaro!

Of course, nothing tops the soaring chorus "Gonna take a lot to drag me away from you/there's nothing that 100 men or more could ever do" - such focus, such devotion! And topped off with the plaintative cry of "I bless the raaaaaainns down in Aaaaaafricaaaaaa"; well, it just makes me smile every time.

Of all the crazy things they could have done with a song themed around a whole continent, Toto chose to concentrate its video clip on a beautiful researcher and a hairy explorer, looking for some long-forgotten words or ancient melodies in a dusty library. The only actual bits of action are the band going nuts on their bongo drums and rhythmic shakers, and a spear being hurled at a bookcase causing some books to *gasp* topple over. It's naff yet genius, and really shows off those dodgy 80s mullets and moustaches to perfection.

Did you know? Toto only broke up as a band in 2008. They were together for 21 years. I'm betting they sang Africa at every show they ever did. And you know what? I bet NOBODY EVER GOT SICK OF IT.

1. Katrina and the Waves Walking on Sunshine (1985)

Embedding disabled for some weird reason; click here to watch video

I don't know much about music, but it seems to me that while some bands and artists come together to change and define musical styles and genres (The Beatles, Elvis, Madonna, the Jonas Brothers), others simply exist to provide the world with one truly great song. For example, I know people who are huge fans of The Stranglers' back catalogue, but you can't tell me anything could ever top Golden Brown?

So it is with my number one pick for feelgood pop song - Walking on Sunshine. Katrina and the Waves may never have done much else, but they gave the human race this song. And you cannot possibly be a properly functioning member of that human race and not feel better on hearing this song. It's simply not possible. From the moment the drum beat and bass line kick in, followed by a cheery "Ow!" from Katrina, it's an instant mood-lifter. It's Prozac on your iPod, baby.The verses are appeals to a lover to commit to a relationship; the upbeat chorus ("I'm walking on sunshine, and don't it feel good!") is the joyous reaction.

The video is set in gloomy London, where it looks about minus 7 degrees and dropping. You can see the breath of the heavy-coat clad band members as they stalk peppy Katrina along the Thames and through some particularly dodgy-looking council flats. But Katrina doesn't let it get her down; and her good mood doesn't seem alien or unattainable. This is not just a love-song to a boyfriend or girlfriend - it's a love-song to oneself. Your happiness is within your control; you can find your own way to walk on sunshine.


  1. You've launched me into an Abba Youtube-fest. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Man, I love Walking on Sunshine. It makes me so damn happy whenever I hear it!

  3. This looks like all the high points of a night at the Karaoke.

    I always find OKGO's following up to their 'treadmill song' an amazing burst of fun and optimism.

    There's nothing like a good solid bass beat.

  4. I guess I'm not the only one who still fist pumps to Survivor's Eye of The Tiger and Europe's Final Countdown.

    Actually, every time I even see the words Final Countdown (like in the last round of Spicks n Specks, for example) I can't help my mind's ear going straight to that "bada-baaa-baaa" bit.

  5. I think hearing one too many bad pub renditions has killed off Katrina and the Waves in my world. It belongs in a world with that Reef song and Love Shack.

    ALD, Final Countgdown always reminds me of a gym I used to go to in school - picture 3 weedy 15yos pumping iron to Final Countdown...
    Thankfully not Eye of the Tiger, but close.

  6. Timmo - strangely enough, that is probably the most apt imagery for such a song.

  7. Okay, so I haven't heard of Phoenix before, so I thought I'd give them a listen. They're cool.

  8. ALD, you lost me on Eye of the Tiger, but I'm right there with you on Final Countdown.

    My feel good pop songs are most of the catalog from Cheap Trick or The Cars. Both bands made a huge effort to simply have fun with their music (not to make art, but to pick up chicks.... Ocasek/Porizkova FTW!). You can't go wrong with belting out "Surrender" at unholy volumes.

  9. When I read the title "feelgood pop songs" I thought of Walking on Sunshine straight away! It's strange, it's not my favourite song... I'm not even sure if I really like it... but it's about the most relentlessly and infectiously happy song I know. Good choices. All good choices actually.

  10. A bit late to the party, but here goes:

    5. Mötley Crüe: Dr. Feelgood
    4. Dr. Feelgood: Roxette
    3. Dr. Feelgood: Milk and Alcohol
    2. Dr. Feelgood: She Does It Right
    1. Dr. Feelgood: No Mo Do Yakamo