What Makes a Good Song

I know what makes a good song: something about it grabs you pleasurably. So you are grabbed, you welcome the song in, and then you make it your own. We the listeners take the meaning projected at us – not just the lyrics, they are usually secondary to the meaning projected by the music – and we create our own meaning. The more you like a song, the more meaning you put into it. Or is it the other way around: the more meaning you invest in a song, the more you like it?

It cannot be defined because the essential process is utterly subjective. But you don’t have to define something to prove it exists. You can recognize it for one thing. “I know it when I see it” has been unfairly mocked for decades – for what about when others recognize the same thing? That’s exactly what we’re doing at Rock Remnants, trying to connect others to the songs that signify for each of us. Mutual recognition.

I must disagree with Ron in that I think a great deal of the best music ever made is variations on I-IV-V. You don’t even need three chords. Here is a great song with ONE chord:


That nails me to the wall. While no one has my exact experience with Commit A Crime – I’d love it even more if I had seen it live in a bar in 1954 – many people recognize it for the smoking shit it is. Let’s graduate to two chords, with a very popular song judging by the youtube views:

Once you get to three chords the floodgates open. Musicianship per se is not important at all to the emotional experience, the musicians have to get it over that’s all. It seems to me that one key to all the great songs and pieces of music is that the player(s) have to sound like they are playing the best they can play, that they are aspiring to the song. No great song was ever mailed in. I think many people instinctively if inarticulately seek this in music. Now, guys like us always take it too far and wind up liking songs like this:

Great video too.



3 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Song

  1. Mein gott! Not only a great video from the Misfits. Excellent post-punk tune-age. Way bigger than the format. I always ignored them. Was I wrong?

    I have always loved the sound of Commit a Crime, it’s awesome, but I think one note stomping takes it out of best song running. Great groove? Give me the bar and time and I’m all in.

    The Otis Taylor song is pretty sweet, way important politically, but a great song? More an important performance.

    Thanks Gene, for two tunes I didn’t know, and one that defines the dusky bottom of atmospheric blues. Great stuff.

  2. All I can say about 10 Million Slaves is that I first heard it from another room as my kids were watching the movie, and without understanding one line I said “what is THAT?” The lyrics are terrific but I think icing on the cake, I would love it just as much as 10 Million Shaves.

  3. Peter has this underhanded way of dissing a song or group by saying, essentially, “I wouldn’t listen to their records, but I’m probably enjoy them live.”

    I don’t like that.

    On an unrelated note, I wouldn’t be half the man I am had I ignored The Misfits. (Open to interpretation.)

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