What makes a great song vs. a good song?

I have a bunch of Rev. Horton Heat in my collection.

From a design view, a well-crafted song does need to have a few characteristics:
A melody that has a certain level of repetition and variation. One might even think of it as having a certain level of fractal-ness. That means that this repetition and variation needs to happen at the different scales (as in looking at the smallest melodic section, a motif; to the largest, song form) of a song. Tunes which are too repetitive are boring, and tunes which are too variant are hard to sing.
Lyrics and melody which reinforce each other’s structure.
Lyrics that have a point.

From a design view, a well-crafted song does need to have a few characteristics: A melody that has a certain level of repetition and variation. One might even think of it as having a certain level of fractal-ness. That means that this repetition and variation needs to happen at the different scales (as in looking at the smallest melodic section, a motif; to the largest, song form) of a song. Tunes which are too repetitive are boring, and tunes which are too variant are hard to sing. Lyrics and melody which reinforce each other's structure. Lyrics that have a point.
Yet there are plenty of songs that meet all of those criteria but never reach the level of greatness. There has to be something else going on. Lois
Yet there are plenty of songs that meet all of those critera but never reach the level of greatness. There has to be something else going on. Lois
What is greatness?
Yet there are plenty of songs that meet all of those critera but never reach the level of greatness. There has to be something else going on. Lois
What is greatness? Of course, it's different for different people. To me, it's music that moves a lot of people and has staying power, often over generations. Every generation seems to hate the music of the one just after it, but here are songs that survive that. When I was growing up in the rock and roll era, my father (who was an amateur singer in the style of Bing Crosby) thought Rock and Roll was terrible. He wouldn't even listen if he knew the singers had long hair! (He said it with a twinkle in his eye. He was not unkind.) One day I heard him singing "Yesterday" and asked him who he thought wrote it. he didn't know. I told him it was one of the Beatles and he said something along the lines of, "Well, that one's ok." I also caught him singing "Are You Lonesome Tonight," one of my own favorites. Both songs have stood the test of time, IMO, along with a few others. I admit I don't hear much music of today that I admire. I know it's a generational thing. But something will probably come out of today's music that's memorable and will also touch later generations. That will count as greatness in my opinion. Lois

Sounds to me like that’s more of a question of culture. For people to remember them like you describe, they first do have to have those properties I listed, and they need repetition in the media. Things like Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody getting put into a comedy film. I think that once a tune is properly crafted, which ones get sucked into the media echo chamber and which ones don’t is actually pretty random.

Yet there are plenty of songs that meet all of those critera but never reach the level of greatness. There has to be something else going on. Lois
What is greatness? Enough people in agreement that a particular piece of music is "great." "Greatness" is always subjective, but if a critical mass of people agree on it, it means something. But in the end, all "greatness" dissipates. Lois
Yet there are plenty of songs that meet all of those critera but never reach the level of greatness. There has to be something else going on. Lois
What is greatness? Enough people in agreement that a particular piece of music is "great." "Greatness" is always subjective, but if a critical mass of people agree on it, it means something. But in the end, all "greatness" dissipates. Lois Nope. That is the old argument from popularity fallacy.
Yet there are plenty of songs that meet all of those critera but never reach the level of greatness. There has to be something else going on. Lois
What is greatness? Enough people in agreement that a particular piece of music is "great." "Greatness" is always subjective, but if a critical mass of people agree on it, it means something. But in the end, all "greatness" dissipates. Lois Nope. That is the old argument from popularity fallacy. What else can it be? It's people who decide whether a piece of music is "great". This is one place where the argument from popularity is valid--as is the case with any argument as to whether something is "great" or of any value whatsoever. How else would you assess "greatness" on any level but by popularity? Do you have a definition of greatness that is unconnected to popularity? What to you is intrinsic greatness? Lois
What to you is intrinsic greatness? Lois
Copycats.

I was at a gas station. There was a beautiful clear song being played over the loud speakers while I was pumping gas. It was soothing and pleasant in these discordant times. I suddenly recognized it as a pop song that was on an album that I bought many years ago. It was not a song that I had ever, before, considered to be great. But, at that moment, as I thought about the many people going home for Thanksgiving, Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home”, was a great song.

I like my signature statement “Art is the creation of that which evokes an emotional response, leading to thoughts of the noblest kind”.
All forms of excellent art stirs an emotional response which leads to reflection on one’s own or shared experiences. IMO, it is a function of the human “mirror neural network”. If a melody, a phrase, a color, or concept, resonates with the observer, it evokes a shared experience and shared emotional response. It connects with our minds.
Khalil Gibran said: “As the strings of a lute are apart though they quiver the same music."
When someone can generate such commonly shared feelings in others, in any form or expression of art, he/she has achieved the quality of good artist, at least for that moment . A great artist is able to connect with other minds on a profound and memorable basis. Standing ovations are a mass expression of shared cognition and approval of the message.
Art needs not be pretty, but if it makes the observer reflect on morality and understand the moral message of the artist, that certainly would qualify as Great Art.
Another one of my favorite sayings is “Natura Artis Magistra” (nature is the teacher of art).
Fortunately, is seems that we have had great artists since the very beginning of Homo sapiens sapiens. Some cave paintings I have seen are absolutely wonderful to behold in their very elegant simplicity in expressing some activity.
I believe Picasso once used a reverse process to arrive at the fundamental aspects from which the observer can recognize and mentally reconstruct a coherent picture.
He made a very realistic looking horse in great detail. Then began to resketch, erasing detail, while preserving shape, and several sketches later he ended up the sketch of horse consisted of just 8 ines, if I recall. But when you looked at it you saw the entire horse and dynamic pose as if had 100 lines. Great Art!
In older tradional family paintings, males were often depicted with a dog lying at his side as symbol of fidelity, whereas women were often depicted accompanied by a playful kitten or cat. Composition and balance of color and shadow and light to create illusion of depth are the greatest challenge in painting, IMO. Vermeer’s “girl with the pearl earring” is of timeless beauty.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_with_a_Pearl_Earring
In music and song, as well as in poetry, a pause may speak louder than a selection of sound or words, from Shakespeare to Bob Dillon.
When one masters the tools of creating content, mood, suspense, and emotional release, he/she becomes a great artist .IMO

Here is a little gem of relatively unknown song by Lizz Wright. I believe it is a brilliant hybrid love song. A perfect example of less being more.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4e3GA-6Q-s
and an example of sheer virtuoso by two of the worlds greatest guitar players Bireli Lagrene and Vic Juris playing Spain.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZkQNJToXI8
and an example of a chid protege, it will leave you breathless
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3d_XTvLalJk&feature=related

It's people who decide whether a piece of music is "great". This is one place where the argument from popularity is valid--as is the case with any argument as to whether something is "great" or of any value whatsoever. How else would you assess "greatness" on any level but by popularity?
By that logic "Achey, Breaky Heart" is a great song.
Do you have a definition of greatness that is unconnected to popularity? What to you is intrinsic greatness?
I may not be able to explain it, but I know it when I hear it. Great songs ">Come From the Heart].
It's people who decide whether a piece of music is "great". This is one place where the argument from popularity is valid--as is the case with any argument as to whether something is "great" or of any value whatsoever. How else would you assess "greatness" on any level but by popularity?
By that logic "Achey, Breaky Heart" is a great song.
Do you have a definition of greatness that is unconnected to popularity? What to you is intrinsic greatness?
I may not be able to explain it, but I know it when I hear it. Great songs ">Come From the Heart]. And if the content of the song is presented with quality and competence they resonate in other hearts and replicates the emotion of the artist in the listener.

I watched a movie today called “The Music Never Stopped”. As I watched it, the topic of this thread occurred to me. Here’s what I thought.
The use of music is a special kind of Verbal Behavior. (Verbal Behavior, itself, is a special kind of behavior, one that requires a listener, even if the listener is one’s self). Thus the use of music is by definition a social behavior.
But to my point, from watching the movie, a great song can be about connecting us. Connecting us to one another, or even to ourselves, at some point in our personal history.

I watched a movie today called "The Music Never Stopped". As I watched it, the topic of this thread occurred to me. Here's what I thought. The use of music is a special kind of Verbal Behavior. (Verbal Behavior, itself, is a special kind of behavior, one that requires a listener, even if the listener is one's self). Thus the use of music is by definition a social behavior. But to my point, from watching the movie, a great song can be about connecting us. Connecting us to one another, or even to ourselves, at some point in our personal history.
I agree. And while this is speculative, I propose that this is one of the functions of the "mirror neural network" in our brains.
What is greatness?
Enough people in agreement that a particular piece of music is "great." "Greatness" is always subjective, but if a critical mass of people agree on it, it means something. But in the end, all "greatness" dissipates. Lois Nope. That is the old argument from popularity fallacy. Actually, I don’t think it is. The Argument From Popularity is only a fallacy if it is used to support a factual argument, e.g. “God exists because most people believe in Him". But when talking about a subjective and somewhat nebulous concept like “greatness" (a word with a rather vague definition), I think the argument from popularity is perhaps as valid as anything else.
It's people who decide whether a piece of music is "great". This is one place where the argument from popularity is valid--as is the case with any argument as to whether something is "great" or of any value whatsoever. How else would you assess "greatness" on any level but by popularity?
By that logic "Achey, Breaky Heart" is a great song. I'm not a fan of "Achey, Breaky Heart", but I must admit that it is infectious melodically, rhythmically, and, though I loath to admit it, even lyrically. Just a quick thought experiment: You clearly hate that song, but have you ever wondered why you can instantly recall the melody and perhaps even the lyrics of the chorus, while you've probably forgotten the melodies and especially the lyrics of most other hits that you were totally unmoved by? There are "grunge" songs from the 90's that I rather liked that I can barely recall anymore, yet "Achey, Breaky Heart" will not leave my pscyhe, even though I don't think I heard it that many times (and probably not at all for the last ten years or so), since I don't listen to modern country music. And, frankly, while I find it annoying (ever heard the Weird Al parody, "Achey, Breaky Song"?), I'd rather listen to it than 99% of the trash out there. Which raises an interesting question: Can an incredibly annoying song nonetheless be considered "great" (whatever that word even means...)?

This is what makes a great song.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_fxB6yrDVo&list=RDr_fxB6yrDVo#t=0