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We Get Mail: The Top Five Secret Ingredients To Make Any Song Awesome

circa 1935: Film star and comedian George K Arthur, reading through his fan mail. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

We get a lot of mail and figured we should spend some time periodically sharing and answering some of if here. Today's question is one we get a lot: "How do you pick what gets featured on All Songs Considered?"

The simple answer is: We get music from all over the place, listen to as much as we can and just feature stuff we like, without any agenda or larger goal beyond simply sharing what we're listening to.

I've long tried to puzzle out why I like the things I like. Blue's my favorite color. I prefer rainy days over sunny, the mountains over the beach, scary movies over rom-coms and, above all else, I like monkeys that do people things and people who do monkey things. Like a monkey in a suit conducting a job interview? That's awesome!

Anyway, with music, there's no single formula for getting me (or anyone, for that matter) to love a song. But I have, over the years, identified five things that seem to consistently make me fall for a given track.

1. Hand Claps: I remember when Georgie James came in for a Project Song (they wrote and recorded a song for us in two days). It was late in the second day and it just wasn't happening. John Davis and Laura Berhenn (now of The Mynabirds) were afraid they might have to scrap the whole project and give up when it suddenly occurred to them: Hand claps! They went back into the studio, and that's when the song really took off.

2. A Good Holler Before A Breakdown: This can be many things, such as, "Yeah!" or "Here we go!" or "Okay, Edge, play the blues!" right before a filthy guitar solo or epic jam. I'm such a sucker for this, every time. Here's one of my favorites from The White Stripes. It's from "The Air Near My Fingers," from Elephant.

3. Group Sing-Alongs: Everybody! You can't do any better than the grandaddy of rock sing-alongs, The Beatles' "Hey Jude." Doesn't it just make your heart soar?

4. Easter Eggs: Hide something in the song that only reveals itself after multiple listens. One of the first Easter eggs I remember discovering was about 30 years ago while listening to this crazy new album called The Wall by Pink Floyd. The very first track of the record begins with a barely decipherable spoken line. The album ends with the same riff and another spoken bit that's equally impossible to understand. But if you crank the volume on your cassette player and listen carefully, you can piece the two spoken bits together and voila! "Isn't this where we came in?"

5. The Pregnant Pause: Wait for it. Wait for it! BOOM! Here's a classic one from a song everyone loves (whether or not you admit it), Eric Carmen's "All By Myself."

Tell us about the things you think make songs great in the comments section.

Got a question for us? Email All Songs Considered.

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