While I attended college in the early '90s, I once had a conversation with a particular classmate. Sporting the typical look of the time—flannel shirt, ripped-up long shorts, and Doc Martens—he fronted a grunge band and had a too-cool air about him. At one point he expressed admiration for Phil Collins. Now, this was the last person I'd ever expect to be a Collins fan—Collins had lost any "edge" he had by that time, and unsentimental rock dominated the charts. When I asked my fellow student why, he said, "Do you know how hard it is to write a good pop song? Phil Collins is a master at that. I respect the guy."
This long-ago chat came roaring back to me after I read about Collins' apparent retirement from the music business. Citing health issues, including nerve damage and hearing loss, he also expressed regret at his success. In a recent interview with FHM, excerpted in The Telegraph, he stated that he became "the pop star that nobody likes."
"The music was being played so incessantly people wanted to strangle me," he said "It's hardly surprising that people grew to hate me. I'm sorry that it was all so successful. I honestly didn't mean it to happen like that!" Collins also admitted that derogatory comments about his career hurt him, and that "I don't think anyone's going to miss me. I'm much happier just to write myself out of the script entirely."
Well, here's one person who will miss you.
Over the years, the term "pop music" has become a negative label that reeks of triviality. Yes, some pop songs are little more than novelty songs, like "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," "Yummy Yummy Yummy," or "Barbie Girl." But ask legendary pop songwriters like Leiber and Stoller, Carole King, Neil Diamond, or Lionel Richie, and they will tell you: writing a memorable, tuneful song that lingers in the listener's mind is a huge challenge. Imagine: as a songwriter, you have to compose a tune that will break through all of the noise on Top 40 radio. You have to tell a story in five minutes or less, using memorable lyrics that evoke powerful images. What will the subject be? What can you write about that will resonate with as much of the potential audience as possible? Finally, the songwriter must devise a melody, a riff, and a beat that stays with people for years to come. During a concert, how many times have audiences cheered a song after hearing just the first few notes? These difficult tasks all comprise the job of a successful pop composer.