Friday, December 28, 2007

1001 Greatest Pop Songs Of All Time - #27 - Freak Like Me by The Sugababes

Claire: The mash up era, the idea that it was commercially viable to make singles and albums by sticking the tune of one song over the words of another, ended up being about as meaningful and long lasting as the new wave of the new wave or electroclash, any other label the NME staff wanted to throw together during their lunch break. In truth, it was nothing new, but it was briefly incredibly hip, coming out of the nightclub and into the charts once "A Stroke Of Genieous" allowed indie dolts to play a Christina Aguilera song guilt free. Even commercial radio DJs in Australia, rusted onto their playlist, were given leeway to bolt the latest Nirvana music over Eminem rapping MP3 downloaded from the hip technology of Napster. Imagine how outrageous they must have felt.

It's probably strange then that the most viable and well constructed song of the era only got to #44 in the charts in Australia, despite a long standing reputation surrounding the track as the hottest mashup in UK nightclubs. A mash up titled "We Don't Give a Damn About Our Friends" (the vocals belonging to Adina Howard and her 1995 single "Freak Like Me" and the music most notably from Gary Numan, with some Bootsy Collins (who further complicating the issue, had one of his songs, "I'd Rather Be With You", lyrically interpreted by Howard for the chorus ), Sly and The Family Stone and Frogger sound effects thrown in), created by producer Richard X under the alias Girls On Top had circulated around the hip spots of London for a while, but when it came to the commercial release, Howard, having being ripped off financially before in her music career, turned down the release of her original vocals.

So it fell to the Sugababes, with the song renamed "Freak Like Me", and with new member Heidi Range, to do the commercial honors. The song essentially sounds cool, fuzzy, grimy and industrial. Above all else, it still sounds edgy, dangerous and most importantly, it came at the end of an era of essentially fine, but carefully constructed and ultimately risk free pop. Freak Like Me leaves the working on show, and blasts out of the speakers. Vocally, the Sugababes interpret sublimely, where as in lesser hands, the glass would fall to the floor (as with the "band" chosen to release A Stroke Of Genieous as a single) and the result would be a mess.
For what little "credibility" matters on this list, this has the best kind of cred. And best of all, it sounds truckloads, a rare example of intelligent pop getting it's proper reward, and it repositioned the Sugababes ans the coolest band around, in the best possible way - without trying. Effortlessly, utterly vital, even now.

Alyson: So as much as anything, I really did think about what I wanted to say about this track, patently, it had nothing to do with the Sugababes. It's sample tastic, made in a lab, the lyrics come from one song, the music from several different sources. As much as we're not that concerned with cred on this list, I did take a pause before not just writing 20 paragraphs about Richard X, rather than anything about the Sugababes.

However something Pete Waterman said about The Reynolds Girls sticks in my mind, in that once they went out in public and sang, no one felt the slightest conviction or had any belief in them. For a relatively young group to go out in public and interpret a sleazy, grimy song and deliver when they were best known for soulful songwriting credibility, and had lost a member was a massive challenge. And they delivered more than they could have hoped for, barging through the door and becoming impressively vital.

So it has nothing to do with them, but somehow everything to do with them. It's the conversion of a band from out the shadows and into the light. They've probably never been as good since. A modern day classic.


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