Pop Goes The Eagle

Hear the audio version of this blog post with additional content here

As I write this blog post, the Emeli Sandé song Next To Me is playing. I quite like the song, but for me it’s severely marred by the almost constant sound of a man shouting “hey hey hey hey hey hey” while Emeli is singing. The poor girl is pouring out her heart and soul, and there’s some random bloke shouting all over her. Feel free to give the song a listen for yourself and you’ll see what I mean – don’t worry, I’ll wait for you here – otherwise you’ll just have to take my word for it.

“Hey hey hey hey hey,” incongruously repeated over and over again, whizzing around the stereo field, which if anything adds an extra element of distraction and irritation. Emeli’s voice is placed bang in the centre of the stereo mix while this “hey hey hey hey” nonsense is flying around my headphones making me feel dizzy and nauseous.

I’ve never seen her perform the song live and so I don’t know whether she has someone stood on stage with her to shout the heys. Perhaps he positions himself in front of her and runs back and forth across the stage so as to visually produce his frustrating flitting across the stereo field present in the recorded version. Maybe he also performs a series of off-putting gestures in front of Emeli just to distract and irritate the audience even more. I assume not though.

I also assume that the decision to incorporate the “hey hey hey hey” nonsense was not an artistic choice made by Emeli Sandé. The producer was probably told by a label executive that the song was sounding a bit too country and it needed poppifying a bit in order to target the right demographic. So the producer, in his “wisdom”, decided to stand in front of a mic, shout a couple of heys and then loop them over and over again, before buggering off to the pub with a smug feeling of a job well done.

“One day,” he thinks, “someone will recognise my incredible talents. I’ve left my mark on this record, I really have. They’ll make a documentary all about me and my genius one day and they’ll focus an entire ten minutes on my groundbreaking work on the Emeli Sandé song. ‘Are you the man who had the idea to put the hey hey hey heys on the Emeli Sandé song?’ people will ask. And I’ll proudly tell them that not only was I the man to have the idea, but I was also the man who recorded and looped the hey hey heys on the Emeli Sandé song. They’ll probably faint upon hearing this. I should probably get myself on a first aid course. After all, With great power comes great responsibility.”

But then, our amazing music producer hero has a eureka moment. Perhaps it comes to him in a dream like Paul Mccartney’s Yesterday (which probably didn’t really come to him in a dream, but he says it did in interviews because it’s a lot more interesting and mysterious than saying, “oh I was just jamming with the guitar, you know”). But anyway, putting the inception of the Beatles’ Yesterday aside, let’s get back to our music producer, who has just had an incredible brainwave.

He runs to the studio. He is so excited that he’s not even got out of his pyjamas. He’s running down the street in his slippers at 5 in the morning because he can’t wait to try out his idea. If this works then it could change the way we think about music forever, he thinks.

He sprints into the dark deserted studio, switches on the computer, dives into his chair, panting, delirious with anticipation. The computer seems to take an eternity to load, but when it finally does he brings up the Emeli Sandé track. Immediately he sees the wave form created by his “hey hey hey hey.” “It even looks great”, he sighs. He marvels at its beauty. It’s majestic curves and contours. Such a wave form as this he has never seen before.

He solos his hey hey hey heys. He exhales sharply, astounded by its sound. Good God, it sounds even better than he remembered. He takes a moment to bask in it’s ineffable majesty, and then, with his entire body trembling, he begins to act upon his incredible idea.

He reaches for the pan knob and begins to twist. The sound of his hey hey hey heys move from the centre of his headphones towards the left channel. He is almost overcome by ecstasy, but he manages to hold on to his composure enough to carry out the second part of his master plan. He proceeds to twist the knob back into the centre, and then to the right. He continues to turn the knob left then right, left then right, and the sound of the heys match the course of his turn. It sounds even better than he dared to dream.

How does it sound with the rest of the song, he wonders? He unmutes the track and listens in awe to his mastery. He is too absorbed by hubris to realise that it sounds utterly shit.

Chances are that this story is not entirely true. Perhaps Emeli did have a say in the hey hey heys. Maybe she had a friend or relative who was very down and out and in need of some work, and so Emeli had the idea that she could get them on her record and they could earn some money that way. Unfortunately though the person in question lacked any talent whatsoever, but Emeli was too kindhearted to go back on her word, and so gave them the task of shouting hey repeatedly over the track.

I might not feel as irritated by it if I knew that the whole hey hey hey thing was an act of charity. Perhaps other pop stars could follow Emeli’s example and do their bit, maybe teaming up with Help the Homeless to get people off the streets and into the studios, shouting random words and phrases over pop songs. Let’s be honest, in most cases it wouldn’t really do any harm as the majority of mainstream hits are crap anyway, and in some instances it might actually improve the song. Everyone’s a winner.

Another example of a song that features an annoying man sticking his oar in when it’s not needed is in the fugees version of Killing Me Softly. Lauryn Hill is singing “strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words, killing me softly with his song …” and all the while, Wyclef Jean is shouting over her, “one time one time, two times two times.”

At the start of the song there’s also a bit where WyClef, Lauryn and some others are all talking nonsense over each other. At the end of the song the same thing happens, with WyClef gibbering on about something or other while Lauryn begins to reel off a litany of people: “l-Boogie up in here,” she declares, while WyClef is chuntering on about what he had for tea or something equally mundane. If they both want to speak then why don’t they take it in turns? In fact, Lauryn is evidently distracted by WyClef talking while she’s talking because after she’s just said, “L-Boogie up in here,” she repeats it again, “I said, L-Boogie up in here”, as if she was concerned that we might not have heard her the first time Don’t worry Lauryn, I heard what you said both times, and it was just as nonsensical the second time as it was the first time. Or maybe the real reason Lauryn repeated herself was to please WyClef Jean, who’s seemingly taken by the notion of saying things “two times, two times,” including the phrase “two times.”

“L-Boogie up in here,” she drones, “I said, L-Boogie up in here, WyClef up in here,” as if we needed telling.

She continues to shout the names of people and inform us that they’re all “up in here,” as WyClef continues to blabber on, before someone in the studio eventually has the bright idea to fade them all out. I’d like to think that the person in the studio didn’t tell them he’d already faded them out and stopped recording and they just went on talking nonsense over each other for another hour. Frankly, it’s what they deserve, the twits.

There’s another song that I can’t recall, but I remember that all the way through the song the female singer keeps being interrupted by a man shouting “say what? say what?” She then repeated what she’d just sang and the man again interrupted shouting “say what? say what?” I remember thinking that if the man stopped shouting “say what? say what?” over her singing then he might be in a better position to hear her, and therefore not need to keep asking what she’s just said, saving us all a lot of aggravation.

On a similar vane, I remember listening to the Radio One rap show with Tim Westwood once and finding it ridiculous how Timothy and his homeboys would all shout unfathomable drivel down a distorted microphone while the sounds of horns, bombs, gun shots, rap music and record scratches masked whatever nonsense they were shouting. But what I found amusing was how they would periodically throw in the phrase “you know what I’m saying.” Of course we have no idea what you’re saying, and I doubt whether you yourselves really have any idea about what the hell you’re saying either. Although I was surprised to find that almost universally Westwood would answer with an enthusiastic “yeah man,” or, “for real.”

I was fascinated to uncover the deep and mystical words of wisdom that I was missing out on. But no matter how hard I strained to hear above the bombs, the horns, the gun shots, blurring beats and the record scratches, I couldn’t decipher the garbled phrases; although they were shouting it in a way that suggested that what they were saying was really vitally important, which frustrated me further. In actuality, it was probably just boring small talk about the weather or something.

Incidentally, the reason Emeli Sandé was playing is because I am in the process of working on ideas for a DJ set for someone’s wedding in August.
This means I’ll have a lot of new material to use for a third Pick and Mix which I’ll probably release in September. Obviously this one will be a lot more poppy than the previous too – I’m not sure the happy couple would remain happy if I started blasting them with Flanders & Swann mixed with the Chemical Brothers or Sinéad O’conor with Aphex Twin – but there’ll still be some interesting and surprising mixes and unlikely song combinations for you.

So, given the poppy nature of the next Pick and Mix, I thought of calling the mix Pop Goes the Eagle, because obviously that would be a hilarious pun. So Pop Goes the Eagle will be with you in September, unless you’re an invite at the wedding or a member of the bar staff or a gate crasher, in which case you’ll hear it in August. In fact, I’m deliberately not mentioning who’s wedding it is because I know how excited you all are about the new Pick and Mix and you’ll probably all cause a massive health and safety risk by trying to gate crash the wedding so you can hear it before September.

Finally, our Glastonbury gig went really well, and we’ll be sharing ourGlastonbry experience with you on the next Young’uns Podcast which should be out before the end of July.

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