Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Songs #426 & 427 - It's TWOsday!

Song #426 of 9999                                   Song #427 of 9999

Title: Just What I Needed                         Title: Stacy's Mom
Artist: The Cars                                         Artist: Fountains of Wayne
Year: 1978                                                 Year: 2003
Album: The Cars                                       Album: 
Welcome Interstate Managers


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? And I suppose if you put 25 years between the work of the flatteree and the flatterer, it's totally fine. Right?

I guess things get awkward when the copycat song becomes your biggest hit and heaps of attention are bestowed upon you. Fountains of Wayne have carved out a pleasant little niche in the indie pop world and their tribute to The Cars, a band whose finely honed song structure and arrangements had the attention of Adam Schlesinger from an early age, was probably expected to go gently into that good night like so many other great songs they had penned. But a saucy video and an extraordinarily catchy chorus put the band on everyone's radar and delivered them their first real international hit.

So which one stays on your iPod when you're running out of space? As much as I like Fountains of Wayne, I'm partial to The Cars' first single. The minute Benjamin Orr starts singing in that detached, slightly flat baritone, I'm hooked. Beyond that, there are these subtleties in the chord progression that work on my brain, especially where the mediant (G#) is concerned. It appears selectively within the chord progression, sometimes as a minor chord and other times major. This is emphasized in the keyboard solo at 0:47, which intertwines nicely with Elliot Easton's masterfully minimalist guitar track. (His solo at 1:49 is just one of many that put him near the top of my most underrated guitarists list.) But probably my favorite thing about this song is the drum track. When he turns the backbeat around at 2:12, I get almost giddy with delight.

Can "Stacy's Mom" compete at all with this pop masterpiece? Well, actually, it holds its own pretty well and even wins in one major way. The muted guitar intro is really lovingly rendered, to the point that Ric Ocasek thought it was a sample from "Just What I Needed." The verse is really quite predictable and only impressive if you hadn't experienced FoW's capacity for clever lyrics previously. But where I believe this song bests The Cars' effort is in the hook. The chorus is epic in its catchiness and, perhaps more significantly, the transitions both into and out of the chorus are amazingly well-crafted. Drool-worthy for a pop songwriter, really. And I have to admit the handclaps on the outro are a nice touch too—lifted from "My Best Friend's Girl" presumably!

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