07 June 2006

Popism #44 : Bring the Beat Back!

POPISM (N) : A musical or lyrical element used in so many pop songs that it becomes a cliche. Often known to evoke joy every time it is employed.

"Karma Chameleon" is one of the 80's greatest singles, and if you disagree with that, then you are welcome to rent this movie. You may be in it. There are plenty of reasons why "KC" still towers as a perfect pop anthem. Here are just three:

(1) We all wish our dreams were red, gold, and green

(2) It's fun to harmonize with the bridge ("Every-daaay is like survival (survival)")

(3) The song brings the beat back

And number three, of course, brings me to today's popism. Remember how at the end of "Karma Chameleon" Boy George sings a chorus backed by nothing but drums and handclapping? All the instruments disappear, and we're left singing the song in a near-vacuum.

Then the chorus finishes, and there's a brief pause. Is the song over? Will the darkness envelop us?

No! The silence is destroyed by the glorious resurgence of all the instruments that vanished! Including that wicked harmonica! The beat comes back! Red! Gold! Green!

The full-on return of istrumentation that, for a moment, disappeared is one of the most satisfying elements of pop. Singers' voices hang out there in space, and then the music rises up to catch them. For a moment, the structure of the universe goes wild, and the song's a little dangerous in its a cappella way. But then that sound we've grown so used to in the last three minutes helps everything makes sense again.

Either that, or the beat disappears and we go crazy with anticipation. We know it's coming back, and we want it. Sometimes, songs tease us for ages before giving us our reward, and when we get it, it's a high. Cher's "Believe" pulls that one. Right after the bridge, those naughty producers wait two whole choruses before letting the synth drums swell up again. That's how most dance songs use this popism, actually. You're supposed to make up your own slo-mo dance moves while you're waiting for the faster rhythm to reemerge. I recommend lots of swirling arm movements and a pouty, serious face.

So what are your favorite examples of songs that bring the beat back?

And what kind of dances are you doing while it's gone?



At 12:33 PM, Anonymous firedncr1980 said...

Whitney Houston. Circa 1992? In conjunction with one of the best guilty pleasures, The Bodyguard. Remember the song, "I Have Nothing?" Remember how the music stops for one brief moment, then the drum beats loudly, and Miss Whitney comes back with the refrain..."Don't let me clo-ose one more door..." And, as if I need to remind you, thanks to MTV and the video-driven market that is POP music... Right when that moment in the music happens, emblazened forever in our minds is an image of Whitney Houston, in a pin-striped suit, sitting with her hands crossed in front of her, with a snow scene as her backdrop (why? you might ask... because she just can...), closing and then SUDDENLY opening her eyes. Oh, the drama. Absolutely breathtaking, my friends.

At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Kalle said...

This one is reeally easy: Whole Lotta Love. Not only does it go psychedelic after just two verses, it stops again for "way doo-oown insii-ide..." and you'd think that's the end. But no. Nowhere near it. Robert Plant is just about to give me every inch of his love and wants to be my backdoor man. Both occasions of the song exploding back to the beat are pure rock n roll ecstasy. (not exactly pop, but still...)

At 6:14 AM, Anonymous Sophie said...

Okay, not technically an answer to your question, but sort-of in this category..
A favourite thing of mine: songs that begin, and then bring in the beat half way through a verse.
See the snare drum on the single verion of Mary J Blige's No More Drama (it's not like that on the album. Why? Whyyyyyyy?) or the awesome opening track on Coldplay's latest album (which takes almost a minute for the drum to kick in!)Square One.
I'm lovin it.

At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another reason to love Karma Chameleon was the look on everyone's face as they entered Mr. Cates class. Half delight, half confusion. One of my favorite moments from German.


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