A guest blog written by Paul Hoffman. You can agree/disagree with him here.
Song: ‘Ghost Town’
Artist: Adam Lambert
US Chart Peak: 64
Release date: April 21, 2015
Writers: Max Martin, Sterling Fox, Ali Payami, Tobias Karlsson, Adam Lambert
Producers: Max Martin, Ali Payami, Peter Carlsson
Quintessential Max moment: Right after the soft rock-tinged first verse, a lonely, ghostly synth appears to harken that this is not a rock song.
Video Synopsis: Black and white shots of Adam singing amongst ghostly dancers mimics a strobe light as it flashes through a variety of scenes.
You’re planning the release of your highly anticipated third studio album with executive producers Max Martin and Shellback. Your lead single titled ‘Ghost Town,’ co-penned and co-produced by Max himself, is a month away from finally dropping. You’ve made it to the Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten with them before (‘Whataya Want from Me’), so nothing could go wrong, right? Wrong. Suddenly, Madonna decides to release her thirteenth studio album and declares her second single to be ‘Ghosttown.’ (Yes, without a space and instead with a lowercase “t.”) Shit. No offence Evan Bogart, Sean Douglas, and Jason Evigan, but does a space and a capital letter make a title different enough to stamp on Max Martin? Not sure. Anyways, Madonna is still a legend, Max Martin is still the god of music, and Adam Lambert is still chill because, in reality, their songs are quite different; Madonna’s is a mid-tempo “post-apocalyptic love song” and Adam’s is an “existential dance goth rave thing.” Good save, you guys.
As a songwriter myself, any new music Max Martin donates to the world is automatic study material for me. When ‘Ghost Town’ dropped, I immediately ran out of my music production class to the bathroom to listen for the first time and boy, was I dumbfounded! Max Martin, known for his addictive, universal, and melodically enticing music, released material that clearly pushed his own boundaries as a songwriter and producer. After its simple electric guitar intro, Max and friends write a longer-than-usual verse about Adam’s dreamt-up ghost town using vivid lyrics, simple melodies, and slight melodic and rhythmic changes between the lines to keep things interesting. Then comes the chorus, right? Wrong again. ‘Ghost Town’ has no traditional pre-chorus or chorus! Gasp. But how?! Combined with meaty verses and a contrapuntal (!) wild-west whistle melody in each drop, the no-chorus song’s secret to success lies in the often-overlooked middle eight; this section gives ‘Ghost Town’ the last few melodies it needs to keep you listening. Always simple, always interesting, always progressing. Classic Max.
Now don’t get me wrong, any four-on-the-floor Maxbanger can help me get down (‘Your Body’, ‘Hold It Against Me’, ‘C’mon’ etc), but ‘Ghost Town’ does it uniquely so in its perfectly prosodic way, meaning the song itself echoes the meaning of its lyrics. With carefully sculpted melodies and ad libs to display just enough vocal range, Adam sings about how he died last night in his dreams, he tried to believe in God and James Dean, he called out someone’s name with no answer (Simon Cowell’s?), and that love is a satire. Max Martin isn’t making you guess what is going on, guys; he’s strategically using the whistle and synths to show your ears what Adam’s heart looks like. And don’t forget how the sparseness of each vocal hook – “my heart is a ghost town” – is used in relation to the length of each drop, or even the song’s odd amount of measures in or between each section; Max is clearly doing whatever he can to make things feel ghostly, and he succeeds magnificently.
Hey, even though we had that weirdly coincidental title (*ahem* Tidal *ahem*) conflict earlier, only good came from this release. ‘Ghost Town’ is Adam Lambert’s most streamed song on Spotify and most viewed music video on YouTube. In concert, he’s been known to thank his fans for the “big fucking hit” that became of ‘Ghost Town’. This song has even been said to be the darker, more “pop” version of the Grammy-award winning Jack Ü ft. Justin Bieber song, ‘Where Are Ü Now.’ But coming from songwriter Sterling Fox’s original genius, Ali Payami and Peter Carlsson’s miraculous co-production, Tobias Karlsson and Adam Lambert’s co-writing, and Max Martin’s overall blessed involvement, ‘Ghost Town’ blurs the lines of pop, wild-west country, and dance superbly.
If you’d like to write a guest blog on a Max Martin song that didn’t make the US Top 10 then there’s information on how to do that right here.