Saturday Flashback: Eric Saade – Sting

“What an odd choice of brass samples!”

Tim: Couple of weeks back, Britain’s best club night did a virtual party over Zoom as it obviously couldn’t happen in person – about a hundred people connected, seven hours of a DJ playing music with frequent cuts to people dancing in their rooms with ridiculous outfits, flags, lights, all sorts. Whole lot of fun, with this being one song that was played that I was surprised to have no memory of whatsoever.

Tom: What an odd choice of brass samples! Flagged up in the performance video, just about audible from time to time, but never actually brought to the forefront. Even in the middle eight, they’re relying on a vocal sample and dance moves. It’s like they wanted to aim for Sunstroke Project but couldn’t bring themselves to commit.

Tim: Ah, a beautiful reference there. I’m not sure why we didn’t feature it in our Rejects that year either – perhaps 2015 was a very strong year, but in any case it’s here now, so finally we have justice. Because what a good song it is!

Tom: It is, but I can most likely destroy your enjoyment of it with one word.

Tim: Ooh, that’s a claim and a half.

Tom: Do name the good things first, though.

Tim: From the moment he starts singing there’s plenty of energy there, a lovely melody into and throughout the chorus (and who doesn’t love a good “screw you” in the lyrics?) with a nice brassy breakdown every now and again. Although, speaking of the lyrics, it’s never actually specified what the ‘it’ is that’s going to sting, nor who it’s going to sting. I’ve been looking at the lyrics for a while now and I really can’t work it out, which is slightly annoying, but, oh well. Music’s good enough for me. Wasn’t for him, mind, as of course Måns won instead, but at least he got straight to the final, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Anyway, what’s that word?

Tom: “Stink.”

Tim: Hmm…nice try, but no. Still fine with it. Sorry.

Saturday Flashback: Tone Damli – Hurts Sometimes

“Full marks to the staging team, they absolutely nailed that.”

Tim: I said on Thursday we hadn’t featured Tone for ages; that’s largely because she’s been fairly quiet recently. Having said that, though, she did have this one for Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix this year, which somehow I didn’t see. Take a listen, I’ll think you’ll like it.

Tim: And isn’t that just a wonderful reveal? For the first few seconds I’m thinking “that staging’s weird, but okay I guess” but then I forgot about it and paid attention to the song, and then the chorus starts and oh, that’s a cheap way of doing it but right there you’ve got two for the price of one on shivers moments.

Tom: I was half-expecting them to have built the circular window to split in two, so the steadicam shot could continue ‘through’ it — but that shouldn’t take away from it, full marks to the staging team, they absolutely nailed that.

Tim: Didn’t they just? And then there’s something similar later on, so STOP NOW if you’re reading ahead, you’ll see it when it comes.

And there it is! A key change which I entirely didn’t see coming (and if you’ve read this far before it’s happened and have thus had it spoiled you’ve only yourself to blame), and some sparks flying out as well. Again, hardly a novel concept, but still lovely to watch and hear. As for why it didn’t win…hard to say.

Tom: I think it’s that the verses are, frankly, a bit dull. Now, you might argue that they have to be in order for that build and chorus to work — but I think you’d have lost everyone on that second verse.

Tim: I don’t know, you say that, but the eventual winner was in a similar style, though with even more of a contrast in volume between verses and chorus. Arguably this isn’t a Eurovision winner in any case – but it’s a lovely track all the same.

Saturday Flashback: McFly – Mr Brightside

“Interesting alternate-universe version, isn’t it?”

Tom: This is one of the bravest covers I’ve ever heard: but if anyone can pull it off, it’s the band that managed a decent shot at covering Don’t Stop Me Now.

Tim: Yep, I’m listening.

Tom: Important context: this was in 2005, when Mr Brightside was only about a year or so old, and before it had truly settled into the pantheon of Songs Everyone Knows. Plus, this was just the B-side of a single, back when singles had B-sides. So while this isn’t quite as bold a move as it seems, it’s still going to be an interesting listen for anyone who knows every note of the original.

Tom: Interesting alternate-universe version, isn’t it?

Tim: Yeah – it sounds…weird. I don’t to say ‘wrong’, because I guess it isn’t, but definitely weird, although that’s likely just due to over-familiarity with the original.

Tom: The only thing that I think falls down here are the vocals. Not because they’re bad — but because they’re McFly, and those voices and accents are suited more for their regular style. “It was only a kiss” just doesn’t sound right: it’s not a patch on the melodramatic original, it’s just sounds a bit like someone’s recounting a night out to their mates down the pub.

Tim: Hmm. I think the could perhaps work if the original hadn’t been heard and hadn’t been such a big hit, because it can work like this, even with that feeling to it. It’s just, like you said, it’s not a patch on the melodrama that the Killers give it.

Saturday Flashback: Euroband – Fullkomið Líf

“I just got to that high-pitched bit in the middle eight and it completely distracted me”

Tim: So, here’s a fun thing I discovered when coming up with suggestion for the new work Pride-themed playlist – was looking at This Is My Life, stone cold banger from Eurovision 2008, and turns out: there’s an Icelandic version as well! It was performed at their national selection, and…it’s different.

Tom: Solid “2000s daytime TV game show” vibes from that introduction, there. Actually, from the instrumentation through most of it. You’re right that it’s different, though.

Tim: Isn’t it just? It’s not just the instruments, and basically genre change, though – the lyrics are something very different. If you want to go back and hear the English version for yourself I won’t blame you, but the lyrics are, basically, I AM GAY LIVE WITH IT. Yes, there are other interpretations, but put it up at Eurovision with that backing, those outfits and the lines like “I spent my days in vain just waiting / for happiness to come my way” and “There’s no denying all the heartaches”, followed by “I opened my eyes, finally I realised” and then the massive THIS IS MY LIFE I DON’T WANT TO CHANGE A THING, and you might as well put out a parade of rainbow flags on stage.

Tom: I suspect, from the way you’re leading into this, that this isn’t quite– sorry, I just got to that high-pitched bit in the middle eight and it completely distracted me — the Icelandic one isn’t the same?

Tim: No – in fact, it’s almost entirely different: the title translates to Perfect Life, and the lyrics are not really alike at all. They’re singing to a person, chatting about how a perfect life will arrive once they’re here, and it’s really just a basic love song. And that makes me wonder what the plan was: was it originally written as a big gay anthem before being toned down for a domestic audience to vote for, or written like this and then beefed up for Europe? Either way, though, I know which version I’m sticking with.

Saturday Flashback: A*Teens – Halfway Round The World

“Oh, that is clever. Well done, director.”

Tim: The second original track from the greatest ABBA tribute act, following on from Upside Down.

Tom: Overextending the brand quite a bit there, but good luck to them.

Tim: Hey, they got four albums in all, and even the last went top five. The song isn’t quite as brilliant as Upside Down, but the video contains one of the greatest moments in music video history (and I’m not talking about when Amit runs round the back of the camera).

Tom: Oh, that is clever. Well done, director.

Tim: You wonder for a few seconds why they’re standing so woodenly – hell, the guys have got their hands in their pockets – but then it all makes sense! The screen falls forward, they break out in the full on dance routine that, in hindsight, you realise should have been there the whole time but obviously couldn’t have been, and now you want to start again and dance along, because what a routine that is. And let’s not forget: that’s a great song, and it still very much holds up to this day.

Tom: That may well be because the backing is an endless loop of the riff from Can You Feel It — but to be fair, that is a full-on, A+ pop song over the top of it.

Tim: I know the answer to this question but I want to ask it anyway: why don’t we have pop music like this any more Tom, why?

Tom: Because it doesn’t sell.

Tim: Ugh.

Saturday Flashback: Alphaville – Forever Young (Special Dance Mix)

“Big drum beat! More trumpets! Intermittent vocal bits going going ‘ah, ah, ah, ah’!”

Tim: Here’s a fun thing I found while looking up versions of this song when we chatted about the Boy In Space version: the B-side of the original release, which somehow I’d never heard before.

Tom: I didn’t even know this existed! Okay, then. How did they remix this back in 1984?

Tom: Well, that sounds a bit like Pet Shop Boys only ten years earlier, doesn’t it? There’s no actual remix producer credited, so presumably this was the same team as the main single, just moving things about and banging on a couple of extra tracks.

Tim: Big drum beat! More trumpets! Intermittent vocal bits going going ‘ah, ah, ah, ah’!

Tom: I am surprised this sounds as good as it does.

Tim: Most important for us, though, an answer to your observation about it not being a song you’d expect to become so popular, what with lyrics about fading horses and suchlike. It’s not until I heard this, with the vocal bits and the excessive trumpeting, that I realised quite how much it’s based on Pachelbel’s Canon, and suddenly I can’t unhear it.

I’d love to know what it is about that piece of music, what quality it has, that makes it quite so pervasive in pop – you’ve got obvious ones like All Together Now, Go West and C U When U Get There, but then you dig further and it’s in Let It Be, Don’t Look Back In Anger, Sk8er Boi. There’s With Or Without You, Basket Case and hell, even Welcome To The Black Parade. I’ve no idea how many of those were deliberate – it’s entirely entirely possible they were subconsciously inspired or even complete coincidences (though Pete Waterman’s on record saying I Should Be So Lucky is partly based on it), but it’s interesting how one eight note theme can become the basis of so many hit singles.

Tom: If you haven’t seen Rob Paravonian’s piece on this, I suspect you should.

Tim: I hadn’t seen it, no, so thanks for that. And whether or not this is the reason they become big I’ve no idea – ups the chances a bit, I’d guess – but either way, I love music for stuff like this.

Saturday Flashback: Undercover – Baker Street

“Would you like an unnecessary 90s piano-dance cover version?”

Tom: Would you like an unnecessary 90s piano-dance cover version?

Tim: Umm…not really?

Tom: Well, tough, you’re getting one.

Tom: There are two reasons I send this to you: first, just as a weird cultural artifact. Baker Street’s been covered a lot of times, but this one managed to reach the top 10 all over Europe despite being… well, let’s be honest, a bit anemic.

Tim: Yeah – even describing it as ‘piano-dance’ is, well, technically correct, but it’s not exactly GET ON THE DANCEFLOOR stuff, is it?

Tom: It’s a reasonable middle-of-the-road piano-dance track, but it’s not exactly a barnstormer. This is what Undercover did: all their singles were perfectly acceptable cover versions.

Tim: Hmm, fair enough, I guess. 

Tom: But the second reason I’m sending this is: I never realised that Baker Street, despite being written in the seventies, follows modern pop conventions. You’ve got a verse, a vocal pre-chorus, and then an instrumental hook as the actual chorus. Non-standard for the time, sure, but now… well, who knows, perhaps Alan Walker will sample Baker Street soon. We’re about due.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah, that could be fun. 

Saturday Flashback: Timo Martin – Met Stip Op Nummer 1

“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.

Tim: Sure, I’ll give it a go.

Saturday Flashback: Charlotte Perrelli – Hero

“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.

Saturday Flashback: Aarzemnieki – Cake To Bake

“I’m properly surprised we’ve never featured it.”

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.