“I was driving through the Netherlands a couple of weeks ago…”
Tom: I was driving through the Netherlands a couple of weeks ago, and discovered a radio station that appears to play entirely homegrown Dutch pop music. It sounds exactly like you’d hope.
Tom: Wailing electric guitars. Synth-brass stabs. Lyrics that are, almost entirely, “you’re the woman for me”. Here’s a challenge for you, Tim: guess the year this was released.
Tim: See, this is tricky here, because I’m well aware you want me to say early ’80s or something, because surely no-one would record a song sounding like this right now, but to be honest, given the many years we’ve been doing this site (and particularly with this being around about Eurovision selection season), and given the thousands of songs we’ve listened to, you could say anything from 1950 to 2019 and I’d be “yep, okay”. But go on, tell me.
Tom: Part of me knew you were going to deconstruct that. To be fair, I’d have done exactly the same. Anyway, 2017, and it turns out that there’s a lot of Dutch tracks like this. Have a listen to that radio station for a while.
“If fire and sparks are the best way to announce a key change, then a sudden explosion of lasers is surely number two.”
Tim: Last week we looked back at a pretty good Eurovision track; today, we’ll celebrate a duff Eurovision year by looking back at an astoundingly good one.
Tim: For the song itself, there’s not a lot to say. It is, obviously, outstanding, and there genuinely isn’t a moment in there I want to criticise – for me, it’s the perfect song to see on a Eurovision stage.
Tom: I, as ever, am slightly more hesitant: there are a couple of questionable notes in that first verse. And honestly, if a song could be improved by coming in on the first chorus — and this could — then they’ve stuffed up the introduction completely.
Tim: Oh, I strongly disagree – that intro is exactly what it needs to be.
Tom: That said, completely agree with you, everything after the first chorus is gold.
Tim: Let’s look at that stage, then, and the other production elements, as there’s so much to take apart. Firstly, that’s a hell of a good camera effect to pull off live, and it took me a while to work out exactly how they might be doing it. Second, the backing singers! Why have them all on stage from the start when you can introduce them two at a time, give them the respect they deserve? The two guys in suits look a little odd, but never mind them. And finally, the key change. If fire and sparks are the best way to announce a key change, then a sudden explosion of lasers is surely number two. That’s the moment, right there, when I thought, “YES, this song is a winner.”
Tom: Which might have been true in 1999, the last time she won: there was an equally brutal key change there. You might think that’s a winner, but…
Tim: But Europe didn’t agree, sadly – ended up coming just 18th, after graduating from its semi only thanks to the jury wildcard, but we’ve said before that democracy is a failed experiment. Truly, a Eurovision great.
Tom: We can both remember it, years later: that’s probably the strongest argument for it as a song.
Tim: Fun Eurovision 2008 anecdote, while we’re here: I co-hosted a student radio show on the Friday where we played through all the tracks and discussed them briefly; turned out we misjudged the timing a bit and ended up playing Turkey and Ukraine simultaneously. Won’t lie to you: still sounded better than some of the other tracks.
Tim: In normal years we’d still have a Reject here today; since we’ve got through all the decent ones, though, let’s have this, a Eurovision track from 2014 that I’m properly surprised we’ve never featured it. It was Latvia’s entry, and despite that being the year you and I went, we never got to see it as it failed to qualify. Nevertheless, I love it.
Tom: And I remember it! Which by my standards is practically the same thing.
Tim: It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, it knows it, and it’s having a lot of fun. Take a look at the violinist: she knows there’s nothing being heard from it, so halfway through she just gives up on it; she’s not alone, and the fact that the only one still going at the end is the one with the silly shaker thing (there’s probably a proper word for that, it’s not important) says basically everything we need to know.
Tom: Is it a novelty song, or is it a genuine attempt at making a pop song? Who knows. It’s catchy, at least, and… hmm. I’m not sure “wholesome” is the right word, but also “banal” sounds too harsh.
Tim: Way too harsh. The lyrics are fun, even if they don’t quite cross the bar into funny, and the music is, well, probably exactly the genre you need if you’re going to ask your mum for help baking.
Tom: I’m not convinced that recipe’s thorough enough, though.
Tim: Good point – and now you mention it, and much as I normally hate a rapping breakdown, I’d be interested to have someone jump in with an actual recipe, which could well push it up to the next level of excellent. Or ruin it, who knows.
Upsettingly, the best part isn’t in here, or in the proper video, but only in the studio version: the second guy jumping in occasionally with the ‘piece of cake’ only happens once, he’s far more gruff and it comes out of absolutely nowhere. It’s still good here, but it doesn’t have quite the same East End gangster vibe to it. Ah, well. Either way, fabulous song. Should have won.
“It’s got an interesting history to it, purely in terms of its musical DNA.”
Tim: For no reason at all other than I heard it the other day for the first time in years and was reminded how brilliant it is, this underappreciated 2003 number.
Tom: I… huh. Underappreciated is right, because I can’t work out if I’ve ever heard this exact version, or whether I just know that melody from… where did it come from?
Tim: It’s got an interesting history to it, purely in terms of its musical DNA. Technically it’s a cover of the 1969 song Daydream by the Belgian band Wallace Collection, though it shares much more in common with the 1970 cover of it by the German group Günter Kallmann Choir. The genre in the verse is very different, but the underlying instruments are the same, and I’ve a feeling the chorus is a direct sample. All that’s kind of null and void, though, given that a fair amount of the melody originally came from multiple pieces by, erm, Tchaikovsky.
Tom: This is why I’m in favour of shorter copyright terms. I would love to see what could happen if this amount of creativity was just allowed, without fear of lawsuits or licensing agreements.
“The sort of thing that’d get someone’s attention as they’re scanning through an FM radio dial.”
Tom: Peak 1994 “Latin-influenced adult contemporary American pop” here. As in, this was designed for the CD collections of soccer moms across the United States.
Tim: Hmm, okay.
Tom: Good enough, really, isn’t it?
Tim: Yep, and certainly very 1994 pop – I’m filing that alphabetically right ahead of Lighthouse Family and M People.
Tom: Catchy chorus, the sort of thing that’d get someone’s attention as they’re scanning through an FM radio dial. Key change, of course, to push it past four minutes. I never heard this before last week, and somehow it still makes me feel a bit nostalgic.
Tim: Well, it’s the sound – entirely typical. Good, mind, but typical.
Tom: Also, well done to the director at the end, who just told the extras “bounce up and down on your seats a bit, it’ll look like the bus is moving, honest”.
“You’re singing along even though you’ve never heard it before.”
Tom: There’s not much to write about in early January, is there? Bieber’s latest sounds like a parody, a mumbling baby-talk mess. I can’t even think of an appropriate Saturday Flashback. But you know what? Yesterday we talked about Euro-not-quite-country: this time we’re talking going FULL GERMAN FAUXMERICAN BLUEGRASS. Eurovision. 2006. Fourteen years ago.
Tom: They’d finished in last place the year before. This managed 14th.
Tim: And yep, that feels entirely an appropriate place for this to end up. It is nice, though – the sort of song where somehow you’re singing along to the first line of the first chorus, even though you’ve never ever heard it before.
Tom: At least the guy with the double bass seemed like he was having fun.
Tim: Oh, I think they all do, really – and quite right too.
Tim: I know it’s not Christmassy, but there’s something that needs clearing up. On Wednesday you made a claim that the Johnny Cash version of this song is “now the definitive version of the song”, to which my only response is: are you on glue?
Tom: Harsh. Admittedly that’s arguably much more true for “Hurt” than it is for “One” — because Nine Inch Nails were never what you could call a truly mainstream act, and Trent Renzor literally said “that song isn’t mine any more”. But I don’t think it’s a statement than can be dismissed automatically.
Tim: Even if you want to claim that it’s more notable than U2’s original version (which is laughable enough in itself), had you forgotten this?
Tim: Now, if you’ve recently developed a love for country music without telling me, that’s fine, you’re allowed to prefer an album track off a covers album.
Tom: Hold on hold on hold on. We’re both coming at this from very different angles. American III isn’t just “a covers album”, it’s one of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series.
Tim: Hmm, maybe fair – but firstly, it still wasn’t released as a single, unlike a few others, and secondly (and more relevantly): you’re letting your emotions in here. Sure, it’s important to you, but please, don’t try to claim that it’s more notable or more definitive than either the original or this, which truly is an incredible collaboration. Figures alone show that much: this charted higher around the world (in the UK, for example, it was kept off the top spot only by Crazy by Gnarls Barkley), sold better, got a standing ovation when it was initially performed at U2’s New York gig. But you don’t need figures to show why it’s the case: it keeps Bono’s great initial vocals and adds on Mary J. Blige’s outstanding ones, with a phenomenal level of emotion. They work together and sound flawless.
Tom: I have, as far as I can recall, never heard this version of One. Ever. That is, no doubt, just as surprising to you as your dismissal of American IV is to me. And because I’m used to the other versions, I just don’t agree with you. I agree that the vocals are brilliant, but I think this is too… well, it’s too “pop music”, everything’s turned up too much, you’ve got that godawful thing where a studio single tries to sound like a live performance, with bits of what should be on-stage improv baked into the track.
Like Adam Lambert’s cover of Believe, U2’s “One” is an excellent track to perform on stage. Cash’s version is a better studio single.
Tim: Hmm, I’m still really not persuaded. But again, check the figures: if we’ve a definitive version of a song, it’s the one most people, if not everybody, thinks of when they think of the song. And hell, I’m not arguing that about this one. I’m just saying it absolutely isn’t Johnny Cash’s one. There’s just no competition. None at all.
Tom: So I did go and check the figures, and you’re right there: the order, in terms of Spotify’s slightly-rickety popularity ranking, goes U2’s original, then Cash, then this version. So, yes, I’ll grant you: Cash’s “One” is not the definitive version. But I don’t think U2’s is either.
Tom: We never talked about it here, but I do remember us both being grumpy that they’d just gone a crap version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Not just the chord progression, but the melody and everything.
Tim: I was further annoyed because, although the studio version was complete and total garbage, the staging around it made it not quite so bad.
Tom: And then I was even more annoyed, because the bloody song got stuck in my head, because of course it did, it’s Canon in D.
Tom: No, really, that’s all I’ve got, I just stumbled across it and it’s been stuck in my head for a couple of days now.
Tim: Nothing wrong with that, it’s a pretty good track. And incidentally, I’ve just looked at their Wikipedia page, and found the most outstanding sentence: “In June 2011, one of the Karlstad transit buses was named after the group.” And what greater an honour can there be than that?