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This Is, Indeed, a Disco - Riffs and Licks
This Is, Indeed, a Disco

This ain't no disco? Oh really? That Talking Heads lyric was always misquoted (as David Byrne complains in his new book) but from the look of the charts, this is, indeed, a disco. The two biggest hits of the summer (certainly my two favorites) are straight-up, unashamed, and wonderful disco songs.

Daft Punk already has my vote for album of the year. I've enjoyed their other work, but Random Access Memories is absolutely brilliant. Recorded straight to tape with an all-star cast of live musicians, it combines their electronica work with their love for old R&B and disco, and features the playing of some of the greatest musicians of that era, like Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers.

And for you those of you still trapped in the segregated 1970s: While we were all chanting "Disco Sucks!" we were also, without realizing it, listening to and enjoying the work of both of those musicians, and many other "disco" artists besides. And our "rock" heroes worshiped them.

Moroder became famous in creating Eurodisco with Donna Summer hits like "I Feel Love," but he went on to produce brilliant work for "rock" musicians like David Bowie, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Adam Ant, Blondie and Freddie Mercury.

Nile Rodgers, meanwhile, was the founder of Chic and the writer of songs that wedding DJs use to this day to fill a dance floor. He was the driving force behind Bowie's Let's Dance, and produced records for Southside Johnny, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Peter Gabriel, and so on.

In any case, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" is driven by Rodgers' killer guitar. Daft Punk recorded a demo, featuring Weather Report drummer Omar Hakim and bassist Nathan East, who's played with everyone from Eric Clapton to Stevie Wonder. Rodgers stripped it down to the drum part, and worked out one of his signature guitar parts. Then East rerecorded his bass part to match Rodgers' playing, Pharrell Williams sang the vocal, and a monster single was born. No drum machines or samplers, a minimal number of tracks: Disco the way it was recorded 35 years ago.

And then there's Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," which was the result of a deliberate attempt to recreate Marvin Gaye's 1977 disco smash, "Got To Give It Up (Part I)." (The attempt may have been a little too successful, as it turns out; Thicke is facing lawsuits from Gaye and from George Clinton, whose "Sexy Ways" bears more than a passing resemblance to "Blurred Lines.")

I'm not sure "Blurred Lines" qualifies as plagiarism; the similarities are obvious, but more in groove and style than in specific lyrics or hooks. (Although the bass line is pretty damn close.) If it's plagiarism, so is a good chuck of Prince's early work. You also have to wonder why George Clinton didn't sue Marvin Gaye, considering that "Got To Give It Up" came out three years after Funakdelic released "Sexy Ways." But then maybe Gaye might have had an issue with the Funkadelic record, whose title (Standing On the Verge Of Getting It On) clearly referenced Gaye's own "Let's Get It On."

But I am sure that "Blurred Lines" is a killer single. And that Pharrell Williams is having a very good summer.

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11 comments or Leave a comment
queencallipygos From: queencallipygos Date: August 25th, 2013 01:33 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd be more comfortable if "Blurred Lines"' lyrics weren't so....skeezy.

Although, I first heard it back in May when I was in Rome and couldn't sleep and the only thing on Italian TV that wasn't entirely in Italian with no subtitles was MTV, and that was showing the same four or five videos nearly continuously - something by Pink, some weird Italian song that I think was about door-to-door book salesmen, "Blurred Lines", and Macklemore's Thrift Shop, which just blew them all out of the water; so fortunately every time I hear "Blurred Lines" it reminds me of "Thrift Shop" and I get all happy.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: August 25th, 2013 03:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, it's definitely a creepy song lyrically. But so are many great hit singles, from "Every Breath You Take" to Tina Turner singing "I'm Yours (Use Me Anyway You Wanna)" with Ike. For me, if the hook can't get to me before I know what the lyrics are saying, it's probably not a hit single.

Oh and maybe the creepiest single all time? "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)," which was co-written by Carole King for Phil Spector in the 1960s.
queencallipygos From: queencallipygos Date: August 25th, 2013 11:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, but Sting meant for "Every Breath You Take" to be creepy, and actually thinks it's completely bizarre so many people don't get that. Whereas Robin Thicke, when challenged about how "Blurred Lines" is kind of objectifying, pretty much said, "well, yeah, of course it is" and didn't really think anything was wrong with that. He even joked that he and Pharrell were happily married men and thus they "deserved" to objectify women because they'd been such good boys up to this point.

I do tend to focus on the words more anyway, so this may just be me. And I did find that clip where Jimmy Fallon and the Roots playing "blurred Lines" on kids' toy instruments to be strangely adorable (maybe it's because Jimmy covers up Robin Thicke's mouth on the line "you're the hottest [blank] in this place".
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: August 27th, 2013 12:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, yeah, that's not OK. I don't like that attitude, or that line. If lyrical quality (or even lyrical non-piggishness) were a criterion for enjoying pop music, we'd have to get rid of a lot of great songs, but yes, I do have to agree that the song would be more enjoyable with less "skeezy" lyrics.
queencallipygos From: queencallipygos Date: August 27th, 2013 01:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh; I'm a child of the Free to Be You And Me era feminism and I have been engaging in a lot of womens' issues discussions on Metafilter.com as of late. I admit that my perspective may indeed be nuanced in a distinct direction by comparison.
harrietbrown From: harrietbrown Date: August 25th, 2013 07:02 am (UTC) (Link)
I never heard "Blurred Lines" until Stephen Colbert did the send-up of the song on his show. Then I followed the link to the Vimeo video, and I was ... disappointed. The song is cute, but I'm not comfortable with the message, or the way it's conveyed. Yeah, I know, I'm a crusty old stick-in-the-mud feminist.

I'm not alone, though. A number of feminist bloggers have been writing articles about it. Some are in favor of it, some aren't. One thing's for sure, it doesn't matter if the song has staying power or not; everyone's going to remember the video.

Me, I have a weakness for Macklemore & Lewis.

Edited at 2013-08-25 07:03 am (UTC)
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: August 25th, 2013 03:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
See above -- definitely a creepy song lyrically. I haven't seen the video, or the Colbert thing, but I've seen the Roots doing the cute acoustic version with some other tv personality, which was fun.
harrietbrown From: harrietbrown Date: August 25th, 2013 05:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
This one?


I agree, it's cute. I have a feeling I'm going to end up liking this song against my better judgment. I had a college professor (Royal Brown, actually, now a noted cinema historian) who said that one shouldn't apply moral judgments to art.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: August 27th, 2013 12:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I judge artists morally, but art can't be judged morally because it has no volition. In any case, pop music doesn't hold up under too much thinking.

Edited at 2013-08-27 12:52 am (UTC)
queencallipygos From: queencallipygos Date: August 25th, 2013 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, there are two versions of the official video - the clean one and the explicit one.

Actually, this particular gender-swapped parody version, done by a male burlesque troupe, is really fun.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: August 27th, 2013 12:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't usually bother with music videos -- haven't seen either version of the official video. But I love the Mod Carousel version. That's the way Prince would have done it! Thanks for the link!

Edited at 2013-08-27 12:55 am (UTC)
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