Friday, 2 January 2015

Reeling in the Years

Songwriters and producers provide their hits with hooks, but they can never be sure what they are going to catch.
            I saw in this New Year in at a family party in Cyprus, where I heard two songs whose hit potential was surely realised beyond the artists’ greatest dreams. The first was Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’. I have no doubt that he knew at the time of the record’s release that the ‘magic break’, the thundering entry of the drums held back until 3 minutes 40 seconds into the song, was a high point of the recording. And yet he could never have known just how popular this break would become. Over the years it has grown in stature so that it is now the main hook of the song. Collins acknowledges this and in recent concerts has provided a teasing performance in which he parades the stage in the early phases of ‘In the Air Tonight’, making the audience think he won’t make it back to the drums in time for that famous roll around the kit. And who can resist playing air drums along with him? Audiences revel in this moment. And this isn’t just Phil Collins’ fans either. This run around the drums is probably more popular than the rest of his repertoire combined.
            From the sublime to the ridiculous. The second song that I heard was Tom Jones’s ‘Sex Bomb’. We were having a dancing competition, in which various older couples had to improvise routines and be judged by the youngsters in the room. ‘Sex Bomb’ was, of course, hilarious. The couple who danced to it played up to its unsubtle theme and brought the house down. The song was performing as its creators hoped it would. It was working because it is a Tom Jones’ song: it is not quite ironic. Jones’s is being playful with has playboy reputation, and yet at the same time there’s no way that he’d want people to think that he’s not a sex bomb. The same thing applies to the people who dance to it. They’re being silly and yet at the same time they want to be thought of as sexy too. Ultimately, however, the main reason why the song was working at our party was because it was a big hit. Its success in the dancing competition was reliant on the fact that everybody knew it. 'Sex Bomb' has done what its writers hoped; at the same time it has had resonance beyond their wildest dreams (could they have envisioned our party in Cyprus?). It has also become more enjoyable than it would be if it didn’t have the ability to provoke public fun. When I first heard ‘Sex Bomb’ on its release in 2000 I thought it was horrible. This New Year, when people were calling it for it to be repeated, I thought for the first time in my life, ‘yes, I do want to hear "Sex Bomb" again’.

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