I had a business meeting recently at one of those big chain coffee shops that rename their drink sizes to make them seem more exotic and play Norah Jones incessantly to make them seem hip. I was early, so I got a cup of tea and sat down to wait. One of the baristas walked to the back grinning and carrying a CD. A moment later, Norah Jones stopped and "A Million Miles Away" by the Plimsouls started blasting out of the sound system.
And, as everyone in the coffee shop started to smile, I realized again that "A Million Miles Away" is a perfect pop song.
There's a lot of reasons for this... here's just a few:
- The drums are propulsive (even after being filtered through cheesy 80s production filters).
- It's about longing and distance... which is something everyone can relate to. And the distance in the lyric is underscored by just a touch of echo.
- Maybe the next generation won't realize it, but there really was a time when songs would come on the radio and they'd so perfectly capture moods and memories that it would make you stop and think.
- The vocals perfectly capture longing and just a glimmer of hope, but the hope is pushed way down to let you know that it's probably not going to pay off. Similarly, the harmonies are sweet, but edgy -- they keep you coming back, but there's a melancholy deeply embedded with the joy.
- The guitar riffs are simple, but amazingly memorable.
- We've all been at the wrong end of the looking glass (even if what the song really refers to is being at the wrong end of a telescope).
- The best songs really do make you drift away until you really feel like you are falling off the edge of (someone's) world and you'll never get back.
- The nostalgia of the lyric and the delivery -- is he trying to hold onto the past or to the girl? And in the end, does it really matter?
- The scariest ghosts are the ones that continue to haunt us from past relationships.
- Two words: Valley Girl (the movie, not the song).
But here's the best reason that this is a perfect pop song:
Back at the coffee shop, the manager yelled at the clerk to turn off the Plimsouls and put back on the corporate-approved jazzy compilation featuring Norah Jones. The clerk shouted above the roar of the espresso machine "But 'A Million Miles Away' is, like, the national anthem of Los Angeles."
And as I looked around the coffee shop, three people nodded their heads in agreement.