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By Josh Friedberg
You know, maybe it’s just my appreciation of sincerity, but sentimentality can get an unfair rap among many critics and fans. However, sometimes, it can make for classic pop music: think of Bill Withers’s “Lean on Me,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” for example.
But for the overwhelming majority of pop hits that could be called cheesy or sappy, there may be a deserving stigma for excessive emotion. That said, I wanted to list five of my favorite sentimental pop hits that deserve another listen. They are ranked, leading up to the one that could feel like the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. And I will defend each pick.
It’s easy to forget that in the last couple decades of Michael Jackson’s life, a lot of his music was panned. Despite the boring melody of this song, penned by R. Kelly, “You Are Not Alone” became the first song ever to debut at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. And for at least the last two minutes, such an achievement sounds justified. Ignore the steamy video with his then-wife Lisa Marie Presley, and just focus on Jackson’s passionate vocals, backed by a stirring gospel choir. As Little Richard once said of Jackson, “Michael’s one of the few people in rock ‘n’ roll that can really sing.”
Australian duo Savage Garden created a slow-dance classic with 1997’s “Truly Madly Deeply,” and whatever you think of lines like “I wanna stand with you on a mountain/ I wanna bathe with you in the sea,” the contrast between the grandiose lyrics and the intimate vocals creates something truly beautiful and compelling.
When I heard this song in 2005, I was struck by the simple yet potentially anthemic chorus and guitar chords, and then I realized everyone else hated this song. Rolling Stone gave the single one star, pointing out is derivations of other songs. I don’t care. I love this song.
Maybe it’s that this song reminds me of someone in my life, but this is the one Celine Dion track I’ve ever been able to appreciate. She has gotten a little more respect in critical circles since Carl Wilson’s 2007 33 1/3 series book on her 1997 album Let’s Talk About Love, but this 1996 track, from a movie that wasn’t Titanic, also deserves attention, especially with Dion’s powerful vocals and the gospel choir in the last chorus. I will gladly take this song over something more self-consciously experimental. Deal with it.
A great band? Hell no. A great record? Not really. A great song? Definitely. I remember Poison’s Bret Michaels saying something on VH1 c. 2002 like, “’Every Rose Has Its Thorn,’ I truly believe, was a #1 hit because it came from the heart.” Maybe it’s that I like my songwriting to be direct and easy to understand, but this breakup ballad was an easy candidate for my “Longing and desire” playlist on Spotify. This band may get a lot of deserved crap for their music, but I will maintain my appreciation for this ballad. Relatable lines like, “Now I hear you found somebody new/ And that I never meant that much to you/ To hear that tears me up inside/ And to see you cuts me like a knife” can speak to anyone who’s gone through a rough breakup.
Come at me, rockist bros.
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