Doroschuk originally wrote Pop Goes the World as an electronic instrumental, aiming for a sound similar to Hot Butter’s 1972 hit Popcorn. He then added his two-minute riff to the end of a demo recording which he submitted to Polygram’s A&R rep, Derek Shulman.
Doroschuk told the Toronto radio show “Behind the Vinyl” that Shulman then telephoned him with some unexpected advice, saying: “What I want you to do is take that little instrumental riff at the end and I want you to write a whole song around it. I want you to put lyrics on it and make a real song out of it.”
Doroschuk continued: “So that’s what I did. I went back into the studio and spent quite a while building a song. It was one of the first songs that I actually sat down and worked on.” His expanded riff became Pop Goes the World.
The Men Without Hats recorded Pop Goes the World for the Mercury label at England’s Eden Studio, the result being a gold single and a Juno nomination for single of the year. The song reached the No. 2 spot on RPM’s Top 100 singles chart in January 1988, and was Billboard’s No. 20.
The band’s “Pop Goes the World” album went platinum in Canada and won a Félix award in Quebec for English pop-rock album of the year and a PROCAN award for the most-played English-language Canadian single on Canadian radio in 1988.
In the popular Pop Goes the World video (directed by Tim Pope of the Safety Dance video), the band incorporated comic references to their Quebec roots, such as Big Bonhomme (Quebec City’s winter carnival mascot); as Doroschuk put it, “All in good fun.”
Despite its bouncy, carefree feel, Pop Goes the World hides a message within its depths. Set during the Cold War and U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative, the goal of which was to destroy nuclear missiles before they reached North America, the line “Pop goes the world” has been interpreted as a reference to nuclear warfare and the end of the human race. Another possible interpretation is the fleeting nature of the fame that the characters Johnny and Jenny so busily seek. What cost fame?
In an interview with NJArts.net, Doroschuk explained, “Our music is very friendly, and our message sometimes isn’t….I realized that my message would have a much better chance of being heard if it was wrapped up in music that was friendlier to the ear.”
Pop Goes the World has been covered by punk and electro-pop bands in Canada, the U.S., and Norway. The re-formed Men Without Hats re-recorded the song in 2012.
Doroschuk told an interviewer, “I’m very lucky that people still listen to my music today….You can’t put a price on that.”
Ivan Doroschuk, from Montreal, formed Men Without Hats in the late 1970s as a garage punk band with brothers Colin and Stefan. The band released seven studio albums, split up in 1992 and re-formed to release 2012’s “Love in the Age of War.”