More Pop Songs Should Have Horns In Them

Photo credit: AP
Photo credit: AP

Many pop songs have guitars in them. Ditto drums and piano and synthesizers. Fine! That’s fine. I am not here to take your guitars and drums and pianos and synthesizers away. I am just here to say, more pop songs should have horns in them.


Here is a pop song with a horn in it:

Look at how much fun everyone is having playing this song. They are having that fun because of the horns, and no one can tell me differently. Imagine swapping the horns out for an electric guitar. Would they all be having so much fun then? No. If you swap the horns out of “Serpentine Fire” and replace them with a guitar, here is what you get:

Dirge-y herka-derka-derr sad-bro bullshit is what you get.

Horns have a full-throated exuberance about them that other instruments cannot replicate. This is most true in the case of trumpets, but it applies to woodwind horns as well. “Careless Whisper” is basically a mediocre direct-to-karaoke-ass track, but we all remember it more than 30 years after its release because the saxophone solo rocks your genitals. Ditto that “Midnight City” song where the robot sings about waiting in the car or whatever: Without the ecstatic saxophone section at the end, that song would never have made it further than the soundtrack of a Need for Speed video game or some shit. Nowadays many of the teens like this song, which sounds like a yogurt commercial to me; so far as I can tell, all it has going for it is the fact that its cute little riff is played on saxophone. That’s not nothing!

I ask you: Would “Ante Up” make you want to headbutt your way through a cinderblock wall and fire a bazooka at the moon if the (sampled, probably fake) horns were replaced with a friggin’ piano? No it would not!

Here are Gladys Knight and the Pips performing “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which for my money may well be the best pop song ever recorded:

I would not think to bag on “Midnight Train to Georgia” by implying that it would be anything less than a great song without the horns. It would be a great song even if the singers were backed by an orchestra of zithers, because it’s gorgeous and heartbreakingly sincere and Gladys Knight is one of the most wonderful singers who ever lived and The Pips fucking rule. But the horns also are great! They don’t even do much, just cruise along behind the vocals and occasionally punctuate a line, and they add so much to the proceedings; they nail the hard-won joyfulness of a song that otherwise would scan as completely sad and/or possibly dysfunctional. Imagine replacing them with a guitar. That would be terrible!

Listen. By now either you agree with me or have actual assholes for ears and are a lost cause. More pop songs should have horns in them. When you finally get around to recording your pop album, you should swap out some of the other instruments for some horns. Thank you.

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