When I first saw the title of BBC2’s new series Secrets of the Pop Song, I automatically envisaged talking heads-style schedule filler bilge like ‘The Top 100 Most Annoying Pop Songs’ or ‘The 10 Best Coldplay Records to Play During the Sob Story Bit on a Reality Show 2011’ ..and such nonsense. However the programme actually presents something a little more in-depth.
The documentary focuses on a different genre each week (tonight’s debut episode covers ballads) and while there is the expected array of direct-to-camera interviews with a selection of musicians, this time it’s with genuine artists and not the standard selection of former reality show contestants and comedians du jour offering their insights. Successful songwriters such as Boy George (who is on particularly good form), Sting, Joan Jett and the poodle-haired one from Queen, regale us with their experience of what makes a hit song.
The talking-heads stuff really plays second fiddle (musical pun unintentional) to the main thread of the show, which follows sickeningly successful songwriter Guy Chambers, the man behind Robbie Williams’ most ubiquitous ditties, as he looks to construct the perfect ballad for flamboyant singer Rufus Wainwright. From this point on, Robbie’s songs seem to soundtrack the show and even as your ear drums are being raped by ‘Angels’ for the hundredth time in ten minutes, you can still just make out the faint sound of Guy Chambers’ bank balance overflowing with royalties.
Despite resenting him slightly for his unimaginable wealth and questionable ‘contribution’ to music, he does provide an insightful look into the songwriting process and he is at times refreshingly honest about the difficulties of penning a successful chart stormer. The collaboration process with Wainwright is particularly illuminating, as all the mystique about writing a heart-felt ballad is completely obliterated, with the pair concentrating more on rhyming words than raw emotion, which occasionally borders on the hysterically absurd (my favourite lyrical gem being ‘Don’t bore us, get to the chorus’).
The programme closes with Rufus testing the new ‘hit’ in front of an audience of devoted fans, who of course lap up every rhyming manufactured word, which obviously negates the point of the ‘test’. However, the documentary does make two things clear:
1. Guy Chambers knows how to write music that appeals to the masses.
2. Guy Chambers is offensively wealthy as a result.