Sunday, January 08, 2006

1001 Greatest Pop Songs Of All Time - #6 - The Block Party by Lisa "left-eye" Lopes

Alyson: When Claire and I started this list, we reluctantly put a cross through any TLC songs on the grounds that they were, essentially, an R&B group, and more importantly, it was our grounds to turf Destinys Child and Beyonce from the list (which felt good) - so we sighed sadly, and one of us said "but The Block Party is still OK, right?" and yes, yes that was more than fine, it was nigh on essential. So here it is.

In another chapter of her mardy relationship with her TLC bandmates, Lisa Left eye Lopes wrote an open letter to them, which basically rang "You know, I'm the star here, and if don't think so, make a solo album and step up and bring it bitches!" (I'm not good at street) - and so, as an example, she went off and made the album "Supernova" and this, The Block Party, was the lead single - I'm not totally sure of the chronology, but I have a feeling it's October 2001 release was delayed due to 9/11 by which time no one was down with party jams or good time exhortations. In fact, Supernova (and The Block Party) are thus ridiculously hard to find - worse, of course, Left eye was killed 6 months later in a car crash. The Block Party though, for the two or three people have heard it, stands as an absolute pop classic.

The Block Party is purest, purest joyous bubblegum, a song all about Left eyes reminiscing for the good old days of her neighbourhood block parties from her childhood. The best thing I can say about it is that several of it the phrases in the song are now house catchphrases - many the time I have said "What's your name?" "Alyson" "And where you from" "Richmond" "And where you going?" "To the party" "Can I come?" "UH-HUH!" - not only that, hot boys are frequently "pop locket" and so on. Underpinned by the almost woozy, playground skipping rope beat, and Left eyes strangely sweet childlike vocals, the song is pretty hypnotic, to the point it feels amazingly short, and it's impossible not to get caught up in dancing to it. I'm somewhat bemused it didn't take off (or wasn't marketed) to groups of little kids in playgrounds mucking around (I would have given away skipping ropes with the first 100 copies) but it's all a moot point now.

It is a terrible shame it was such a flop, because it is truly lovingly crafted in every way - it's an addition to the legacy of a crazy, mardy R&B superstar who, with this song, became a quite brilliant POP star. Bless her, and her insane ways - we won't see her like again.


Claire: Much like a later song I'll write about, I was holiday in the UK when this song came out in 01, and I think I first heard it late night watching Channel 4 curled up on my friends couch in her London flat, having behaved with an incredible amount of irresponsibility. Whoever was doing the introductions already referred to it as a "massive, widely talked about smash mega sensation", which was such a weird jumble of words, I often thought I'd imagined the whole thing. Surely a massive, widely talked about smash mega sensation might, you know, be available in shops - or played on the radio once?

It was only a few weeks later I found out the song peaked only at #16 in the UK charts, and heard it with a clear head. My first thought was "God, Alyson will love that" and more importantly, I couldn't reconcile my opinions of TLC as a relatively grumpy, socially on R&B group (and a darn good one) with...with this, which was so much damn FUN. It definitely didn't sound like, say, Creep. The best compliment I can pay this song is it's sound and texture comes directly from the golden era of late 60s/70s Bubblegum, with a modern sheen. It's not hard to imagine this song featuring on, say, the better musical episodes of Fat Albert or The Rock Flowers. Moreover, like the best pop songs, it's so riddled with joy, optimism and a little bit of childish stupidity (in a good way) it's just impossible to get out of your head.

Honestly, if it had been out in August 2001 instead of October 2001, I don't know if it would have been a mega hit - it was such a radical departure for anyone from TLC, and it doesn't sound like anything else, which scares radio, but it would have been fun finding out. As for why the album, Supernova, flopped - I'll be damned if I know, but that's an argument for a whole nother time. Suffice to say, it showed latent Pop talent can bloom in anyone, if given a chance...


Adem IAR: This was the first song I ever played in my car the day I got my drivers license. I was blessed to have quite a decent CD player set up in my car so it was a hard choice, but Lisa pulled through most worthy in the end. Myself and good friend Candice were obsessed with it, much like Alyson and Claire, we often - at random moments - would shout "What's your name?" "Candice!" "And where you from?" "Fyans Street!" etc etc. We even once threw a 'Block Party' of sorts (ie: we just invited our friends and took it to the street for as long as we could before the police were called) in the songs honour.

It really should have done better than it did, I was working in several clubs at the time and they were all playing it at peak times. I also remember Channel V playing it quite often shortly after Lisa's untimely death.

It was just so much FUN. I mean, for Christ sake, it encouraged you to play HOP SCOTCH! And one drunken night, several of us did JUST THAT to the song! I guess though, around the time of its release, fun wasn't really something anyone was getting into in such a hurry - people were so worried about a building blowing up and whether U2 would be recording a song about it rather than having a good shake of their arses.

Such an upsetting pitty.


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