`Jessie’s Girl’: The Most Perfect Pop Song Ever

“Jessie’s Girl” is the most perfect pop song ever. Seriously. No less a legend than Greil Marcus termed it the best single of the year when it was released and it’s stature has only grown since. Just try to locate a flaw in this concoction of 1980s power pop brilliance from Rick Springfield. [And speaking of which, why hasn’t the former Dr. Noah Drake has been invited for a guest stint on “The Simpsons” where his name would fit perfectly into a story taking place in the city that is home to Homer, Apu, Flanders and Mr. Burns.] From one of the catchiness opening hooks in music history to that scorching solo, what Mr. Springfield gave the world is one of the all time great rock songs that encapsulates everything that is good about rock music.

“Jessie’s Girl” was my last favorite song until my current favorite song. In 1983 New Order and “Blue Monday” took over the top spot in my heart and my heart has never looked back. Still, I can’t listen to “Jessie’s Girl” without a sense of nostalgia overflowing, but if nostalgia was all that “Jessie’s Girl” had going for it, it would be just another love song. A deep, penetrating darkness lies at the center of Springfield’s composition that, much like “Every Breath You Take,” belies its rather odd position as a love song. A love song “Jessie’s Girl” may be, but it is a love song that cut right down to the bone.

When Springfield launches into the lyrics by almost confessionally asserting that Jesse has long been a friend of his, the attentive listener, or one who has been in his position, will immediately sense a sinister quality behind that declaration. That darkness probably stems from the unusual word choice in the line “Yeah, I know he’s been a good friend of mine.” That line immediately follows the declaration and it seems as if Rick is kind of jumping the emotional gun by stepping forward just a little too fast to say, whoa, whoa, I know he’s been a good friend…it’s not what you think. Guilt can be found in that “Yeah, I know.” But things are just getting interesting in the confessional of Jesse’s friend.

Listen again to the blistering combination of desire and jealousy that almost verges into the psychotic when Springfield sings “..and she’s loving him with that body I just know it!” The italics are mine, but they stem from the italicized manner in which Springfield sings those words. “Every Breath You Take” is a song about stalking that has for decades been misread as a love song; “Jessie’s Girl” is a song about the route from sexual envy to crazed obsession. What makes it the perfect pop song is that about 99% of those who have ever heard it can relate to Rick, Jesse or Jesse’s girl. It’s a truly universal song and Springfield so amazingly rises to the occasion that it sticks out like a sore thumb in his career. Or, better, put, it simply sticks out. You know what I mean.

If that crazy driving hook and the universality of lyrics and context were all that “Jessie’s Girl” had going for it, it would still be an extraordinary song, but when you add in one of the most memorable guitar solos of the 1980s, well, you’re only two steps away from perfection. The only thing missing is the iconic rock and roll overcharge of dramatic license and “Jessie’s Girl” also delivers on that point: let’s face it, Rick, cute does not rhyme with moot. Of course, the fact you don’t care makes that literary lapse a moot point.

Timothy Sexton is a friend, yeah, he’s a good friend of mine and he wrote these too:

Greil Marcus: Writing About Rock Music for People Who Care About Rock Music

The Situationist International Anthology

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