Sunday, February 7, 2021

"I've Got The Power" To Guffaw At Three Anonymous Early '90s Jock Jams

Ner-Nn ... Nn ... Nn ... Nn-Nn-Ner-Nn ... Nn ... Nn ... I've got the powah! (-owah, -owah ...)

And so, at the dawn of the '90s, a strange new genre arose: Eurodance songs featuring American R&B singers and American rappers where nobody knew who the hell any of these people were and nobody really cared, with the odds that the singers appearing in the music videos had anything to do with the sounds being generated on the recordings standing at about 17.5%. Wikipedia attempts to call it "hip house," but I'm skeptical. The official artist credits gave little indication as to who were the genuine brains behind the operations, or even which countries the artists originated from. The producers of these singles could have been international spies, for all we know. "Snap!" "Technotronic." "C+C Music Factory." Even a name like The Beach Boys, unrevealing as it was, at least hinted that young males were somehow involved in the creation of the music one was purchasing. These group names conjured up images of kitchen appliance brands.

Let me say this about "The Power," by Snap!: I love the synthesizer riff that sounds like an extremely shy and hesitant table saw. Credit must also go to the guy in the background continuously smacking the hell out of the wind chime he probably lifted off his neighbor's porch that morning. And kudos to the brains behind Snap! for recognizing that they could not showcase the lyric "I've got the power!" without using a vocalist who truly demonstrated said power. According to Wikipedia, the singer on the recording is Penny Ford, the singer in the video is Jackie Harris, and ... honestly I stopped caring about five seconds ago. She's got the power! Who gives a fuck who the real singer is?

I wonder how much street cred rapper Turbo B generated for himself back in his hometown of Pittsburgh with his appearance on "The Power." I want to make fun of his rap, but hell, he's probably got better flow than MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice combined. (His moment of crowning glory: "Of the mic... rophone ... that I ... am holdin/Copywritten-lyrics-so-they-can't-be-stolen.'") I mean, for 1990, he sounds pretty tough! He is, after all, the lyrical "Jesse James," which means that he, a black man from Pittsburgh, is the lyrical "unrepentant ex-Confederate train-robber," but whatever, it sounds menacing. Another nice touch: the trilling saxophone that calls to mind the opening of the Mission: Impossible Theme. What I'm trying to say is that "The Power" is one of those seemingly tossed-off dance singles where any of the individual elements, taken in isolation, would sound kind of stupid, but when put together, do they not add up to an unstoppable jock jam of the highest order? I mean, this song has really got the ... energy? No, that's not the right word. Wattage? No, not quite it. Centrifugal force? It'll come to me.

The video apparently takes place in a terrifying post-modern future where black people give press conferences. Admit it, breakdancers with flat-top haircuts gyrating in the background is exactly the kind of choreographic touch our new VP's speeches need.

A couple of elements of Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam" that I've always found mildly annoying: 1) The rapper sounds like the second cousin once removed of either Salt or Pepa (sorry, I never figured out which was which), with a grotesquely thick New York accent and a delivery that lags more egregiously behind the beat than the lead singer of Cake's; 2) The opening lyrics of the chorus. What the hell is she singing? It sounds like "Ow-oh-wah, a place to stay." It's irritated me for years. According to various YouTube comments, she is singing "I don't want a place to stay." Come on now, does it really sound like "I don't want" to you? Look, I don't need Cary Grant-level pronunciation here, but when the lyrics are this repetitive, it wouldn't hurt. Some of the vocalist's awkward affectations might be explained by the fact that, according to Wikipedia, she was Congolese-Belgian recording artist Ya Kid K (birth name Manuela Barbara Kamosi Moaso Djogi), and probably grew up on a street corner in Kinshasa, not Brooklyn. Could've fooled me. Those who watched the video were also fooled, but in a different way: they were fooled into believing that the vocalist was actually Congolese model Felly Kilingi instead. I can see what the producers were thinking here: "Well, as long as the girl in the video is also Congolese, it's all good, right?" Here's what I'm thinking: "Pump Up the Jam"? How about "Pump Up the Video Budget"? This thing looks like it was filmed inside a Game Boy.

Surprisingly, the powers-that-be behind C+C Music Factory were more or less American, although, unsurprisingly, they were not actually a factory. Talk about things that make me go "hmmmm." At least they got one key piece of the formula right: the rather heavy-set Martha Wash's vocals for "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" were mimed in the video by strikingly less heavy-set Liberian "model-turned-singer" Zelma Davis. Apparently Zelma could sing, and she did perform on the aforementioned "Things" and "Here We Go (Let's Rock & Rock)," but after Martha raised such a fuss about "Gonna Make You Sweat," everyone assumed Zelma was just another Milli Vanilla and was promptly stigmatized accordingly, so, it's hard to say who the biggest victims in this terrible saga truly were.

In retrospect, it's funny how much "Gonna Make You Sweat" comes across to my ears as "The Power" Lite. If Turbo B and Frederick Brandon "Freedom" Williams ever faced off in the street, my bet would be on Turbo B. "Make the twirl, it's your world, and I'm just a squirrel/Tryin' to get a nut to move your butt"? "I paid the price to control the dice/I'm all precise, to the point, I'm nice"? Oh Snap!