Tag Archives: songwriting

The ten best One Direction songs (according to me)

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Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik. Photo courtesy of Columbia Records, Syco Music and Sony Music.

The passing of another November means that it has officially been one year since my inaugural One Direction post, and the time for another is upon us. Rather than inflict another 1,000-word review of “Four” on the world (we all know I’d do it), I have decided to use my expertise and wisdom to compile a list of the all-time best One Direction songs. I have effectively ranked every single one of them (what did you do with your day?), but here I will share only my top ten:

  1. “Fireproof”

Released as a free download this September in anticipation of “Four,” “Fireproof” is a chill guitar-driven love song that gave me high hopes for the rest of the record. Unfortunately, it also turned out to be the best song on the record. Louis Tomlinson’s usually reedy voice lends itself extremely well to this song, and his verse is the best part: “I think I’m gonna win this time, / I roll and I roll ‘till I change my luck.” “Fireproof” is mature and romantic — a strong collaboration between Louis, Liam Payne and longtime songwriting partners Jamie Scott, John Ryan and Julian Bunetta.

  1. “Strong”

One of the most musically unconventional and experimental One Direction songs. The lyrics are simple, passionate and vulnerable with solid songwriting contributions (again) from Louis. Love the soft, understated rhythm of the verses — particularly the first two, which utilize Zayn Malik and Liam’s vocal talents well. Is that so wrong? Is it so wrong that you make me strong?

  1. “Teenage Dirtbag”

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    I can’t take a picture to save my life. If you squint: Niall at the Rose Bowl in September. SCREAMfmLondon

This is a cover, and One Direction never actually recorded a studio version, so it probably doesn’t belong on the list. But it’s just so damn superb. It’s worth it to sift through the numerous live versions of this Wheatus cover to find one you can hear over the screaming crowds. There are so many things to love: Liam’s falsetto, Zayn’s immense high notes, Harry Styles’ attitude and Niall Horan’s playfully roguish verse and guitar work. One Direction takes this pop-punk jam to the next level of mischievous teenage rebelliousness, and it’s awesome.

  1. “Heart Attack”

Just a generally fun, upbeat track from 2012’s “Take Me Home.” Nothing too complex about this one: the highlights are Niall’s punctuating “OW!”s that kick off every chorus. “Heart Attack” is a well-executed pop track that’ll get you pumped up and on the dance floor despite your broken heart.

  1. “Best Song Ever”

It is a good one. It’s at least the best nonsensical pop song on “Midnight Memories.” The best part is Harry’s verse: “Said her name was Georgia Rose, / And her daddy was a dentist. / Said I had a dirty mouth, / But she kissed me like she meant it.” And the accompanying music video is a work of art with Zayn in drag and the closest One Direction has ever come to a choreographed dance routine.

  1. “Tell Me a Lie”

No one was expecting “Tell Me a Lie” to crack the top five, right? I might be alone in my zealous love for this song, but it’s really great. The track was wise beyond its years when One Direction recorded it for their debut album, “Up All Night.” It comes across as emotional, earnest and experienced, which is unusual for a One Direction song. Kelly Clarkson is actually one of the songwriters, and that resoundingly sad-yet-upbeat chorus really gets to you: “If he’s the reason that you’re leaving me tonight, / Spare me what you think, and / Tell me a lie.”

  1. “What Makes You Beautiful”

Iconic. Where would we be without “What Makes You Beautiful”? It’s One Direction’s 2011 breakout hit, and it still holds up today. I hate the message, but this song sucks you in. What a jam. If you have a room full of people younger than 30, “What Makes You Beautiful” will never fail to get the party started.

  1. “She’s Not Afraid”

    Louis, Zayn and Liam at the Rose Bowl in September. SCREAMfmLondon

    Louis, Zayn and Liam at the Rose Bowl in September. SCREAMfmLondon

An underrated bonus track from the deluxe edition of “Take Me Home.” “She’s Not Afraid” is a slick pop track with an edgier twist, describing the girl who “sneaks out in the middle of the night, / tight dress with the top cut low. / She’s addicted to the feeling of letting go,” but she won’t commit to a relationship (or even being seen in public with you). It’s one of One Direction’s sexiest songs, and it’s very good.

  1. “Kiss You”

This is One Direction at the pinnacle of their boybandom: it is cutesy modern pop perfected. Flawless sound production, immensely catchy verses and an incredibly endearing music video. It’s just irresistibly charming. This is what they were chosen to do, and they do it impeccably on “Kiss You.”

  1. “Happily”

Such an impressive song. “Happily” so amazingly captures the passion and desperation of young love. It makes me wish I was 16, running away from home to be with the boy from the wrong side of the tracks against all odds. With a raw, folksy rhythm to back up an emotional chorus (“I don’t care what people say when we’re together!”), “Happily” is hands-down one of One Direction’s strongest songs.

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Album review: Taylor Swift, ‘1989’

Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records.

In a schadenfreude kind of way, I like that “1989” represents Taylor Swift’s further descent from hopeless romantic toward bitter cynicism. Thanks for joining us, Taylor.

She’s always been great at capturing a uniquely Millennial kind of loneliness characterized by a desperation for love but an inability to figure out how to really connect with anyone. This is especially evident in “Out of the Woods,” a haunting song about struggling to hold onto a new relationship with the chorus repeatedly chanting, “Are we out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet?”

Another excellent melancholy song about ill-fated love is “I Know Places.” Again, Taylor depicts clinging to a doomed relationship, singing, “See the vultures circling, dark clouds. / Love’s a fragile little thing, it could burn out. / It could burn out. / ‘Cause they got the cages, they got the boxes, / And guns. / They are the hunters, we are the foxes, / And we run.” The dark tone of the song is enhanced with a few edgier vocal embellishments and an overall lower, more somber pitch to the music.

Probably the best straightforward pop song on the album is “All You Had to Do Was Stay.” It features a strong chorus and deals with an all-too-relatable subject matter, which is Taylor’s specialty. The ultra high-pitched punctuation of “stay” throughout the song is an amazing touch.

I do wish that we, as a society, knew less gossip about Taylor’s personal life, because I found it essentially impossible to separate what I “know” about her from the music itself. Maybe I would have liked “Bad Blood” more if I could have heard it as a song about being betrayed by a friend rather than a song about that time Katy Perry snatched all of the dancers from Taylor’s tour to use for her own, but we’ll never know because Taylor’s music can’t really stand on its own anymore. (Although I would venture a guess that the song would still suck either way.)

In addition to “Bad Blood,” there are some real weak points on the album.

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Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records.

The first single, “Shake It Off,” is quite bad, but it still gets stuck in my head all the time. It’s an obnoxiously catchy pop song that sounds like Avril Lavigne circa 2007, which is also coincidentally the last time it was clever to use the phrase “Haters gonna hate.” The worst part is the horrifyingly embarrassing spoken word bit in the middle: “Hey, hey, hey! Just think: while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world, you could’ve been getting down to this sick beat.” Let’s not and say we did.

“Wildest Dreams” is such an overtly obvious attempt at a Lana Del Rey track it’s a little painful. It’s not a bad melody, though. I also enjoyed it when it was “Without You” on Lana’s 2012 album, “Born to Die.”

Overall, I think Taylor is a good storyteller, a strong songwriter and a great businesswoman. She’s phenomenal at marketing herself and interacting with her fans. The deluxe edition of the album includes three “voice memos” that detail Taylor’s writing process for a few choice songs, which is a cool insight and makes me kind of want to hang out and write music with her.

However, I don’t think she has a commanding presence or any star power, which is weird because she’s become a huge star. She doesn’t have much vocal range, and she was wildly disappointing when I saw her perform live a couple of weeks ago on Hollywood Boulevard.

Altogether, I can’t really say that “1989” is any better or worse than any of Taylor Swift’s previous albums. It has about the exact same handful of good songs as ever, alongside the same number of boring ballads and boring dance-pop tracks. The tl;dr of it is that she attempted to go in a different direction but achieved basically the same result.

Taylor Swift
1989
Release Date: Oct. 27
Genre: Pop
Grade: C+

Album review: One Direction, ‘Midnight Memories’

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Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles and Niall Horan. Photo courtesy of Columbia Records, Syco Music and Sony Music.

The best thing about “Midnight Memories” is, in fact, that it doesn’t entirely sound like a fully-realized album. It sounds like a transitional stage with evidence of boys becoming men splashed over every track. On the album’s title track, Niall Horan sings, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m finding my way,” and that is exactly what comes across. The album is good, but what makes it interesting is the potential for greatness as One Direction continues to develop as a band.

The most notable difference between “Midnight Memories” and One Direction’s previous two albums is that each of the five members contributed to the songwriting, and only three tracks were written without the band’s collaboration. One of these is the album’s excellent lead single, “Best Song Ever,” which is catchy, straightforward pop that would easily fit in on last year’s “Take Me Home.”

The rest of the album, however, is quite a bit different: largely guitar-driven pop-rock showcasing the personal growth, complex ideas and unique personalities of each member.

Louis Tomlinson leads the group in songwriting, having helped pen 12 of the 18 tracks. Arguably One Direction’s weakest singer, Tomlinson demonstrates on “Midnight Memories” the impressive writing and production talent he has long since been cultivating. Alongside Liam Payne (who co-wrote nine “Midnight Memories” songs with Tomlinson), he has pursued a (yet rather inactive) role as director for One Mode Productions Limited, and is also largely responsible for plucking Australian pop-rock group 5 Seconds of Summer from obscurity and bringing them along as the opening act on One Direction’s Take Me Home Tour.

Tomlinson’s talent truly shines on the superb “Strong.” The song features mature, understated verses contrasted against a sweeping, fast-paced chorus. The musical accompaniment is rhythmic and interesting, solidifying “Strong” as one of the album’s best tracks.

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Photo courtesy of Columbia Records, Syco Music and Sony Music.

Other standouts include “Happily,” “Little Black Dress,” “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” and “Something Great.” From its tender ballads to harder dance tunes, “Midnight Memories” has a lot to offer as it teases a more adult side to One Direction. There is some implied profanity (“People talk shh– but we don’t listen.”) and suggested sexuality (“You say you’re a good girl, / But I know you would, girl.”).  Scandalous!

One of Payne’s most interesting contributions to the album is “Better Than Words,” the verses of which are comprised only of other song titles. It name-drops everything from Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” to Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” representative of the idea that one’s own words are not enough to capture the essence of love. It’s a really intriguing concept, and the resulting song is equally captivating.

The album’s title track is massive — a throwback to solid ‘70s and ‘80s arena rock with a headbang-able chorus to the tune of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” It was designed to translate effortlessly on One Direction’s forthcoming world stadium tour, and it will.

But the album has its weak points.

There is a disappointing lack of Zayn Malik’s presence on “Midnight Memories.” He has the fewest songwriting credits of all band members, contributing only to the group effort, “Story of My Life.” And, although he is one of the band’s strongest and most consistent singers, he is given few opportunities to demonstrate his vocal talent on this release. Instead, One Direction risks entrusting its weaker singers with carrying the meatier parts of songs like “You & I,” on which Horan unfortunately falls flat, leaving the song floundering.

A good chunk of “Midnight Memories” is clearly influenced by modern indie folk musicians along the lines of the Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, and Mumford & Sons. This works out amazingly well on the consummate and deeply emotional “Story of My Life” and on Harry Styles’ rebellious ode to young love, “Happily,” but less so on others such as “Through the Dark.”

The four bonus tracks are all good — similar in the traditionally over-the-top style of One Direction’s previous albums. “Alive” is particularly entertaining: it seems to be about seeking medical treatment for sex addiction (“My mother told me I should go and get some therapy. / I asked the doctor, ‘Can you find out what is wrong with me? / I don’t know why I wanna be with every girl I meet.’”), then thinking better of it (“Went to a party just after the doctor talked to me. / I met a girl, I took her in up to the balcony. / I whispered something in her ear that I just can’t repeat.”). The moral of the story being that there is really a fine line between nymphomania and youthful exuberance. Or something like that.

On the other end of the spectrum is “Half a Heart,” which also uses some ridiculous lyrics to convey, this time, a more romantic message. The chorus laments, “I’m walking around with just one shoe. / I’m half a heart without you.” The band might not ever top a lyric like “I can make your tears fall down like the showers that are British” from “Over Again,” but it’s certainly not for lack of trying.

Altogether, “Midnight Memories” is a nice third album from One Direction and a tantalizing taste of what the future holds for these five artists. They obviously have what it takes to make a Beatleslike leap from “Please Please Me” to “Abbey Road.” “Midnight Memories” isn’t quite there yet, but the outlook is good.

One Direction

Midnight Memories

Release Date: Nov. 25

Genre: Pop, Rock

Grade: B+