How popular song factories manufacture a hit

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2010

Maybe you thought this was going to be about how Dr. Luke has produced some of the catchiest tunes in recent memory (Since U Been Gone, Tik Tok, I Kissed a Girl, Girlfriend, Right Round, California Gurls). But that headline is actually from the NY Times Sunday Magazine a hundred years ago.

That sort of song could never have become popular. You couldn't expect the messenger boy and the shopgirl to take a very keen interest in Evangeline's wendings when they led to nowhere. The masses need something more direct — something with a more human appeal. One of the chief secrets of popular song writing is to tell a simple story and to tell it completely.

At that time no attempt was made to cater to the musical tastes of the people. It was not supposed that they had any. Almost the only approach to popular ballads were a few well-worn war songs and plantation ditties. But two or three American song writers were trying to get a hearing with the kind of appeal to the people which in England, where the music halls afforded a ready avenue for reaching the masses, had been successfully made for many years.