John Seabrook’s newest book is a synesthetic trip through the pop music of my formative years

In his newest bookThe Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, John Seabrook reports on what amounts to the last 25 years of pop music. Each chapter has Seabrook describing a song’s construction in one or two paragraphs, and each time I finish a passage, I’ll head to the writer’s web site, where he has built corresponding playlists. I’m reading this book now, and it’s slow-going.

Reading about and then listening to specific and memorable songs in this way is a fun exercise, and in the following passage lifted from the book, when Seabrook described the beginning of Britney Spears’s breakout hit with the words “Da Nah Nah,” I felt the earworm embed itself inside me, rendering me powerless, like it was 1999 all over again:

“Hit Me Baby (One More Time” is a song about obsession, and it takes all of two seconds to hook you, not once but twice, first with the swung triplet “Da Nah Nah” and then with that alluring growl-purr Britney emits with her first line, “Oh baby bay-bee.” Then the funky Cheiron backbeat kicks in, with drums that sound like percussion grenades. Next comes Tomas Lindberg’s wah-wah guitar lines, which signal to one’s inner disco hater that it can relax: it’s a rock song, after all. In terms of sheer sonic drama, “Hit Me Baby (One More Time)” belongs to the theatrical rock tradition of Queen, mixed with Mutt Lange’s work with Def Leppard. It marries melody and rhythm in a way that Denniz PoP had been seeking since his DJ days—a catchy pop song that doesn’t stop the dancing.

Here’s the song:

Visit John Seabrook’s web site

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