ah, shit; here we are. So, not every song that gets stuck in your head is a pleasant experience; a reminder of halcyon, nostalgic days of summer. This tune is proof positive of that. It is my single most hated song of all time, head and shoulders above everything else I’ve ever heard. And consequently it has had long stretches of time lodged resolutely in my head; playing over and over and over. “Don’t d d don’t don’t stop the beat and GO!!!”
So why am I subjecting myself to the enforced horror of deliberately listening to this tune ten times in a row? To exorcise this particular demon once and for all? Perhaps (I fucking hope so, anyway). But there is another reason. Because tunes like this are the integral flip side of the coin to the glorious examples of life-affirming pop discussed below. You need pop songs that you despise, that you abhor, to set in relief – to act as ballast – to those tunes that mean the world to you, that you love.
Well, the one saving grace of this tune is that it is a lot shorter than I remember it being. So this shouldn’t take too long. So why do I hate this song so much? I have told a few people that this is my least favourite song of all time, and they often reply with surprise. A number of people actually like it. Most see it as a fairly innocuous one-hit wonder; it burned unnaturally, incessantly, bright for the briefest of moments in the nadir of the early-noughties, then sunk without trace. To hate it requires remembering it; which is a proactive act for a song that is now never a part of the everyday. You have to go out of your way to find this song, you can’t just stumble across it. So why do I?
Well, and this is not the songs fault at all, but this song once accompanied me – relentlessly and without mercy – for a six hour wait (from 6am until midday) in Victoria train station, and from the hours of 8pm until midnight on the same day in Victoria coach station. The coals of these extended stays in two of London’s less-than-salubrious locations are best left un-raked; sufficed to say, it was a particularly despondent day. And both Junior and Senior accompanied me all the way through it. I had no money, no music, no book, nothing. Just Junior and Senior – refusing to let the beat stop, even for a moment.
Specifics. What is it specifically that irks me so much. I always thought this so was called ‘don’t stop the beat’, which seems like either such an inane or desperate plea. Don’t stop the beat. Like if you have to think for a moment, without the succour of a pounding, relentless ‘beat’, you might have to take a long hard look at yourself. Maybe that’s just me.
Second. I hate dancing. In all its many guises. So a song that suggest unity between people can only be achieved through dancing (“would just moving my feet alone be enough to include me in your tribe, Junior, or do I have to dance as well?”) is anathema to me (There’s another song – actually, on reflection, I probably dislike (though in a more dispassionate way) more than this one, which has this same sentiment behind it; but one day I’ll write about that on its own).
Man, these plays are going quick.
2.32. That’s when it happens. The single moment of confirmation that I despise this song. “Senior” bellows ‘GO’ with such vim and vigour that his voice is slightly distorted. It has an intangible repugnance about it for some reason. I don’t know why. But that is the punctum (see below) for me in this song. The punctum of hate!
As for the rest of the tune, I think it is just that it’s so deliberately ‘catchy’. Alright, I’m going to be honest with myself for one single moment. I actually really like the music in this song. It’s really good. It’s incredible. The sounds are just so euphoric. Fuck. Maybe I like this song after all? I can’t actually tell now.
But the vocals. I definitely don’t like the vocals. They have that sort of Strokes/ The Hives style of singing (Junior/Senior were Scandinavian as well, weren’t they. I can’t bear to look up their Wikipedia page). I suppose that ‘garage rock’ revival is probably, in the cyclical trend of pop music, about as far away from fashionable as it can get (i.e. around 7-10 years ago). Give it another five or so, and it’ll be nostalgically popular again.
No, there’s one other line in this song that I hate: “put p-p-put my record on/ and all of your troubles are dead and gone”. And as soon as I hear that song, I am transported back to 11pm on a dreary night in 2003, sitting in Victoria coach station, watching a pigeon with a mangled stump where its left claw should be, hobbling towards me, not even feigning fear as I kick a lacklustre foot out towards him to shoo him away. “There isn’t even any food here, you little fucker” I feel like shouting at him, but strangely, the coach station is packed with its usual assortment of weary denizens, and the last thing this unique congregation of late-night travellers needs is another crazy person shouting at the birds. “All your troubles are dead and gone”.
“No they fucking well aren’t, Senior, me old mucker. No they fucking well aren’t! I have an eight-and-a-half hour National Express trip up to Newcastle (calling at every arse-hole provincial town on the way) to get through yet. It looks like the coach is going to be full. There’s an African woman barging to the front of the queue. She has a toddler with her, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, she seems to be refusing to allow him to go to sleep on top of her suitcase, instead opting for an irrational cocktail of three parts shouting at him, one part slapping his hand, and one part cramming biscuits into his mouth. All of my troubles are far from dead and gone, and your record is playing ad infinitum inside my head, “Senior”. There is an Indian family behind me who seem to be carrying all their copious worldly goods in a series of plastic woven luggage bags with a red-and-blue tartan design and gaffer-taped cardboard boxes, each larger and heavier than the last. If there is one thing coach drivers hate (aside from driving coaches and “foreigns”) it is people who try and put more that their allotted amount of luggage on the coach. My troubles? My troubles, Senior. You don’t have a clue!”
To the video now. There’s not really that much to say about it, is there? It has a squirrel in. The graphics – deliberately ‘low-fi’ – remind me a bit of a couple of computer games we used to play; particularly ‘Parasol Stars’ (the music for which, as I recall was incredible), ‘Lemmings’, of course (the music for which was even better. In fact I once recorded the music to Lemmings onto a cassette, so me and my brother could play football whilst listening to it!). It mostly reminds me of Cruis’n USA; a shit-even-for-its-time racing game for the N64, that I spent a quite bizarre amount of time watching my brother play.
There’s a little bit at the end with the squirrel spinning out of control in a TIE fighter. For no reason.
Yeah, I really am starting to tire of this song now, despite its brevity. Actually, the bass line, and the synth trumpets are still chirpy. I really like the sound of the snare drum as well. I can tell why it got stuck in my head, and maybe under different circumstances, it would have become a favourable catchy tune? But it is allied to that dark moment in Victoria coach station, so it is forever destined to be a reminder of that. Is that all that makes us love certain pop music? The fortuitous serendipitous happening with positive life experiences? Probably not. I’m sure there are songs that I like/ dislike without any positive/negative emotion or memory connected to them? But I’m sure that for a great number of tunes, this is how they get lodged in our heads. The get plucked, often unconsciously, or certainly not deliberately, from the ether of ‘ubiquitous listening’, and become cemented to certain moments; maybe as a way of helping us to remember those key moments better; a sort of aural mnemonic device.
Listen eight is always the desolate wasteland in these experiments. I am always lost for something to say, yet thinking of what I’m going to conclude. Thinking I should be doing some in-depth analysis – picking at minutiae – before the treat of listen nine; the unencumbered listen through.
But what I am starting to realise is that I am never tiring of listening to these chosen songs. Even this one, which I hate, I could stand to listen to another ten times easy. With the likes of Jojo, I could listen to it on repeat all day (I did the day of writing about it actually!). Does this mean that I have an unusually high repetition threshold? I think I do. But that is the point of pop music is a sense. That it can be listened to over and over. Repetition is key in pop music. That is not a criticism, it is just one of its key tropes; thus songs that stand up to repetition are better pop songs than those that don’t. That, I think, is one of the composite reasons why many people castigate pop music as trite and meaningless; they don’t understand that its repetitiveness is in fact is key ingredient.
Actually. I was going to do a listen to a live version. From a 2003 edition of Top of the Pops. But then Ben Fucking Elton’s rodent-esque little face popped up and, I mean, Jesus Christ. I know this is all a bit of a silly waste of time, but I’m not sitting here on a Sunday afternoon watching Ben Elton. Sorry.
Ben Elton presented Top of the Pops? In 2003?! I don’t remeber that. Fuck me, no wonder that programme went tits up. I mean, everyone looks back with a sort of smug wince at the TOTP presenters of yesteryear, like Jimmy Savile, DLT and Noel Edmonds. We all say “god, how did people put up with this shower of shite in ‘the olden days’”. But come on, we had Ben Bastard Elton. And I also remember one week Chris Eubank presented TOTP!!!
As is now customary, this run through is just for listening. A Straight run through. See you on the other side for some semblance of a conclusion.
When describing laughter, Robert Provine writes that “laughter is a harlequin that shows two faces – one smiling and friendly, the other dark and ominous”. I think this definition could be used to pretty accurately describe pop music as well. It is a harlequin; its two faces are life-affirming profundity and maddening, hate-inducing inanity. But you need both of these faces, they are symbiotic. One demands the other to justify itself. Great pop music needs shit pop music to define it as such. Maybe that is what makes pop music as an art so special? The fact that it is always teetering on this brink of love/hate or valuable/valueless or great/shite. Do I love ‘Move Your Feet’ or hate it? I honestly can’t tell any more. But that is the beauty of pop. That it is always threatening to destabilise itself. Just when a tune comes along that you feel you could confidently defend as being ‘great art’, another will come along that will remind you pop is just as Adorno described it; a cynical, meaningless product of ‘the system’ (,maaan).
Pop music is always trapped between these two states of being – profundity and inanity – that is why it is so good. So, though I think, on reflection I hate this tune more than anything else, I thank Junior Senior from reminding me of that!