What Makes A Song “Good”?

“Art and life are subjective. Not everybody’s gonna dig what I dig, but I reserve the right to dig it.” – Whoopi Goldberg

Everything on this blog is based on the premise that some music is somehow “better” than other music. At the very least, it’s filtered through my own subjective opinion of which songs are good, which songs are classic, which songs are the best for dancing!

But there’s definitely an issue with how to define that “goodness”. After all, millions of people enjoy the latest pop hits, which are based on standardised formulas, tried and tested chord progressions, and feel good vocals with very little substance. That said, the musical snobbery of classical and jazz critics is hardly inclusive, excluding much of the music that people listen to everyday; the stuff that moves them, plucking on heart strings and getting people out their seats at parties.

A banger if I say so myself, but I’d admit it isn’t exactly Mozart.

So the complexity of a song isn’t really the sort of measure needed. A ten minute song that moves through various musical themes and motifs is not necessarily a better song than a pop punk song that fills up 3 minutes with pure exuberant energy.

Very nice, but not for everyone.

However, the emotional appeal of some songs obscures the fact that they are pretty derivative corporate approved 1 week hits. Although some of the most effective pieces of music can be made with just one person using three chords on a guitar, surely there has to be a point where a bit of originality is needed?

The 500th variation of “put your hands up in the air tonight” has got to be deserving of a bit less artistic merit than the 1st

Not my favourite tune of all time…

Originality is obviously important then. But even that isn’t the final word on the essentially “goodness” of a song. Entire genres are based on people building on the work of those who came before them. Where would the Rolling Stones be without Muddy Waters? What about the sampling in hip hop and forms of dance music, taking something old and turning it into something new?

The thing about music is that it has space for all of these things. People use music in many different situations, creating many different moods, and that’s great!

This is why, rather than saying that one song is the best full stop, it’s easier to talk about a song being a good example of its kind. That’s one of the reasons I tend to use words like “effective” and “powerful” to talk about music. In that way, a drum and bass tune designed with a crowded dancefloor in mind can be just as much a legitimate musical expression as a symphony by Bach. And of course, so much music is about simple feelings and emotion rather than intellectual appreciation of human accomplishment.

Of course, the very best songs can do all of these things at the same time! You feel energised, contemplative, and in awe of the musicianship or creativity on display.

This is not one of those songs, to be frank. Still, each to their own!

All I can do is to try and approach music with an open mind, but still consider whether a) other people might like it and b) whether it will still sound good further on down the line. If even one person reading this blog learnt a new song that they really love, then I would consider the whole thing a success.

In fairness, you aren’t likely to see any Justin Bieber on here…