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Musicologist Michael Sigman picks the best pop melodies

Musicologist and Huffington Post blogger Michael Sigman plays the Off-Ramp office guitar.
Musicologist and Huffington Post blogger Michael Sigman plays the Off-Ramp office guitar.
John Rabe
Musicologist and Huffington Post blogger Michael Sigman plays the Off-Ramp office guitar.
"The Sandpiper" may not have been a great movie (Maltin gives it 2-1/2 stars and calls it an "ordinary triangle love affair" helped by its Big Sur setting), but "The Shadow of Your Smile" by Johnny Mandel is one of the most memorable pop tunes of the 20th century.
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Michael Sigman, blogger for the Huffington Post, knows music.

Michael was publisher of the LA Weekly for many years, and before that wrote the seminal piece on Bruce Springsteen. Before that, as we told you on Off-Ramp, he was the son of Carl Sigman, one of the world's great lyricists, from Ebb Tide to It's All in the Game to What Now, My Love.

Last week, he emailed me:

I’m doing a blog for The Huffington Port on the best melodies in pop music over the past 50 years. I’m asking people whose opinions I value to choose a favorite tune - not lyric, not record.

I was honored to be asked and wrote back: 

That's a hard one. 

Best record might be Smokey Robinson's Cruisin', which is a masterpiece of composition, arrangement, and vocal and instrumental performance. (Smokey told Off-Ramp listeners how he wrote it and what it means.) Best lyrics might be something by Stevie Wonder. Sir Duke or Superstition or Living for the City. He reaches me.  If I could go back to 1947, for melody I might pick Nature Boy - instantly recognizable, crazy evocative, lovely and haunting. 

But for melody in the last 50 years …

I was all set to go with MacArthur Park. I love the main theme, but even more the exciting instrumental interludes or whatever they are properly called. I like all the various versions, but now the one that will stick with me is Jimmy Webb himself performing it at Levitt Pavilion MacArthur Park. 

However, then I remembered Johnny Mandel's The Shadow of Your Smile. I can whistle it in 20 seconds and get the feeling (conjuring Jack Sheldon's trumpet line - in the original, or just a few years ago at Colombo's jazz club) of melancholy, beauty, regret. The song would feel the same even, would mean the same, even without the perfect title. A shadow of something sweet. 

Michael has posted some of the results of his survey on his Huffpo blog...

A few confident souls responded instantly, as though they'd been waiting years to be asked. The great Dion Dimucci says Pomus/Shuman's This Magic Moment is "a perfect song -- it's beautiful, wonderful, powerful, amazing and yet distinctive and memorable." Screenwriter/lyricist Jerry Leichtling chose Paul Simon's towering Bridge Over Troubled Water and theater producer Susan Dietz, still stuck on the cute Beatle, picked Yesterday.

... with more to come soon.

I love that pretty much everybody picked a different melody, which says something about how music reaches us at different times and places in our lives, and says different things to us.

Michael will be joining us this weekend on Off-Ramp to talk about his survey, which is an excellent excuse to play a bunch of great songs. Meantime, in the comments section below, why not nominate your own picks for the Best Melody since 1963?