Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Whiney Songs Redux

In a comment to The Ten Whiniest Songs in the History of Pop Music, James Russell asked what the criteria for whininess are. I suppose it's a fair question - what does it take to make a truly whiney song?

The first, obvious requirement, is a good dose of self-pity. I don't think there's going to be any controversy over this one. Whiney songs are about feeling sorry for yourself. It can be the result of a broken heart (Sylvia's Mother) or unrequited lerv (Living Next Door to Alice) or chronic failure to find a lover who shows proper consideration for your finer feelings (A Good Heart) but self-pity is a constant.

That's why Meatloaf's Two Out of Three Ain't Bad didn't make the list; it's more of a sleazoid, commitment-phobic song than a whiney song. I briefly considered listing Julie London's Cry Me A River but that would have been an obvious mistake; it's far too scornful and sarcastic. A great song about lost lerv but not at all whiney.

The second major requirement is that the self-pity of the singer be made very evident; the singer must really whine. It's all in the vocals; the extended "pleeeeeeze" in the chorus of Sylvia's Mother is a paradigm case of the whiney vocal, as is Feargal Sharkey's agonised "I kno-ow". If the singer isn't up to a really good whine, a whiney song needs a whiney musical accompaniment, especially one that's heavy on minor chords and portentous musical effects (Nights in White Satin).

Put those things together, and you have a whiney song. I'm only sorry that I left What About Me off the list. It's a hell of a lot whinier than Arkansas Grass (which is still a pretty damn whiney song).

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