Okay, so I stole the lyrics from the song “Pop Musik” by M for the title of today’s blog. It’s on point, though: Today, our topic is indeed pop music. It’s a subject very close to my heart.
People often ask me what kind of music I like. That’s a really tough question for me to answer, because I like a ton of it. I’ve decided to simplify my answer down to the terrifically broad category of “pop music.”
A number of people use the term “pop music” derisively, as if there is something inherently wrong with art if people actually like it. These people are self-important fuss pots, however, and are not to be given any heed.
This topic comes to mind because of the recent passing of Ellie Greenwich. My mom, knowing my fondness for not just pop music but early rock ‘n’ roll era pop music, tipped me off to the fact that she had died.
Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about her before hearing that her life had come to a close. I’d heard the name, but had no idea of her impact on music history. Ellie was a songwriter and producer. Let me throw out a few of the songs that you know (or should know) that she had a hand in writing: The Ronettes “Be My Baby;” Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy;” “Then He Kissed Me” and “Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals; Tommy James and the Shondells “Hanky Panky.” There were dozens more. She also helped launch the career of Neil Diamond. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Here is the thing about “pop music” that people who disparage it fail to appreciate: These songs reach mass popularity status because they capture universal truths about our world. You can call these songs simple. They were. Simplicity is not the antithesis of depth, however. Being deliberately incomprehensible when making art doesn’t make you brilliant; it makes you a bit of an ass. If you don’t feel the simple yet deep, gut-wrenching heartbreak being sung by the Shangri-Las in “Leader of the Pack,” then you’re just not trying. You don’t understand being completely knocked out by seeing a beautiful girl walking down the street as in “Do Wah Diddy Diddy?” What are you, daft?
If you pay attention, you can get chills listening to these songs. Ellie Greenwich took feelings and ideas that somewhere inside we all have, distilled them down to their essence, turned them into a story, and made magic. She will live forever in the pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll history.