Tag Archives: favourite song

Great Forgotten Pop Songs: Ruslana – Wild Dances

For a recent great forgotten pop song, I shared my love of Scandipop. Now, I’m going to spread the love in a distinctly Slavic direction.

Ruslana’s Wild Dances won the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest (and an eternal place in my heart and hard drive) with one of the highest point totals of all-time, whilst Terry Wogan tutted on-high, branding her Xena: Warrior Princess. Lucy Lawless wishes!

Ruslana exudes fierceness. And no, we’re not talking the sexy-scowly wild-eyed fierceness that Tyra and her minions specialise in, yet a total ferocity where you wouldn’t be surprised to see her tear a man into mincemeat before busting out a nifty little dance routine atop his carcass and finishing things off with a howl of a top-note. And he’d still come back begging for more.

Wild Dances pounds with raw energy and near-tribal rhythms, complete with a drumming section from the lady herself. Factor in an ear-pricking attention-grabbing horn intro, skimpy leather costumes complete with bits of animal hanging off them and a tune so feral it demands to be stomped along to, it’s a unique hunk of Ukranian pop greatness. And frankly, you can’t argue with lyrics like ‘Day-na-day-na wanna be loved’, can you?

This was one of the first Eurovision winners to be sung partly in the country’s own language, which makes it even better for someone listening with an English-only ear. The best way to whip yourself into a Ruslana-shaped frenzy is to grunt suitably primal noises along to the Ukranian lyrics, making you really believe you’re participating in some sort of ritualistic chant. I also can’t resist beating something along with the rhythm – be it my seat, my chest or my flabby thighs – which has drawn a few strange looks on public transport. I believe that when most critics describe a song as air-punching, they mean it in a purely figurative sense; nevertheless, I find it becomes a fist-clenching reality as the shouting ‘Hey!’s of Wild Dances always propel me to aim my best right hooks skywards.

At the end of the day though, Wild Dances does exactly what it says on the tin. If it came along sounding all meek and mild, or even if it socked it to you with an immaculately-produced Dr Luke/Max Martin hook, it just wouldn’t feel right. As it is, Ruslana’s throaty efforts ensure that it’s three minutes of stomping staggering and downright bonkers pop dynamite. And it’s badass enough to be featured on Grand Theft Auto IV. Go! Go! Go! Wild dancers!

UK Chart Peak: 47
Key lyric: ‘Go! Go! Go! Wild dancers!’
Get more bonkers Slavic pop: I really don’t know anymore. Just stick Ruslana on repeat. It works for me.

Great Forgotten Pop Songs: Dolly Rockers – How Did I End Up With You

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all the best pop songs sound even better with a helping of sadness on the side. Ever since Abba churned out tracks with melodies that dreams were made of but lyrics the stuff of domestic nightmares, it’s a quixotic blend that has been used to turn a good song into something more. The next GREAT FORGOTTEN POP SONG OF OUR TIMES has this Special Brew in spades.

Strictly speaking, How Did I End Up With You by The Dolly Rockers is not completely dead, buried and tucked away in the recesses of an amnesiac’s mind just yet. Despite the obligatory girl-group member shuffle, a slanging match with the sadly more successful Saturdays and a single that set the charts on fire with about as much success as an arsonist touting only a birthday candle, the Dolly Rockers continue to stumble on and could still make it big. By God, they deserve it as they already have more great unreleased tracks in their ‘No’ pile than some acts have managed in a whole career. But none come more great than How Did I End Up With You.

The Dolly Rockers are a band you instantly love or hate. With their glitzy jumble-sale style, make-up that you’re unlikely to mistake for an au naturel look and a general air of shambolic charm, you could be forgiven for thinking they were a bunch of tarted-up skanks one short skirt away from the street corner. But then their lyrics (self-penned) bitch-slap you out of such blasphemy – mocking the very people they appear to be, with talk of ‘stick-on nails and plastic hair’, ‘fake tits’ and boys ‘in love with their own reflection’ – all sung in a mesh of wildly-differing accents. It’s a madcap collision between the Spice Girls’ chemistry, Bananarama’s attitude, Lily Allen’s wit and Blur’s tunes that should end in complete chaos but somehow works. Well, for me, anyway. I bloody loved them – they were exciting, had masses of the untamed raw energy that record companies delight in processing out of their acts and were the perfect antidote to the anodyne that I’d been looking for. Basically, I was willing to give up my heart to a girl group for the first time properly since The Spice Girls.

Of course, my devotion proved to be the kiss of the death – their first and only single, Gold Digger, failed to dent the top 40 and nothing else has been released since. But How Did I End Up With You fully deserved to be the track that transcended whatever doubts you may have had about their image/singing ability/overuse of eyeliner; a platinum-plated gem tucked away on their album sampler that should have been their crowning moment, marking their ascendancy to girl group royalty. Splicing melodies and lyrics from Propaganda’s 80s hit Duel and 3OH3!’s Don’t Trust Me, together with an anthemic explosion of a chorus that sounds like Kelly Clarkson in her pomp, it’s a whooshing sherbet rush of pop excellence.

This, on its own, would have been enough. But lo and behold, enter that Special Brew I was banging on about for the whole of the first paragraph, and How Did I End Up With You becomes something more. Quite frankly, you don’t expect lyrics this bleak from a trio whose main strength lies in their self-styled brand of  ‘Drunk Disco’. Nor do you expect something as overt as ‘Why do I have a thing for married men?’ to crop up in a band with their über-kohled eyes trained on the Top 40. It details a relationship gone bad, but one which you just can’t bear to get out of, with just enough hints of domestic abuse (‘The diamonds are fly/He gave me a bruiser; Blow by blow, the passion dies’) to make it knowingly uncomfortable without sounding like a charity record for a women’s refuge.

Whilst most pop songs are content to tread the same shallows over and over again for their Etch-a-Sketch observations about relationships, How Did I End Up With You tackles an unusual but very recognisable hopeless state of limbo – ‘It’s hit or miss, but should I cry/Or keep it real, and hope he stays?’ There’s an air of resigned desperation to the whole thing, as even the rallying chorus of realisation (‘How did I end up with you? How did I ever see a perfect ten?’) ends with the melancholy shrug of ‘No big surprise’.

For the tune alone, it’s already a shooting star shimmering its way across the horizon of mediocre pop songs; factor in the lyrics and it becomes a veritable meteor shower blazing up the entire sky. And all from a bunch of X-Factor rejects? Pop truly does move in mysterious ways.

UK Chart Peak: Unreleased
Key lyrics: ‘How did I end up with you? I’ll never make the same mistake again… How did I ever see a perfect ten?’; ‘The devil’s smiling at this hopeless case’
Get more girl groups with attitude: Shampoo, Kenickie, Bananarama, The Spice Girls

Great Forgotten Pop Songs: A*Teens – Closer To Perfection

It was only a matter of time before Great Forgotten Pop Songs took on a distinctly Nordic air. Scandipop is one of my great music loves – so much so I dedicated a whole unloved month to it at Teentoday. Why? Those sneaky Scandinavians simply do pop better than everyone else and have been doing so ever since Abba Waterloo-ed their way to Eurovision victory in the 70s. Prime example – Closer To Perfection by The A*Teens.

For most acts, Closer To Perfection would be the jewel in their crown, the ace in their pack, the Berry in their Glee Club. For a Scandipop act, it was mere album filler. A glittering gem on their New Arrival album, Closer To Perfection holds the distinction of not only being a great forgotten pop song of our time but also one of my all-time favourites.

The A*Teens started life as a rather dubious Abba covers act, putting an eletro sheen on classic tunes to re-sell them to a whole new teenybopper market who found Marie/Sara/Dani/Amit attractive. Abba songs are so timelessly perfect that all covers of them lie on a scale somewhere between ‘unnecessary’ and ‘blasphemous’ so I don’t think I need waste much time on the group’s earliest incarnation. America actually thought they were various Abba members’ offspring, which just about tells you everything you need to know about their early marketing (and about America).

Having realised Abba covers weren’t a viable prospect for longevity in a pop group, someone decided that the A*Teens should start recording original songs. Hand that someone a biscuit and make it a caramel chocolate digestive because from then on, it was one pop glory after another. Fronting sunny, fresh and damn catchy tracks like Floorfiller, For All That I Am and Halfway Around The World (and I make no apologies if said tunes crop up on this series at a later date), A*Teens were ready to take their place amongst Sweden’s legacy for producing pop so good that you wonder why other countries still bother. They reached their pinnacle with New Arrival album track, Closer To Perfection.

Initially a slightly underwhelming vaguely electro number, Closer To Perfection somehow makes the transition to blissfully wonderfully perfect without you even consciously realising. I account this to a sprinkling of Swedish fairy dust but if you’re looking for more earth-bound reasons, I suppose I could bang on about the quietly empowering lyrics, the stunning synths, the shiver-down-spine key change from middle eight to final chorus and a chorus that exudes a hold stronger than Derren Brown doing his spooky stuff on an unsuspecting public.

Proof that break-up songs needs not all be clenched fists and feisty divas, the chorus of ‘I’m back in the light getting over you, now I got it together, I’m stronger than ever/Back on the track with a better view and I’m getting closer to perfection cos of you’ is as quietly uplifting as the best of them.

I challenge you to find a pop number from a teen band that, vocoder-ed to the hilt and as catchy as they come, exudes quite so much obvious class. Looking at A*Teens (generally terrible) promo photos, I’m not entirely sure how they managed it myself. Closer To Perfection? Pretty much as close as they come, actually.

UK Chart Peak: Unreleased
Key lyric: ‘I’m getting closer to perfection cos of you’
Get more A*Teens: For All That I Am, Floorfiller, Halfway Around The World