Monday, May 15, 2006

The Best Song Ever Revisited

Awhile back on this blog I wrote an essay proving that Five For Fighting's "100 Years" is the best song ever. I stand by that, but in light of my recent discovery of the end of the history of rock, it might be worth re-opening the discussion. Until Charlene ended rock's history, what was the best song ever? Following the same criteria I layed out in that essay, and analyzing what I call the "illusionary transcendence" that was the final leg of rock's project, I have a strong candidate: "Be My Baby" by the Ronnettes.

I may be a little behind the curve on this one, since Brian Wilson years ago called it the best pop song ever. Shortly after it came out in 1963 Dick Clark called it the "record of the century," which, if nothing else, showed how far ahead of the pop culture curve Dick Clark was by using the millenial rhetoric that would not become in vogue until the late 80s at the earliest. Bill Clinton was once moved to tears by hearing an older Ronnie Spector perform the song live (in front of a bunch of heads of state in Tokyo of all places).

I was once nearly moved to tears hearing the song. This was after I heard the song probably dozens of times without any emotional impact. However, the first time I heard the song's transcendence, as it was playing on an automated computer in the WTTN studios while an elderly engineer absurdely fiddled with the sound board, I was also aware of the song's immanence.

As I listened, I simply could not ignore the beauty of Ronnie Spector's voice or the majesty of Phil Spector's wall of sound. What really gave me chills, though, were the lyrics. As banal as the lyrics are on paper, she made me believe that she meant every word she was singing. She really wanted someone to be her baby.

No, I lie. That is not what I thought. I had skipped the stage of blissful ignorance that would have allowed me to project her narrative onto a nameless "someone." As I listened, I could only contexualize her "baby" in the form of the real life character of Phil Spector, who had recently been charged with murdering a B-movie actress. In the initial publicity surrounding the accusatin, details of their relationship emerged. (For the full story check out this article:

As much as I try to resist contextualizing works of art into autobiographical frameworks, I couldn't resist the dimension of pathos, the element of tragedy, that real life added to this rock n roll fantasy. Many people celebrate the song "The Day the Music Died" as an epochal hymn to the intertwinement of rock and tragedy. It is a great song, but Don McLean is trying consciously to draw these connections, while "Be My Baby" in all its majestic innocence, unconsciously makes us do that work. And that is why it is the best song ever up until the point where the history of rock ended.


Blogger Heidi said...

tsk tsk tsk

12:27 PM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

I really liked this post.
Although I disagree with the best song ever. I believe it is Kate by Ben Folds Five.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I might not be understanding this correctly: "Be My Baby" is the greatest song ever because of the pathos it unconsciously evokes from real-life events, including Phil Spector murdering a B-movie actress. But if all that happened way after the song was recorded, did it become the greatest song ever only after those events took place? Like I said, I may not be understanding that correctly.

And if you use that criterion, why isn't "About a Girl" the greatest song ever?

9:59 PM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

because kate by ben folds five is.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

Mark Elliotallica,

First of all, "100 Years" is the greatest song ever. "Be My Baby" is the greatest song ever from the era before the end of the history of rock.

It is quite possible that the greatness is only evident in hindsight. I am clearly a Platonist, but I don't think art is ever great by virtue of a connection to the "good," it is only great in connection to social contexts. Something can really suck when it comes out, but the world could change in intervening years and the work of art could acquire a new resonance without changing at all, and it could suddenly rule.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

I should add that "About a Girl" is automatically ineligiable because it is post-Charlene.

It also suffers from being too patriarchal (which wouldn't be a problem if we didn't live in a patriarchy), and the fact that Tracy Marander is a sublimation for Toby Vail adds one too many layers of obfuscation. Great song though.

1:27 PM  

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