Songs About Dancing

When I’m able, I like to watch the UK Top 40 on Monday nights – you know, to keep up with what those crazy kids are listening to these days. If I consider each song on its own, I’m pretty much ok with chart music right now. No one song is so bad that I really hate it*, some are even catchy as hell.

On the other hand, I look at the chart as a whole and I’m all, ‘Wha’ happen?!’ Since when is a single sound represented in the charts? And I mean that almost literally: during a recent countdown, I counted about 6 songs out of 40 that did not use the same clubby dance beat. And on top of that, the beat kind of makes them all sing the same – to the point where choruses actually do all sound the same, note-wise. And what’s weird is that it’s almost as if artists are now afraid not to sound exactly like everyone else, if recent tracks by Snoop Dogg (ahem) and Flo Rida are anything to go by. I know that chart music is not always the most diverse, and every old fart like myself says it was better in their day, but seriously – this is out of hand. It’s like unique-ness is now a flaw in an artist, no longer their potential selling point.

While thinking about all this important stuff, I’ve also noticed something else weird (and same-y) about chart songs right now: they’re all about partying, getting wasted, dancing all night, having the night of our lives. Last Friday Night, Party Rock Anthem, On The Floor, Don’t Stop The Party. There are few artists that even pretend they’re offering any substance right now. Tracy Chapman, Aloe Blacc, and even Adele feel very out of place when you watch along on MTV. Doesn’t anyone have an opinion about anything anymore? Don’t these artists think about stuff? I really wish the youth of today had something to say that wasn’t about partying but – based on the charts, at least – I’m really not sure they do. Which is pretty much the most depressing thing ever.

But, if you think back a-ways, this isn’t actually new, it’s just a little worse than before. Here’s a weird little thought that’s been floating around in my head for years: there were a lot of songs about dancing in the 80s. Seriously, a lot – everybody just dancing all the time.

Lionel was dancing on the ceiling:

while Bruce danced in the dark:

and Billy danced with himself** :

Whitney wanted to dance with somebody who loved her:

but David was inviting us all to just dance already:

And, of course, Madonna was into the groove, Michael Sembello told us the story of the maniac on the floor, Kenny Loggins got footloose … the list goes on. Maybe we just always loved dancing and always will. Maybe, just maybe, there’s still some hope for those kids out there right now.

After all, we all turned out ok, right?

David Byrne – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover)

* Other than that godawful Snoop Dogg song that’s popular right now. It’s so crap I can’t even be bothered to check the title. Please stop playing it. Seriously. Please stop.

** And some zombies, apparently. What the hell is going on in this video?!

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Poptastic Day: Mama-se, Mama-sa, Mama-makossa

Soul Makossa

Do you ever look something up online and take so many strange turns that you end up reading up on a topic that has nothing even remotely to do with the original search? Me, ALL the time – it’s like wiki-ADD. The other day I started off wanting to know why Pluto (the dwarf planet, not the Disney dog) was demoted only three years ago.* Somehow, and I can’t for the life of me remember how, I’ve become an expert on where the phrase ‘mama-se, mama-sa, mama-makossa’ comes from. True story! Well, I say “expert”, I mean I now know as much as the person who wrote the Wikipedia entry.

You may have heard the phrase around the playground, it’s been used by a plethora of artists as varied as the Blood Hound Gang and Rihanna. I first heard it in Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” and have been trying to get it out of my head since that first listen years and years ago. I found out that Makossa is a musical style popular in West and Central Africa in which traditional African music is mixed with Jazz, Highlife and Soul. Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango popularized the sound with his hit, “Soul Makossa”, now known as a forerunner of disco.

The single was originally a B-side and released in 1972. David Mancuso, the New York based, self-proclaimed “musical host” used to spin records in his building at the very first, underground dance parties, known as The Loft. To this day, he refuses to call himself a DJ, but he is slowly being recognized as a major influence in the history of the DJ. Anyhoo, he got a hold of a copy and started playing it regularly at these underground, Loft parties. The song became high in demand but there were only a handful of copies, so it was sold out in a jiffy. The smart people at Atlantic licensed it and reproduced it en masse, but not before a couple dozen other bands had covered and released the song, trying to hitch a ride on its popular coattails. Moreover, artists have been using “mama-se, mama-sa” in some form or another ever since, and continue to do so.

The original Manu Dibango song is ridiculously catchy and so freakin’ funky it’s gonna makes you want to cut a rug, heck make that twelve rugs. It doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to see why this song is known as a prime example of proto-disco.

Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa

Here are some songs that perpetuate the popularity of the phrase:

Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
A Tribe Called Quest – Rhythm (Devoted To The Art Of Moving Butts)

*In the unlikely event anyone was reading this hoping for an answer to the Pluto question: it wasn’t till 2006 that the term “planet” was first truly defined by the International Astronomical Union. Pluto only covers two out of three criteria that make a planet a planet and ever since it gets bullied by the other 8 proper planets. Poor, tiny Pluto.

Poptastic Day: Chess, “One Night In Bangkok”

Chess

A few weeks ago I posted a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. Listening to the original “Let’s Dance” put me in mind of another song from around the same time. If you remember “One Night In Bangkok” from the glitzy and gauche mid-80s, then you’re showing your age. I remember it. I loved it then and I love it now.

Written by Bj√∂rn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson (yes, both from ABBA), and Tim Rice (of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita fame), “One Night In Bangkok” was a hands down global hit, reaching the Top 5 in a number of countries, #1 on the Eurochart Hot 100 Singles, #12 on the U.K. Singles Chart, and #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. This is special considering it was a track from the concept album for an upcoming musical.

Never heard it before? Have a listen. Remember it? Get reacquainted. Beware, the opening lasts until 1:47 before Murray Head bursts into the song proper. (Cut it some slack. It’s from a musical.)

Murray Head – One Night In Bangkok (Single Version)

“Siam’s gonna be the witness to the ultimate test of cerebral fitness.”

Yeah, baby!

Poptastic Day: How To Stuff A Wild Bikini

How To Stuff A Wild Bikini

In the 1960s a string of romantic comedy musicals came out known as the Beach Party films. They’re aimed at teens (yeah, it’s teen week at 100b) and starred Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. Frankie and Dee Dee’s (Annette) adventures were so popular they made seven of these movies! The plot never really changes and, come to think of it, neither do a lot of the characters, but why mess with a winning formula? Recently, I watched the sixth movie in the series called How To Stuff A Wild Bikini. It’s so bizarre I cannot believe somebody dished out the money to make this movie, but I’m glad they did. There’s a cameo by Samantha from Bewitched and they even managed to convince Mickey Rooney and Buster Keaton to join the cast. The songs in the movies define poptastic. They took all the popular genres at the time put em in a big hat, added a pinch of California surf and voila!

I think they must have gotten sick of each other, because Frankie and Annette hardly share any screen time in this movie. Frankie is on naval reserve duty in Tahiti and faithful little Dee is back home waiting for her man. Frankie is frolicking around with the local girls, which makes him wonder whether Dee Dee is staying true to him. The only logical thing to do is seek out a witch doctor (played by Buster Keaton), and have him send a bikini-clad siren to steer off Dee Dee’s potential suitors, while spying on her through a cauldron or something, I dunno – that’s where they lost me.

The witch doctor character is so offensive it’s funny. His accent is incredibly cringeworthy, but at one point he actually says “white man make heap good fire water” … it was a joke, but still … it wasn’t good. I love it when they take fake walks on the fake beach by fake moonlight, but my favorite part has to be the invisible girl in the bikini scene that prompted the title song. Again, it’s a bit offensive to women, but once you get over the ‘times sure have changed’-aspect it’s just a very, very silly, but oh so entertaining movie. So if you get the chance, do check ’em out, they’re so bad they passed good and moved way up to fricking genius.

Poptastic Day: Bill Conti, “Going The Distance”

The Biscuit

A song can enter The Poptastic Zone when it’s referenced in other popular media, such as television shows. The Bean and I were rewatching the second season of Ally McBeal and I finally had to pause the Biscuit to listen to the full version of the bells he hears when he’s pumping himself up for some serious legal shenanigans.

Tamboosh has already posted the Rocky theme. But, as many Ally McBeal fans will know, those bells actor Peter MacNichol hears are from (the possibly more poptastic) “Going The Distance” – the Bill Conti score for the battle between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the original movie. A song of heavy drama unfairly shackled by corny 80s sequels.

But, poptastic or not, I still get goose bumps at the combination of horns, strings, and drums. If it’s good enough to inspire the Biscuit, then it’s good enough for me. Awesome!

Bill Conti – Going The Distance

Poptastic Day: Big Country, “Fields Of Fire”

Big Country

Sometimes I forget I really love Big Country, like I forget I really used to love to play hide ‘n seek. But once I’m reminded of the fun times I used to have trying to find the very bestest hiding place (I was an awesome hider, but I hated the ‘seek’ part of the game), all those fond memories start flooding back. I hadn’t thought about Big Country in years and years, but then I got the magical “Fields Of Fire” in my head the other day.

Big Country were a Scottish band whose roots are a big part of their unique sound. They got together in the early eighties and only just cracked the UK Top Ten with their second single “Fields Of Fire” in 1984. It’s so uplifting and fun and the lyrics are full of hope, I think. I decided that the song is about the journey from one point to the other; whether it be literal distances traveled or metaphorical journeys in life, but to be honest I’m not sure. Who cares? The band with its pounding drums, bag pipes, and fiddles sweep me up into such a frenzy that I don’t even care what it’s about anymore. Other bigger hits followed, like “Wonderland” and “In A Big Country” – both great songs, but I think this is the true poptastic classic.

Big Country – Fields Of Fire

Poptastic Day: G. Love & Special Sauce, Yeah, It’s That Easy

G. Love & Special Sauce

I bought Yeah, It’s That Easy simply based on the name of the band and the cover of the CD. I was walking through Amsterdam Central Station in 1997 on my way to a party and ducked into a small branch of a CD chain store in the station. The cover artwork caught my eye. I remember thinking to myself, “With a name like that and a funky cover, this has to be good.” It was one of those risky buys that either tanks completely or succeeds wildly. This isn’t my normal CD purchasing method. I like to hear a few singles off an album or give it a listen before spending my hard-earned duckets on it. So, it was seriously out-of-character for me to plunk down the cash for Yeah, It’s That Easy.

And, brothers and sisers, I didn’t regret it. The album quickly became one of my favorites and still is. Giving it another listen before putting together this post, I realize just how much fun G. Love & Special Sauce can be. It’s a perfect blend of hip-hop, blues, and cheesy goodness. Have a listen. I’m sure you’ll agree.

G. Love & Special Sauce – I-76