Sunday, February 16, 2020

"Groove Is In The Heart"? And All This Time, I Thought It Was Blood

A few years back, I found myself playing a trivia game at a house party on New Year's Eve - yes, me! - at a New Year's Eve party! - and one aspect of the game went something along the lines of "hum that tune." One partner on a team would draw a card that had the name of a pop song on it, and that person's job was to merely hum the tune and not sing it, and the other partner had exactly sixty seconds in which he or she needed to guess the name of the tune, or else the whole team would be docked 50 bazillion points and receive ridicule from the twelve other participants looking on heartlessly. This night I was partnered with a woman who possessed the right level of enthusiasm but, let's just say, a less than stellar level of humming skills. She pulled a card and stared at the song title. "Oh, OK, I know this one!" The timer began, and she proceeded to make this noise: "Eh Uh Eh Uh Ehhh-uhhhh!" I recognized nothing. "Eh Uh Eh Uh Ehhh-uhhhh!" Still drawing blanks. She kept uttering the same exact incomprehensible collection of syllables. Sweat trickled down my face as the grains of sand in the hourglass hurtled toward the bottom, but, try as I might, a song title would not come. Her performance became infused with a more desperate air, arms flailing and eyes pleading, but I couldn't even name a song title in jest. Finally, the clock expired. She thrust the card into my face and shouted, "God damn it, 'Groove Is In the Heart'!" Yes, it turned out that the song she had been trying to hum was Deee-Lite's "Groove is In the Heart." Gathering my wits, I explained myself like so: "There are so many sections of "Groove is In the Heart" that you could hum! You could hum the "Ah couldn't ask for anothah, I-I-I-I-I-Ah!" You could even hum the bass line and I probably would have gotten it." But alas, 'twas not to be. The groove had clearly not been in our hearts that night.

Those encountering "Groove is In the Heart" upon its release in 1990 could have been forgiven for believing that a new breed of dance-pop was suddenly about to dominate the coming decade - one distinctly separate from the synth-dominated sounds of the '80s. Dance-pop that would be kaleidescopic, free-wheeling, all-inclusive, genre-bending. Nope. Instead, we mostly ended up with stuff like "C'mon N' Ride It (The Train)" and "Tootsie Roll." But think of what could have been. "Groove Is In the Heart" has a little something for everybody:
  • Quirky guest ramblings from former James Brown/Parliament-Funkadelic bassist and lead professor of Funk University (look it up) Bootsy Collins (e.g. "Ehhh-astronomical!")
  • Guest horns from arguably James Brown's two most prominent sidemen, Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley
  • Guest rap from Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest (back when A Tribe Called Quest had barely even begun its "quest" to exist - I think their first album had only been released months prior)
  • Sample of the theme from Green Acres
  • Slide whistle
  • Congas, cowbells, shakers, tambourines, and every percussion instrument under the sun
  • Shout-out to Horton Hears a Who
  • Did I mention the slide whistle?
I mean something for everybody. When this song hit the airwaves in 1990, ten-year-old Little Earl didn't have the slightest inkling of the significance of any of the hipster cameos listed above, but I could tell you one thing: this song grooved. I also assumed, not having seen the video, that lead vocalist and live-action Scooby Doo character Lady Miss Kier was black. She sounds more black than Caron Wheeler from Soul II Soul (and is certainly the finest white singer to ever sing the words "succotash wish.") Wait, scratch the Scooby Doo reference. You know who she looks like? I swear, she's a dead ringer for Brian Eno circa Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy).

In one sense, I'm inclined to describe "Groove Is In the Heart" as a swinging retro-'60s bachelor pad floor stomper a la "Love Shack" or "Good Thing" (to quote my man Todd In the Shadows, "You know, as much as I love 'Groove Is In the Heart,' I always liked Deee-Lite more the first time heard them ... when they were called the B-52's"). (Also, I would have recommended that you check out Todd's video if you wanted to learn more about who exactly the two other guys in the "band" were, the scene Deee-Lite allegedly sprang from, why they vanished virtually as soon as they arrived, and basically all the other stuff I was too lazy to write about ... except it looks like YouTube pulled some copyright crap on his ass. Edit: Someone else re-posted it.) But in another sense, it's actually a song more in line with the cut-and-paste, "sampledelica," pre-Biz Markie/Gilbert O'Sullivan lawsuit era of hip-hop. While Bootsy Collins appears in the video holding a bass guitar, he does not, at least according to Wikipedia, play one note of bass on the song. Thankfully Deee-Lite had the good sense to rescue a glorious bass line from the obscure Herbie Hancock track "Bring Down the Birds," where it would have otherwise languished for all eternity in the moldy basements of jazz-loving assholes worldwide.

Sadly, while the groove was obviously, beyond a reasonable doubt, in the heart, for Deee-Lite, the groove was definitely not in the charts, as they never managed to score another Top 40 hit. After having listened to the song's parent album, World Clique, I wonder if this might have simply been a case of false advertising. Anyone who had bought the album hoping to hear more bright, campy, hook-filled nuggets of goodness along the lines of the "big hit" would have probably wondered if they'd bought the wrong CD, because frankly, the other tracks sound more like downtempo Lisa Stansfield Eurodance than paisley-tinted lounge-pop. And nothing increases the odds of One Hit Wonder status like a big hit that's unrepresentative of the group's overall sound (just ask Strawberry Alarm Clock, or Blind Melon). But let me say this: the list of acts who had more Top 40 hits than Deee-Lite, but who never had a hit even half as enjoyable as "Groove Is In the Heart," might be a long one. May it be poorly hummed in trivia games for all eternity. Favorite YouTube comments:
I feel like I was dropped into a lava lamp

People be asking for more cowbell, but I'm like, needs more slide whistle.

After further review Groove is still in the heart

True science fact: Every time this video is played a new drag queen is born.

The 1960s, as brought to you by 1990.

This is where the eighties backed up into the seventies.

I feel like I'm watching a Sims house party

What if this is the only thing aliens know about earth

This must be what a dog feels when it sticks it's face out the car window.

This is exactly what you see when your are sitting in the library on LSD.

When you figure out how to turn on the microwave with your head still inside of it

I feel like this is what it looks like after you've eaten that weird cactus

If you don't dance to this song, you're probably an accountant who drives a beige Toyota Camry 😁

Girl got more moves than a ten board chess match.

If this is Dee-lite, then I wanna see Dee-regular.