Tuesday, July 2, 2013

#1 Tomorrow's Fish and Chips Paper (Ten at Fifty)

"['Sugar Shack' is]  the worst excuse for itself rock and roll had yet produced."

 - Greil Marcus, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll

Ok, fifty years is a long time, and it was a long time ago. Consider first a top tune from the early sixties, "A Summer Place" by Percy Faith, the essence of 1001 Strings mainstream, then consider a Kookie B-side:

If someone in '63 considered that Kookie song kind of cool, then Jimmy Gilmer's relaxed delivery on this #1 song would be enough to render the not-very-rock band sound somewhat more interesting. (Interestingly, this song has the largest lexicon of the twenty at either end, including, somehow essentially, "girlie".) But then, that kind of Mancini-like arrangement

- was two years before, and, well, not four years later one of the touchstone sounds of that fecund rock era would come out with little fanfare and no chart action:

And so, I suppose, it's inevitable that this light song would be lost in the dust of the British Invasion, and little evidenced on modern playlists, as opposed to the Impressions' #10 entry, not to mention "Fingertips".

(Q:What is it that the #1 and #2 songs of '88 had in common? A:Mining well-worn riffs. "Need You Tonight" from INXS re-adapted Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" - itself an adaptation - and "Faith" was a George Michael Bo Diddley special. And imitation in both cases won big; a whole generation now 40-ish has these songs under their skin whether they like it or not.)

"And that was a little while ago [that Azealia Banks recorded a vocal over 'Harlem Shake'], and since all this video stuff happened, our plans all changed. Because of that, we decided to just release the song on its own with no vocal version. So we told her, 'Please don't release your version.' And she said, 'Well, I'm going to put it online anyway.' And we said, 'Please don't. We'd really like it if you didn't.' And she did."

 - Baauer, explaining a dustup over the "Banks Project"

How on earth did this get going? A few electronic "wup-wups" which could have been sampled from Grandmaster Flash or Liberace, a world-engulfing belch, over and over, and you suddenly have something that Wikipedia splits into "meme" and "song" entries. And this song wins hands down the award for both fewest lyrics (I puzzled over the "los terroristas" gender mismatch a little while, then let it go) and smallest lexicon among both the '63 and '13 top ten songs.

The vague quirkiness of the #2 song is here absent, you will wait in vain for something unexpected or unusual. And yet, and yet, it's got a thousand, no, way over a thousand, YouTube videos, gangsta, animals, parodies, foreign culture, children:

Is it likely that something that spread this far could be, in a few years, and in the words from the Elvis Costello song which inspired this installment's title, "yesterday's news"?

(Next week: a desultory statistical analysis of the two top tens at either end of the fifty years.)

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