Foreign Thursday: Chapter 2
What has ITALY ever done for pop music?
There comes a time in your life when you have to accept that you’re not going to be the best at everything. This may be in school, where you can be top of you class in maths, science, languages and many other academic subjects, but you’re probably not going to be the best at sport. Anyone who manages to master of those subjects is worthy of your suspicion, like the guy who lives in the room opposite you at university, he is stupidly good looking, athletic, intelligent, a musician, and worst of all, pleasant to talk to and easy to get along with. You know that that person is going to fail in some field, but it’s not obvious what. Excluding these social anomalies, we just have to acknowledge that this is just the natural order of the world, people have their strengths and they have their weaknesses, and he who is the jack of all trades will be the master of none, as the saying goes.
When you think of what Italy has given the world, what first comes to mind? It’s probably food. If food immediately springs to mind, don’t think this means you need to start doing sit-ups every morning, or heaven forbid, take out a gym subscription, Italy is accepted by many people to have the best food in the world, but then most people outside of the UK don’t understand the sheer joy that can come from a good savoury pie. The Italians have their food and they have their fashion, if you’re into that, but have they put in much effort with their pop music? This is the big question.
If you do a little digging, you can probably find that in your music library you’ve got a few tracks by secret Italians, although they’ll probably be dance tracks. Eiffel 65 gave us the anthem of our generation, ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’ in 1999, which bizarrely went on to sell over a million copies, becoming the second biggest song of the year in the UK (behind …Baby One More Time), but thankfully the second single tanked and Eiffel 65 dropped off our radars but not before doing a few ghastly remixes (“Just speed it up a lot, alter the pitch and add the sound effects from Blue! Does this count as a remix?”)
We shouldn’t write off all Italian pop because of that though:
1989’s biggest selling single was cheeky samplers’ Black Box’s Ride On Time, and they were from Italy.
Fellow cheeky samplers and chimney specialists The Tamperer were also from Italy.
Club Classics staple ‘Point of View’ by DB Boulevard was Italian.
However, perhaps making Italy’s best contribution to pop music is Giorgio Moroder. The super producer and disco pioneer created the instrumental for Blondie’s second best single “Call Me” (which is the best part of it, as the lyrics are rather bad, “Come up off your colour chart”). He also co-wrote the equally uncomfortable and incredible Donna Summer moanfest ‘Love to Love You Baby’, the perfect soundtrack to a sensual massage, perhaps, or maybe if you’re especially unsociable and you have new neighbours but want to assure that they don’t come round to say hi. For good old Donna, he also wrote electronic trailblazer ‘I Feel Love’ and produced stippers’ anthem ‘Hot Stuff’. Then when you add into the equation ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ with Human League frontman Phil Oakey and working with King of Music, David Bowie, Moroder’s contribution to pop and dance music seems even more significant that of even Eiffel 65.
Finally, in my humble opinion, I don’t think you can discuss the output of Italy without including Raffaele ‘Raf’ Riefolo, who co-wrote and originally performed the Laura Brannigan’s 80’s classic ‘Self Control’. If you thought Self Control was good enough in the better-known Brannigan version, imagine how it would sound stretched out to six minutes and with an awkward 80’s white man rap shoved in the middle. Perfect, that’s how.
So that’s a little of Italy’s contribution to pop music. Perhaps the names aren’t as big, but the Italians have more of a tendency to be the ones behind the scenes in pop, producing the beats and provoking the earth-trembling orgasms. As I said earlier, the Italians can’t be best at everything, but they still have a little go, so we’ll respect them for that at least. Pop is obviously not their main genre, they have a few musical baskets and a lot of their sonic eggs go into opera, but every now and again you (literally) can’t hold back one of the operatic heavyweights when he wants to dip his toes into pop’s waters, as seen in this video of the unlikely pairing of the Spice Girls and Pavarotti, singing a ridiculous/fantastic version of ‘Viva Forever’.
Plus points (/10) : 6 points for Moroder
Minus points (/10): -3 for the numerous house acts and their uncredited samples. Very naughty.
Bonus points for Eurovision ’12 entry (/3): 2, Very good effort from Nina Zilli.
Score: 5. Well done, Italy.
This is the second article in the What has ____ done for pop music? series. Click here for article 1: Denmark.
Remembering Nadia Oh
In 2011, something amazing happened when a woman seemingly came out of nowhere (at least if you weren’t aware of her previous ‘work’) and released one of the weirdest songs of the year, an ode to the swag of Kate Middleton, titled “Taking Over The Dancefloor” and released in time for the royal wedding. Nadia Oh had taken it upon herself to introduce the house-reggaeton fusion genre/absolute racket of moombahton to a pop audience and this was her way of doing it, by repeating the word moombahton again and again over a dance beat. The song had more autotune than you could throw a disco stick at and sounded like the music had been composed by a bunch of women on a hen night, blowing on Anne Summers willy whistles and toy trumpets. Her lyrics weren’t much better either:
Don Julio Patron
We get it poppington
Up in the clubbington
We we we Kate Middleton SWAG
We we we swagginton
Don Julio Patron
You wouldn’t catch Wordsworth making up nonsensical words by adding suffixes to make them rhyme with the name of the Queen-to-be, but Nadia’s doing so just made the whole thing more absurdly endearing. Despite everything about it being 100% awful, there was something oddly compelling about it. You could imagine Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge going into the club at Saint Andrews’ student union, showing her swaggington and telling Prince William to throw his wallet in the sky. It sounds like the kind of scene you would expect to see in the American dramatic retelling of their relationship that was broadcast on TV around the time of the wedding. Imagine if they had had Taking Over the Dancefloor as their first dance? It’s pretty unlikely though, William probably hates moombahton. What started off as listening to TOTD as a joke, became so much more when, one day, one of my housemates expressed their dislike of the song, which made me play it more. It was then brought to my attention that it was also a brilliant way to wind up somebody with a hangover, and soon became a feature on all playlists from then on.
Another thing that made Nadia Oh such an enigmatic character was her online presence. Her music videos are as short as possible, with Taking Over the Dancefloor only lasting a minute and a half, compared to the six-minute epic on the album. In the video she just stands there with her hand on her hip while the misspelt karaoke lyrics pop up along the bottom. The images from the video look like they’ve been made up on MS paint and the music itself isn’t exactly world class, but strangest of all, producer Space Cowboy, who produced the whole album (and the one before that (!!)) worked with Lady Gaga on several tracks from her first two albums, yet Nadia Oh seems to be the one he has taken under his wing as his protégée. Another of her music videos, Jump Out The Window sees the music constantly interrupted as a mystery voice asks Nadia questions and she replies with short-as-possible answers (“Who’s your favourite band?” ‘JLS, they’re cute! Lol!’).
In the video for second, and even better, single ‘No Bueno’, (“He knows his lines like Taran-Tarantino”) Nadia parades around with her hand on her hip in numerous T-shirts quoting her other songs. A lot of the time she references her own ‘oeuvre’, as if she’s in on the joke. She continues this trend on Twitter, where she has sadly been a bit quiet recently, last reminding us that it was ‘Halloween #VampireNight’. At the end of every tweet she posts, she adds a hash tag quoting one of her own songs or lyrics, such as “Trying 2 get addicted 2 tweeting #NoBueno lol;)!”, “Happy Bank Holiday UK, hope it’s a #Slapper(Ayye) lol;)!”, “Studio 2day in London #CosIAmBasedInLondon lol;)!”. As you can see from those nice little examples, she’s also very fond of emoticons and saying ‘lol!’, like a 13 year old girl. That last hash tag is a reference to another of her lyrics, where she sings the beautiful line “The girls they call me London, cos I am based in London.” That line is also followed by “I am so cold, I make the boys froze, they wanna know my digits, but they are ‘fqn’ midgets’. So deep.
This little bit of information is about as good as it gets for any insight into who Nadia actually is/was. She must surely have a real job that funds this musical endeavour, unless she’s just living off a huge inherited fortune. There’s very little proof that Nadia Oh is actually a real person and not just one of these very realistic Japanese robots, but then there’s also a video of her trying to use chopsticks in a restaurant and failing completely, so that’s probably not the case. She very rarely gives interviews, and when she does, all of her responses are in CAPS LOCKS with the emoticons and the LOLs. In one interview she claims she makes good cupcakes, but then she released a promo video of herself making a cake from a packet mix, which has now been taken down because it presumably gave away too much information and destroyed the illusion.
The beauty of the whole thing was that Nadia Oh seemed to be self aware, unlike some of the hapless young pop things these days who get dragged into the game with the promise of riches. Nadia seemed to be in on the joke and committed to keeping this robot-like image alive. But then when you see her standing around staring into the sky, or trying to cut up her dinner with a pair of chopsticks, you can’t help wondering if she would even be capable of dressing herself in her Hot Like Wow T-shirts.
Since the digital-only release of the album ‘Colours’, Nadia has only released one more single, the not exactly beautifully titled ‘Slapper (ayye)’, which featured a heavy and irritating sample of On a Ragga Tip and another (but this time full-length) video of her standing around, hands on hips. There was discussion of her releasing a mix tape (who isn’t releasing a mix tape these days?) but then that never came to fruition, so I can only assume that all the parties involved in the whole ‘Nadia Oh’ joke got bored and moved on. Luckily they left behind a moombahton legacy that won’t be matched for a while to come, I’m sure.
All together now: Bueno, bueno, oh no! No bueno, bueno, no, no!
Patrick Wolf – Sundark and Riverlight
Some artists may commemorate a decade in music by releasing a standard Greatest Hits album, with all of their hits and a few new (usually sub-par) tracks tacked onto the end. Celebrating a tenth anniversary this year are Girls Aloud, who are releasing their second Greatest Hits album with 14 of their top 20 singles, a few poor tracks from the last one taken off and the more recent singles added on, plus a few more songs to make fans actually buy it. This is the kind of thing you can get away with if you’re lucky enough to have had 20 hit singles in your decade in the industry, a minimal effort release with guaranteed profit. All you need to do is put on an orange dress and do a Children In Need performance and the sales will no doubt roll in.
Unfortunately Patrick Wolf can’t get away with any of that. He wouldn’t be invited onto Children In Need in the first place, because he’s not well-known enough and he certainly wouldn’t perform in an orange dress. Black dress, perhaps, or leather cape and headdress made of feathers, but certainly not an orange dress. To celebrate his own decade in music, if he were to release an album of ‘hits’ that charted in the top 200, it would stretch to five songs. Even during the phase when his label tried to make him into a pop star, when he appeared on T4 and he started wearing colourful clothes and riding carousels, his one single that may be known to most more than a handful of people, The Magic Position, didn’t even make the top 40.
So instead Patrick decided to record an acoustic Greatest Misses album with orchestral re-recordings of some of the best tracks from his five album career. There are three tracks from each album and one from the post-Lupercalia ‘Brumalia’. The track listing is then split in half and onto two discs, for what could have easily been one disc of music. The first disc is called Sundark (which isn’t a real word), and contains the supposedly angsty tracks, whereas the second disc is called Riverlight (also not a real word), and is for the more lovey-dovey half.
But who is this album for? It doesn’t serve as a very good introduction for new fans, of course the songs are good, but they’re not in their original form and a lot of his bombastic pop elements have been taken out. It’s a good demonstration of Patrick’s musical ability and voice but you can’t help feeling that new listeners would be better off downloading the track listing from the relevant albums and compiling the album themselves. With this being Patrick, you can be sure that the album is supposed to be bought as a physical release in order to benefit from all of his scrawled artwork and random paraphernalia that may come with. I’m pretty sure he only releases a download version because that’s where the money is. It’s probably an album to listen to when you’re out and about, so you’d need a physical copy if you’re on your travels, or in the car, driving home on a rainy night and trying to decide whether it would be worth just steering off the road and ending it all.
I’ve followed Patrick’s career for five of these ten years, in which I’ve seen him perform twice. The first time I saw him was when it was announced that the planned headliner of the second stage at Latitude Festival had dropped out so Patrick had been bumped up. Before I went, I checked out his then current album, The Magic Position, and his two albums before that and was blown away at his performances (and his nice violinist lady). The second time I saw Patrick, he was still pretty good. He was touring The Bachelor album, which I had invested in, having become a big fan. That whole Bandstocks thing fell flat and I never got my shares back, although they probably would have only been worth a pound or so in total [Sort it out, Paddy]. During this second performance, Patrick was all dolled up in his weird leather stuff and cape, and at one point he introduced a new up and coming act who ran in a circle around the stage and then disappeared again, but overall it was pretty good (and he had been upgraded to the main stage).
With his back catalogue, there is a huge number of excellent songs to choose from to put on a greatest hits album but how many of the tracks are an improvement on the original? Let’s have a quick look… Bear in mind, Patrick is my favourite ukulele-bothering musician (sorry Amanda Palmer) and my favourite solo artist, but I’ll try my best not to be too biased.
1) Wind in the Wires (from 2005’s Wind in the Wires)
Wind in the Wires doesn’t sound too different from the original, which was pretty toned down anyway. The new version lacks the haunting backing vocals of the original, but it does have the inclusion of nice new strings towards the end. The Sundark version is also around 30 second shorter, so you’re getting less Paddy for your pound, and of its 3:55 length, half a minute of that is an a new outro, which isn’t as good as the spooky noises version.
Better or worse? Not too different, a little worse.
Worth Greatest Hits inclusion? If I had to limit the track listing to three songs per album, I would swap in ‘Lands End’ for a Patrick best of.
2) Oblivion (from 2009’s The Bachelor)
This version of Oblivion seems to have had all of the anger sucked out of it. What was one of the best tracks of the crowd-funded, half finished and fairly patchy The Bachelor (The Patchelor?) album has been stripped back so much that it’s now just Patrick backed by one instrument. There’s no wailing strings in the chorus, no gun SHOT (in the dark), no longer the bizarre inclusion of actress Tilda Swinton giving Patrick some mid-song words of encouragement “Wait a second, have you come so far for it to end like this? … GET BACK UP, what are you so afraid of??!”. Patrick does however acknowledge that he didn’t come this far for it to end like this, which is nice but all of the funny voices are missing. My strangely trendy (mid-life crisis experiencing?) father had the original Oblivion as his ring tone. I don’t think he would do the same with the new version.
Better or worse? Undoubtedly worse. Also cut short by 30 seconds or so.
Worth GH inclusion? Without a doubt one of the standout tracks of The Bachelor, this re-recording removes all the good bits from the original, which is a huge backwards step.
3) The Libertine (from Wind in the Wires)
Frenetic Wind in the Wires opener The Libertine seems to have been sped up just a touch and thankfully the wailing violins (the main feature) remain intact and perhaps even more screechy. A weird plucky outro is added to the end but Patrick keeps in the part where he screams about bowing down before false idols so all is not lost.
Better or worse? Definitely good, edging towards better. A good acoustic reworking.
Worth GH inclusion? For sure. Patrick at his angry best.
4) Vulture (from The Bachelor)
Making an acoustic version of 100% electronic Vulture was going to be hard. You can actually hear the lyrics now though, as Patrick just sings over his piano backing and the song seems much sadder and you certainly can’t imagine Patrick in his bondage gear singing this one, which is for the best actually.
Better or worse? Vulture was always one of Patrick’s weirder singles but it is again drained of all attitude.
Worth GH inclusion? I would rather have had Damaris, if sticking to the 3 songs per album rule.
5) Hard Times (from The Bachelor)
Aah, good old Hard Times, the one that should’ve been a huge hit. Despite the acoustic reworking, Patrick’s calls for revolution are not completely muted and the passion is still there.
Better or worse? A pretty good acoustic version, not too much lost.
Worth GH inclusion? Certainly. The most accessible song from The Bachelor
6) Bitten (from 2011’s Brumalia EP)
A strange one to include, considering it’s a non-album, non-single, EP track. It’s a nice track and, for the not so obsessive fans it’s a reminder that Patrick’s EPs exist and can tide you over until he makes another proper album.
Better or worse? I wasn’t familiar with the original version before this album so it’s hard to say.
Worth GH inclusion? I can’t help feeling that Bitten’s place on the album could have been taken up by The City, Accident and Emergency, or Tristan, to name a few actual singles.
7) Overture (from 2007’s The Magic Position)
Sonically, the Magic Position’s opening track is probably one of Patrick’s most joyful songs from his whole back catalogue, so I’m not sure why it’s on the angsty album. Perhaps if you listen to the lyrics questioning the point of war etc it might seem slightly more moody, but I just get lost in the lush string arrangements. As excellent as the original is, a lot is lost underneath the incessant industrial noises, so this version is extremely pleasant to the ear, even if it does lose the heartbeat-like drums.
Better or worse? Not worse, perhaps the first track that is even better than the original, therefore not a surprise it was the first to be released to radio. And by radio I mean Radio 2.
Worth GH inclusion? It’s up there with the best.
8) Paris (from 2003’s Lycanthropy)
Paris, due to being on the debut album, has quite an industrial sound due to all the machines Patrick used early on in his music career, and the drum machine is pretty irritating, so this stripped back version is a good example of the point of the whole album: exploring the songs that sometimes got lost under all the production and funny firework noises. The drums are toned down nicely, allowing the violins to shine. Some nice little HEY HOs are added too, which I am obviously fond of.
Better or worse? Better, less is more.
Worth GH inclusion? Probably the second best song on Lycanthropy, so of course.
9) Together (from 2011’s Lupercalia)
When Patrick released a little taster of what was to come on his crowd-funded ‘Battle’ double album that never came to fruition. Battle was due to be comprised of two discs, a lot like this album, with one angry one and one happy one, but the angry one was the only one that got made, much to my annoyance as an investor. All of the tracks ended up on the Bachelor, except ‘Together’, which was destined for The Conqueror. Eventually ‘Together’ resurfaced on Lupercalia and was a favourite track for many fans, but not for me. It seemed a bit cheesy and like the Pet Shop Boys-esque instrumental didn’t suit the song, so it is more suited to a simple string arrangement, without that woman wailing at the end.
Better or worse? Better
Worth GH inclusion? It shouldn’t have taken the place of Time of my Life, should it?
10) The Magic Position (from The Magic Position)
As far as most people are concerned, The Magic Position is the big one, in that it was played on T4 once and around that time Patrick appeared on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. It was the single that was given the big push and when it didn’t all work out, the label dropped him for not being enough like Mika. The main instrumental hook in this version sounds less like a fairground, so the slightly cheesy edge is taken off. An acoustic rendition allows Patrick’s vocal to take centre stage and it sounds a little bit less like he’s singing about bumming, which may have put people off in the first place. He was singing about being in a position where he is able to love! Not a magical sexual position.
Better or worse? A refreshing listen but not as joyous as the should-be classic.
Worth GH inclusion? It wouldn’t be a greatest hits album without one of Wolf’s two top 80 hits!
11) Bermondsey Street (from Lupercalia)
I don’t know why Bermondsey Street made its way onto the Greatest Hits album, it wasn’t even one of the best on Lupercalia. I know it’s about free love between all people/genders/living things and Patrick’s really into that, but both verses are the same and as a song it’s a bit lazy. So what better way to mark its inclusion on Riverlight than by adding weird Russian and Spanish monologues onto each end of the song and padding it out by an extra minute and a half?
Better or worse? Worse. The monologues make for a very odd and uncomfortable listen. Russian isn’t a sexy language for pop music. Imagine if Shaddup You Facefed off Russian stereotypes, would people have bought it?… I don’t know why they did in the first place but I would guess at no.
Worth GH inclusion? Not at all. The Future was another big lovey one from the same album and was far better. It’s irritating that Tristan didn’t make the album and this did.
12) Bluebells (from The Magic Position)
Bluebells is the best track from The Magic Position and its acoustic version is nice without the fireworks, which could be quite distracting in the original. However, considering it’s another of his best songs, it is unforgiveable that it is cut a minute and a half short. I do actually quite enjoy whistling along to the firework noises, now I think about it.
Better or worse? Worse, I miss the bangs and whistles and Bluebells should nick her extra time back from Bermondsey Street.
Worth GH inclusion? Certainly. Paddy should have whipped out his penny whistle though.
13) Teignmouth (from Wind in the Wires)
The more I think about it, the more certain I become that Wind in the Wires is Patrick Wolf’s best album, it’s certainly the one I go back to most, as it’s so downbeat and so damn melancholy. During my three years living the West Country, I loved going through Teignmouth and listening to the song. Teignmouth itself had pretty good charity shops and award-winning public toilets and a nice little village on the end, perched on a hill overlooking Teignmouth beach. I liked to pretend that all the people there never made it out of the village and hunted all their food with sticks. The Riverlight version of Teignmouth definitely benefits from having the annoying drum machine taken out, as with other songs, but aside from that this version isn’t too different.
Better or worse? Not much difference.
Worth GH inclusion? It is undoubtedly beautiful but it’s not in my WitW top 4.
14) London (from Lyncanthropy)
London, like some of the others, was pretty acoustic in the beginning so this isn’t much of a reworking, just a rerecording .
Better or worse? Probably as close to the original version as any of the others.
Worth GH inclusion? One of the more listenable tracks from Lycanthropy, for sure.
15) House (from Lupercalia)
During the Lupercalia album campaign, Patrick was playlisted twice on Radio 2, which usually signals the death of a career, whether it’s when a DJ hits 40 and becomes too old for Radio 1, or an artist is no longer cool enough (see: Robbie Williams). House was a pretty good song though, Patrick at his happy best, and the video had lots of nice animals in it, which is always a winner, and no pretend girlfriend like the The City video. This version on Riverlight has all of the exciting bits taken out though.
Better or worse? Worse. Drained of sing-along joy.
Worth GH inclusion? Yes, of course. Not enough people sing songs of appreciation about their houses and other inanimate objects. He did move out of the house this year though and put all of his possessions into storage, so maybe his intense love for this house is debatable.
16) Wolf Song (from Lycanthropy)
Wolf Song is in my top 3 Patrick songs so it is very pleasing to see it on his greatest misses album. I don’t know what made me forge such an emotional attachment to Wolf Song. It’s short, Splenda sweet and a great shower sing-along. Maybe it’s because I feel like a lone wolf looking for my pack, maybe it’s because of that time in my first year of university when everybody left for a night out before me and I was left behind in the corridor of our halls, dressed as a lion and wailing Wolf Song with a bottle in my hand. Either way, it’s probably my favourite Patrick song and a good way to finish the album. The acoustic version doesn’t add much, and as with most of the songs, is shortened, so that’s not ideal.
Better or worse? Not too different as it wasn’t one of the songs where everything was buried under a massive amount of production and noise.
Worth GH inclusion? YES. THE MOON, LET IT GUIDE YOU AND I SHALL FIND YOU A HOME IN OUR HEARTLAND, A HEART IN OUR HOMELAND, UNTIL THE MOON IS DOOOWOOWOOWN.
Overall, I can’t help feeling that Patrick compiled this album for Patrick. It will tide fans over until his next album, but aside from that, most of the tracks aren’t as good as the original form. I think the idea was to strip back the over the top production on his songs, but as half of the track listing was mainly acoustic in the first place, this seems needless. It’s a pretty peaceful listen, which I can’t deny. It’s of course all beautiful, but I think you’d just be better off listening to Wind In The Wires in full instead.
Patrick’s albums in my order of preference:
Listen here to the unofficial:
GREATEST MISSES PLAYLIST
(IMPROVED TRACK LISTING, ORIGINAL VERSIONS)
Why are there no longer any decent Christmas songs?
Very recently, Heart FM made the largely unpopular, if my household is anything to go by, decision to start playing Christmas music in mid-December. This means it’s that time of year where Mariah Carey awaits her annual pay cheque and John Lennon gives us the depressing reminder that another year is over, while a haunting chorus of children squeals ‘war is ooo-ver’ on a day where the BBC’s main news story is ‘Gaza deaths mount in Israel raids’, yet the most shared stories are ‘Does chocolate make you clever?’ and ‘Drunk Australian rides crocodile’.
I don’t want to get too involved in the whole Christmas number one race, as that doesn’t really have anything to do with Christmas anymore. At least the X Factor producers are releasing the winner’s single a week earlier to allow someone else to have a go again, but who’s saying the winner of the ‘chart race’ will be a worthy one? Last year’s Military Wives song was another dreary reminder of war and conflict and the last non-X Factor one before that was sleigh bell-free Christmas classic, ‘Killing In The Name’ by Rage Against the Machine. Skimming through the list of number ones and number twos, past Teletubbies, the JCB song and Bob the Builder, it’s obvious that things weren’t much better before X Factor, probably even less respectable. The last original Christmas-based Christmas number one was calendar bestseller Cliff Richard. But these days it’s all X Factor and ‘campaigns’.
Why is nobody making a song like Wham’s any more?
A great song and a naff video featuring all the necessary ingredients: Pretend Christmas with friends in a chalet or log cabin, snowball fights, a grand meal, pretend girlfriends (to fool the record-buying public into thinking you’re attainable), brooding looks at love rivals and less talented members, Pepsi, Shirlie, collecting firewood, an awkward glance across fallen tinsel, a sultry voice whispering ‘Merry Christmas’. All the magical elements that make not just a Christmas video, but a good old family Christmas too. No dwarves though. The beautiful thing about Wham’s effort is that there’s no shame (if you forget the pretend girlfriends); it’s a blatant Christmas song and not afraid to say the C word and limit itself to just a couple of weeks of relevance per year. Nothing matches the beauty of the whole family chiming in with the first chorus, “Once bitten and twice shy, I keep my distance but you still catch my eye”, before everyone tails off until they perk up again for each of the subsequent choruses. I listen to it all year round, it’s so good. In fact, it’s so good, notoriously choosy and high brow musical artistes Crazy Frog and he ‘TOWIE’ cast covered it.
So why are there so few Christmas-themed Christmas singles these days?
One reason why bands might not record a typical Christmas single these days is that they’re worried about coming out of it badly. Firstly, why would you ruin your perfect chart singles run by releasing a single in the busiest chart week of the year? It could be career suicide as was the case for, for example, Mini Viva, who followed up their no 7 hit ‘Left My Heart In Tokyo’with a Christmas week second single, which charted at 73. All momentum for the campaign was lost, the third single also bombed, and they were dropped before their album was released. They were last seen when Twitter gold Britt Love auditioned for X Factor, and the other one featured in a ‘Wowcher’ advert.
Maybe artists these days are just lacking a sense of humour and are too afraid of making fools of themselves. This is the same reason nobody decent is willing to represent the UK at Eurovision. They know it’s a label they’ll have for the rest of their careers and they’re too afraid of not winning. Luckily there are a few bands who are still fighting the cause and willing to have some light-hearted festive cheer.
What some consider to be the last memorable Christmas song was beaten to number one by the Gary Jules/Michael Andrews cover of ‘Mad World’ in 2003. Seeming ahead of its time, this version was a completely unnecessary cover, slowed down and with all traces of personality taken out, a bit like what John Lewis have been doing for the last few years with their ridiculous, cheesy adverts. Apparently, the whispery cover of ‘The Power of Love’is a contender for Christmas number one this year, which only makes me wonder if the youths buying it have ever heard of the original and are just hypnotised by the stupid tale of snowman romance.
The song that charted at number two in that year was the excellently-titled ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) by The Darkness. Perhaps it was just written around the word ‘bellend’, but it was still an enjoyable Christmas song that most people will be able to remember It’s parodic, but it’s still your average tale of love, this time about being separated over the winter season. It has a good lyric: “Feigning joy and surprise at the gifts we despise over mulled wine”, but most importantly it has the children’s choir, fundamental to all Christmas songs.
Aside from that, The Killers are making a sustained effort to try to get a Christmas hit, having released a Christmas-themed charity single for the past six years, with a seventh to come this year. None of these has graced the winners’ end of the chart though, with ‘Don’t Shoot Me Santa’ doing best by charting at 34, with its download sales not yet being eligible at the time. Granted, not many of them are very good, but they’re trying! We should at least respect them for that.
At least their efforts have none of this nonsense of taking a run of the mill ballad and adding a wintery music video and telling people it’s a Christmas single. Sometimes this isn’t enough to fool people, such as the late November 2000 guilty pleasure, S Club 7’s ‘Never Had a Dream Come True’. It had nothing to do with Christmas, they were just wearing massive coats! A coat doesn’t make a song into a Christmas song. You need sleigh bells. You need actual references to Christmas. At the very least a choir of children singing innuendos they won’t understand until it’s too late! Luckily the S Club song didn’t make it into anyone’s annual playlist. The same can’t be said for East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’. It has just been accepted as a Christmas song despite having nothing to do with our lord and saviour, or turkey. It was Christmas No 1 in 1994, thanks to producers just bunging some chiming bells on the end. They even re-recorded the video with massive coats on and with pretend snow around them to cash in on the market. Unlike most, this one stuck and will be on the Heart FM playlist for decades to come, so the coats paid off, but there’s still not enough effort going into this.
We need somebody to come from nowhere with a Slade-sized classic. We need beards. We need a new Wham. We need somebody to take the piss a little bit, while retaining artistic merit. But who could be up for the challenge? Girls Aloud could probably give it a good go. They’ve had one Christmas number one, which was forced due to its reality TV winners singleness, but with their new-found popularity they could have released a Xenomania-bellfest and gone for it. Instead their camp has decided to release a new single this Christmas that is about being ugly that so that will be jolly. Scissor Sisters could no doubt produce something campy enough, but they no longer have the exposure or popularity to pull it off. Any other suggestions are welcome and I’ll pass on the message.
As for the other ‘contenders’ (CONTENDERS, READY) for this year’s Christmas ‘Chart Battle’, Ladbrokes has the favourites as the Hillsborough Charity single, which will no doubt be an absolute joy, reminding us of our mortality and poor policing, the X Factor winner, One Direction, another choir effort, and the John Lewis single.
It’s not looking too rosy, but I see BE THE CHANGE! If you get started now, you can write and record your own Christmas single by next year, then you can get that number one. I’ve started already. Mine’s called ‘Come Inside From the Cold (Hot Soup)’ and it’s a beautiful track of winter love: love for soup and the warm calming feeling it brings on a winter’s day. It’s got plenty of innuendo and you can bet your Cliff Richard calendar that it’ll have a bloody choir wailing at the end.
ONE FURTHER NOTE: Let’s not forget the second best Christmas song
(HINT: It’s not Proper Crimbo):
There doesn’t seem to be a video but that’s a nice video of someone timing their Christmas lights to flash to it, which was surely time well spent on their part. Christmas Wrapping is pretty awful, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s kind of like a festive version of The Flying Lizards’ Money. If you want to hear a terrible cover of it, as it is the festive season after all, the Spice Girls tried to do a version, which was pretty bad coming from some people who had three consecutive Christmas number ones themselves.
Remember: BE THE CHANGE. I’ll expect to see contributions around June. Chop chop.
BBC Sound of 2012: What was that all about then?
I suppose it’s not too early to start assessing the prophecies of the BBC’s Sound Of 2012 list, given that there are only about 6 weeks left in the year. The list is compiled using the suggestions of, this year, 184 ‘Taste makers’ who name their top 3 stars of the year to come, which are then sorted into a top 15, before naming the top 5. I think I preferred having a top 10, but never mind.
The Sound Of list has tended to be a bit hit and miss in the past, unfortunately. Among some of the good shouts were Adele in ’08, Jessie J in ’11, and Ellie Goulding in ’10, who all won the vote. Perhaps not so good choices were The Bravery winning in 2005, ahead of KT Tunstall (#6), Kaiser Chiefs (#5) and Bloc Party (#2), and Little Boots (as enjoyable as some of her output was, the success didn’t follow) ahead of La Roux (#5), Florence and the Machine (#3) and, bizarrely, world-conquering Lady Gaga at number SIX.
Looking back at the top ten lists of all previous years does produce some surprise and confusion at some of the names thrown up, never to be heard of again such as Gemma Fox, Marcos Hernandez, Sadie Ama, Tom Vek… the list goes on and on. I think, in terms of massive success to follow, the top year was 2004 with, Keane (1), Franz Ferdinand (2), Razorlight (4), Joss Stone (5), McFly (6), Scissor Sisters (7) all going on to have pretty major careers, with Scissor Sisters and Keane having the two best-selling albums in the UK that year.
However, comparing that list to this year’s shortlist, you can’t help wondering what has gone wrong with new music. The criteria state that nominees must not have scored a top 20 hit before November of the previous year in order to qualify, and this is where the Sound Of people were screwed over a bit. 2012’s biggest selling album was from Emile Sandé, who had had a late ’11 hit and wasn’t allowed (although she didn’t make the previous year’s list). Exactly the same for bafflingly successful and assembled-from-odd-parts Lana Del Rey (or The King’s Wool, as I call her). When two of the biggest new acts who would have saved your list are not allowed, you have to scrape a few barrels and it’s pretty clear from the top 5.
Album, chart position: Home Again, 4
Top 40 singles: Home Again (29) (4.1 million Youtube views)
Awards? Mercury nominated
More info: The personal life section on his Wikipedia page only states that he supports Tottenham Hotspur, which I’m led to believe is a football team.
Radio plays in last 30 days: 17
Of which were on Radio 1: 1
Notes: At number one is guitar-strumming and soulful Michael Kiwanuka. Inoffensive, not untalented, but not world-conquering. He didn’t set the world alight and there’s not much more to say. He’s probably quite nice in real life because he doesn’t play his guitar like he wants to break it and he sings about wanting to be home, so probably doesn’t have deep-rooted family issues.
Album, chart position: Channel Orange, 2
Top 40 singles: Thinkin Bout You (25), Pyramids (21)
Most viewed on Youtube: Novacane (10.3million)
Awards? Several nominations
Fun fact: Published a letter telling of how his first love was a man, which was pretty important for the generally homophobic hip hop genre. This letter came out around a week before the album though, so it’s hard not to think it was a well-timed publicity stunt.
Radio plays in last 30 days: 40
Of which were on Radio 1: 5
Notes: The most headline-grabbing thing that Mr Ocean has done was publishing that letter, which I can’t deny was pretty important and proved that hip hop artists are not all domestic abusing P.I.M.P.s, so that was nice.
Album, chart position: Postponed and postponed some more, still unreleased. Although a free mixtape (mixtape!), Fantasea, was released and was mostly new songs, so I don’t know the difference.
Top 40 singles: 212 ft. Lazy Jay (12)
Most viewed on Youtube: 212 ft. Lazy Jay (37.3 million) [that’s more like it]
Awards? Billboard Awards: “New Style Icon”.
Fun fact: Despite being a rapper, Banks featured on Scissor Sisters’ ‘Shady Love’, where she sang the chorus and singer Jake Shears did the rapping.
Radio plays in last 30 days: 266
Of which were on Radio 1: 23
NOTES: Banks seems to be getting a bit of a reputation as being difficult to work with. The Scissor Sisters feature was left uncredited, with rumours that she didn’t want to be associated with it, and then the single was never released (despite the announcement of a release date) and no reason was given. Other rumours circled that Banks could not release single ‘Esta Noche’ because her management had not cleared the samples used in the song, and had then tried to bribe the person she sampled. Banks has uploaded several new songs, from the mixtape, onto Youtube with accompanying videos but nothing has been as good as the sonically excellent but lyrically repugnant ‘212’. It’s hard to deny that ‘212’ was one of the biggest songs this year, but it was the ‘buzz single’ that was available before the Sound Of… ranking. No other hits followed. Imagine if Lady Gaga stopped at ‘Just Dance’. More pleasingly, most of Banks’ cartoon artwork for the singles has been great, she called one song Jumanji, which was nice, and she is reportedly working on two songs for Lady Gaga’s upcoming, sure-to-be-overblown ‘ARTPOP’ (CAPS LOCK!!). Sadly, most of the good bits of Azealia’s songs seem to be the samples, which she then just raps and swears over.
Album, chart position: Various EPs, it seems, of which ‘Bangarang’ charted at 31.
Top 40 singles: Bangarang (24)
Most viewed on Youtube: Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (111.7 million!!)
Awards? Three Grammys.
Fun fact: More one for the club kids than the pop charts, can make $100,000 dollars for a night’s work, post Grammys.
Radio plays in last 30 days: About 30
Of which were on Radio 1: 18
NOTES: I don’t suppose the above numbers bother him so much as, at 24 years old, he is reportedly earned $15 million dollars in a year, mainly from live shows. He looks disgusting, his artwork is terrible and he dated Ellie ‘Your Song’ Goulding for a bit, which all work against him. His music is dubstep though, which, as flavour of the month, is loved by many people and he is generally considered to be quite good at it, so that’s nice for him. Grammy awards will also look quite nice beside the telly, better than my trophy for not quite winning a TV game show. Confusingly, the EP and song that won the Grammys were released in October 2010, so all of this is coming a bit late and I’m not quite sure why he was eligible for the list..
Niki and The Dove
Album, chart position: Instinct, 60
Top 40 singles: None. DJ Easy My Mind at 103.
Most viewed on Youtube: DJ Ease My Mind (664k)
Awards? European Border Breakers Award (Sweden, 2013) I’ll believe it when I see it.
Fun fact: … The Dove is not really a dove?
Radio plays in last 30 days: 12
Of which were on Radio1: 0
NOTES: There isn’t anything to say here, they haven’t achieved much at all and all of their radio plays were from NME radio. With the 2013 Border Breakers award, maybe the big push will come next year instead?
That’s your top five for this year, apparently. It hasn’t exactly been a classic year. Proving their lack of continued success, they have 365 radio plays between them in the past month. 2004’s top 5 has this month had 2783 plays (mainly due to Keane) and that’s without 6th place McFly’s 761 plays and 7th place Scissor Sisters’ 1227 plays. Not too impressive. In comparison, 2011 winner Jessie J has had 4428 plays alone in the past month. Having looked at the statistics, I believe this to be the first year where of all the listed artists, not one had a number one single or album in the year of their ranking.
Elsewhere in the Top 15 shortlist there are not many familiar names. Lianne La Havas had a Top 5 album and was nominated for the Mercury Prize, whereas Ren Harvieu became a Radio 2 favourite and scored a Top 5 album. Aside from that, there were a couple of top 40 singles, but one of the acts hasn’t even scored their own Wikipedia page yet, so all in all it’s pretty poor.
Maybe one act that should have been higher, at least in fifth place are terribly-named, clumsily-marketed Stooshe. Branded as ‘Potty-mouth pop’ by the Sound of 2012 site, Stooshe’s management finally decided what they wanted the group to be, then cut the swearing, re-recorded ‘F* Me’ as ‘Love Me’ and became a Heart FM staple with completely harmless, inoffensive and guilty pleasure sing-along love song ‘Black Heart’, with sales making it go gold in the UK. Overall the girl group has a pretty impressive 4927 radio plays in the last month, mostly thanks to the Heart FM network and a career making-or-breaking TLC cover, which is the new single. As with Banks, the album has been put off a year ‘to make it the best it can be’, which is worrying.
Other big hitters missed out:
Gotye: This year’s biggest seller, million-selling xylophone-featuring single ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ was number one for five weeks and slipped under the radar of the taste makers.
Carly Rae Jepsen: 4 weeks at number 1 with ‘Call Me Maybe’, possibly excluded because she came third in Canadian Idol 5 years ago, although that’s not enough of a reality TV link to be relevant.
Psy: Nobody predicted a KPOP number one, unsurprisingly, but I’ll be surprised if he has a second hit.
Rita Ora: Flying the flag for Kosovo, Ora had three number one singles and a number one album this year, so her exclusion is a mystery. She must have been disqualified for some reason although I can’t see what. Maybe because she auditioned for Eurovision once?
Hopefully this embarrassment of a selection will force the compilers of the Sound Of 2013 list to go to some new ‘Taste Makers’. OR A PSYCHIC. That would be much more fun for everyone. If you’re a record company thinking about the best time to launch a new artist, now might be a good time. There’s probably not much competition.
Just back to the term ‘Taste Maker’. That’s pretty annoying. I’m not going to automatically like something just because it’s on the Sound Of list and it seems that most of the population agree. All of the ‘taste makers’ asked will have jumped on some kind of bandwagon in the past year, just one of a smaller size. Was there anyone on the list who nominated Psy? They would surely be the real taste maker. I used to think the Sound Of list was a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with the attachment to the BBC, who run the biggest non-commercial radio network in the country. I thought they used to play the artists to death and make them famous just so they didn’t look silly, though obviously they’ve given up on that now. I used to be excited when reading the predictions for the year to come, although it seems not have lost its relevance and I’m not too excited about what 2013 will bring.
The whole top 15 shortlist of Sound of 2012:
Dry The River,
Jamie N Commons,
Lianne La Havas,
Niki & The Dove,
Foreign Thursday: What has ..Denmark.. ever done for pop music?
We native English speakers were lucky enough to be brought up with the language that dominates pop music. I suppose the JPOP and KPOP scenes are also fairly big, but they rarely extend beyond their boundaries, except into the bedrooms of strange, obsessive teenage girls and in one case, into mainstream global pop. However, ignoring that, the British and the Americans dominate pop music.
The French government tries to stop the public from being too Anglicised by imposing rules stating that 40% of songs on their radios must be in the French language, just in case anyone is forgetting their own language. When I lived in Spain for a little time, I was quite surprised to hear how much of Spanish radio was dominated by the usual American suspects such as Katy Perry and Rihanna, especially since a lot of Spanish music is excellent. The guitar bands from the south of Spain, including my favourite one, Los Delinqüentes, have a sound that is so obviously Spanish, yet a lot of the music we hear these days could be from anywhere and has no features that give any indication of its origin without explicitly stating it, such as Perry talking about how all the ladies on the golden coast have perfect breasts and fornicate in their cars, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers listing as many rhyming US states as they can and calling that a song.
For these reasons I’ve taken it upon myself to delve into the music of an underrepresented country to deliver an insight into their music. Spotify has a ‘Top Lists’ feature, where you can see the top tracks and albums in your country or any other, so there’s no excuse for not being a bit inquisitive and I’ve decided to investigate the music of Denmark.
I expect most folk in British will not know much about Denmark’s musical output, with them lying in the shadow of pop giants Sweden. Due to the peculiar buying habits of the British, one of the most successful acts from Denmark was Aqua, with three number one singles and several other top 40 hits (!) Thankfully Aqua have not charted here for about twelve years, not even their 2011 single ‘Playmate to Jesus’. I can’t pretend I’ve ever heard of or listened to that song before now but it’s interesting to see how their image has changed at least. They look like a Eurovisionned-up Evanescence these days, all dressed in black and grey, with the singer’s boobs pushed out a bit while she lies draped on a crucifix. “Let’s go into space / Heading for Venus / Fly around the sun / Playmate to Jesus” she sings. The lyrics are pretty nonsensical, but the music isn’t that bad. Obviously I’ll never listen to that again or I may as well castrate myself. I still have not forgiven myself for my brief “Actual the Vengaboys were pretty good” phase last year.
Perhaps the best thing Danish to happen to the British charts in recent years was the arrival of the beautifully innocent-looking Alphabeat. With 6 members, half of whom had the same name, and fronted by Anders number one and the tiny little female one, Stine, Alphabeat had three excellent singles in 2006/7, ‘Fascination’, ‘10,000 Nights’, and ‘Boyfriend’. Everyone will remember Fascination, you can still put it on at a party now and everybody will go crazy for it. Alphabeat were pretty cheesy, but it was impossible to hate them, they were just so harmless. They weren’t going to force your sons to go on a killing spree, or give your daughters an eating disorder, their only goal was to make your feet tap incessantly. That’s basically exercise, so in a sense Alphabeat were tackling our country’s obesity crisis and should have been respected for that much, at least. Second single ‘10,000 Nights’ was also bloody brilliant.
If you’re looking for poetic lyricism, you’ll be disappointed with the chorus of “You give me ten thousand nights of thunder/ but I will give them all back to you / ‘cos you’re so OOH (do do do) / you’re so AAH (do do do) / you’re so cool” but you can’t write them off for that. You wouldn’t stop playing with a puppy because it couldn’t play chess; everything has its strengths and weaknesses. Even better, if you like sing-along DO DO DOs, the album version of the song has an extra minute of them tacked on at the end. Perhaps it does drag on a bit, but then again, ‘Hey Jude’ was hardly concise and people love that for some reason.
Despite their second album, The Spell (or The Beat Is…) being as good as (or better than) the first, especially first single ‘The Spell’, (which is worth an embed), it charted only just in the top 40. The whole thing was more electro and a good step forward. A few other catchy singles followed but Alphabeat were basically over, much to the chagrin of Scandinavian pop fans all over this rainy isle. I think it may be down to them trying to be a bit sexy the second time round. Stine dyed her hair red and wore a fascinator for god’s sake! Maybe that was a clever reference to Fascination. Maybe it was a coincidence. Who knows how deep Danish outfit choices go? As much as singing-Anders tried to un-sexy the whole thing with his wild, flailing dancing and tambourine playing, the damage was done. All those well-behaved young fans from before were now out attacking people in the street and refusing Easter eggs. Maybe that’s a wild exaggeration; I think radio just didn’t really play them the second time around, which was a huge injustice.
It may come as a surprise but Alphabeat have recorded a 3rd (third!) album, the weirdly-titled ‘Express Non-Stop’ although it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page in English and it probably hasn’t been released outside of Denmark. I don’t think they even have a UK label any more. The singles from it felt a bit hollow in comparison to the previous album, and musically it was a bit of a step back. Lead single ‘Vacation’…
(“Vacation woh-oh! I wanna go, i wanna go on Vacation! Woh-oh! … Every woman, every man / put your feet in the sand)
…wasn’t enough to catch anybody’s attention. It was a bit throw-away, despite them returning to their harmless sin-free appearance. The next single ‘Love Sea’, sounded a bit like ‘How Will I Know’ by the late, great, dancing-with-somebody Whitney Houston in parts. Both the singles were very summery and chirpy, the kind of songs you’d like to hear by a pool or at the beach, not in September. The video to Love Sea featured a video camera being sent around the world to strangers who filmed their love. I don’t suppose, if that were to happen in real life, that the love filmed would be as clean as in the video, mainly consisting of various groups of friends hugging on a sunny day, but this is Alphabeat not bloody Rihanna. At one point in the video the camera is put in a mysterious looking case and smuggled onto a plane, comes off the plane at the other side, circulates the luggage carousel and is picked up by a curious lass who starts filming her friends. None of that would be possible at all. There would be a huge bomb scare, hundreds of people would be inconvenienced and Alphabeat would have to spend a day locked up before being fined for their stupidity, rather than being allowed to run back to the sea bouncing that damn beach ball around. I hope Alphabeat still have a future in this country as I’ve long wanted to see them live. They are at least playing a show in London soon, so I should try to attend that, at least for the exercise.
For a third and final name, I’ve chosen someone a bit more of the moment. Oh Land is a Danish singer who you may have heard singing the song on a Littlewoods advert recently, ‘White Nights’ which is quite nice. The video is very good, especially the bit where she lays down on a stool and makes a zebra shape. That’s nice if you like your women in equine poses, and I’m sure you do. As Danish pop music of the moment goes, it may be worth investigating Oh Land a little bit more. Her eponymous second album came out in March 2011 so I’m a bit late catching on really, but it’s nice enough, probably good to cycle to. She’s unlikely to set the charts alight until she sings on a David Guetta song but she may be of interest to fans of Goldfrapp who like their female-fronted pop a bit more theatrical. FUN FACT ALERT: Oh Land is the great-great-granddaughter of Otto Fabricius, who made the first zoological observations of Greenland. With a claim like that, who needs a successful pop career?
PLUS points (/10) = 6 (for Alphabeat, mainly)
MINUS points (/10) = 3 (for Barbie Girl and Doctor Jones)
BONUS points for Eurovision ’12 entry= BIG FAT ZERO
Score: 3. Sorry Denmark.
Remembrance Wednesday: Ricky Martin – ‘She Bangs’
In pop music, it is a cruel state of affairs when one track or act is overshadowed by another, despite being comparable or better. Scissor Sisters’ third album ‘Night Work’ sank without a trace despite being their best effort yet and having a phenomenal buzz single, Ian McKellen collaboration, ‘Invisible Light’ . Now their only track heard on radio is modern classic ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’’ and you can buy the album for about £2 on Amazon.
Example 2, when Girls Aloud took a break and tried individual projects, Cheryl was the one to sell most records because she was prettiest and most high profile, despite her material being far less interesting than that of ‘ginger one’, Nicola Roberts. WAH WAH WAH WAAAH.
Another aggravating example would be anything by Janelle Monáe being ignored while the masses only heard her one line of input on the ‘Fun’ single that radio tortured us with this summer.
However, the case I am fighting today is that of ‘She Bangs’, first single to be taken from the second UK charting album of hip-swivelling, Latino ladies’ man (or so his videos would have us believe), Enrique ‘Ricky Martin’ Martín Morales.
Sometimes with one’s music output, you have a good little run, then something comes along that wipes out all memory of what came before it, but then sometimes you never quite reach the heights of that one big hit, which is the case with poor Ricky and ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ his trumpet-laden Latino banger that warns of a mocha-tinged mad wench who makes him take off his leather trousers and already see-through shirt to go dancing in the rain. Obviously that song is excellent and its legacy cannot be denied, but for me, ‘She Bangs’ is the real Martin classic. Yet according to Compare My Radio (a good site if you like statistics) Loca has been played on radio 51 times in the last month and She Bangs only nine times. Is there any justice in this world? She Bangsis my favourite.
Maybe it’s just because I like an underdog, maybe it’s because I like to make controversial choices to wind people up. Either way it’s a brass-hooked Latino banger that warns of the dangers of women. Hang on that sounds familiar… It’s Ricky’s comfort zone and he doesn’t need to stray from it, after all nobody wants to be reminded of his soppy Spanglish ballads.
Let’s do an in-depth, unnecessary analysis:
Admittedly, lyrically it’s no ‘Imagine’ but it does feature such interesting lines as:
“I’m just a link in your daisy chain”, “You wear me out like a pair of shoes” and
“Well, if it looks like love should be a crime / You’d better lock me up for life / I’ll do the time with a smile on my face / Thinking of her in her leather and lace”
That’s right, Ricky is so in love with this rampant lady, if love were to be outlawed he would be given a LIFE sentence, not just a fine or a few days of community service, jailed for life. Imagine being in love that deeply! Your lover refusing an appeal, exclaiming their guilt with no shame. Ladies can only dream! I don’t suppose Ricky would live up to your expectations, but not to worry, he seems happy enough as he is these days, so that’s jolly nice for him.
Latin piano during the verses, the occasional guitar chord, more trumpets than Mambo no 5! That little bit after the ‘daisy chain’ line where the brass starts wailing like a siren. Woh wohhh woh, sing-along backing vocals in the final chorus! A guitar solo! It’s got a ruddy guitar solo! It might as well be Santana! How could you listen to this without waggling your hips like a hula-hooping Grace Jones?!
In the music video in, our protagonist walks into the sea and attends an underwater grindfest in a bar attended by bikini-clad ladies and guarded by a mermaid and octopus man, my preferred set-up. He enters through an underground waterfall that somehow keeps the water out of the room and starts grinding on anything with two legs or a tail. Are they really underwater? Everyone’s just dancing like in a club yet sometimes a fish goes past and occasionally Ricky starts swimming. But then nobody is wet!… aside from Ricky when he pours water all over himself (can you do that underwater?) and all those women who are subjected to his charms… yeah everyone’s wet in one way or another. There’s even a cubicle for frolicking and Ricky takes his clothes off before getting spanked by a mermaid. Trumpeters line the walls, it’s the perfect party. I do sometimes wonder what would happen after the song finishes and they all stop dancing and stand around awkwardly in their pants. The aquatic party people are hardly likely to request ‘Shake Your Bon Bon’, are they?
There’s some interesting insight here. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ricky didn’t do much (any) of the writing himself but there are some interesting links if you’re willing to do a bit of Wiki digging.
Desmond Child has writing credits not only on She Bangs and Livin’ La Vida Loca, but also numerous Bon Jovi songs, including ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ and ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’. Also in his impressive song list are ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’ by Kiss, ‘Poison’ by Alice Cooper and ‘Old Before I Die’ by Robbie Williams. Producer Walter Afanasieff has credits as producer and arranger on swimmers’ favourite, ‘My Heart Will Go On’, by Celine Dion, as well as ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child. Also with a writing credit is the man credited with having recorded the first rap song in Spanish. That’s a good pedigree for a Latino pop song.
If all of that wasn’t enough to convince you of the huge amount of effort and talent behind She Bangs, there’s also the obligatory Spanish language version, with such beautiful lyrics as:
“She is the queen in my chess, playing with me is her pleasure”.
All in all, it’s a genius song, ridiculously catchy and just that little bit better than Livin’ La Vida Loca, I just wish people would realise this and remember poor old She Bangs every once in a while. At least trusty old Ken Bruce on Radio 2 occasionally plays it. I suppose Ricky is too uncool for Radio 1 as well now. But 9 plays on the whole radio network in a month! That’s fewer plays than in my house! Shame on you, radio, shame on you.
If there’s one thing I respect about Calvin Harris, it’s his release strategy:
Calvin Harris, ’18 Months’: Sort of an album review…
I’d like to make it clear from the start, it is unlikely I will ever purchase this album. To me, Calvin Harris is the British equivalent of David Guetta: constantly bombarding the charts with sub-par electro-pop music with pop starlets doing the hard work for him while he claims most of the glory and makes them just a featured artist. It’s not a Kelis single! It’s Calvin feat. Kelis!
Imagine how cluttered the charts would be if everyone did things this way. The chart has more ‘featured artists’ than ever before, but if everyone was crediting their producer as the main artist, it would be a complete mess. I suppose we have to put up with it in this new world of music where, as I have read several times, ‘DJs are the new rock stars’, raking in millions from live performances. Who would pay premium prices to go and see a DJ live? Would it be any different from just going to your average club on a Saturday?
Anyway, back to Harris. I liked debut single ‘Acceptable in the 80s’. It was a catchy pop song and he did his own vocals. However, since then, his approach has been a bit Stock, Aitken, Waterman to me, just a production line that seems to never switch off. My dad once told me that in the Weetabix factory, the product line splits in two at the end, where half are packaged as legitimate Weetabix, and half as supermarket own-brand alternatives. I never did find out if there was any truth in that or if he was just trying to justify not buying fancy foods and this analogy has gone a bit askew but it’s as if the music conveyor belt has got stuck on one side and all of the music is being pumped into cheaply made boxes with Calvin Harris’ face plastered all over them and you have to read the ingredients to find out what’s actually in it. [Salvaged!]
Wikipedia lists 18 Months’ genres, among others, as ‘Electro House’ and ‘Progressive House’, which to me sound more like episodes of Grand Designs than music, but maybe I’m old fashioned. Yet here’s the thing, there are some aspects of this album that I…admire.
The album was released on 26th October 2012, whereas the first single cut from the album was the Kelis track, released on 12th June 2011. The time difference there is 16 months or so, whereas this time gap for most pop albums is about one week. I always wondered why bands would do this. None of your core fans are going to buy your single when they can buy the album the following week and save a pound or so by being patient. What Harris has done here, and admirably so, is release a barrage of high-selling singles, all of which were snapped up by Radio 1 listeners and casual music buyers, then finally a number one debuting album, which by this point seems more like a Greatest Hits set.
It’s interesting to form some kind of timeline of CH releases for the past two years:
All of that before the album release. It was incessant. You can’t switch on a radio anymore without hearing his formulaic crescendo breakdown/thunderclap. Looking at the release dates, there seems to have been a bit of a lull around winter 2011 but Rihanna’s airplay was more than enough to keep the ball rolling.
As well as all that there was a Tinchy Stryder song that didn’t do much and a Sophie Ellis-Bextor single produced by CH that got to #49 in Russia, however ‘We Found Love’ sold 6.9 million copies (approx) worldwide, so I expect that makes up for it. (Not so much for poor Sophie).
If we ignore the fact that most of the above music is in no way fresh and exciting, CH released 6 singles before his album, all of which sold enough to chart at number one or two, then cobbled them together into an album that charted at number one. It is one of the best release strategies I can remember and has surely maximised sales. Casual music downloaders who may have bought one of two of the singles would probably have seen enough they liked to purchase the album later, to collect the set, and it would be cheaper to buy the whole album that all of the individual singles. If he had released the lacklustre ‘Bounce’ and then the album, the album would probably not have gone straight to no.1, but the album sales would have probably picked up as subsequent singles were released. Of course it’s meaningless to speculate this, as I don’t think 18 Months was intended to be a coherent piece of work where he wrote songs for the album, he just compiled the album once there were enough songs already released, and tacked on a few more (which will probably be subsequently squeezed for every penny). The fact that the album is indeed coherent and works as a whole is that all of it sounds identical. He’s got his formula and he has stuck to it.
Calvin Harris’ success in 2011 was enough to make anyone think they could get a hit if they teamed up with him but even that was not enough for sonically excellent but terribly marketed Scissor Sisters. Lyrically speaking, ‘Only The Horses’ wasn’t a good song of theirs even before Calvin started twiddling knobs and pressing the only two keyboard keys he is familiar with, and so it charted just outside of the top 10. With the song, Scissor Sisters sacrificed enough of their souls to let CH be in charge of music duties (when they are a competent band of musicians) but luckily they didn’t pimp themselves enough for the track to become ‘Only The Horses’ by Calvin Harris ft. Jakes Shears. Maybe they would have sold a few more copies that way though…
All in all this is the musical equivalent of seeing Modern Art buffs walking into the Tate Modern and wetting themselves over an inspiring bin bag full of rubbish, or Emin’s fluid-stained bed. It’s a poor product and in no way art, but if you can market it to enough people to give it value, that, at least, should be applauded.
Rant: Why David Bowie is an inspiration and shouldn’t come out of retirement.
A little while ago I read an article about David Bowie being photographed going to get his lunch. This isn’t usually something that would make the news. Perhaps it would make the news if Lady Gaga were to buy a sandwich and find a way to wear it, slapping some ham on her bosom and wiping mustard in her hair. Or Rihanna would buy a baguette only to simulate a lewd act with it. Both of them would surely follow this attention-grabbing behaviour by then taking a poor quality snap of it on their phones and posting it on Twitter, where they would then be called inspirational. However, David put his lunch (I can’t be sure it’s a sandwich and there’s no need to speculate) in a little bag and took it away to be eaten in privacy.
The reason Bowie made the news was simply for being spotted in public. NME called it a ‘rare public appearance’. To me, public appearance would mean some kind of performance or signing, at least wanting to be seen, not wearing sun glasses, a flat cap and a hoodie and minding your own business. Are they suggesting that since he had heart surgery eight years ago, he hasn’t left the house? I’m sure that isn’t the case; a man of David’s wealth is unlikely to spend all his time at home wearing a onesie and watching E4.
David Bowie should be applauded for stepping out of the limelight. He has achieved the dream that all of us earthlings have: earn enough money to last a life time, then retire and live off it. He occasionally turns up to do a one-off gig, such as that with Arcade Fire, or some backing vocals, but aside from that, he’s having a well-deserved rest.
Yet there are some people who want Bowie to reappear and deliver another album of pure gold. Every time a large-scale national event is coming up, rumours begin to circulate that Bowie will make a huge comeback and perform one of his classics, presumably in a catsuit and platform shoes while little people dressed as spacemen and goblins dance around him. The jubilee concert was a no-show. Did people expect to see Bowie performing alongside JLS and Cheryl Cole, or singing a duet with Ed Sheeran?
Next came the Olympics opening and a tribute to Bowie was performed, with dancers wearing Ziggy Stardust masks while some of his mashed up hits were played in the background. It was a bit odd that a tribute was performed for someone living, but it was nice for the UK to show off David to everyone watching abroad. Then a couple of weeks later in the closing ceremony, ‘Fashion’ started playing and my ears pricked up, only for Kate Moss to be towed into the stadium by a tractor.
It later emerged in the press that Bowie was, of course, asked to do it but turned it down. And rightly so. He’s a 65 year old man. Even true king of pop, George Michael, at a spritely 49 years old, looked depressingly old when he got on stage and did his funny little dance (although 7th best pop song ever ‘Freedom’ injected some 80’s piano joy into the proceedings).
David Bowie released a hugely important and influential back catalogue during his career and has one of the best Greatest Hits albums in pop and rock history but he thankfully retired from the scene before he destroyed his own legacy (despite a few blips towards the end). Nobody wanted to see a fat Elvis and it’s nice for someone in the music industry to be conscious of this.
As much as I love Debbie Harry and Blondie, when I saw her performing live, even though the music was great, it shattered the illusion of the saucy blonde minx who still pouts at me from my iPod. More obviously highlighting his need for retirement was Paul McCartney at the Olympics. Seeing him stumble through ‘Hey Jude’ was a terribly sad sight, yet he still turns up at any event to finish everyone off when they were already edging towards slumber. Finally, and perhaps most needing of a quiet life in New York eating sandwiches in silence, is dear old Brian May, always happy at any opportunity to pimp out the name Queen, whether it’s playing guest guitar on the singles of the youth of today (even Dappy!), selling Freddie Mercury’s soul in hologram form, or allowing absolutely anybody to turn a Queen classic into a slut anthem.
For those who demand new material from Bowie and want him to make non-lunch related ‘public appearances’, nobody in their right mind would try to work under that amount of pressure, and just think of what has been done to the legacies of Queen and the Beatles. Click that last link if you’re brave enough and you’ll see what I mean. I salute Bowie, he’s grown old, married a supermodel and retained dignity, and is now, I can only assume, living the life he wasted when he was taking all those nasty drugs at his prime. Finally, for those who think he is in ill health, see the picture below and compare him now to then, then try telling me he looks fragile now.